O. Palmer Robertson writes, “The deliverance of God’s people always comes through the destruction of God’s enemies” (The Christ of the Covenants, 102). David asks the three commanders who were going out against Absalom & Company, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom” (2 Sam. 18:5). Oops, did I say, David asks?! “And the king ordered Joab and Abishai and Ittai…And all the people heard when the king gave orders to all the commanders about Absalom” (2 Sam. 18:5, emphasis mine). The interesting thing about this is that David orders them to deal gently with the one leading the rebellion against the king and the kingdom that Yahweh has established. Whose word will prevail? “For Yahweh had ordained to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, so that Yahweh might bring harm upon Absalom” (2 Sam. 17:14b). The reader, should already know how the story will end. Let’s take a look.
The author contrasts the army’s feelings about David and David’s feelings about the army in the opening of 2 Samuel 18 and 19. David is ready to go out with the army “But the men said, ‘You shall not go out. For if we flee, they will not care about us. If half of us die, they will not care about us. But you are worth ten thousand of us. Therefore it is better that you send us help from the city’” (2 Sam. 18:3). David is worth ten thousand of them, wow, they value the life of the king since they know it is him that they want (see 2 Sam. 17:1-3). David once slayed his “ten thousands,” but not today (see 1 Sam. 18:7). Following the battle, which is only given three verses total (vv. 6-8), and the news that Absalom has died, David is crying his eyes out, so to speak. Joab’s rebuke of the king is precise, “For you have made it clear today that commanders and servants are nothing to you, for today I know that if Absalom were alive and all of us were dead today, then you would be pleased” (2 Sam. 19:6b). Joab is using a bit of hyperbole, but can you blame the man for being upset? Hardly. But wait, the king did order the commanders to deal gently with Absalom.
While the battle is summarized, the author draws our attention to the demise of Absalom. The man doesn’t speak, he just gets his head caught in a tree and is “suspended between heaven and earth” (2 Sam. 18:9). Joab is upset that the man who found Absalom didn’t run him through, but the man reminded Joab of the king’s words to the commanders, that all of them heard (vv. 10-13). Joab ignores the man, and David, and runs three spears into Absalom (v. 14). Joab’s armor-bearers finish off the rebel (v. 15). As the war ceased, the body of Absalom was thrown “into a great pit in the forest and raised over him a very great heap of stones” (v. 17a). Remember Achan? The one who took of the devoted things at Jericho and was burned and stoned for his sin. “And they raised over him a great heap of stones that remains to this day” (Joshua 7:26a). Joshua “hanged the king of Ai on a tree until evening. And at sunset Joshua commanded, and they took his body down from the tree and threw it at the entrance of the gate of the city and raised over it a great heap of stones, which stands there to this day” (Joshua 8:29). In Joshua 10, five enemy kings are hanged on trees and placed into the cave where they were hiding, “and they set large stones against the mouth of the cave, which remain to this very day” (v. 27b). Absalom dies as an accursed one (see Deut. 21:23) and as a rebel, like these examples in Joshua show. Let it be known, this is the end of those who rebel against God’s kingdom and His King.
What are we to make of Joab’s act against Absalom? In lieu of David’s order it was rebellious, but in lieu of our opening quote (that we see played out time and time again in Scripture) it was rational. Joab fails to submit to the king’s order but he succeeds in removing the cancerous part of the kingdom. Yahweh delivers David from all his enemies, even the one raised up against him from his own house. Dale Ralph Davis is a similar vein to Robertson above says, “The preserving of God’s kingdom (v. 31) involves the perishing of its enemies (v. 32)” (2 Samuel Out of Every Adversity, 234). The church should have Jesus’ words echoing in our ears, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18).
David’s response to the good news that the Cushite brings him, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Sam. 18:33b). You have not forgotten the words of Nathan to David in 2 Samuel 12:10-12 have you? Second Sam. 12:10 says, “Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.” David’s guilt is the driving force behind his grief. He knows that it should have been him who died for his sin, but Absalom suffers the consequences of David’s sin. This of course does not absolve Absalom of wrongdoing, for the death he died (accursed as a rebel) is still fitting for raising himself up against his father, and ultimately against Yahweh.
“First and second Samuel clearly show us that as the anointed king David is a suffering king. Here, however, he sheds tears for his own griefs and over his own guilt. We will have to wait for his Descendant, the man of sorrows, who will bear our griefs and carry our sorrows (Isa. 53:4)” (Dale Ralph Davis, 236, his emphasis).