David’s on the run. If we didn’t know any better, it sounds like we are back in 1 Samuel. David was constantly on the run from Saul, who was pursuing “After a flea!” (1 Samuel 24:14b). Yet Yahweh had delivered David time and time again. What happens when Absalom, his son, takes aim at the crown? Let’s take a look.
Before David is on the run, Absalom sets up several things to try to full proof his rise to power. What things? For starters, what is the deal with the chariot and horses and fifty men (v. 1)? If it looks like a duck and acts like a duck, then it is probably a duck. If Absalom looks like a king and acts like a king, the perhaps he will become king (consider 1 Kings 1:5).
Secondly, Absalom would sit at the gate and 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.” (2 Sam. 15:4). This makes it sound like the king, David, did not have time to listen to your petty squabbles. But didn’t we just read about a woman of Tekoa coming and bringing her “dispute” about those who wanted to kill her last remaining son (2 Sam. 14:4-7)? What is Absalom up to? He is lying, or at least distorting the truth, aka lying. But that’s not all. Why does Absalom ask someone what tribe they are from as they “come before the king for judgment” (2 Sam. 15:2)? If they said “Your servant is of such and such a tribe in Israel” (v. 2b), then Absalom would say there isn’t anyone to listen to you, too bad I’m not the judge (see vv. 3-4). This implies that when someone came and said “Your servant is of Judah” Absalom would let them go see David. So he is driving a wedge between Judah and Israel. What David sought to unite, Absalom looks to expose for his own ends. Good thing politicians don’t act that way anymore…oh shoot! Everyone loves Absalom, just look at the guy (2 Sam. 14:25-27). “So Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel” (v. 6b).
Absalom is a planner. He didn’t immediately strike his brother Amnon dead, but waited two years for the right time to strike (2 Sam. 13:23, 27-29). Again, he doesn’t just waltz into Jerusalem and say “Dad, I’m taking over now,” he gathers support around him both knowingly (v. 1) and unknowingly (v. 11). A group of two hundred men from Jerusalem go with Absalom to Hebron. When David hears that “Absalom is king in Hebron” (v. 10b), as far as he can see, two hundred men from Jerusalem, likely men with some status, are also on Absalom’s side. David doesn’t know they went in “their innocence and knew nothing” (v. 11b), as Absalom had planned. One strong, legit, ally for Absalom was David’s counselor, Ahithophel, who was the grandfather of Bathsheba (2 Sam. 23:34). Had he known what David did to his granddaughter and grandson-in-law? After David finds out about this he prays, “O Yahweh, please turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness” (v. 31b). Confound the plans of my adversaries, seems like a good prayer to pray still today.
David didn’t want Absalom to “strike the city with the edge of the sword” (v. 14b). Peter Leithart points out, “David was in danger of losing his position, but he willing sacrificed himself to save the city. David was acting like a king, in a way that he had not since his sin: Plotting against Uriah, he was willing that many should die for one; threatened by Absalom, he was willing to be the one who should die to preserve the city” (A Son to Me: An Exposition of 1 & 2 Samuel, 244). As David, and all his servants, flee from Jerusalem, it is a picture of Israel going off into exile. Who remains at David’s side? Cherethites, Pelethites, and six hundred Gittites (v. 18). In other words, Gentiles. David’s son steals the hearts of the Israelites and conspires against his own father to take the kingdom, while these Gentiles remain loyal to David and go with him wherever he goes. Jesus was crucified by His own people but accepted by many Gentiles, thus the glorious truth that Paul speaks of in Romans 9, “For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel…but children of the promise are counted as offspring” (vv. 6b, 8b).
In v. 7, several English translations (ESV, NASB2020, NIV) say, “And at the end of four years Absalom said to the king…” This is what the Septuagint, abbreviated LXX, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, states. But many footnotes in these Bibles will say that the Hebrew says “forty.” I’m thankful some English texts (KJV, NKJV, NASB1995) keep the original Hebrew rendering. So why don’t the others? Absalom couldn’t have waited for forty years to ask David anything since the sum total of David’s reign was forty years, and that included seven years and six months in Hebron (2 Sam. 5:5; 1 Kings 2:11). It seems best to understand the forty years as referring to the fortieth, and final, year of David’s reign. It makes it quite a fitting conclusion that he is in the wilderness during his fortieth year, since forty years (and days) is associated with wilderness wanderings (see Num. 14:32-35; Matthew 4:1-2).