August 15, 2014

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Old Testament: Absalom’s rebellion against King David

John F. Fink(Thirty-second in a series of columns)

Chapters 15-19 of the Second Book of Samuel tell us how God continued to punish David for his sin with Bathsheba and the killing of Uriah, her husband. This time, it’s the rebellion of David’s son Absalom, who is impatient to succeed David as king. Absalom organized an army in Hebron and marched against Jerusalem.

When he learned that Absalom was coming, David fled from Jerusalem with his household, except for 10 concubines. As they fled, they met various people along the way (and would meet them again on their return). David made the procession a penitential rite, walking barefoot, and even allowing a man named Shimei, a relative of Saul, to curse him.

The action shifts from David to Absalom, who entered Jerusalem. On the advice of a man named Ahithophel, he had sex with his father’s concubines, pitching a tent on the roof so all the people could see when he visited the women.

Then Ahithophel and Hushai gave conflicting advice on how to track down and defeat David. Absalom accepted Hushai’s advice, so Ahithophel hanged himself. But Hushai sent messengers to David to let him know what was going to happen. David prepared for battle. Persuaded not to accompany the troops, he gave instructions not to harm Absalom.

David’s forces defeated Absalom’s, but David’s general, Joab, ignored David’s orders to be gentle with Absalom. Absalom’s mule passed under a terebinth tree and Absalom’s hair became tangled in the branches. While he was hanging there, Joab killed him.

When the news reached David, he mourned for his son, going to his room and crying, “My son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you, Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Sm 19:1). Joab had to convince him that all his men would desert him if he didn’t stop turning a victory into mourning. David then returned to Jerusalem, and reconciled with those he met when he was escaping from the city.

Chapter 19 ends with tension between Israel in the north and Judah in the south. That tension broke out in Chapter 20 with a rebellion of the Israelites led by a man named Sheba, obviously showing dissatisfaction with David’s rule.

David’s general Joab again showed his ruthlessness by murdering Amasa, the man David sent to rally the Judahites. Then Joab and his brother Abashai chased down Sheba, who retreated to the town of Abel Beth-maacah.

As the troops were trying to batter down the town’s walls, a woman asked Joab if he was trying to destroy the city. When Joab said that he only wanted Sheba, the woman convinced the people to cut off Sheba’s head and throw it to Joab. End of rebellion.

Chapters 21-24 are appendices that seem to be random stories about things that happened during David’s reign. They include a lengthy song of thanksgiving that David sang and his last words. There’s also the story of David’s punishment, actually inflicted on others, for ordering a census, considered wrong because it implied a lack of faith in the Lord. †

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