2 Samuel 18: David's Grief for Abalom
Absalom was David's son who was trying to make himself king. He gathered an army and followed David into the country east of Jordan. So David prepared for the battle. David himself would have taken chief command, but they urged him to stay in the city where he would be safe, and to give help from there if needed. He stood by the city gate as the army passed out, and all the soldiers heard him earnestly charge the captains to deal gently with Absalom.
The battle was in a wood. It is a country of hills and brooks and many trees. The thickets made it hard for Absalom's men who were beaten to get away, so that more were killed in trying to escape than in the battle. The wood also caused Absalom's death. He rode upon a mule, as kings and judges used to ride. The mule carried him under the thick boughs of a great oak, and his head caught in the branches. Perhaps his heavy hair helped to entangle him. David's soldiers remembered the charge to deal gently with Absalom, but Joab disobeyed. He thrust him through and he died.
Joab must send tidings to the king. There was a young man there who wished to run to David with the news of the victory. It was Ahimaaz, the son of Zadok the priest, who before had come with a message to David from Jerusalem. Now Ahimaaz was anxious to serve again as a messenger, but Joab knew that David would not be glad to hear of Absalom's death, and he would not let Ahimaaz take the news. He sent instead a Cushite, an Ethiopian and probably a slave. Afterward Joab let Ahimaaz go, and running by a way which was more level, he reached Mahanaim, the town where David was, before the Cushite.
David was sitting between the inner and outer gates of the city, anxiously waiting to hear news of the battle. The watchman went up to the top of the wall over the gate to watch for a messenger. He saw a man running alone. It must be a messenger of victory, for if the army had been beaten many would be fleeing. Then the watchman saw a second runner. The first was now near, and he knew by his running that it was Ahimaaz. He reached the king first and told him of the victory, but he dared not tell, or possibly did not know, about Absalom. The Cushite came. Of each messenger the king anxiously asked, "Is the young man Absalom safe?" The Cushite told the king that he was dead. David's grief made the victory like a defeat, and the people stole silently into the city. "The king 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."
Absalom had come with his army into the country beyond Jordan. (2 Sam. 17:26) The battle with David's army would be there. We know Joab and Abishai, David's nephews, who were two of his captains; Abishai was with David when he took the spear and cruse of water from the camp of Saul. Joab was the first to climb up to the citadel of Zion. The third captain, Ittai the Gittite (of Gath) you can read of in 2 Sam. 15:19-22. Did David himself go with the army? Where was he during the battle? What charge did he give to all the captains about Absalom? What consequences came from the fact that the battle was in the woods? Someone read carefully verses 9-17, and tell us about the death of Absalom.
As we read in verse 18 about Absalom's monument in the king's dale, we may remember pictures of a little stone building with a pointed top called "Absalom's tomb," in the Kidron valley near Jerusalem. It is not very old, but it reminds us of this monument of which the Bible speaks. "The king's dale" was an old name for the Kidron valley between Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives. (Gen. 14:17)
"Then said Ahimaaz, the son of Zadok." (Verse 19) We remember Ahimaaz, one of the young men, sons of the priests, who had brought David important word from Jerusalem. (Chapter 17) Now he wished to serve again as a runner to take David news of the battle. Why did Joab at first not wish to send him, but sent instead another messenger? We must all listen to the story. How plainly we see the picture: David waiting anxiously for news of the battle; the watchman on the wall over the gate, straining his eyes to catch sight of a messenger with news; one runner, and then a second; the telling to David news of the victory, but to him sad news, for Absalom was dead. David's grief for Absalom made the day of victory a day of mourning.
Joab urged David, for the sake of the men who had gained the victory for him, to put away his grief, and soon David was welcomed back to Jerusalem, a company coming down to meet him at the Jordan. Do not fail to listen to this story of David receiving news of the battle and of his grief for Absalom.
You should read the first verses of chapter 23; they tell what David said about the Psalms which he had sung and written. They were not his own songs, and he knew that they were not, but they were Divine songs which the Lord had given him to sing. "The spirit of the Lord spake by me, and His word was in my tongue."
1. Where did David go when he fled from Jerusalem? Where was the battle with Absalom?
2. How was Absalom killed?
3. How did David before the battle show his tenderness toward Absalom? How did he show it again when news came of Absalom's death?
4. What is David's own testimony in regard to the Psalms?
Recall the things said of Absalom that show that he is a type of a superficial understanding of the Lord's Word and a superficial piety: his association with the beyond-Jordan country, his physical beauty and abundant hair, and his flattering and seductive ways. Another indication of the same sort is the mule which carried Absalom to his death. The animals of work and travel represent powers of mental labor, which are powers of thought and understanding, the horse representing a higher spiritual understanding and the ass and mule an understanding natural and often perverse. This quality of mind is seen in Ishmael, "the wild ass man." (A. 1949, 2781) Still another indication is the oak in which Absalom was caught. Trees represent growing intelligence. The oak (and if it was a terebinth. the meaning is nearly the same) represents not a well-ordered spiritual intelligence, but a natural, superficial intelligence, disordered and confused. Such intelligence may be sturdy and loyal in children who hold faithfully to what they have been taught, or it may be led by attractive appearances and by intellectual pride to superficial judgments. (A. 1443, 1616, 4552; E. 514) See the very interesting explanation of the ram caught in the thicket by his horns, in Gen. 22:13. (A.2831)
Absalom's monument "in the king's dale" suggests that the literal understanding of the Lord's Word and the interest in heaven for its outward pleasantness, have a right and permanent place in the life, but it must be a humble place. (A. 1723)
The most beautiful lesson of the chapter is seen in David's tenderness toward his rebellious son, his gentleness toward him, his solicitude for his safety, and his grief at his death. It is a picture of the Lord's tenderness toward those who are unfaithful to Him, especially toward those who misunderstand Him, or who prefer to take His words only literally, and to think of heaven and of Christian life and worship only in an external and superficial way. He loves even those who are rebellious and tries to lead them to a truer understanding of His Word and to a spiritual life. How infinitely tender David's words of lament for Absalom are, when we see that they express the Lord's pity for us when we choose a superficial life, and His willingness to do everything, even to die for us, to save us.