The Story of Patriarchs and Prophets
by Ellen G. White
Chapter 72: The Rebellion of Absalom
"He shall restore fourfold," had been David's unwitting
sentence upon himself, on listening to the prophet Nathan's
parable; and according to his own sentence he was to be judged.
Four of his sons must fall, and the loss of each would be a result
of the father's sin.
The shameful crime of Amnon, the first-born, was permitted
by David to pass unpunished and unrebuked. The law
pronounced death upon the adulterer, and the unnatural crime of
Amnon made him doubly guilty. But David, self-condemned for
his own sin, failed to bring the offender to justice. For two full
years Absalom, the natural protector of the sister so foully
wronged, concealed his purpose of revenge, but only to strike
more surely at the last. At a feast of the king's sons the drunken,
incestuous Amnon was slain by his brother's command.
Twofold judgment had been meted out to David. The terrible
message was carried to him, "Absalom hath slain all the
king's sons, and there is not one of them left. Then the king arose,
and tare his garments, and lay on the earth; and all his servants
stood by with their clothes rent." The king's sons, returning in
alarm to Jerusalem, revealed to their father the truth; Amnon
alone had been slain; and they "lifted up their voice and wept:
and the king also and all his servants wept very sore." But
Absalom fled to Talmai, the king of Geshur, his mother's father.
Like other sons of David, Amnon had been left to selfish
indulgence. He had sought to gratify every thought of his heart,
regardless of the requirements of God. Notwithstanding his great
sin, God had borne long with him. For two years he had been
granted opportunity for repentance; but he continued in sin, and
with his guilt upon him, he was cut down by death, to await the
awful tribunal of the judgment. [p. 728]
David had neglected the duty of punishing the crime of Amnon,
and because of the unfaithfulness of the king and father
and the impenitence of the son, the Lord permitted events to take
their natural course, and did not restrain Absalom. When parents
or rulers neglect the duty of punishing iniquity, God Himself will
take the case in hand. His restraining power will be in a measure
removed from the agencies of evil, so that a train of circumstances
will arise which will punish sin with sin.
The evil results of David's unjust indulgence toward Amnon
were not ended, for it was here that Absalom's alienation from
his father began. After he fled to Geshur, David, feeling that the
crime of his son demanded some punishment, refused him permission
to return. And this had a tendency to increase rather than
to lessen the inextricable evils in which the king had come to be
involved. Absalom, energetic, ambitious, and unprincipled, shut
out by his exile from participation in the affairs of the kingdom,
soon gave himself up to dangerous scheming.
At the close of two years Joab determined to effect a
reconciliation between the father and his son. And with this object in
view he secured the services of a woman of Tekoah, reputed for
wisdom. Instructed by Joab, the woman represented herself to
David as a widow whose two sons had been her only comfort
and support. In a quarrel one of these had slain the other, and
now all the relatives of the family demanded that the survivor
should be given up to the avenger of blood. "And so," said the
mother, "they shall quench my coal which is left, and shall not
leave to my husband neither name nor remainder upon the
earth." The king's feelings were touched by this appeal, and he
assured the woman of the royal protection for her son.
After drawing from him repeated promises for the young
man's safety, she entreated the king's forbearance, declaring that
he had spoken as one at fault, in that he did not fetch home
again his banished. "For," she said, "we must needs die, and are
as water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again;
neither doth God respect any person; ye doth He devise means,
that His banished be not expelled from Him." This tender and
touching portrayal of the love of God toward the sinner—coming
as it did from Joab, the rude soldier—is a striking evidence of the
familiarity of the Israelites with the great truths of redemption.
The king, feeling his own need of God's mercy, could not resist [p. 729] this appeal. To Joab the command was given, "Go therefore,
bring the young man Absalom again."
Absalom was permitted to return to Jerusalem, but not to
appear at court or to meet his father. David had begun to see
the evil effects of his indulgence toward his children; and tenderly
as he loved this beautiful and gifted son, he felt it necessary, as
a lesson both to Absalom and to the people, that abhorrence for
such a crime should be manifested. Absalom lived two years in
his own house, but banished from the court. His sister dwelt with
him, and her presence kept alive the memory of the irreparable
wrong she had suffered. In the popular estimation the prince
was a hero rather than an offender. And having this advantage,
he set himself to gain the hearts of the people. His personal
appearance was such as to win the admiration of all beholders. "In
all Israel there was none to be so much praised as Absalom for
his beauty: from the sole of his foot even to the crown of his head
there was no blemish in him." It was not wise for the king to
leave a man of Absalom's character—ambitious, impulsive, and
passionate—to brood for two years over supposed grievances. And
David's action in permitting him to return to Jerusalem, and yet
refusing to admit him to his presence, enlisted in his behalf the
sympathies of the people.
With the memory ever before him of his own transgression of
the law of God, David seemed morally paralyzed; he was weak
and irresolute, when before his sin he had been courageous and
decided. His influence with the people had been weakened. And
all this favored the designs of his unnatural son.
Through the influence of Joab, Absalom was again admitted
to his father's presence; but though there was an outward
reconciliation, he continued his ambitious scheming. He now assumed
an almost royal state, having chariots and horses, and fifty men
to run before him. And while the king was more and more inclined
to desire retirement and solitude, Absalom sedulously
courted the popular favor.
The influence of David's listlessness and irresolution extended
to his subordinates; negligence and delay characterized the
administration of justice. Absalom artfully turned every cause of
dissatisfaction to his own advantage. Day by day this man of
noble mien might be seen at the gate of the city, where a crowd
of suppliants waited to present their wrongs for redness. [p. 730] Absalom mingled with them and listened to their grievances, expressing
sympathy with their sufferings and regret at the inefficiency
of the government. Having thus listened to the story of a man
of Israel, the prince would reply, "Thy matters are good and
right; but there is no man deputed of the king to hear thee;"
adding, "O that I were made judge in the land, that every man
which hath any suit or cause might come unto me, and I would
do him justice! And it was so, that when any man came nigh to
him to do him obeisance, he put forth his hand, and took him,
and kissed him."
Fomented by the artful insinuations of the prince, discontent
with the government was fast spreading. The praise of Absalom
was on the lips of all. He was generally regarded as heir to the
kingdom; the people looked upon him with pride as worthy of
this high station, and a desire was kindled that he might occupy
the throne. "So Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel."
Yet the king, blinded by affection for his son, suspected nothing.
The princely state which Absalom had assumed, was regarded
by David as intended to do honor to his court—as an expression
of joy at the reconciliation.
The minds of the people being prepared for what was to
follow, Absalom secretly sent picked men throughout the tribes,
to concert measures for a revolt. And now the cloak of religious
devotion was assumed to conceal his traitorous designs. A vow
made long before while he was in exile must be paid in Hebron.
Absalom said to the king, "I pray thee, let me go and pay my
vow, which I have vowed unto the Lord, in Hebron. For thy
servant vowed a vow while I abode at Geshur in Syria, saying,
If the Lord shall bring me again indeed to Jerusalem, then I
will serve the Lord." The fond father, comforted with this
evidence of piety in his son, dismissed him with his blessing. The
conspiracy was now fully matured. Absalom's crowning act of
hypocrisy was designed not only to blind the king but to establish
the confidence of the people, and thus to lead them on to
rebellion against the king whom God had chosen.
Absalom set forth for Hebron, and there went with him "two
hundred men out of Jerusalem, that were called; and they went
in their simplicity, and they knew not anything." These men
went with Absalom, little thinking that their love for the son was
leading them into rebellion against the father. Upon arriving at
Hebron, Absalom immediately summoned Ahithophel, one of the [p. 731] chief counselors of David, a man in high repute for wisdom,
whose opinion was thought to be as safe and wise as that of an
oracle. Ahithophel joined the conspirators, and his support made
the cause of Absalom appear certain of success, attracting to
his standard many influential men from all parts of the land. As
the trumpet of revolt was sounded, the prince's spies throughout
the country spread the tidings that Absalom was king, and many
of the people gathered to him.
Meanwhile the alarm was carried to Jerusalem, to the king.
David was suddenly aroused, to see rebellion breaking out close
beside his throne. His own son—the son whom he had loved and
trusted—had been planning to seize his crown and doubtless to
take his life. In his great peril David shook off the depression
that had so long rested upon him, and with the spirit of his earlier
years he prepared to meet this terrible emergency. Absalom was
mustering his forces at Hebron, only twenty miles away. The
rebels would soon be at the gates of Jerusalem.
From his palace David looked out upon his capital—"beautiful
for situation, the joy of the whole earth, . . . the city of the
great King." Psalm 48:2. He shuddered at the thought of exposing
it to carnage and devastation. Should he call to his help the
subjects still loyal to his throne, and make a stand to hold his
capital? Should he permit Jerusalem to be deluged with blood?
His decision was taken. The horrors of war should not fall upon
the chosen city. He would leave Jerusalem, and then test the
fidelity of his people, giving them an opportunity to rally to his
support. In this great crisis it was his duty to God and to his
people to maintain the authority with which Heaven had invested
him. The issue of the conflict he would trust with God.
In humility and sorrow David passed out of the gate of
Jerusalem—driven from his throne, from his palace, from the
ark of God, by the insurrection of his cherished son. The people
followed in long, sad procession, like a funeral train. David's
bodyguard of Cherethites, Pelethites, and six hundred Gittites
from Gath, under the command of Ittai, accompanied the king.
But David, with characteristic unselfishness, could not consent
that these strangers who had sought his protection should be
involved in his calamity. He expressed surprise that they should be
ready to make this sacrifice for him. Then said the king to Ittai
the Gittite, "Wherefore goest thou also with us? return to thy [p. 732] place, and abide with the king: for thou art a stranger, and also
an exile. Whereas thou camest but yesterday, should I this day
make thee go up and down with us? seeing I go whither I may,
return thou, and take back thy brethren: mercy and truth be
Ittai answered, "As the Lord liveth, and as my lord the king
liveth, surely in what place my lord the king shall be, whether
in death or life, even there also will thy servant be." These men
had been converted from paganism to the worship of Jehovah,
and nobly they now proved their fidelity to their God and their
king. David, with grateful heart, accepted their devotion to his
apparently sinking cause, and all passed over the brook Kidron
on the way toward the wilderness.
Again the procession halted. A company clad in holy vestments
was approaching. "And lo Zadok also, and all the Levites
were with him, bearing the ark of the covenant of God." The
followers of David looked upon this as a happy omen. The presence
of that sacred symbol was to them a pledge of their deliverance
and ultimate victory. It would inspire the people with
courage to rally to the king. Its absence from Jerusalem would
bring terror to the adherents of Absalom.
At sight of the ark joy and hope for a brief moment thrilled
the heart of David. But soon other thoughts came to him. As the
appointed ruler of God's heritage he was under solemn responsibility.
Not personal interests, but the glory of God and the good
of his people, were to be uppermost in the mind of Israel's king.
God, who dwelt between the cherubim, had said of Jerusalem,
"This is My rest" (Psalm 132:14); and without divine authority
neither priest nor king had a right to remove therefrom the
symbol of His presence. And David knew that his heart and life
must be in harmony with the divine precepts, else the ark would
be the means of disaster rather than of success. His great sin
was ever before him. He recognized in this conspiracy the just
judgment of God. The sword that was not to depart from his
house had been unsheathed. He knew not what the result of the
struggle might be. It was not for him to remove from the capital
of the nation the sacred statutes which embodied the will of their
divine Sovereign, which were the constitution of the realm and
the foundation of its prosperity. [p. 735]
He commanded Zadok, "Carry back the ark of God into the
city: if I shall find favor in the eyes of the Lord, He will bring
me again, and show me both it and His habitation: but if He
thus say, I have no delight in thee; behold, here am I, let Him
do to me as seemeth good unto Him."
David added, "Art not thou a seer?"—a man appointed of
God to instruct the people. "Return into the city in peace, and
your two sons with you, Ahimaaz thy son, and Jonathan the son
of Abiathar. See, I will tarry in the plain of the wilderness, until
there come word from you to certify me." In the city the priests
might do him good service by learning the movements and purposes
of the rebels, and secretly communicating them to the
king by their sons, Ahimaaz and Jonathan.
As the priests turned back toward Jerusalem a deeper shadow
fell upon the departing throng. Their king a fugitive, themselves
outcasts, forsaken even by the ark of God—the future
was dark with terror and foreboding. "And David went up by the
ascent of Mount Olivet, and wept as he went up, and had his
head covered, and he went barefoot: and all the people that
was with him covered every man his head, and they went up,
weeping as they went up. And one told David, saying, Ahithophel
is among the conspirators with Absalom." Again David was
forced to recognize in his calamities the results of his own sin.
The defection of Ahithophel, the ablest and most wily of political
leaders, was prompted by revenge for the family disgrace involved
in the wrong to Bathsheba, who was his granddaughter.
"And David said, O Lord, I pray Thee, turn the counsel of
Ahithophel into foolishness." Upon reaching the top of the
mount, the king bowed in prayer, casting upon God the burden
of his soul and humbly supplicating divine mercy. His prayer
seemed to be at once answered. Hushai the Archite, a wise and
able counselor, who had proved himself a faithful friend to
David, now came to him with his robes rent and with earth upon
his head, to cast in his fortunes with the dethroned and fugitive
king. David saw, as by a divine enlightenment, that this man,
faithful and truehearted, was the one needed to serve the interests
of the king in the councils at the capital. At David's request
Hushai returned to Jerusalem to offer his services to Absalom
and defeat the crafty counsel of Ahithophel. [p. 736]
With this gleam of light in the darkness, the king and his
followers pursued their way down the eastern slope of Olivet,
through a rocky and desolate waste, through wild ravines, and
along stony and precipitous paths, toward the Jordan. "And
when King David came to Bahurim, behold, thence came out a
man of the family of the house of Saul, whose name was Shimei,
the son of Gera: he came forth, and cursed still as he came. And
he cast stones at David, and at all the servants of King David:
and all the people and all the mighty men were on his right
hand and on his left. And thus said Shimei when he cursed,
Come out, come out, thou bloody man, and thou man of Belial.
The Lord hath returned upon thee all the blood of the house of
Saul, in whose stead thou hast reigned; and the Lord hath
delivered the kingdom into the hand of Absalom thy son: and,
behold, thou art taken in thy mischief, because thou art a bloody
In David's prosperity Shimei had not shown by word or act
that he was not a loyal subject. But in the affliction of the king
this Benjamite revealed his true character. He had honored
David upon his throne, but he cursed him in his humiliation.
Base and selfish, he looked upon others as of the same character
as himself, and, inspired by Satan, he wreaked his hatred upon
him whom God had chastened. The spirit that leads man to
triumph over, to revile or distress, one who is in affliction is the
spirit of Satan.
Shimei's accusations against David were utterly false—a baseless
and malignant slander. David had not been guilty of wrong
toward Saul or his house. When Saul was wholly in his power,
and he could have slain him, he merely cut the skirt of his robe,
and he reproached himself for showing even this disrespect for
the Lord's anointed.
Of David's sacred regard for human life, striking evidence
had been given, even while he himself was hunted like a beast of
prey. One day while he was hidden in the cave of Adullam, his
thoughts turning back to the untroubled freedom of his boyhood
life, the fugitive exclaimed, "Oh that one would give me drink
of the water of the well of Bethlehem, which is by the gate!"
2 Samuel 23:13-17. Bethlehem was at that time in the hands of
the Philistines; but three mighty men of David's band broke
through the guard, and brought of the water of Bethlehem to
their master. David could not drink it. "Be it far from me," he [p. 737] cried; "is not this the blood of the men that went in jeopardy of
their lives?" And he reverently poured out the water as an offering
to God. David had been a man of war, much of his life had
been spent amid scenes of violence; but of all who have passed
through such an ordeal, few indeed have been so little affected
by its hardening, demoralizing influence as was David.
David's nephew, Abishai, one of the bravest of his captains,
could not listen patiently to Shimei's insulting words. "Why,"
he exclaimed, "should this dead dog curse my lord the king? let
me go over, I pray thee, and take off his head." But the king
forbade him. "Behold," he said, "my son . . . seeketh my life:
how much more now may this Benjamite do it? let him alone,
and let him curse; for the Lord hath bidden him. It may be that
the Lord will look on mine affliction, and that the Lord will
requite me good for his cursing this day."
Conscience was uttering bitter and humiliating truths to
David. While his faithful subjects wondered at his sudden
reverse of fortune, it was no mystery to the king. He had often had
forebodings of an hour like this. He had wondered that God had
so long borne with his sins, and had delayed the merited
retribution. And now in his hurried and sorrowful flight, his feet
bare, his royal robes changed for sackcloth, the lamentations of
his followers awaking the echoes of the hills, he thought of his
loved capital—of the place which had been the scene of his sin—
and as he remembered the goodness and long-suffering of God,
he was not altogether without hope. He felt that the Lord would
still deal with him in mercy.
Many a wrongdoer has excused his own sin by pointing to
David's fall, but how few there are who manifest David's
penitence and humility. How few would bear reproof and retribution
with the patience and fortitude that he manifested. He had
confessed his sin, and for years had sought to do his duty as a
faithful servant of God; he had labored for the upbuilding of his
kingdom, and under his rule it had attained to strength and
prosperity never reached before. He had gathered rich stores of
material for the building of the house of God, and now was all
the labor of his life to be swept away? Must the results of years
of consecrated toil, the work of genius and devotion and
statesmanship, pass into the hands of his reckless and traitorous son,
who regarded not the honor of God nor the prosperity of [p. 738] Israel? How natural it would have seemed for David to murmur
against God in this great affliction!
But he saw in his own sin the cause of his trouble. The words
of the prophet Micah breathe the spirit that inspired David's
heart. "When I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light unto me.
I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned
against Him, until He plead my cause, and execute judgment
for me." Micah 7:8, 9. And the Lord did not forsake David. This
chapter in his experience, when, under cruelest wrong and insult,
he shows himself to be humble, unselfish, generous, and submissive,
is one of the noblest in his whole experience. Never was the
ruler of Israel more truly great in the sight of heaven than at this
hour of his deepest outward humiliation.
Had God permitted David to go on unrebuked in sin, and
while transgressing the divine precepts, to remain in peace and
prosperity upon his throne, the skeptic and infidel might have
had some excuse for citing the history of David as a reproach to
the religion of the Bible. But in the experience through which
He caused David to pass, the Lord shows that He cannot tolerate
or excuse sin. And David's history enables us to see also the
great ends which God has in view in His dealings with sin; it
enables us to trace, even through darkest judgments, the working
out of His purposes of mercy and beneficence. He caused
David to pass under the rod, but He did not destroy him; the
furnace is to purify, but not to consume. The Lord says, "If they
break My statutes, and keep not My commandments; then will I
visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with
stripes. Nevertheless My loving-kindness will I not utterly take
from him, nor suffer My faithfulness to fail." Psalm 89:31-33.
Soon after David left Jerusalem, Absalom and his army
entered, and without a struggle took possession of the stronghold
of Israel. Hushai was among the first to greet the new-crowned
monarch, and the prince was surprised and gratified at the
accession of his father's old friend and counselor. Absalom was
confident of success. Thus far his schemes had prospered, and eager
to strengthen his throne and secure the confidence of the nation,
he welcomed Hushai to his court.
Absalom was now surrounded by a large force, but it was
mostly composed of men untrained for war. As yet they had not [p. 739] been brought into conflict. Ahithophel well knew that David's
situation was far from hopeless. A large part of the nation were
still true to him; he was surrounded by tried warriors, who were
faithful to their king, and his army was commanded by able and
experienced generals. Ahithophel knew that after the first burst
of enthusiasm in favor of the new king, a reaction would come.
Should the rebellion fail, Absalom might be able to secure a
reconciliation with his father; then Ahithophel, as his chief
counselor, would be held most guilty for the rebellion; upon him the
heaviest punishment would fall. To prevent Absalom from
retracing his steps, Ahithophel counseled him to an act that in the
eyes of the whole nation would make reconciliation impossible.
With hellish cunning this wily and unprincipled statesman
urged Absalom to add the crime of incest to that of rebellion. In
the sight of all Israel he was to take to himself his father's
concubines, according to the custom of oriental nations, thus declaring
that he succeeded to his father's throne. And Absalom carried
out the vile suggestion. Thus was fulfilled the word of God to
David by the prophet, "Behold, I will raise up evil against thee
out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine
eyes, and give them unto thy neighbor. . . . For thou didst it
secretly: but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the
sun." 2 Samuel 12:11, 12. Not that God prompted these acts of
wickedness, but because of David's sin He did not exercise His
power to prevent them.
Ahithophel had been held in high esteem for his wisdom, but
he was destitute of the enlightenment which comes from God.
"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Proverbs
9:10); and this, Ahithophel did not possess, or he could hardly
have based the success of treason upon the crime of incest. Men
of corrupt hearts plot wickedness, as if there were no overruling
Providence to cross their designs; but "He that sitteth in the
heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision."
Psalm 2:4. The Lord declares: "They would none of My counsel:
they despised all My reproof. Therefore shall they eat of the
fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices. For
the turning away of the simple shall slay them, and the prosperity
of fools shall destroy them." Proverbs 1:30-32.
Having succeeded in the plot for securing his own safety, [p. 740] Ahithophel urged upon Absalom the necessity of immediate
action against David. "Let me now choose out twelve thousand
men," he said, "and I will arise and pursue after David this
night: and I will come upon him while he is weary and
weak-handed, and will make him afraid: and all the people that are
with him shall flee; and I will smite the king only: and I will
bring back all the people unto thee." This plan was approved by
the king's counselors. Had it been followed, David would surely
have been slain, unless the Lord had directly interposed to save
him. But a wisdom higher than that of the renowned Ahithophel
was directing events. "The Lord had appointed to defeat the
good counsel of Ahithophel, to the intent that the Lord might
bring evil upon Absalom."
Hushai had not been called to the council, and he would not
intrude himself unasked, lest suspicion should be drawn upon
him as a spy; but after the assembly had dispersed, Absalom, who
had a high regard for the judgment of his father's counselor,
submitted to him the plan of Ahithophel. Hushai saw that if the
proposed plan were followed, David would be lost. And he said,
"The counsel that Ahithophel hath given is not good at this time.
For, said Hushai, thou knowest thy father and his men, that they
be mighty men, and they be chafed in their minds, as a bear
robbed of her whelps in the field: and thy father is a man of war,
and will not lodge with the people. Behold, he is hid now in
some pit, or in some other place;" he argued that, if Absalom's
forces should pursue David, they would not capture the king;
and should they suffer a reverse, it would tend to dishearten
them and work great harm to Absalom's cause. "For," he said,
"all Israel knoweth that thy father is a mighty man, and they
which be with him are valiant men." And he suggested a plan
attractive to a vain and selfish nature, fond of the show of power:
"I counsel that all Israel be generally gathered unto thee, from
Dan even to Beer-sheba, as the sand that is by the sea for multitude;
and that thou go to battle in thine own person. So shall we
come upon him in some place where he shall be found, and we
will light upon him as the dew falleth on the ground: and of
him and of all the men that are with him there shall not be left
so much as one. Moreover, if he be gotten into a city, then shall
all Israel bring ropes to that city, and we will draw it into the
river, until there be not one small stone found there. [p. 741]
"And Absalom and all the men of Israel said, The counsel of
Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel."
But there was one who was not deceived—one who clearly foresaw
the result of this fatal mistake of Absalom's. Ahithophel
knew that the cause of the rebels was lost. And he knew that
whatever might be the fate of the prince, there was no hope for
the counselor who had instigated his greatest crimes. Ahithophel
had encouraged. Absalom in rebellion; he had counseled him to
the most abominable wickedness, to the dishonor of his father;
he had advised the slaying of David and had planned its accomplishment;
he had cut off the last possibility of his own reconciliation
with the king; and now another was preferred before
him, even by Absalom. Jealous, angry, and desperate, Ahithophel
"gat him home to his house, to his city, and put his household in
order, and hanged himself, and died." Such was the result of the
wisdom of one, who, with all his high endowments, did not make
God his counselor. Satan allures men with flattering promises,
but in the end it will be found by every soul, that the "wages of
sin is death." Romans 6:23.
Hushai, not certain that his counsel would be followed by the
fickle king, lost no time in warning David to escape beyond Jordan
without delay. To the priests, who were to forward it by their
sons, Hushai sent the message: "Thus and thus did Ahithophel
counsel Absalom and the elders of Israel; and thus and thus have
I counseled. Now therefore . . . lodge not this night in the plains
of the wilderness, but speedily pass over; lest the king be swallowed
up, and all the people that are with him."
The young men were suspected and pursued, yet they succeeded
in performing their perilous mission. David, spent with
toil and grief after that first day of flight, received the message
that he must cross the Jordan that night, for his son was seeking
What were the feelings of the father and king, so cruelly
wronged, in this terrible peril? "A mighty valiant man," a man
of war, a king, whose word was law, betrayed by his son whom he
had loved and indulged and unwisely trusted, wronged and deserted
by subjects bound to him by the strongest ties of honor and
fealty—in what words did David pour out the feelings of his
soul? In the hour of his darkest trial David's heart was stayed
upon God, and he sang: [p. 742]
"Lord, how are they increased that trouble me!
Many are they that rise up against me.
Many there be which say of my soul,
There is no help for him in God.
But Thou, O Lord, art a shield for me;
My glory, and the lifter up of mine head.
I cried unto the Lord with my voice,
And He heard me out of His holy hill.
I laid me down and slept;
I awaked; for the Lord sustained me.
I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people,
That have set themselves against me round about. . . .
Salvation belongeth unto the Lord:
Thy blessing is upon Thy people." Psalm 3:1-8.
David and all his company—warriors and statesmen, old men
and youth, the women and the little children—in the darkness
of night crossed the deep and swift-flowing river. "By the morning
light there lacked not one of them that was not gone over
David and his forces fell back to Mahanaim, which had been
the royal seat of Ishbosheth. This was a strongly fortified city,
surrounded by a mountainous district favorable for retreat in
case of war. The country was well-provisioned, and the people
were friendly to the cause of David. Here many adherents joined
him, while wealthy tribesmen brought abundant gifts of provision,
and other needed supplies.
Hushai's counsel had achieved its object, gaining for David
opportunity for escape; but the rash and impetuous prince could
not be long restrained, and he soon set out in pursuit of his
father. "And Absalom passed over Jordan, he and all the men of
Israel with him." Absalom made Amasa, the son of David's sister
Abigail, commander-in-chief of his forces. His army was large,
but it was undisciplined and poorly prepared to cope with the
tried soldiers of his father.
David divided his forces into three battalions under the command
of Joab, Abishai, and Ittai the Gittite. It had been his
purpose himself to lead his army in the field; but against this
the officers of the army, the counselors, and the people vehemently
protested. "Thou shalt not go forth," they said: "for if we flee
away, they will not care for us; neither if half of us die, will
they care for us: but thou art worth ten thousand of us: therefore [p. 743] now it is better that thou be ready to succour us out of the city.
And the king said unto them, What seemeth you best I will do."
2 Samuel 18:3, 4, R.V.
From the walls of the city the long lines of the rebel army
were in full view. The usurper was accompanied by a vast host,
in comparison with which David's force seemed but a handful.
But as the king looked upon the opposing forces, the thought
uppermost in his mind was not of the crown and the kingdom,
nor of his own life, that depended upon the wage of battle. The
father's heart was filled with love and pity for his rebellious son.
As the army filed out from the city gates David encouraged his
faithful soldiers, bidding them go forth trusting that the God of
Israel would give them the victory. But even here he could not
repress his love for Absalom. As Joab, leading the first column,
passed his king, the conqueror of a hundred battlefields stooped
his proud head to hear the monarch's last message, as with
trembling voice he said, "Deal gently for my sake with the young
man, even with Absalom." And Abishai and Ittai received the
same charge—"Deal gently for my sake with the young man,
even with Absalom." But the king's solicitude, seeming to declare
that Absalom was dearer to him than his kingdom, dearer
even than the subjects faithful to his throne, only increased the
indignation of the soldiers against the unnatural son.
The place of battle was a wood near the Jordan, in which the
great numbers of Absalom's army were only a disadvantage to
him. Among the thickets and marshes of the forest these
undisciplined troops became confused and unmanageable. And "the
people of Israel were slain before the servants of David, and
there was there a great slaughter that day of twenty thousand
men." Absalom, seeing that the day was lost, had turned to flee,
when his head was caught between the branches of a widespreading
tree, and his mule going out from under him, he was left
helplessly suspended, a prey to his enemies. In this condition he
was found by a soldier, who, for fear of displeasing the king,
spared Absalom, but reported to Joab what he had seen. Joab
was restrained by no scruples. He had befriended Absalom, having
twice secured his reconciliation with David, and the trust had
been shamelessly betrayed. But for the advantages gained by
Absalom through Joab's intercession, this rebellion, with all its
horrors, could never have occurred. Now it was in Joab's power [p. 744] at one blow to destroy the instigator of all this evil. "And he
took three darts in his hand, and thrust them through the heart
of Absalom. . . . And they took Absalom, and cast him into a
great pit in the wood, and laid a very great heap of stones upon
Thus perished the instigators of rebellion in Israel. Ahithophel
had died by his own hand. The princely Absalom, whose
glorious beauty had been the pride of Israel, had been cut down
in the vigor of his youth, his dead body thrust into a pit, and
covered with a heap of stones, in token of everlasting reproach.
During his lifetime Absalom had reared for himself a costly
monument in the king's dale, but the only memorial which
marked his grave was that heap of stones in the wilderness.
The leader of the rebellion being slain, Joab by the sound of
the trumpet recalled his army from the pursuit of the fleeing
host, and messengers were at once dispatched to bear the tidings
to the king.
The watchman upon the city wall, looking out toward the
battlefield, discovered a man running alone. Soon a second came
in sight. As the first drew nearer, the watchman said to the king,
who was waiting beside the gate, "Methinketh the running of the
foremost is like the running of Ahimaaz the son of Zadok. And
the king said, He is a good man, and cometh with good tidings.
And Ahimaaz called, and said unto the king, All is well. And he
fell down to the earth upon his face before the king, and said,
Blessed be the Lord thy God, which hath delivered up the men
that lifted up their hand against my lord the king." To the king's
eager inquiry, "Is the young man Absalom safe?" Ahimaaz returned
an evasive answer.
The second messenger came, crying, "Tidings, my lord the
king: for the Lord hath avenged thee this day of all them that
rose up against thee." Again from the father's lips came the
absorbing question, "Is the young man Absalom safe?" Unable
to conceal the heavy tidings, the herald answered, "The enemies
of my lord the king, and all that rise against thee to do thee
hurt, be as that young man is." It was enough. David questioned
no further, but with bowed head he "went up to the chamber over
the gate, and wept: and as he went, thus he said, O my son Absalom!
my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O
Absalom, my son, my son!" [p. 745]
The victorious army, returning from the field, approached
the city, their shouts of triumph awaking the echoes of the hills.
But as they entered the city gate the shout died away, their
banners drooped in their hands, and with downcast gaze they
advanced more like those who had suffered defeat than like
conquerors. For the king was not waiting to bid them welcome,
but from the chamber above the gate his wailing cry was heard,
"O my son Absalom! my son, my son Absalom! would God I had
died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!"
"The victory that day was turned into mourning unto all the
people; for the people heard say that day how the king was
grieved for his son. And the people gat them by stealth that day
into the city, as people being ashamed steal away when they flee
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Joab was filled with indignation. God had given them reason
for triumph and gladness; the greatest rebellion that had ever
been known in Israel had been crushed; and yet this great victory
was turned to mourning for him whose crime had cost the blood
of thousands of brave men. The rude, blunt captain pushed his
way into the presence of the king, and boldly said, "Thou hast
shamed this day the faces of all thy servants, which this day have
saved thy life, and the lives of thy sons and of thy daughters; . . .
in that thou lovest thine enemies, and hatest thy friends. For
thou hast declared this day, that thou regardest neither princes
nor servants: for this day I perceive, that if Absalom had lived,
and all we had died this day, then it had pleased thee well. Now
therefore arise, go forth, and speak comfortably unto thy servants:
for I swear by the Lord, if thou go not forth, there will not
tarry one with thee this night: and that will be worse unto thee
than all the evil that befell thee from thy youth until now."
Harsh and even cruel as was the reproof to the heart-stricken
king, David did not resent it. Seeing that his general was right,
he went down to the gate, and with words of courage and commendation
greeted his brave soldiers as they marched past him.
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"The Last Years of David"