And Absalom answered Joab, Behold, I sent unto thee, saying, Come hither, that I may send thee to the king, to say, Wherefore am I come from Geshur? it had been good for me to have been there still: now therefore let me see the king’s face; and if there be any iniquity in me, let him kill me. So Joab came to the king, and told him: and when he had called for Absalom, he came to the king, and bowed himself on his face to the ground before the king: and the king kissed Absalom.
The wise woman of Tekoah had presented Joab’s argument to David with a masterly touch, and the cleverness of Joab’s working was evident in it throughout. By taking a case which was similar to David’s own, but much more difficult, she was able to extract from David a precedent decision of leniency for a young man who had killed his brother. From there it took but a few quick moves to show to David his apparent inconsistency in excusing her son for such a crime while leaving his own in banishment for what he had done. By this time David was fully suspecting the maneuverings of Joab in the background; and yet he followed because he wanted to. David’s heart wanted to excuse Absalom and restore him even though his mind and his conscience said he shouldn’t. But thus it was that at last he yielded. Summoning Joab he commanded him to recall the banished Absalom.
The conscience of David, however, was much too strong to be so easily subdued. For the moment he had been beguiled into recalling Absalom from his banishment, and he allowed the order to stand. Nevertheless, he did not feel that the impression might ever be left that he overlooked and was excusing the wickedness of what Absalom had done. The result was that, although Absalom was called back from Geshur to Jerusalem, he was denied all of his court privileges as a son of the king. He was allowed to live in his own house with his family. He was allowed to work his own land and collect the profits from it. But not once was he allowed to enter the court of the king either to mingle with the mighty men of the land in their festive occasions or to discuss with them the problems of maintaining the kingdom. It meant that Absalom was yet a marked man, just as really as when he was many miles away in the banishment of Geshur.
For Absalom this was a most severe disappointment. From the very first, he had been quite aware of the special love and favor which he held in the eyes of his father. In fact, he had been relying on this to carry him through. It had come to him with no surprise when a messenger arrived from Jerusalem calling him back out of exile: the only thing that had surprised him was that this summons had not come sooner. He had never really expected that his father would hold out for three full years without recalling him to the palace. Thus, when the call finally did come, he was more than ready to get back to Jerusalem and become involved with all that he had planned. After all, the death of Amnon had involved much more than just the revenge of Tamar, although he had always told himself this was the chief consideration. Amnon was the one, he felt, that had always stood between himself and the royal throne. Once Amnon was out of the way, and the wrath of his father had had time to cool, Absalom was sure that he could establish himself as the successor to his father’s throne. He was anxious now, to get back into the flow of things and to build his own image and reputation among those who were mighty in the land. When, therefore, he came back to Jerusalem only to find himself banished still from the only place where influence could really be established, it was a cruel blow, more severe than he could actually bear.
It was a bitter two years that Absalom spent after his return to Jerusalem. He was free to live in his own home, he was free to move throughout the land, he was free to have his own friends; but the one place he had to go if he was to establish power for himself and influence was barred to him. At last, as the weeks and months passed on, Absalom began to realize that he had misjudged his own ability to turn his father in whatever way he wanted. As a child his father had always favored him; and he had been quite confident that regardless of what he did he would always be able to restore himself to favor again. But now at last, he was beginning to realize that he was wrong. As strongly as his father loved him, David’s dedication to the principles of right and justice were even stronger. Because of what Absalom had done, his father would never come to consider him as a serious prospect to inherit the throne of Israel. His sin, even if personally forgiven, would be held against him in his public position as long as he lived.
For Absalom, however, this realization did not become the occasion for any serious repentance or regret for what he had done. It only meant that his plans and ambitions had to be approached from a different point of view. If his father could not be gained to serve his cause, he would have to find some way of bypassing the assistance of the king. Those two years after he first returned to Jerusalem were not wasted from Absalom’s point of view; but they were certainly years during which he gave himself over to the basest side of his nature. There in the isolation of his own home all personal feelings which he held for anyone died and in its place came a burning drive toward the goal which he had always wanted more than anything else, the throne of Israel. Slowly, carefully and with all the calculating cleverness of his nature, Absalom planned his moves step by step as to just what he could do to accomplish his purpose. Then, when at last he had determined exactly what was to be done, he began to act accordingly.
The first move of Absalom was to call Joab to him as a means of restoring himself to a position where he could operate effectively within the kingdom. He had thought that after all he ought to be able to gain a bit of cooperation from this corner seeing Joab had been the one responsible for bringing him back from Geshur. Immediately, however, he discovered how difficult his planned course of action was going to be. Joab was himself a man of keen discernment. Once Absalom had returned from Geshur, Joab kept his eye on him as he did on all of those of potential influence within the kingdom. Thus, it did not take him long to come to the conclusion that here was more than just a growing boy who had made a blunder in a heat of temper; here was a young man of ambition who knew what he wanted and was determined to get it. In fact, it did not’ take long before Joab had come to the conclusion that he had made a very bad blunder by preparing the way for Absalom’s restoration to Jerusalem. But it was done, and to undo it again was almost impossible. All that he could do was to be careful that he didn’t play into the young man’s hands any further. Thus, when a summons came from Absalom requesting his presence at his house, Joab simply ignored it and failed to appear. Impatiently Absalom sent again a second time; but this time also Joab ignored the summons completely, making it quite evident to Absalom that he had no indication of cooperating with him.
Absalom, however, was not about to be’ so easily discouraged. He had his plan, and, if he needed the cooperation of Joab to enact it, he was going to have it. So in exasperated impatience, he went into action. He had a field which was located right next to a field of Joab’s in which there stood a crop of ripening grain. Calling a few of his servants to him, he instructed them, “See, Joab’s field is near mine, and he hath barley there; go and set it on fire.”
As he expected, this brought a quick response. Although Joab was a most clever man, he was also a proud man with a quick temper. He was not one to take such an affrontation without responding.. Almost immediately Joab was at the door of Absalom’s house demanding an explanation. “Wherefore, have thy servants set my field on fire?”
This was, in fact, all that Absalom wanted, an opportunity to talk to Joab. Coolly he explained, “Behold, I sent unto thee, saying, Come hither, that I may send thee to the king, to say, Wherefore am I come from Geshur? It had been good for me to have been there still: now therefore let me see the king’s face; and if there be any iniquity in me, let him kill me.”
Joab was impressed. There was a certain daring courage in a young man who was ready to burn down the field of an army captain rather than be ignored; and there was an element of justice in his demand. Actually, Joab felt relieved. Maybe Absalom wasn’t so bad after all. Maybe he had misjudged the young man. Wasn’t there something unfair about calling him all of the way back from Geshur only to leave him totally ignored for two whole years at the very gate of the palace? In any case, Joab saw no reason why he should not help Absalom along once more and plead his cause before the king. Thus, he promised Absalom that he would do so, and he did.
It was a touching scene that brought about the reconciliation of David to his son. Through all of the intervening five years David’s love for the young man had not dimmed. He loved him dearly with a love that was intense, and he showed it. The young man came into the court with all of the appearance of humility and repentance. Bowing himself before David, he did the obeisance which was expected of a subject before his king. But David felt more as a father to the young man than as a ruler. Raising him up he took Absalom into his arms and kissed him. Little did either David or Joab at that moment realize how completely they were misjudging the situation. They had both been much better off if they had stayed with their original inclinations, or better yet, if they had consulted more closely with God as they had in the early days of their labors. It was, this very young man whom now they welcomed with tears and open arms that was always planning in his heart the most treacherous and painful blow which David was ever to experience.