The Revolt of Absalom

But Absalom sent spies throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, As soon as ye hear the sound of the trumpet, then ye shall say, Absalom reigneth in Hebron. 

II Samuel 15:10

Working quietly and effectively, Absalom turned the allegiance of the people away from his father and to himself. It seemed that everything was working in his favor. His father was sick with a severe and extended illness which prevented him from attending to his customary duties. Already advanced in years, it may well have been that many had concluded he would never recover and. were looking about for the logical heir. Meanwhile, Joab, the one who would have been most likely to detect the subtility of Absalom’s actions, was busily preoccupied keeping the kingdom in order and had no time to spend watching over the sons of the king and their actions. It left full opportunity for Absalom to advertise as broadly as possible his most apparent virtues, and he had plenty to show. There was a handsome beauty in his appearance, with a flair for style and taste in whatever he did. His personality was warm and attractive with an underlying cleverness of mind and ambition. All of it he used in personal contacts with every person he met, no matter how humble, until the heart of the nation was held in his hand. 

At last the time came when Absalom determined that he should act more decisively. Perhaps it was the fact that his father was recovering from his illness and threatening thereby to regain the attention and the allegiance of the people. Perhaps it was merely the fact that he felt that be had done all that he could in the way of winning the people without more overt actions. In any case, he deemed the time ripe for action and he took it.

In the first place, Absalom felt that he had to get away from Jerusalem. There David’s power was still too strong and it was too easy for his actions to be watched from the royal palace. 

The place which Absalom chose for the staging of his plans was Hebron. There were many things to be said in favor of this city. It was far enough removed from Jerusalem that news did not spread from one to the other too rapidly. Moreover, it was a city which already, had somewhat of a royal status inasmuch as David had first been crowned there himself. In fact, it was actually more a part of the background of Israel than was Jerusalem because it had always been an important center in the nation while Jerusalem was rather newly captured and established. The result was that even the inhabitants of the city would be inclined to appreciate any recognition which he gave to their city in favor of Jerusalem. And then, above all, Hebron was still close enough that he could march with an army from there to Jerusalem quickly enough so that his father would not have sufficient time to strengthen his relaxed defenses. 

In order to get to Hebron without arousing suspicion, Absalom went to his father and set forth this request, “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 at Geshur in Syria, saying, if the LORD shall bring me again indeed to Jerusalem, then I will serve the LORD.” 

This was a request that was sure to be granted by David because the king was always most anxious to recognize and encourage any indication on the part of his children that they were dedicating themselves to religious commitments. Even more, this was the one type of .activity in which his father would approve of his taking a large company of men with him. Ordinarily his father had no interest in or sympathy for anything involving great pomp and show of any kind. To this there was only one exception—services of religious worship and dedication. Absalom by this time had a large number of men, over two hundred, who were in on his plot to overthrow the kingdom. These had to go with him, and to take such a large company along for any but religious purposes would have aroused his father’s suspicion, or at least his disapproval. Now instead, he eagerly said to his son, “Go in peace,” only too happy to find in him some indication of spiritual dedication. 

Neither was this the extent of Absalom’s preparations. Besides the two hundred intimates which went with him personally to Hebron, there were others whom he trusted sufficiently to send as messengers throughout the land of Israel. The message which he gave them contained the heart of his plot. It was this, “As soon as ye hear the sound of the trumpet, then ye shall say, Absalom reigneth in Hebron.” 

Absalom’s coup was surely the most clever that had ever been planned at that early stage in the world’s history. Always before, a man seeking to gain control of a country had to start at a certain point or center and gradually work outward in an effort to broaden his influence. It was a dangerous move, providing a defender time to try to cut off the spread of this influence. Absalom, however, had established his influence all through the land before his plans were as much as known to his father against whom he was plotting. Now, he was ready to set off the revolt almost instantly in every comer of the country, leaving the defender no time to try to cut him off in his advance. David’s opposition would surround him completely from the very first moment that he himself learned of the approaching danger. One blast of a trumpet taken up and repeated over and over again from hilltop to hilltop would spread the revolt through the land faster than anyone could possibly prepare to defend himself. 

And still there was one more move in Absalom’s preparations. He was not going to rely completely even upon his own reputation and influence among the people. He was determined to have other men of already established reputation with him, men whom the country recognized and would be most inclined to follow. It was not an easy thing to do, for David the king was well liked and respected by even the wisest and mightiest in the land. Nevertheless, there were men of ambition who would be able to recognize the thoroughness and ingenuity of Absalom’s preparations and would be willing to join because it would be to their own advantage. One of these was one of David’s most intimate counselors, Ahithophel of Gibeon. 

Ahithophel held a position of greatest importance to the kingdom. Under David and under Joab, he shared with Ittai the Gittite the position of wiseman of the court, adviser to the king. Both of them, he and Ittai, were extremely well informed and clever men; but there was a difference between them. Ahithophel was a citizen of Giloh, a city of Judah, and thus a member of David’s own tribe. Given his wisdom, it was to be expected that he should rise to such a high place within the kingdom. But Ittai was another matter. He was a foreigner, a Philistine from the city of Gath. He had risen to his position of authority only because he had followed David over a period of many years proving himself faithful to David, to Israel, and to their God. And accordingly there was yet another difference between the men. Ahithophel was a man of pride and self-possession; he knew who he was, how to take care of himself, and where he wanted to go. Ittai, on the other hand, realized full well how completely dependent he was upon the good graces and kind consideration of the king; and he was meekly grateful for it. 

At the time that Absalom left for Hebron, Ahithophel was away from Jerusalem too. He was at home in Giloh. Thus, one of the first things that Absalom did was to send a well-informed delegation to him and lay before him the whole plan that Absalom was about to set in motion. He had confidence in Ahithophel’s discretion. He would be able to recognize a well worked out plan, and he was not one to neglect so evident an opportunity to continue his position of power and influence in the kingdom. 

Neither was Absalom wrong in his evaluation of Ahithophel. No sooner was it made evident to him how successful Absalom was sure to be than he left his home in Giloh and came to Hebron to join Absalom. 

Absalom would have liked to gain Ittai also; but his loyalty to David and to the nation of Israel was too deeply established to warrant the risk of trying. One had to be sure of men who were to be taken into such a dangerous conspiracy. 

At last all was in readiness. It began with an elaborate sacrifice at Hebron. There was something almost blasphemous about it, starting a rebellion against the Lord’s anointed king and one’s own father with a sacrifice in dedication to God. But Absalom was indifferent to that. He never had been one to give much concern to the proper worship of Israel’s God Jehovah. For himself, he maybe preferred the idolatrous worship which his mother’s family practiced in Geshur. But this was Israel, and the people expected it to be a theocracy in dedication to Israel’s God; and now was no time to make radical innovation in that regard. Rather, he should try to show that he was as much inclined to the worship of Jehovah as his father was. 

It was at the height of this sacrificial feast that the trumpet sounded to be carried on in successive trumpet calls throughout the land. It was the appointed signal and all those who were in on the conspiracy knew what it meant. When the signal came to their villages and towns, they were to announce for all to hear, “Absalom reigneth in Hebron.” It was not something planned, not something hoped to be; this was in fact the vow which he had made to himself for many years, he, Absalom, was to be king in Israel. And so in Hebron he had himself crowned Israel’s king. 

In all of the land of Israel, there was only one place that the message was not brought by Absalom’s preparations; In fact, he had as much as possible tried to prevent the news from coming there. Only when some loyal subject of his father’s would come by foot to the royal city and report what was happening in the rest of the land would it be known; and, even then, it would be subjected to all kinds of question and doubt because of the apparent impossibility in what Absalom was doing. It all would give time for Absalom to gather his forces and to begin his march upon the royal city. The more time he had the better it would be. 

The complete successfulness of Absalom’s every move is hard to imagine. The fact was that David was not assured of what was taking place until Absalom was actually on the move from Hebron toward Jerusalem; It left him in an almost impossible position. Just recovering from his illness, he was hardly prepared to put up a struggle. In fact, it may well have been Absalom’s hope to be able to take his father in his bed and put him quietly out of the way without anyone knowing exactly what had happened. If so, that part at least of his plan did not succeed. David was strong enough to travel; and that was all he could do. The army was scattered through the outskirts of the empire keeping it in order, and it would take days and weeks to bring even a minimum fighting force together. Meanwhile, the city of Jerusalem had not even been prepared for defense, so strong had David’s hold upon the kingdom seemed to be. But, perhaps more than anything else, the king did not have the heart to fight against his own son. The treachery hit him so deep that he could not even imagine resistance. In utter despair, he could only turn to his servants and say, “Arise, let us flee; for we shall not else escape from Absalom: make speed to depart, lest he overtake us suddenly, and bring evil upon us, and smite the city with the edge of the sword.” 

Truly David was tasting what the prophet had meant when he said in the name of God, “Because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife, behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house . . . For thou didst it secretly: but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.”