Who was Absalom?
In the Hebrew Bible or Christian Old Testament, Absalom was David's third son by Maacah, daughter of Talmai, king of Geshur, a small territory between Hermon and Bashan.
1. A General Favorite
Absalom was born at Hebron (2 Samuel 3:3 ), and moved at an early age, with the transfer of the capital, to Jerusalem, where he spent most of his life. He was a great favorite of his father and of the people as well. His charming manners, his personal beauty, his insinuating ways, together with his love of pomp and royal pretensions, captivated the hearts of the people from the beginning. He lived in great style, drove in a magnificent chariot and had fifty men run before him. Such magnificence produced the desired effect upon the hearts of the young aristocrats of the royal city (2 Samuel 15:1 ).
2. In Exile
When Amnon, his half-brother, ravished his sister Tamar, and David shut his eyes to the grave crime and neglected to administer proper punishment, Absalom became justly enraged, and quietly nourished his anger, but after the lapse of two years carried out a successful plan to avenge his sister's wrongs. He made a great feast for the king's sons at Baalhazor, to which, among others, Amnon came, only to meet his death at the hands of Absalom's servants (2 Samuel 13:1 ). To avoid punishment he now fled to the court of his maternal grandfather in Geshur, where he remained three years, or until David, his father, had relented and condoned the murderous act of his impetuous, plotting son. At the end of three years (2 Samuel 13:38 ) we find Absalom once more in Jerusalem. It was, however, two years later before he was admitted to the royal presence (2 Samuel 14:28 ).
3. Rebels Against His Father
Absalom, again reinstated, lost no opportunity to regain lost prestige, and having his mind made up to succeed his father upon the throne, he forgot the son in the politician. Full of insinuations and rich in promises, especially to the disgruntled and to those having grievances, imaginary or real, it was but natural that he should have a following. His purpose was clear, namely, to alienate as many as possible from the king, and thus neutralize his influence in the selection of a successor, for he fully realized that the court party, under the influence of Bathsheba, was intent upon having Solomon as the next ruler.
By much flattery Absalom stole the hearts of many men in Israel (2 Samuel 15:6 ). How long a period elapsed between his return from Geshur and his open rebellion against his father David is a question which cannot be answered with any degree of certainty. Most authorities regard the forty years of 2 Samuel 15:7 as an error and following the Syriac and some editions of the Septuagint, suggest four as the correct text. Whether forty or four, he obtained permission from the king to visit Hebron, the ancient capital, on pretense of paying a vow made by him while at Geshur in case of his safe return to Jerusalem. With two hundred men he repairs to Hebron. Previous to the feast spies had been sent throughout all the tribes of Israel to stir up the discontented and to assemble them under Absalom's flag at Hebron. Very large numbers obeyed the call, among them Ahithophel, one of David's shrewdest counselors ( 2 Samuel 15:7 ).
4. David's Flight
Reports of the conspiracy at Hebron soon reached the ears of David, who now became thoroughly frightened and lost no time in leaving Jerusalem. Under the protection of his most loyal bodyguard he fled to Gilead beyond Jordan. David was kindly received at Mahanaim, where he remained till after the death of his disloyal son. Zadok and Abiathar, two leading priests, were intent upon sharing the fortunes of David; they went so far as to carry the Ark of the Covenant with them out of Jerusalem (2 Samuel 15:24 ). David, however, forced the priests and Levites to take it back to its place in the city and there remain as its guardians.
This was a prudent stroke, for these two great priests in Jerusalem acted as intermediaries, and through their sons and some influential women kept up constant communications with David's army in Gilead (2 Samuel 15:24 ). Hushai, too, was sent back to Jerusalem, where he falsely professed allegiance to Absalom, who by thins time had entered the royal city and had assumed control of the government (2 Samuel 15:32 ). Hushai, the priests and a few people less conspicuous performed their part well, for the counsel of Ahithophel, who advised immediate action and advance upon the king's forces, while everything was in a panic, was thwarted (2 Samuel 17:1 ); nay more, spies were constantly kept in contact with David's headquarters to inform the king of Absalom's plans (2 Samuel 17:15 ). This delay was fatal to the rebel son. Had he acted upon the shrewd counsel of Ahithophel, David's army might have been conquered at the outset.
5. Absalom's Death and Burial
When at length Absalom's forces under the generalship of Amasa (2 Samuel 17:25 ) reached Gilead, ample time had been given to David to organize his army, which he divided into three divisions under the efficient command of three veteran generals: Joab, Abishai and Ittai (2 Samuel 18:1 ). A great battle was fought in the forests of Ephraim. Here the rebel army was utterly routed. No fewer than 20,000 were killed outright, and a still greater number becoming entangled in the thick forest, perished that day (2 Samuel 18:7 ). Among the latter was Absalom himself, for while riding upon his mule, his head was caught in the boughs of a great oak or terebinth, probably in a forked branch. "He was taken up between heaven and earth; and the mule that was under him went on" (2 Samuel 18:9 ). In this position he was found by a soldier who at once ran to inform Joab.
The latter without a moment's hesitation, notwithstanding David's positive orders, thrust three darts into the heart of Absalom. To make his death certain and encouraged by the action of their general, ten of Joab's young men "compassed about and smote Absalom, and slew him" (2 Samuel 18:15 ). He was buried in a great pit, close to the spot where he was killed. A great pile of stones was heaped over his body (2 Samuel 18:17 ), in accordance with the custom of dishonoring rebels and great criminals by burying them under great piles of stone (Joshua 7:26 ; Joshua 8:29 ). Thomson reforms us that Syrian people to this day cast stones upon the graves of murderers and outlaws (LB , II, 61).
6. David's Lament
The death of Absalom was a source of great grief to the fond and aged father, who forgot the ruler and the king in the tenderhearted parent. His lament at the gate of Mahanaim, though very brief, is a classic, and expresses in tender language the feelings of parents for wayward children in all ages of the world (2 Samuel 18:33 ).
Little is known of Absalom's family life, but we read in 2 Samuel 14:27 that he had three sons and one daughter. From the language of 2 Samuel 18:18 , it is inferred that the sons died at an early age.
7. Absalom's Tomb
As Absalom had no son to perpetuate his memory "he reared up for himself a pillar" or a monument in the King's dale, which according to Josephus was two furlongs from Jerusalem (Ant. , VII, x, 3). Nothing is known with certainty about this monument. One of the several tombs on the east side of the Kidron passes under the name of Absalom's tomb. This fine piece of masonry with its graceful cupola and Ionic pillars must be of comparatively recent origin, probably not earlier than the Roman period.