David & Absalom

from 2 Samuel, chapters 13-18.


Scripture provides us with examples of how one injustice leads to another and everyone involved suffers disgrace and destruction.  In 2 Samuel 13 we read where one of David’s sons, Ammon, lusted after his half-sister Tamar and raped her.  She was now disgraced, no longer a virgin and no man would want to marry her.  When her brother Absalom found out about it, he remained silent at the time and took her in to live with him.  When David heard what happened he was furious, but never took any punitive action.  In his love for his son, he did not do the right thing- have his son arrested and punished for rape and incest with his sister. This was a clear violation of God’s commandments. Tamar experienced humiliation, disgrace and injustice at the hands of King David who knew the law and chose to ignore it.  Because the king had not done anything to correct the offense, her brother’s heart was filled with anger, resentment and revenge.


Two years later Absalom made arrangements to have Ammon killed by some of his servants while attending a party at his house.  Then he fled the country; a refugee from his father’s kingdom for three years.  Now David had lost both of his sons and was sorely grieved.  His servant Joab knew how David longed to be with his son again and devised a plan for his safe return. Joab was probably more motivated by political reasons than thoughts of restoration of the family and resorted to trickery and deception to get what he wanted.


Joab summoned a wise woman from Tekoa to tell David a story about another case of injustice which would soften his heart toward his banished son.  The story was clearly applicable by analogy to David’s own predicament.  The woman convinced David to reconsider by saying, “God does not take away life; instead, he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him” (2 Sam. 14:14).  “For my lord the king is like an angel of God in discerning good and evil.  May the Lord your God be with you” (verse 17).  She sounded like a wise and reasonable woman who had the king’s best interest at heart.  However, she misinterpreted God’s word and used flattery to influence King David.


Exodus 20:13 lists the sixth commandment, “You shall not murder.” David’s son had murdered Ammon and was punishable by death according to Exodus 21:12-14.  God does not take away life without reason, but if a man commits murder he forfeits his right to life. Then the gift of discernment is given by the Spirit of God to man to make wise decisions, not to angels.


After listening to her worldly advice, David relented and sent for Absalom to return to Jerusalem, but he was not allowed to see David’s face again nor enter his house.  David was torn between love and anger over his son’s behavior.  Absalom was not arrested, nor did he face the punishment for his crime.  Once again King David made a terrible mistake in judgment and allowed a crime to go unpunished, because it was a member of his own family.  The proper course of action would have been for him to excuse himself as judge and provide for a trial by other authorized persons in his kingdom.  Then he could have trusted God to provide a fair and impartial hearing for his son.


King David did not carry out God’s justice for disobedience to his laws and commandments. He allowed his heart and family relations to get in the way of conducting righteous leadership.  Absalom returned to Jerusalem and two years later demanded to see his father David.  “Now then, I want to see the king’s face, and if I am guilty of anything, let him put me to death.”   Absalom essentially sought a full pardon, but showed no sign of repentance.  He believed his father would not put him to death. When he went in to see the king “he bowed down with his face to the ground.  And the king kissed Absalom” (2 Sam 14:32).  King David forgave his son and gave him reconciliation with the royal family totally ignoring the need for repentance and justice. David was not authorized to pardon his son because of his conflict of interest.  A court of impartial judges should have dealt with the matter.


These mistakes in godly leadership eventually led to the fulfillment of the curse Nathan pronounced on him years earlier for his sin with Bathsheba.  2 Sam. 12:10-12, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity upon you.”


With full reconciliation in the eyes of the people between the king and his son, Absalom proceeded to steal away the hearts of the men of Israel. There was not a man in Israel so highly praised for his handsome appearance.  There was not a blemish on him and he had a beautiful, thick head of hair.  However, his heart was full of deceit and conspiracy.  He sought the people’s endorsement and used political cunning to gain their favor.  2 Sam. 15:4, “If only I were appointed judge in the land!  Then everyone who has a complaint or case could come to me and I would see that he gets justice.”  In the course of four years, he persuaded many among the tribes of Israel to pronounce him as the new king in Hebron and to overthrow his father David.  His conspiracy gained much strength and Absalom’s following kept on increasing.


David was forced to flee Jerusalem to escape from Absalom and to spare the lives of many innocent people should war break out within the city’s walls.  While David stayed behind he sent his troops to wage war with Absalom and commanded his men to spare his son’s life.  Absalom was riding is mule through the forest when his magnificent hair was caught in the thick branches of a large oak tree.  His mule kept going and he was left hanging in midair by his hair.  It is ironic that his abundant hair, symbolic of his pride and egotism, was his undoing.  Joab found him there and plunged three javelins into Absalom’s heart.  When David received the news he wept for the death of his son.  “My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!”


David and Absalom’s life stories provide us with examples of ungodly leadership, disobedience to God’s commandments, failure to carry out justice, misguided advice and no discernment of God’s will in any of these matters.  If ever there were examples of how not to lead God’s people in the Bible, these would rank (among) the best.  Most preacher’s point out David’s downfall with Bathsheba, but that was mild when compared to his lack of loyalty to God and favoritism with his own family time and time again.  David, a man after God’s heart, was conflicted and confused when it came to handling conflict in his own kingdom.  It is clear he had no godly guidelines to follow and did what seemed right in his own eyes. 


Not once do we see the idea that David prayed and asked God what to do in these matters.  In his youth David “inquired of the Lord” on numerous occasions before making an important decision. (See 1 Samuel 23:2 or 30:8). He desperately wanted to do God’s will and know that God was leading him to do the right thing.  Yet somehow in his later years after he became king, he began to rely on the advice of others around him and his own personal feelings.  Obedience to God’s word, use of wisdom and discernment were abandoned for natural thinking and worldly understanding.  Because of the blood shed during his forty years as king, he was not allowed to build the temple for God.  There was too much sin on his hands.  That assignment was for his son Solomon to complete. 


When the time drew near for David to die, he gave this charge to Solomon in 1 Kings 2:2.  “Observe what the Lord your God requires: walk in his ways, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and requirements…so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go and that the Lord may keep his promise to me: ‘If your descendants watch how they live, and if they walk faithfully before me with all their heart and soul, you will never fail to have a man on the throne of Israel.”  If only David had followed his own advice through out his life, how different his life might have been.  Hopefully, we can learn from his mistakes and be better leaders in the kingdom of God today.


Finally, another passage in 2 Samuel 23:2-4 gives us David’s last words, “The Spirit of the Lord spoke through me; his word was on my tongue.  The God of Israel spoke, the rock of Israel said to me: When one rules over men in righteousness, when he rules in the fear of God, he is like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morning, like the brightness after rain that brings the grass from the earth.”  Yes, Lord.  Send us your grace to be the men and women of God that reflect your glory in the earth.


Copyright © 2005 Tree of Life Ministries