Wiki-Lessons: Absalom Flees and Returns

Joab oversees the reconciliation of David and AbsalomAbsalom was angry with Amnon (for very good reason), but evidently the king took no action. Therefore, Absalom prepared a plan.

(2Sa 13:21-27 ESV)  21 When King David heard of all these things, he was very angry.  22 But Absalom spoke to Amnon neither good nor bad, for Absalom hated Amnon, because he had violated his sister Tamar.  23 After two full years Absalom had sheepshearers at Baal-hazor, which is near Ephraim, and Absalom invited all the king’s sons.  24 And Absalom came to the king and said, “Behold, your servant has sheepshearers. Please let the king and his servants go with your servant.”  25 But the king said to Absalom, “No, my son, let us not all go, lest we be burdensome to you.” He pressed him, but he would not go but gave him his blessing.  26 Then Absalom said, “If not, please let my brother Amnon go with us.” And the king said to him, “Why should he go with you?”  27 But Absalom pressed him until he let Amnon and all the king’s sons go with him.

(2Sa 13:28-30 ESV)  28 Then Absalom commanded his servants, “Mark when Amnon’s heart is merry with wine, and when I say to you, ‘Strike Amnon,’ then kill him. Do not fear; have I not commanded you? Be courageous and be valiant.”  29 So the servants of Absalom did to Amnon as Absalom had commanded. Then all the king’s sons arose, and each mounted his mule and fled.  30 While they were on the way, news came to David, “Absalom has struck down all the king’s sons, and not one of them is left.”

It’s astonishing how ready Absalom’s servants are to kill Amnon, the heir to the throne — just as it was astonishing how readily David’s servants brought Bathsheba to him.

As is so often true, the rumor that David heard was far from the truth. Absalom had  killed only Amnon, but the assumption was that he was killing all claimants to the throne.

(2Sa 13:31-33 ESV) 31 Then the king arose and tore his garments and lay on the earth. And all his servants who were standing by tore their garments.  32 But Jonadab the son of Shimeah, David’s brother, said, “Let not my lord suppose that they have killed all the young men, the king’s sons, for Amnon alone is dead. For by the command of Absalom this has been determined from the day he violated his sister Tamar.  33 Now therefore let not my lord the king so take it to heart as to suppose that all the king’s sons are dead, for Amnon alone is dead.”

The truth of the matter is explained to the king. And then the other sons of the king return, confirming that only Amnon has died.

(2Sa 13:34-36 ESV)  34 But Absalom fled. And the young man who kept the watch lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, many people were coming from the road behind him by the side of the mountain.  35 And Jonadab said to the king, “Behold, the king’s sons have come; as your servant said, so it has come about.”  36 And as soon as he had finished speaking, behold, the king’s sons came and lifted up their voice and wept. And the king also and all his servants wept very bitterly.

David then mourned for Absalom, because he fled.

(2Sa 13:37-39 ESV)  37 But Absalom fled and went to Talmai the son of Ammihud, king of Geshur. And David mourned for his son day after day.  38 So Absalom fled and went to Geshur, and was there three years.  39 And the spirit of the king longed to go out to Absalom, because he was comforted about Amnon, since he was dead.

Evidently, David got over the death of Amnon quickly enough. He was then concerned about Absalom.

(2Sa 14:1-21 ESV) Now Joab the son of Zeruiah knew that the king’s heart went out to Absalom.  2 And Joab sent to Tekoa and brought from there a wise woman and said to her, “Pretend to be a mourner and put on mourning garments. Do not anoint yourself with oil, but behave like a woman who has been mourning many days for the dead.  3 Go to the king and speak thus to him.” So Joab put the words in her mouth.

4 When the woman of Tekoa came to the king, she fell on her face to the ground and paid homage and said, “Save me, O king.”  5 And the king said to her, “What is your trouble?” She answered, “Alas, I am a widow; my husband is dead.  6 And your servant had two sons, and they quarreled with one another in the field. There was no one to separate them, and one struck the other and killed him.  7 And now the whole clan has risen against your servant, and they say, ‘Give up the man who struck his brother, that we may put him to death for the life of his brother whom he killed.’ And so they would destroy the heir also. Thus they would quench my coal that is left and leave to my husband neither name nor remnant on the face of the earth.”

8 Then the king said to the woman, “Go to your house, and I will give orders concerning you.”  9 And the woman of Tekoa said to the king, “On me be the guilt, my lord the king, and on my father’s house; let the king and his throne be guiltless.”  10 The king said, “If anyone says anything to you, bring him to me, and he shall never touch you again.”  11 Then she said, “Please let the king invoke the LORD your God, that the avenger of blood kill no more, and my son be not destroyed.” He said, “As the LORD lives, not one hair of your son shall fall to the ground.”

Under the Law, when a man is killed, the “avenger of blood,” a member of the family of the murdered person, seeks to kill the murderer. However, the murderer can seek asylum in certain “cities of refuge,” where a judge will decide the case. Thus, the Law creates a more humane system in place of honor killings.

(Num 35:10-12 ESV) 10 “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan,  11 then you shall select cities to be cities of refuge for you, that the manslayer who kills any person without intent may flee there.  12 The cities shall be for you a refuge from the avenger, that the manslayer may not die until he stands before the congregation for judgment.

Perhaps someone in Amnon’s line was seeking to kill Absalom in vengeance for the death of Amnon. Or perhaps the king was paralyzed by his dread of seeing Absalom die as well while feeling obligated to enforce the law and honor by searching out Absalom and having him executed for murder.

But, of course, after Amnon’s rape of Tamar, we are all somewhat sympathetic to Absalom’s situation. The king refused to defend the honor of his own daughter. Of course, Absalom had to take matters into his own hands! That hardly justifies his behavior, but this is not as simple as “Absalom killed Amnon.”

12 Then the woman said, “Please let your servant speak a word to my lord the king.” He said, “Speak.”  13 And the woman said, “Why then have you planned such a thing against the people of God? For in giving this decision the king convicts himself, inasmuch as the king does not bring his banished one home again.  14 We must all die; we are like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. But God will not take away life, and he devises means so that the banished one will not remain an outcast.  15 Now I have come to say this to my lord the king because the people have made me afraid, and your servant thought, ‘I will speak to the king; it may be that the king will perform the request of his servant.  16 For the king will hear and deliver his servant from the hand of the man who would destroy me and my son together from the heritage of God.’  17 And your servant thought, ‘The word of my lord the king will set me at rest,’ for my lord the king is like the angel of God to discern good and evil. The LORD your God be with you!”

The woman then explains to David that her parable was told to cause the king to restore Absalom to his place in the palace. Of course, in her story, there was no intent to murder, which would allow the killer to flee to a city of refuge and found innocent. But in Absalom’s case, the murder was quite intentional, and had he fled to a city of refuge, he’d have been stoned.

“God will not take away life” may be a subtle allusion to Nathan’s speech to David, where David was not killed for his own murder! Indeed, the use of a parable in the king’s court is likely an intentional parallel to David and Nathan, with Joab’s plan being to put David in Nathan’s (God’s, actually) place as the one granting mercy above what the Law requires.

18 Then the king answered the woman, “Do not hide from me anything I ask you.” And the woman said, “Let my lord the king speak.”  19 The king said, “Is the hand of Joab with you in all this?” The woman answered and said, “As surely as you live, my lord the king, one cannot turn to the right hand or to the left from anything that my lord the king has said. It was your servant Joab who commanded me; it was he who put all these words in the mouth of your servant.  20 In order to change the course of things your servant Joab did this. But my lord has wisdom like the wisdom of the angel of God to know all things that are on the earth.”  21 Then the king said to Joab, “Behold now, I grant this; go, bring back the young man Absalom.”

The king then guesses that Joab had put her up to this ruse.

(2Sa 14:21-24 ESV)  21 Then the king said to Joab, “Behold now, I grant this; go, bring back the young man Absalom.”  22 And Joab fell on his face to the ground and paid homage and blessed the king. And Joab said, “Today your servant knows that I have found favor in your sight, my lord the king, in that the king has granted the request of his servant.”  23 So Joab arose and went to Geshur and brought Absalom to Jerusalem.  24 And the king said, “Let him dwell apart in his own house; he is not to come into my presence.” So Absalom lived apart in his own house and did not come into the king’s presence.

The king then granted Absalom safe passage to return, but banned him from the king’s presence, to show the king’s displeasure with him.

(2Sa 14:25-28 ESV)  25 Now in all Israel there was no one so much to be praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom. From the sole of his foot to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him.  26 And when he cut the hair of his head (for at the end of every year he used to cut it; when it was heavy on him, he cut it), he weighed the hair of his head, two hundred shekels by the king’s weight.  27 There were born to Absalom three sons, and one daughter whose name was Tamar. She was a beautiful woman.  28 So Absalom lived two full years in Jerusalem, without coming into the king’s presence.

The author wants us to know that Absalom was special.

(2Sa 14:29-1 ESV) 29 Then Absalom sent for Joab, to send him to the king, but Joab would not come to him. And he sent a second time, but Joab would not come.  30 Then he said to his servants, “See, Joab’s field is next to mine, and he has barley there; go and set it on fire.” So Absalom’s servants set the field on fire.  31 Then Joab arose and went to Absalom at his house and said to him, “Why have your servants set my field on fire?”  32 Absalom answered Joab, “Behold, I sent word to you, ‘Come here, that I may send you to the king, to ask, “Why have I come from Geshur? It would be better for me to be there still.” Now therefore let me go into the presence of the king, and if there is guilt in me, let him put me to death.'”  33 Then Joab went to the king and told him, and he summoned Absalom. So he came to the king and bowed himself on his face to the ground before the king, and the king kissed Absalom.

Absalom was desperate for the king’s approval, and he schemed to have Joab speak to the king for him. Ultimately, David forgave Absalom.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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One Response to Wiki-Lessons: Absalom Flees and Returns

  1. Bob Brandon says:

    Not trying to read into the mind of the redactor, but the story of the reign of David after his adultery and murder seem to highlight his personal failings as a father and as a king. The situation within the royal household was pretty close to intolerable after the murder of Ammon, the heir-apparent and apparently without consequence, and Joab seemed determined to fill the void left by the lack of leadership from the throne with his military authority (and such authority that David had to leave to Solomon his ultimate fate). Yet the House of David survived under such circumstances that would similarly lead to repeated assassinations in the later northern kingdom. God works His will regardless of the instruments of His sovereignty. Nonetheless, the fractures between the Judahites and the rest of the tribes were already there long before Rehoboam.

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