There have been some guys that I have not been very fond of in the Bible thus far, but Absalom is on this whole other level. He’s bad friend, a horrible son, and not even a great leader. Don’t get me wrong, every great man in the Bible (at least thus far) has had issues to overcome but they were chosen partly because of those issues and that God can make any man great. This guy was not chosen. He was more in the way than anything else. He was a great brother, though. I’ll give him that.
Here we have yet another rape. Amnon gets advice from Jonadab about how to trick his sister, Tamar, into being alone with him. Once they are alone, he grabs her and she fights with him but he overpowers her. She even screams, as Dueteronomy 22 indicates as the distinguishing factor between a rape and consensual sex. But she was a virgin and he was supposed to have to marry her according to that law. She tells their brother Absalom about it when pressed to do so and he arranges to have Amnon killed. David, their father, missed Absalom when he fled the kingdom afterward but not Amnon once he found out what Amnon did.
I won’t get into all the problems I have with the idea of a victim being forced to marry their assailant. My feelings are detailed in this post where that law is first mentioned.
After some convincing that involves an unnamed wise woman and a man named Joab, the king allows Absalom to come back to Israel, so long as he doesn’t have to see him. This arrangement was good for about three years before Absalom wanted to ask to see the king again. When his friend doesn’t answer right away, he has his servants set his field ON FIRE.
Joab, the friend, is not nearly as upset by this as I would have imagined and goes and talks to the king on Absalom’s behalf after a small confrontation over the field. Like really small. Like he was just “why did you do that?” and Absalom’s answer was seriously as simple as “because you didn’t come here when I called you” and he just went and did what Absalom wanted him to do.
Successfully too, by the way, because the chapter ends with that the king did see him.
Four years after coming back, Absalom stages a coup against his father and David flees the city of Jerusalem. He makes some arrangements for there to be spies in Absalom’s court to report back to him.
This chapter covers David’s flight from Jerusalem and some interactions along the way. Then there is Absalom moving into the palace and taking the advice of Ahithophel to sleep with all the concubines his father left as a sign that he was the new king. This is just gross, I don’t care who you are. His father had sex with those women, how is it okay to have sex with them too? How is it not still “uncovering his nakedness” somehow? I mean, concubines are not explicitly mentioned back in Leviticus 18, but enough is to draw the parallel to grossness.
It is revealed that Ahithophel was giving bad advice and he was replaced Hushai. Hushai was actually working for David, so he passed on the intel that Absalom was going to be out looking for David and where he was going to do it. There was a bit about an unnamed servant girl hiding the messengers and then Ahithophel notices that no one is listening to him and goes home and kills himself.
Twenty thousand more Israelites died in battle between David and Absalom. How do they still have warfighters left? Anyway, someone finds Absalom stuck in a tree, of all places, while the battle is still raging. He runs and tells Joab, who is surprised the guy didn’t kill him on sight and then finishes the job himself, even expressing that he would be happy to do it despite the king’s prior request to “deal gently” with his son.
Then David is notified of the death of Absalom and is understandably distraught, despite circumstances.
Joab hears about the king’s laments over his son and goes in to yelling at him, also understandable. It looked like David cared more about the son who caused this battle than the men who fought for him against Absalom and won it. I’m sure that wasn’t the case, a father should be able to mourn even a son that hated him, but I get that appearances matter in this and Joab gets David to get his act together for the morale of the troops.
He is later welcomed back to Jerusalem and goes a-pardoning his enemies. He also replaces Joab as his commander, maybe a little upset over being “rebuked” for mourning his son. There are seeds of quarrel between Judah and the rest of Israel showing. It’s brewing a bit over what seems like David’s favor, but I get the feeling that it’s a bit of foreshadowing too. We’ll see.
I appreciate that this chapter addresses what became of the concubines that Absalom “went into”. David put them all up in a house under guard but never slept with them again. They stayed “living as if in widowhood” until they died there.
King David sends the new commander, Amasa, on a mission to “call the men of Judah together to me within three days, and be here yourself”. My study Bible says that timeframe may have been cutting it short and contributed to why Amasa had missed the deadline. He also sent Joab on a mission to get Sheba. As their paths cross, Joab kills Amasa and disposes of the body.
He goes about his mission and besieges the city Sheba was hiding in. Then the best thing happens. An unnamed “wise woman” calls him over and asks what’s going on. Joab explains and the woman responds with:
Behold, his head shall be thrown to you over the wall.
She brings it up to the rest of the inhabitants “in her wisdom” and then they do just that. Joab packs up and goes home that easily. This woman deserves way more credit. David had insisted that this guy could cause more trouble than Absalom who’s little rebellion caused at least twenty thousand deaths!
The chapter closes with a short breakdown of what sound like cabinet positions under King David.