Allowing himself to be prevailed upon to recall Absalom, David instructed Joab to bring him again. But the king would not admit him into his presence. “Let him turn to his own house, and let him not see my face.” Such was the mandate. “So Absalom returned to his own house, and saw not the king’s face.” Let us understand this word of the king. Let us grasp its implications for Absalom. Not alone that it shut him out of the king’s presence and excluded him from the palace, but it also shut him up, as a prisoner, in his own house, that is, it took from him all freedom of movement outside the boundaries of his own private estate. This is plain from the sequel.
Had David allowed himself to be controlled solely by his sense of justice, he would not have recalled Absalom. On the other hand, had he followed the impulses of the father in him he certainly would have admitted this worthless son into his presence immediately and pressed upon his brow the kiss of reconciliation. Moreover, there was no agreement among the members of his household, to say nothing of the people at large, as to what should be done with Absalom. Some, doubtless, wanted his permanently banished or put to death; others, like Joab, thought it right that he had been recalled and were glad.
David’s whole action regarding Absalom was plainly a compromise, a settlement by concessions, a sort of partial reconciliation that could satisfy no one. And to Absalom, himself, it must have been sorely provoking. It was only calculated to add new fuel to the fire of his deep resentment toward his father. But had he only returned as a penitent and acknowledged his guilt, he would have been received and forgiven. And he did have guilt. He had taken the law in his own hands.
By way of introduction to the terrible bit of history that he is now about to relate, the sacred writer enters into some detail regarding Absalom’s person and private life. “But in all Israel there was none to be so much praised as Absalom for his beauty.” This is not the same as saying that on account of his physical endowments he already was the darling of the people. Thus far his countrymen had seen little of him. The meaning is simply that he was the most handsome man in all Israel, a perfect specimen of his kind. There was not a blemish on him “from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.” It partially explains his ability at stealing men’s hearts. The charm of his beauty was hypnotic. Even his hair was something to talk about. It was heavy and strong. From time to time he had it cut, for “it was heavy upon him,” and the weight of the severed locks “was 200 shekels according to the king’s weight.” (Perhaps four pounds. The “king’s” shekel was doubtless a different weight from the sacred shekel). But his hair, upon which according to custom he perhaps bestowed so much care, was to be his undoing.
He was married and had three sons and one daughter, whom he had named Tamar probably after his unfortunate sister. The names of his sons are not given. Perhaps the reason is that they had died young. This would explain his erecting a monument to perpetuate his memory ().
Two full years have now gone by. It is certain that by this time Absalom’s soul seethes with resentment toward his father, the king. For he is still shut up, as a prisoner, in his own house. And by whose authority if not by that of the king? If to this be added the consideration that in his own eyes he was innocent of any crime, it will be seen that his hatred of his father must be fierce, and that, being a profligate, he is plotting revenge. It may be considered as certain that his resolve to seize his father’s throne was made at this time. He must have been toying with the idea ever since his return, but without having been able to make up his mind. For he realized the danger of such a venture. But his mind is now made up. And as consumed by ambition and blinded by rage he lays his plans. He may be counting on the support of Joab, his friend and confident. But how he is going to learn to his own destruction that he misjudges Joab.
How to get himself straightened out with the king, whom he will destroy, is his first problem. Feigning penitence, he could implore his forgiveness. But that would be too humiliating. Besides, as was just stated, in his own eyes he has no sin and accordingly has nothing to confess. It is the king who should confess to him and restore to him all his rights in full. This precisely is what he now attempts to get the king to do, namely remove from him every restriction, so that he may again come and go as he pleases. How otherwise could he go about the business of capturing the throne.
But he is in the need of a mediator, one to argue his innocence before the king. He sends for Joab. For who has more influence with the king than he? But Joab for some reason refuses to bestir himself even after the second summons. Absalom’s anger burns. As he cannot go to Joab, seeing that he is forbidden to set foot off his own premises, he takes recourse to a drastic measure. In his fury he has his servants set fire to a field of barley belonging to Joah and lying contiguous to his own land. Soon Joab is at his door demanding an explanation. “Wherefore have thy servants set my field on fire?” “Behold,” is Absalom’s reply, “I sent unto thee saying, come hither.” But Joab would not come. So the fault is all Joab’s. In the same breath he goes on to state the purpose of the summons. “I sent unto thee . . . that I may send thee to the king to say; 1. why am I come from Geshur,” that is, ‘why did he send for me? to shut me up, as a prisoner, in my own house. The shame of it,’ 2. “It were better for me were I still there,” implying, for there I dwelt among friends, and came and went as I choose.’ 3. “And now I will see the king’s face,” meaning, ‘I am determined.’ 4. “And if there be any iniquity in me, let him kill me,” meaning, ‘I challenge him. But he will not dare. For he knows that I am innocent. Was not the cruelty of Amnon great? And did not the king wink at his atrocity? At least he took no action. And this though the vile deed was crying for vengeance. What I did was but to heed that cry as Tamar’s nearest kin. That was not sin. It was duty. This the king well knows. Why does he thus evilly treat me? To please whom?’ Principally Bathsheba perhaps. For it can be expected that she is zealous for her son Solomon.
There is all this in Absalom’s words. And there is point to his argument, as has before been explained. According to Israel’s law, Amnon should have been put to death. We may quote the law here: “The nakedness of thy father’s wife’s daughter, begotten of thy father, she is thy sister (that is, half-sister) thou shalt not uncover her nakedness.” See also; . The sin is included in the class of abomination for which the offender or offenders “shall be cut off from among their people.” .
The godless Absalom holds his god-fearing father in derision for his weaknesses. Without a question he has already convinced himself that his father is not fit to be king and for the good of the nation must be cast down from his throne.
Joab goes to the king and repeats Absalom’s argument in his audience doubtless as careful not to reveal that Absalom is defiant but perhaps telling the king that he has repented and longs to be forgiven and to receive from his father the kiss of a full reconciliation. In some such vein the unscrupulous Joab may have spoken. For the king is moved, judging from the reaction. He calls for Absalom come. According to true oriental fashion of the day he bows himself on his face to the ground. And the king kisses him.
Absalom is once more on good terms with the king. He has gained his first objective. He is again at liberty to come and go as he pleases. He realizes that if he is to succeed in his venture he must have the following of the people, so that, when finally he has himself declared king, the people will rally to his banner. So his next move is his attempt to turn the people away from the king and attach them to his own person. And in this he succeeds remarkably well. It is not a wonder. He has youth, personal beauty and great charm. He is a master of the art of political intriguing. And the people are fickle and ungrateful.
Then also there is a class of men in Israel that hate the king for what he is—an essentially good man, who fears God and loves His testimonies despite his sins and weaknesses and faults of character. They are against the king because they are against Christ. That is the essential reason and not David’s faults. Didn’t these same men in their generations crucify the Son of God when he was come into the flesh? And he was sinless. From this people will come the leaders in the revolt.
Let us now see how Absalom operates.
His first step is to project himself before the public eye. He prepares for himself a chariot (English A.V. has chariots, but not correct) and horses—the horses are for drawing the chariot —and besides fifty men to run before him. He assumes the appearance of a prince of no little importance in order to draw to himself the attention of the people. “And Absalom rose early in the morning,” that is, the early mornings find him with his military adjunct by the side of the way of the gate. The reference is to the gate of the king’s palace, where come all those who have need of his judgment in matters of law. He calls to every passing litigant on his way to the king’s court. He asks him where he is from. Having received answer he speaks to the man flattering words, hangs before his eyes a disparaging picture of the judicial practices in his father’s court and concludes with the expressed wish that he were king. Let us quote the text here: “And Absalom said unto him, See, thy matters are good and right, but there is no man disputed of the king to hear thee.” Hebrew: “But there is no hearer for thee from the king.” The “hearer” is the court official whose task it is to hear and understand the people’s matters and lay them before the king. Doubtless there are several such “hearers,” assistants to the king. The criticism that Absalom levels at these “hearers” is that they are seldom on hand, or that they lack the mental and spiritual qualifications for their high office resulting in frequent miscarriage of justice because the king was not properly enlightened. Such is the sad state of affairs in the royal court. And the king makes no effort to correct the evil. What a crying shame! The thought of it cuts Absalom to the quick and stabs at his heart. (So he pretends). In sheer anguish he cries, “O that I were made judge in the land . . .” Hebrew: “Oh who will make me judge in the land, that any man who hath suit or cause might come unto me, and I would do him justice.”
It is certain that Absalom exaggerates. But at the same time neglect and partiality may have crept in giving Absalom a handle. David is growing old. His life has been strenuous. He is not the man he used to be. “See, thy matters are good.” Absalom hears all the cases, and that is always his verdict, so that if thereupon the litigant loses his case in David’s court, he will return to his place as wishing that Absalom were king indeed, and as determined to tell his neighbors about it, and every one whom he may contact.
So has Absalom established his own court by the side of the way to the court of the king. And he rises early in the morning to show his zeal and to be on hand when the people start coming. And he does not allow any man to do him obeisance. If any man tries it, he puts forth his hand, and takes him (Heb., seizes him) and kisses him. How remarkably condescending! And he a prince, the king’s own son! “On this manner did Absalom to all Israel that came to the king for judgment: so Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel.”
Either David, does not observe what is going on, which would seem to be incredible, seeing that Absalom operates almost in the shadow of the palace, or if he does know what is going on, he thinks no evil. It simply doesn’t occur to him that Absalom might be laying the groundwork for seizing his throne. For looking ahead we see that the revolt overtakes him by surprise. He hadn’t been able to imagine that his own son could do to him such a thing. Being himself a man of true nobility, he was too trusting of others, particularly of this profligate son, whom he so loved.
The notice in the sacred text: “And it came to pass at the end of forty years, that Absalom said unto the king . . . ,” () can hardly be taken as supplying us with a cue for determining just how long he was occupied in the manner described above. For this procedure could have lasted at the most but three or four years. The phrase in question “at the end of forty years” must refer to some previous event in David’s life only—perhaps to his anointing by Samuel. His anointing was the only previous event in his life that in the point of view of its significance ranked with Absalom’s conspiracy. Others pronounce the chronology here uncertain due to an error of the copyist. They read four years instead of forty. But it is difficult to conceive of the copyist as guilty of such carelessness.
Absalom believes that he has succeeded in persuading the people that what the land needs is a new king and that therefore the time is ripe for him to strike. And so his next move is to get the king to give him permission to go to Hebron. The reason he gives is calculated to make it appear that he is activated by pious motives. He says to the king: “I pray thee, let me go and pay my vow, which I have vowed unto the Lord, in Hebron. For thy servant vowed a vow while I abode in Geshur in Syria, saying, If the Lord shall bring me again indeed to Jerusalem, then I will serve the Lord.” “Go in peace,” is the king’s reply. The vow could just as well have been paid in Jerusalem. But David is unsuspecting. More than one reason can be advanced to explain Absalom’s decision to set in operation the insurrection in Hebron. Here he was born. Here he could count on a large following from the tribe of Judah. He already has sent out spies (Heb.—investigators) to sound public opinion and to prepare in every place the right number of men for the moment when over the whole land the blast of the trumpets will be heard. In that moment they shall shout: “Absalom reigneth in Hebron.” He has with him on his journey to Hebron two hundred men. In the text they bear the name of “called,” which reveals that they are courtiers such as accompany king’s sons on their journeys. “And they went in their simplicity and knew not anything.” They have not been told what lies ahead, lest the king learn of it. But everywhere men will conclude that they are friends of Absalom in favor of the rebellion.
“And Absalom sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David’s counselor, from his city, even from Giloh, while he offered sacrifices.”
Giloh is a town in the hill country of Judah near Hebron (). Here dwells the man. As the counselor of David he has acquired fame. The whole plan of the conspiracy may thus have been of his contriving. For his talent for perceiving what ought to be done in a given situation is remarkable. Men are saying that to enquire of him is like enquiring of an oracle of God. ( ). The two—David and this counselor—have been close. He has been the king’s familiar friend, in whom he trusted, which did eat of his bread ( ). How his treachery is going to grieve David, when he learns of it, is plain from David’s Psalm ( ) in which he projects himself as saying to him: “For it was not an enemy that reproached me; then I could have borne it; neither was it he that hated me that did magnify himself against me; then I would have hid myself from him: but it was thou, a man of my rank, my guide, and mine acquaintance. We took sweet counsel together, and walked into the house of God in company.”
What may be activating Ahithophel? Is it ambition? Or is he, too, of the opinion that David has lived out his usefulness as king? He has a son, whose name is Eliam (). If Eliam of is this son, Bathsheba is Ahithophel’s granddaughter, she being the daughter of Eliam of , and then it may be that he is incensed against David for his abuse of this woman now David’s wife.
“Absalom sent for Ahithophel . . . . while he offered.” It is not clear from the sentence whether the pronoun “he” looks back to Absalom or to Ahithophel. It must look back to Absalom. For why should Ahithophel at this time be sacrificing in his place?
It is Absalom who is doing the sacrificing. His sacrifice for the occasion is the burnt offering. It is customary for the armies of Israel to bring this sacrifice when about to engage the enemy in battle. As a symbolical typical transaction it is a prayer in which the worshippers confess before the Lord that they are sinners, ill-deserving, lost and undone in themselves but yet forgiven of God on the ground of the sacrificing victim that by its dying expiated their sins. Second, it is a prayer in which the worshippers declare that by His grace they are wholly consecrated to Him and His cause, and thus a prayer, finally, in which they implore the Lord for victory over His and their enemies.
Absalom offers sacrifices. He prays this wonderful prayer, with his lips or acts only, to be sure. For his heart is far from God. In sacrificing he simply goes through the motions of prayer. Let this be understood. As feigning contrition he humbles himself before God in the pretended or false confidence that he is received of God and that God will prosper and bless his rebellion against David again in answer to his prayer. And his sole purpose is to inspire his followers with the confidence that his vile cause is just and that he wars God’s warfare. And he wants Ahithophel—and Ahithophel by all means—to sacrifice with him, to join him in his prayer. And therefore he sends and brings him to the sacrifice.
Absalom is wicked. He is a consummate hypocrite in his wickedness. Or does he imagine that in his attempt to destroy his father, he is championing God’s cause. If so, he is willingly deceiving himself, needless to say. How the Lord must loathe the sacrifices— the prayers—of the ungodly however right these prayers may be as to the form of their words.