Life of David: Absalom’s Rebellion

Text: 2 Samuel 15:1-18:33
Theme: Trusting God in an evil world.
Date: 10/10/2021 File name: King_David_15 ID Number: OT10-15
In 1681, English poet John Dryden wrote an epic poem entitled Absalom and Ahithophel. The poem tells the Biblical tale of the rebellion of Absalom against King David. In line 309 (yeah, that give you an ideal how long it is) he writes these words about Absalom:
Th’ ambitious youth, too covetous of fame. Too full of angel’s metal in his frame: Unwarily was led from virtue’s ways; Mad drunk with honour, and debauch’d with praise.
After being restored to his father’s favor, Absalom begins to position himself to become Israel’s new king by undermining the nation’s confidence in David’s administration. Declaring himself king four years later, Absalom and his followers then take over the capital ity of Jerusalem. Meanwhile, David and his followers flee to Mahanaim, east of the Jordan River. There David receives assistance from loyal supporters, and when David’s forces come face-to-face with Absalom’s army, they defeat Absalom in the Forest of Ephraim and kill Absalom.
The unfolding story in chapters 15-19 in 2 Samuel are as good as any Tom Clancy novel with it’s characters, plot twists, and unexpected outcomes. I think the best way to tell the story is by introducing you to the main characters, and then summing up with some observations and lessons.


1. after Absalom had his half-brother, Amnon, assassinated for raping their sister, Absalom flees to his maternal grandfather for refuge in the city of Geshur
a. it was a tragedy in so many ways ...
1) Tamar, David’s daughter is left a broken and desolate woman
2) Amnon, the crown prince is dead
3) Absalom, who is next in line to the throne, is a fugitive from justice who lives in exile for the next three years
b. despite what Absalom has done, David pines of r his son’s return
“Now Joab the son of Zeruiah knew that the king’s heart went out to Absalom.” (2 Samuel 14:1, ESV)
1) Joab, who is David’s nephew, orchestrates Absalom’s return to Jerusalem, and their eventual reconciliation
“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.” (2 Samuel 14:33, ESV)
2. Absalom is an appealing young man
a. he was handsome, and had a charismatic personality like his father
b. he was politically astute, and knows how to win over people
1) he’s a glad-hander, a baby-kisser, and a promise-maker
2) he really does have the makings of a good king
3. but Absalom also had some glaring faults
a. he was vain and self-centered
b. he has a vengeful spirit and is calculating
c. there is not the remotest inkling of a spiritual life or relationship with God


1. over a period of four years Absalom lays the foundation for his coup de tete
a. he does this by creating resentment for David and popular support for himself
“After this Absalom got himself a chariot and horses, and fifty men to run before him. 2 And Absalom used to rise early and stand beside the way of the gate. And when any man had a dispute to come before the king for judgment, Absalom would call to him and say, “From what city are you?” And when he said, “Your servant is of such and such a tribe in Israel,” 3 Absalom would say to him, “See, your claims are good and right, but there is no man designated by the king to hear you.” 4 Then Absalom would say, “Oh that I were judge in the land! Then every man with a dispute or cause might come to me, and I would give him justice.” 5 And whenever a man came near to pay homage to him, he would put out his hand and take hold of him and kiss him. 6 Thus Absalom did to all of Israel who came to the king for judgment. So Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel.” (2 Samuel 15:1-6, ESV)
2. when he feels everything is in place Absalom initiates the coup
a. using the pretext of fulfilling a vow, he goes to Hebron, where he proclaims himself king


1. we’ve been introduced to Ahithophel before — he is Bathsheba’s grandfather, and the father of Eliam, one of King David’s Mighty Men — trusted warriors who serve as David’s body guard
2. Ahithophel is also David’s most trusted counselor and advisor
a. he enjoyed an impressive reputation for exceedingly wise advice
b. in 2 Samuel 16:23 the people said that receiving advise from Ahithophel was like receiving a revelation from God
“Now in those days the counsel that Ahithophel gave was as if one consulted the word of God; so was all the counsel of Ahithophel esteemed, both by David and by Absalom.” (2 Samuel 16:23, ESV)
c. it’s no wonder that David grieves Ahithophel’s alliance with Absalom and no wonder Absalom courts Ahithophel’s loyalty


1. Ahithophel makes himself David’s Judas, deserting David and going over to Absalom’s side
a. David writes about this in two of his Psalms
“Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.” (Psalm 41:9, ESV)
“For it is not an enemy who taunts me— then I could bear it; it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me— then I could hide from him. 13 But it is you, a man, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend. 14 We used to take sweet counsel together; within God’s house we walked in the throng.” (Psalm 55:12–14, ESV)
1) Jesus will refer to both these Psalms during the Last Supper when he tells the disciples that one of them will betray him
2. when David finds out that Ahithophel and changed sides he prays that God will confound his wisdom and counsel
“And it was told David, “Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom.” And David said, “O LORD, please turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness.”” (2 Samuel 15:31, ESV)
3. it is Ahithophel who counsels Absalom to rape ten of David’s concubines whom David had left behind to maintain a royal presence in Jerusalem and to keep him informed of events
4. it will be Ahithophel who counsels Absalom to raise an army and go after David and the royal entourage that have escaped with him
a. why would David’s most trusted advisor leave him for Absalom?
1) Ahithophel had been David’s right-hand man for years!
b. this just does not seem to make sense!
1) in fact, Ahithophel appears to be more than a casual conspirator because he wants to personally kill David
“Moreover, Ahithophel said to Absalom, “Let me choose twelve thousand men, and I will arise and pursue David tonight. 2 I will come upon him while he is weary and discouraged and throw him into a panic, and all the people who are with him will flee. I will strike down only the king, 3 and I will bring all the people back to you as a bride comes home to her husband. You seek the life of only one man, and all the people will be at peace.”” (2 Samuel 17:1–3, ESV)
2) Ahithophel is the grandfather of Bathsheba ... the daughter of his son had a tragic end to her marriage because of David
3) we don’t know for sure, but considering that at this time Israel was very much an honor culture it seems very possible that Ahithophel never got over this betrayal by David and he was waiting for his opportunity to get revenge because he had harmed his family
5. in the end Ahithophel will commit suicide when Absalom rejected his advice on how to attack David
a. Absalom’s forces are routed, Absalom is killed, and Ahithophel sees the handwriting on the wall


1. King David has undoubtedly had some difficult times in life, some of which he has certainly brought upon himself, but this has got to be the darkest day of his life
a. a messenger arrives from Hebron with the news that Absalom has declared himself king
b. what is perhaps more disturbing is the new accompanying Absalom’s coup de tet — the hearts of the men of Israel have gone after Absalom (1 Sam. 15:13)
1) David has been king over all of Israel for about twenty-five years ... he’s been a good king and Israel has prospered under his leadership
2) in a matter of four years through glad-handing, a baby-kissing, and a promise-making Absalom has turned the hearts of the people against his father
3) this has got to be a bitter blow to David


1. immediately after receiving the news the king orders the palace staff to abandon the palace and flee
a. David and his entourage are going to become a government in exile
2. David is afraid for his family and his palace staff, but he’s more concerned about the people of Jerusalem
“Then David said to all his servants who were with him at Jerusalem, “Arise, and let us flee, or else there will be no escape for us from Absalom. Go quickly, lest he overtake us quickly and bring down ruin on us and strike the city with the edge of the sword.”” (2 Samuel 15:14, ESV)
a. David is concerned that if they stay and put up a fight and lose, that Absalom will strike the [entire] city with the edge of the sword
1) in any coup de tete there are always innocents who are clueless about what is going on, but who get caught up in the unfolding events
3. David and those with him abandon Jerusalem and trudge up the Mount of Olives headed toward the Jordan River and safety
a. a sizable group of loyalists have left with the king
1) the Kerethites and Pelethites and Gitites and their families leave with David — all Philistines who have pledged loyalty to David
a) in all, Old Testament scholars think upwards of 2,500 people are leaving with David
2) the Levites also plan to go with David bringing the Ark of the Covenant with them
a) in fact Abiathar, a direct descendent of Aaron, offered sacrifice on David’s behalf as they
b) David encourages Zadok and Abiathar to remain in Jerusalem and essentially serve as a “fifth column” communicating with him as to Absalom’s plans and movements
4. as the entourage continue up the Mount of Olives David, and the entire group, are overwhelmed by a flood of emotions
“But David went up the ascent of the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went, barefoot and with his head covered. And all the people who were with him covered their heads, and they went up, weeping as they went. 31 And it was told David, “Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom.” And David said, “O LORD, please turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness.”” (2 Samuel 15:30–31, ESV)
5. David and his followers will flee across the Jordan to Mahanaim
a. the city is remote and hard to reach which makes it the perfect place for David to regroup
b. it’s at this time David writes Psalm 3 — it’s a Psalm of a Pursued King at Peace with His God
“ A PSALM OF DAVID, WHEN HE FLED FROM ABSALOM HIS SON. 1 O LORD, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; 2 many are saying of my soul, “There is no salvation for him in God.” Selah 3 But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. 4 I cried aloud to the LORD, and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah 5 I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the LORD sustained me. 6 I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around. 7 Arise, O LORD! Save me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked. 8 Salvation belongs to the LORD; your blessing be on your people! Selah” (Psalm 3, ESV)

IV. MEPHIBOSHETH’S AMBITION ... well, maybe not

“When David had passed a little beyond the summit, Ziba the servant of Mephibosheth met him, with a couple of donkeys saddled, bearing two hundred loaves of bread, a hundred bunches of raisins, a hundred of summer fruits, and a skin of wine. 2 And the king said to Ziba, “Why have you brought these?” Ziba answered, “The donkeys are for the king’s household to ride on, the bread and summer fruit for the young men to eat, and the wine for those who faint in the wilderness to drink.” 3 And the king said, “And where is your master’s son?” Ziba said to the king, “Behold, he remains in Jerusalem, for he said, ‘Today the house of Israel will give me back the kingdom of my father.’ ” 4 Then the king said to Ziba, “Behold, all that belonged to Mephibosheth is now yours.” And Ziba said, “I pay homage; let me ever find favor in your sight, my lord the king.”” (2 Samuel 16:1–4, ESV)
1. this is a short part of the story, but it reveals how some people are always waiting to take advantage of someone else’s misfortune
2. remember Ziba? he is the chief steward of all of King’s Saul’s lands and holdings
a. after Saul and all his sons are killed, Ziba essentially commandeers all that belonged to Saul for himself which means he is not very prosperous
b. until that is, when David goes on a hunt for any of Saul’s remaining family so that he may show kindness to them
c. he finds Mephibosheth and restores to him all of Saul’s holding and returns Ziba to merely being a caretaker of a crippled man
3. in the chaos of the coup, Ziba sees an opportunity to ingratiate himself to David and throw Mephibosheth “under the bus” or I suppose “under the chariot”
a. if you skip ahead to 2 Samuel 19:24-30 you’ll see that it’s all a ruse by Ziba
b. but in doing this David gets needed supplies to get them across the Jordan


1. again, this is a short part of the story, and reminds us that hatred can have a long memories
“When King David came to Bahurim, there came out a man of the family of the house of Saul, whose name was Shimei, the son of Gera, and as he came he cursed continually. 6 And he threw stones at David and at all the servants of King David, and all the people and all the mighty men were on his right hand and on his left. 7 And Shimei said as he cursed, “Get out, get out, you man of blood, you worthless man! 8 The LORD has avenged on you all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose place you have reigned, and the LORD has given the kingdom into the hand of your son Absalom. See, your evil is on you, for you are a man of blood.”” (2 Samuel 16:5–8, ESV)
2. Shimei is somehow related to King Saul and as far as he is concerned David is a usurper to the throne of Israel
a. he throws stones and curses David and they go by
3. Abishai curses back and ask David’s permission to lop the man’s head off
a. David is convinced that it may be God using Shimei to curse him and leaves him alone


1. Hushai is another trusted advisor to King David, who plans to leave Jerusalem with his king
a. David dissuade him
“While David was coming to the summit, where God was worshiped, behold, Hushai the Archite came to meet him with his coat torn and dirt on his head. 33 David said to him, “If you go on with me, you will be a burden to me. 34 But if you return to the city and say to Absalom, ‘I will be your servant, O king; as I have been your father’s servant in time past, so now I will be your servant,’ then you will defeat for me the counsel of Ahithophel.” (2 Samuel 15:32–34, ESV)
“So Hushai, David’s friend, came into the city, just as Absalom was entering Jerusalem.” (2 Samuel 15:37, ESV)
2. Hushai will ultimately save David’s life and his kingdom by countering Ahithophel’s advise to Absalom
a. Ahithophel advises Absalom to quickly assemble a large force (12,000 men), to deploy quickly, to march upon David’s forces to terrorize them, and to have a limited objective — kill only David
b. the plan seemed good to Absalom and to all the elder of Israel ... until that is Absalom asked for Hushai’s counsel
1) he gives virtually the opposite advise
2 Samuel 17:5-14
3. Absalom follows Hushai’s advise and it is Absalom’s forces that are routed in what was called “The Battle of the Woods”
a. it was a craggy, heavily forested area in the land of the Tribe of Ephraim on the east side of the Jordan River
4. Absalom flees, get his hair hung up in a tree, and Joab kills him
“Joab said, “I will not waste time like this with you.” And he took three javelins in his hand and thrust them into the heart of Absalom while he was still alive in the oak. 15 And ten young men, Joab’s armor-bearers, surrounded Absalom and struck him and killed him. 16 Then Joab blew the trumpet, and the troops came back from pursuing Israel, for Joab restrained them. 17 And they took Absalom and threw him into a great pit in the forest and raised over him a very great heap of stones. And all Israel fled every one to his own home.” (2 Samuel 18:14–17, ESV)
5. David, upon hearing of Absalom’s death withdraws into himself in deep grief
2 Samuel 18:31-33
6. this brings us to the last character and the end of the story


1. Joab is ashamed of David’s behavior, and essentially has to tell David to “man up”
2 Samuel 19:1-8


1. A Person Who Can Impress People with Good Looks and Smooth Words Will Not Necessarily Make a Good Leader
2. In the midst of a Crisis Some People Will Seek to Take Advantage of You During the Chaos
3. No Matter How Bad Things Get, You’ve Got People Who Love You and Will Be with You
4. Absalom Is an Old Testament Illustration of the Rebellion of Sinners Against a Gracious King
5. David is an Old Testament illustration of a Gracious king who offers grace to those who don’t deserve it and mourns over our rejection of him
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