II Samuel 15

1. After this it happened that Absalom provided himself with chariots and horses, and fifty men to run before him.

Now it comes to pass that Absalom starts to work to increase his own respect and popularity. Today it might be said that he worked to brand his name as a great name in Israel. He provides himself with chariots and horses. This was not really allowed for God’s kings to do, as Deuteronomy 17:15-16 tells us.

15. you shall surely set a king over you whom the LORD your God chooses; one from among your brethren you shall set as king over you; you may not set a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. 16. But he shall not multiply horses for himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt to multiply horses, for the LORD has said to you, ‘You shall not return that way again.’

Yet this is the first move that Absalom makes to try to take the throne away from his father. Thus we see that from the very start, Absalom’s rebellion is not just against his father, but also against God. Moreover he hires fifty men to run before him as he drives his chariot. These would be to clear the way, something very necessary for a chariot driver in a day when most people walked, so the roadways would be clogged with foot traffic. Yet such runners were also a mark of a great man, so Absalom is out to make himself appear royal.

According to The Companion Bible’s reckoning, Absalom is twenty-four years old at the time he does this. David his father is fifty-six years old. Solomon, on the other hand, David’s choice to be the next king, is only six.

2. Now Absalom would rise early and stand beside the way to the gate. So it was, whenever anyone who had a lawsuit came to the king for a decision, that Absalom would call to him and say, “What city are you from?” And he would say, “Your servant is from such and such a tribe of Israel.”

Absalom’s plot unfolds. He starts to get up early and stand beside the way to the gate. In their society, most men were farmers, and agriculture drove their society. Yet times were fierce, and no one wanted to live unprotected out in the country by his fields. Therefore, the people would live in the towns with walls and defenses, and go out of the city by day to work their fields. Because of this, everyone had to pass through the city gates every morning, and so it became common, when you wanted to meet anyone to do business, that you would go early to the gate and wait for him to show up there. For this reason, the gate became the logical place for the officials of the city to set up shop, and the “gate” became more or less the courthouse of any city. Thus for Absalom to stand by the way to the gate was basically for him to stand in Jerusalem’s courthouse.

While he stands in the gate, he is on the lookout for anyone who is coming to the king with a legal matter he wanted settled by the king’s decision. David, as king, was the final court of appeal in the land, and those who felt they had not gotten justice anywhere else would come to David, the king and God’s representative, for that justice. Absalom, however, was there to waylay such people. He would call to them and ask them what city they were from. The man would then reveal that he was from some city in Israel. Absalom, it seems, was looking for Israelites. He had no interest in foreigners.

3. Then Absalom would say to him, “Look, your case is good and right; but there is no deputy of the king to hear you.”

Absalom then sympathizes with these men seeking justice. He claims their case is good and right, and perhaps many times it was. Everyone would like to think this of their own case, at least. But then he points out that there is no deputy of the king there to hear their case. Basically, he slanders his father the king, making him look bad in the sight of these men coming to him for justice.

Why, we might wonder, was there no deputy of the king there to hear their cases, which fact allowed Absalom to be able to do this? The record does not tell us for sure, but we can speculate. We know from some of his writings in the Psalms that David was ill at this time, ill with some terrible illness. It might even have been the terrible scourge of leprosy. In Psalm 38, he says such things as, “There is no soundness in my flesh… Nor any health in my bones.” “My wounds are foul and festering.” “For my loins are full of inflammation, And there is no soundness in my flesh.” “My loved ones and my friends stand aloof from my plague, And my relatives stand afar off.” And then, on top of this, “Those also who seek my life lay snares for me; Those who seek my hurt speak of destruction, And plan deception all the day long.” This verse assures us that as David lay sick, his enemies, enemies such as Absalom, used the opportunity to plot against him. After all, if David was too sick to do anything about it, what better time to plan his destruction?

So the probable reason for the lack of a deputy at the king’s gate was that David was too sick to see to it that one was there. Perhaps then it was Absalom’s own doing that there was no deputy ready for duty. Perhaps he was even supposed to be the deputy himself! Whatever the case might be, we can be sure that it was David’s enemies who were blocking justice from being done, not the king himself. David cared about justice and about his people. This sad situation was brought about by his enemies while he was ill and could do nothing about it.

4. Moreover Absalom would say, “Oh, that I were made judge in the land, and everyone who has any suit or cause would come to me; then I would give him justice.”

Absalom then commiserates with the Israelite who was trying to come to David for justice. He claims that, if only he were made judge in the land, he would see to it that everyone who came to him with a suit or cause would receive justice! Note the hypocritical nature of Absalom’s claim. He was probably largely responsible for the lack of justice! He was just trying to make David his father look bad and himself look good. Sadly, with David unable to defend himself, his scheme appears to have worked in the simple minds and fickle hearts of those who came to him. They believed his lies, and many of them left wishing the very idea Absalom had planted in their heads would take place.

5. And so it was, whenever anyone came near to bow down to him, that he would put out his hand and take him and kiss him.

Another clever stratagem of Absalom’s is that, when anyone comes near to him to bow down, as they might be expected to do for a man who was the king’s son, that he would put out his hand to stop him from bowing, and instead would take him and kiss him. The last kiss we saw in the book was David’s kiss that he gave Absalom, a sincere kiss of a loving father. What a contrast with these hypocritical kisses of his traitorous son!

Thus Absalom treats the common people of Israel like friends. But did this proud and ambitious king really have such affection for the people of the land? Certainly not! This was all a show. Yet the men he did this to felt flattered, and his show worked.

6. In this manner Absalom acted toward all Israel who came to the king for judgment. So Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel.

Absalom did this toward all Israel who came to the king for judgment. Remember, though we say this was the common people, realize that it would be the patriarchs, the men who were in charge of their families, who would be coming to the king with any suit on behalf of their families. These were men with power, even if it be local and family power, that he was doing these things to. These men would go home and tell their fellow patriarchs what had happened to them when they went to Jerusalem. Thus these clever acts of Absalom would reach out and appeal to men of influence throughout the entire realm.

Absalom’s clever schemes worked. The loyalty of the people, it seems, could easily be won by lies and flattery. Their hearts are stolen by these underhanded means, and the loyalty of the men of Israel switches to Absalom. How quickly they forgot the king God had chosen for them and gave their hearts to another! Did they not remember that it was God and no one else who had given them David in the first place? Their fickle hearts did not just show a lack of loyalty to David, but also an underlying lack of loyalty to David’s God. Their allegiance was not deep. They could be easily won over to the side of another. In two generations this reality will prove itself out when the grandchildren of these same people reject both David’s line and the God of Israel together to choose Jereboam and his golden calves.

7. Now it came to pass after forty years that Absalom said to the king, “Please, let me go to Hebron and pay the vow which I made to the LORD.

Now something comes to pass after forty years. Yet this surely cannot be forty years from the last verse or from the start of the chapter. David only reigned thirty-three years from Jerusalem over all Israel. Absalom’s scheme surely did not go as long as that. Some try to solve this difficulty by suggesting changing the text from “forty years” to “four years,” since this seems like a more reasonable time for Absalom’s scheme to cover. Yet this is just changing what the Bible says, not explaining it. The difficulty is that we simply have not made sure we have asked ourselves, “forty years after what?” For this is really the question. Not, as we said, forty years after Absalom’s return from exile, surely.

If we would look back and try to find a starting point, the one we must choose becomes obvious. This event takes place forty years after David was anointed king by Samuel on behalf of God back in I Samuel 16:13. This is the logical point. This is when David was chosen by God to fill the position he is now in. Forty years after this, forty years after God made choice of him, a deceiver and usurper arises to try to undo what the LORD had done. Will this plot succeed? Will His will, which He has up to now accomplished so successfully, now be hindered and thwarted?

Absalom comes to the king with a request. He claims to have made a vow, and now wishes to go and pay his vow, which he claims to have vowed to the LORD, at Hebron. Notice that Absalom uses a vow he supposedly made to the LORD as an excuse for carrying out his scheme to counteract the LORD’s will and rebel against the LORD’s king! This is an outrageous thing to do, yet how often do men hypocritically do this very thing! What nicer sounding excuse can be made for one’s sinful actions than a religious one? Thus the LORD’s name is often dragged into men’s deceptions and lies. God seems not to call men to account for such misuse of Him and what belongs to Him. Yet the LORD is jealous for His holy name, as He says in Ezekiel 39:25, and those who abuse it this way had better know that they will someday be called to account.

Absalom’s excuse is made for him to go to Hebron. Hebron, remember, is where David first ruled over the southern tribe of Judah. Hebron is where Absalom was born. Absalom probably still has close friends there, and he probably has family who are still there as well. Moreover this probably seemed like a good place to try to take the throne from his father, since it is the same place where David was first made king. If he is to be crowned, why not in the same place the last king was crowned? This will make it seem more legitimate in the eyes of the people. Absalom has thought of every angle in working out his treachery.

8. For your servant took a vow while I dwelt at Geshur in Syria, saying, ‘If the LORD indeed brings me back to Jerusalem, then I will serve the LORD.’”

Absalom claims to have made this vow while he was a fugitive at Geshur in Syria. He also reveals the vow he claims to have made: that if Jehovah brings him back to Jerusalem, then he will serve Jehovah. It seems quite unlikely that he actually made such a vow. Nothing in his actions at this time suggests that he really intended to serve Jehovah at all. If he had made such a vow at the time, his heart has certainly changed completely at this point, since he is using this vow (or supposed vow) as an excuse to go to Hebron to foment a revolt again the king Jehovah has chosen.

9. And the king said to him, “Go in peace.” So he arose and went to Hebron.

King David, all unsuspecting, agrees to allow Absalom to go, and gives him his blessing to do it by saying, “Go in peace.” So, with the king’s permission, Absalom goes into action and travels to Hebron. Yet what he planned to do there was a far cry from serving Yahweh!

10. Then Absalom sent spies throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, “As soon as you hear the sound of the trumpet, then you shall say, ‘Absalom reigns in Hebron!’”

While at Hebron Absalom sends out agents throughout all the tribes of Israel to spread news of his plot to those who were already complicit with him in it. They are to tell the people that, at an appointed time, Absalom will have a trumpet sounded, and that at that time they are to proclaim that Absalom reigns as king in Hebron! In this way, Absalom sets the people up to declare him king. Of course, this was nothing short of a rebellion against his father David, the LORD’s rightfully appointed king. This is a far cry from worshiping the LORD at Hebron, as Absalom had claimed he was going to do!

11. And with Absalom went two hundred men invited from Jerusalem, and they went along innocently and did not know anything.

Absalom is not accompanied solely by fellow conspirators. He is also accompanied by two hundred men who were Jerusalemites whom he had invited to join him. Perhaps these were men who planned to worship with him. They go along innocently, and are unaware of his wicked purpose. The word for “innocently” here is often used for integrity or uprightness. Perhaps there was later some question as to the loyalty and motivations of these men. Jehovah leaves His readers in no doubt as to this. These men were upright. They were not a part of Absalom’s conspiracy. He probably took them with him as a smoke screen to hide his true, perfidious purpose.

12. Then Absalom sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David’s counselor, from his city—from Giloh—while he offered sacrifices. And the conspiracy grew strong, for the people with Absalom continually increased in number.

Absalom does not reveal his plot immediately upon arriving in Hebron. Instead, he offers sacrifices, as he claimed he was going to do. Yet this is a cover for his continued preparations. While in Hebron, he sends for Ahithophel. This is a new name in the Scripture record, but we can quickly see that this man was Absalom’s main co-conspirator. His name Ahithophel means “My Brother is Folly,” yet this was far from the reputation he had, for he had been David’s counselor, so he was obviously viewed as a wise and knowing man. He is called “the Gilonite,” which means he was an inhabitant of Giloh, meaning “Exile.” This was a city in the hill country of Judah.

Why would Ahithophel, one of David’s counselors, join Absalom? We cannot know for sure, but one clue may be provided for us in II Samuel 23:34, a verse in the list of David’s mighty men.

34. Eliphelet the son of Ahasbai, the son of the Maachathite, Eliam the son of Ahithophel the Gilonite,

Here we learn that Ahithophel the Gilonite, the very same man we read of here in II Samuel 15, had a son who was one of David’s mighty men, just as Uriah the Hittite was. If we add this fact to II Samuel 11:3, we can start to see a connection.

3. So David sent and inquired about the woman. And someone said, “Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?”

Thus we see that Bathsheba, the woman with whom David committed adultery before murdering her husband and taking her for his wife, was the daughter of Eliam. When we think about it, this makes sense. David’s mighty men were probably a close-knit group, loyal both to David and to each other. What could be more natural than that one of these mighty men might give his daughter in marriage to one of his fellow mighty men? Thus Uriah had a daughter of his army brother as his wife.

Yet notice that this means that Ahithophel was Bathsheba’s grandfather. What do you think he thought of the scandal that took place around her? Of course, he might have blamed his granddaughter, for she certainly had acted as a loose woman. Yet it is all too natural and human that, when such an event takes place, we tend to blame the party we are not related to rather than the one we are. Ahithophel may have convinced himself that his granddaughter Bathsheba was an innocent victim of David, the crafty and immoral king. When Yahweh forgave David’s sin, he might have viewed this as a perversion of justice. He probably believed that David should pay for what he had done to his grandson-in-law Uriah and his granddaughter Bathsheba. After all, this was only what the law demanded. How could it be right that David get away with this sin? Never mind, of course, that his granddaughter got away with it when she should have died as well. No, he focuses his hatred on David, and determines to take matters into his own hands and bring about the punishment Yahweh had failed to exact.

Yet by doing so, Ahithophel sets himself up against Yahweh and acts as if he were the judge of Yahweh. When He pronounced verdict on David and chose to exact less than his sins deserved, it was the job of anyone who claims to respect and honor Yahweh to bow to His decision and confirm that what He did was right. This Ahithophel failed to do. In his heart he complained against the decision of Yahweh, thinking that he knew better and that he was the better judge. In his disagreement with God he set out to bring his own will to pass. In doing so, he set up his own destruction, as do all who rebel and seek to take the place that belongs to Yahweh alone.

How many, I wonder, have in their hearts joined Ahithophel in his judgment? How many have accused Yahweh for not exacting the lawful punishment of death on David? How many have thought themselves to be the better judges, and their own assessments of the situation superior to that of God? These show the same heart attitude as had Ahithophel, the same distrust of Yahweh, the same arrogant confidence that they are wiser than their Maker. Such an attitude ill becomes a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. May we ever bow our own will and our own faulty judgment to His and let God be true but every man a liar.

The conspiracy, we learn, was a strong one. It was not just Absalom and Ahithophel, though they were the main instigators of it. No, Absalom has many people on his side, and the numbers increased continually as more and more people jumped on the bandwagon as it became clear this was the common and popular thing to do. So this is no small revolt that Absalom is staging here.

13. Now a messenger came to David, saying, “The hearts of the men of Israel are with Absalom.”

Yet as word spreads and more and more people join the rebellion, it cannot be but that word reaches the ears of one faithful to David. Thus the sad report comes back to him from a loyal talebearer that this conspiracy is going on, and that it is succeeding. The hearts of the men of Israel are with Absalom and no longer with David. His friends, it seems, are few compared to those who are all too willing to turn their backs on him and follow a usurper.

David is now faced with a terrible calamity. First of all, his people have turned against him. In spite of all his love for Israel and his many sacrifices for them, they have repaid his love with scorn and his loyalty with rebellion. Their hearts had turned against the king whose heart was always with them. Moreover, the instigator and chief rebel in this terrible treachery is his own beloved and popular son Absalom. How David’s heart must have broken at such an unexpected calamity! Yet in this he must have felt the very same thing God feels so often when the human creatures, the sons of Adam, whom He so loves and blesses turn against Him in hatred and scorn. God faces just such treachery every day! Now, David joins with Him in this. They have done nothing to David that they had not done to David’s God first.

14. So David said to all his servants who were with him at Jerusalem, “Arise, and let us flee, or we shall not escape from Absalom. Make haste to depart, lest he overtake us suddenly and bring disaster upon us, and strike the city with the edge of the sword.”

David knows what must be done. He is far too good a commander and man of action not to quickly grasp the situation. He knows that they must immediately act and take flight, or else they will never escape from the grasping hands of his son. David does not have time to muster his own forces. They are not ready for such a battle, and are ill-prepared to meet the treacherous Absalom and his superior, if less trained, force. They must go and go immediately, or else he will catch them in Jerusalem and bring calamity upon them, destroying them and bringing destruction on the city along with them.

When David speaks of Absalom bringing “disaster” upon them, this is the Hebrew word ra’a, which is often translated as “evil.” Once again, this context proves to us that this word primarily means calamity or disaster. War is an evil. Disease is an evil. A natural disaster is an evil. This word only by an almost figurative use means wickedness, since sin and wickedness bring calamity. Thus when we read of “evil” in the Bible, we must understand it this way. It does not mean the same thing as sin.

15. And the king’s servants said to the king, “We are your servants, ready to do whatever my lord the king commands.”

David’s servants respond with loyalty to his command. They proclaim themselves his servants, ready to do whatever he chooses for them to do. However fickle the loyalty of the common people might be, these servants who are close to David are devoted to their lord the king. This is indeed an encouragement, that when the masses are turning against him David’s own people remain loyal to the one God set over them. May we ever be like them, and not like the changeable and untrustworthy common people of Israel.