And David numbered the people that were with him, and. . .
So the people went out into the field against Israel: and the battle was in the wood of Ephraim.
Surely no one was more surprised than Hushai to find Absalom choosing to follow his advice. It was a foolish thing. After all, Absalom had all of the advantage for the moment; but as long as David lived, his position could never be secure. Now David was fleeing with his forces scattered and weak. Nothing would have been easier than to follow and pounce upon him in his weakness to administer the final, destroying blow. But Absalom was enjoying himself. For the first time he was really being honored and recognized as he had always wanted to be. All of the pomp of the court and the royal respects he received were to his greatest liking. It seemed a shame that he should have to leave them for the ardors of the battlefield. And besides Absalom was at heart a coward. To be sure, his forces were large; but if they could be made even larger still, would it not lend even that much more personal safety? When he heard exactly that advice from a man as wise as Hushai was known to be, it gratified him. He would wait. Behind it, of course, was finally the power of God turning the wisdom of the mighty to folly.
Still Hushai was not sure. He was afraid that at any moment Absalom might see the folly of his decision and set out in pursuit of David. Thus, as soon as he could he made his way to the tabernacle to speak to Zadok and Abiathar the priests. They were the ones with whom David had made arrangements so that he could be notified of anything which came up and by which he might be affected. To them belonged two sons, capable and loyal young men, who could be sent to carry a message to David. Thus Hushai explained to them exactly what had happened in their consultations with Absalom and he instructed them, “Now therefore send quickly, and tell David, saying, Lodge not this night in the plains of the wilderness, but speedily pass over; lest the king be swallowed up, and all the people that are with him.”
As it was, both Zadok and Abiathar had realized that they would be more quickly suspected of trying to help David than anyone else. In fact, their sons, Jonathan and Ahimaaz were already staying outside of the walls of Jerusalem lest they should be seen leaving the tabernacle and followed or even prevented from leaving the city. The message of Hushai was sent out to them by means of a servant so that they could leave secretly and without notice.
Even these precautions, however, were not enough. Although the message of Hushai came to them in good order, no sooner did they step forth to make their way to David but a young lad saw them, recognized them and suspected what they were about. Immediately he went to the palace and warned Absalom of what he had seen. The result was that before the two young men had gone a great distance they became conscious of the fact that there was a company of Absalom’s soldiers following them in the distance.
Nevertheless, the ingenuity of these two young men was up to the problem. They were well known through the area, and they in turn knew what people could be relied upon to maintain loyalty to David. Quickly they found the home of such a man in the area of Bahurim and entered into his gate. There in the court of the house they found a well with a woman standing beside it. Explaining as briefly as they could the danger that pursued them, they let themselves down into the well and instructed the woman to cover it over completely with drying corn.
It was not long before the servants of Absalom came in also at the gate, looking for the young men. To their enquiries the woman simply answered, “They be gone over the brook of water.” The men were suspicious and did take time to search the house completely; but they found no indication of Jonathan and Ahimaaz so that they quickly left again. From there on they searched the whole area but discovered nothing and soon returned to Jerusalem.
It was still before nightfall. that same day that they were able to leave their hiding place and go cm to the camp of David. The warning they brought him was this, “Arise, and pass quickly over the water: for thus hath Ahithophel counseled against you.” It was a hard thing for a man as old and wearied as David was; but he could see immediately the wisdom of what was said. The result was that they spent the whole night in fording the river Jordan so that by the morning light they were all safely on the other side.
Absalom, however, had no intentions of re-examining his position once it was taken. He enjoyed the glory of the royal court and was determined to enjoy it as long as he could before going on to other danger and hardship. Moreover, he saw all kinds of desirable things in working toward building an even greater army before he went on to battle with his father. All through the land he sent out the call for men to come and join his forces. It was not a hard thing at this point to gather as many men as he could ever want. To all appearances Absalom’s position was now quite secure, and there were any number of men who were willing to join the crowd and get in on the glory of the final victory. Soon vast crowds were coming to form a huge army in support of Absalom. They were not experienced and they were not courageous; but the impressiveness of numbers was surely supplied by them.
For David the time which he gained by Absalom’s delay was exactly what he needed. It gave to him an opportunity to find a position of defense, and it gave to him the opportunity to gather his forces together. The position of defense which he found was a walled city on the east side of the Jordan by the name of Mahanaim. In it David took up his position, and soon it became apparent that his position was not as grave as for a time it had seemed to be. To be sure, a great many of the people had followed the fickle wiles and joined themselves to Absalom; but there were also a good many who were faithful of heart and not so ready to forsake such an excellent king and ruler as David had been. These, once they had heard of David’s plight and position, hurried to give him their aid.
Strangely, it was some of the heathen that came first, such as Rabbah the Ammonite, along with others, to give assistance to David with provisions of all kinds, beds, basins, earthen vessels, wheat, barley, flour, parched corn, etc. The people that were with David were weary and hungry and thirsty, and this was exactly what they needed.
This was not all, however; soon there were many, many Israelites who loved their king and came to join themselves with him. Above all there were many of his soldiers who had fought with him and for him for so many years. They constituted a hardened fighting force far superior in quality to anything that Absalom could muster. Above all, there began to develop around David and his people an atmosphere of joyful dedication to the cause which they loved. It was an atmosphere built upon their faith in the power of God to help and to keep them in every need. It grew day upon day into a feeling of optimism and absolute confidence. Moreover, to them was given the opportunity now of choosing the field of battle and they chose wisely.
The place where the forces of David set up their defenses was in a place called the wood of Ephraim. It was not a solidly wooded area which would have made all fighting impossible. Rather, it was an area of forest groves interspersed with open fields. These open areas were large enough for David’s forces of experienced men to be able to function effectively; but they were small enough that Absalom’s large and unwieldy’ company could gain no advantage whatsoever. In fact, their very size became for them a liability, because they could not maneuver properly.
In addition to this, David remained as always the careful tactician. Realizing the nature of the territory, he took his already comparatively small force and broke it down into three companies still smaller. Each one of these companies he made into an independent fighting force able to maneuver on its own without regard to the other. Over each one of these forces, he in turn placed a captain of proven capability and faithfulness, Joab, Abishai, and Httai the Gittite. Finally, he determined to go once more himself to lead his men in battle. Calling all of his forces together he made the announcement, I will surely go forth with you myself also.”
It was, however, at this latter point, that the people themselves intervened. As admirable as David’s courage was even yet here in his old age, they simply could not allow him to follow this intention. This battle that was coming up centered too much about the life of David alone to allow him to be exposed to any unnecessary danger. After all, it was solely David’s life that Absalom was concerned with. He realized, as did every one else, that as long as David his father was living his own claims to the throne of Israel were not genuinely established. When he finally came to battle his single aim would be to slay David, and it was therefore foolish not to keep David’s life protected as carefully as possible. Thus with united voice the people answered David, “Thou shalt not go forth: for if we flee away, they will not care for us; neither if half of us die, will they care for us: but now thou art worth ten thousand of us; therefore now it is better that thou succor us out of the city.”
Not to be forgotten here is the very last part of the petition of the people. They realized that David did not have to go with them unto the field of battle to succor or assist them. He could do so from the safety of the city in the same way that Moses assisted the people from, the top of the hill at Rephidim. By standing as their intercessor in prayer, he would be of as much assistance to them or even more than he ever could on the field of battle.
Perhaps the true excellency of David is brought out by his willingness to listen even to the desires of the common people when they reflected love and true wisdom. He deferred immediately to their request and promised to wait and pray for them in the city even though he would have preferred to join them in battle.
When at last the time came when Absalom could delay no longer but had to come out to meet David’s forces in final confrontation, the battle was not long once it was joined. Absalom’s huge force of inexperienced and self-seeking men simply could not manipulate among the woods of Ephraim. In fact, so many of them were forced aside into wooded areas that we are told that the wood devoured more of them than did the sword. Meanwhile, David’s men, with the small maneuverable forces were everywhere inflicting harm wherever they went. In a very short space of time Absalom and his men were scattered and fleeing in every direction. In carnal ambition and folly they had driven themselves to destruction.