2 Samuel 13-18, Absalom—Vanity of Vanities
We are all familiar with the David and Bathsheba story, but the aftermath consequences are revealed in 2 Samuel 13-18. When the prophet Nathan exposed the sin of David in 2 Samuel 12, the prophet revealed the future turmoil in David’s family, “Behold, I (God) will raise up evil against you from your own household (family)”. David had many wives and children from each wife, so we can imagine the rivalries, deceit, and intrigue that would cause. What you sow you shall reap, and David would reap trouble, rape, murder, and a civil war because of his sin. David’s sins with Bathsheba and Uriah were forgiven and he would go to heaven, but the rest of his worldly life would be a disaster. In 2 Samuel 13, David’s oldest son Amnon raped his half sister, and then another son Absalom murdered Amnon. David feeling guilty about the whole disastrous situation became an enabler for his children. The dictionary defines an enabler as “One who enables another to persist in self destructive behavior by providing excuses and no consequences”. Feeling guilty from his own sin and thinking the children’s mistakes were his fault, David did not punish Amnon for rape, and only gave a three year banishment to Absalom for murder. After Absalom returned to Jerusalem, we know there is going to be more trouble because of the prophecy of Nathan about continued trouble within David’s family.
Absalom’s Maximum Vanity
In 2 Samuel 14:25-26 we read that Absalom was the most handsome man in all of Israel. People praised his appearance from “the sole of his foot to the crown of his head, and they found no defect in him”. This guy had maximum movie star looks, and he had salon quality hair. His hair was so thick and luscious that whenever he got a haircut the hair on the floor weighed about 4 pounds (seriously read the text). Absalom was the crown Prince who had never heard the word “NO”. All he ever received was praise and adoration for his good looks and station in life. That begs the question, “What kind of person results from such vanity?” Clearly he will not be humble, not be contrite, and he will not be willing to serve someone else. Absalom lusted for maximum power, max wealth, and max glory for himself. In short, he was a monster!
Years later Solomon would learn the folly of such vanity as had overtaken Absalom, and he would write “Vanity of vanity, all is vanity!” in the Book of Ecclesiastes 1:2. Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes after he had experienced a life of materialism, indulgence in all the lusts, wealth, power, and success. Looking back on all that he did he exposed it all as vanity. Used in this context he meant vanity as futility, and meaningless self-indulgence. Taken all together, the book of Ecclesiastes offers two lifestyles—meaningless materialism that fades away or a life of faith and trust in God. Solomon went on to say that even the work you do is meaningless without God. Imagine a great man like Solomon living to a ripe old age only to find that all his stuff, all his accomplishments, and all his hard work was vanity! I remember that Mother Teresa and Princess Diana died on almost the same day. Teresa owned no home and had no money, while Diana lived in Kensington Palace and was very rich. Diana was beautiful, worshipped by the people as a rock star, and was very rich. Nevertheless, Mother Teresa died spiritually rich, and very content with a life well lived; but Diana’s problems and frustrations were well publicized.
Absalom may have been one of the vainest men who ever lived, and so he was never happy with what he had. The crown Prince, young, powerful, famous, and wealthy, but it was all vanity, like chasing after the wind.
Absalom’s Monument to Himself
In 2 Samuel 18:18, we read that there was a place called The King’s Valley in which the kings all had monuments after they died. It’s kind of like the Presidential Libraries that all the past Presidents of the U.S.A. have to memorialize their accomplishments. Even though he was never really the King of Israel, Absalom set up this monument to himself. 2 Samuel 18:17 tells us that Absalom was actually buried in an unknown pit with rocks piled on him. What a contrast of what he thought of himself vs. how his worthless life ended! How do we identify Absalom today? What place does he have in history? Absalom’s place in history is a man hanging from a tree with his thick hair all tangled up in the branches. What place does he have in the Bible? His place is a place of self-righteousness in which he made up his own rules and religion. A place of deception and rebellion in which he not only disobeyed his father, but rebelled against God’s appointed King. Imagine the great irony of Absalom building that great monument to himself only to die hanging from a tree by the beautiful hair that people admired, and then dumped in a pit never to be seen again. Talk about irony!
Absalom’s Short Rule in Jerusalem
In 2 Samuel 16:15-17:14, we read of Absalom’s short reign as a self appointed King. After David heard that Absalom had raised a considerable army to depose him, David thought it a good idea to abandon the city, and spare it a destructive battle or siege. David also had no intention of harming Absalom, and he even gave strict instructions to his generals not to harm Absalom. Ironically because David would not take up arms against his son, Absalom would soon take up arms against David and attack him in the Transjordan. David left going east across the Kidron Valley and up over the Mount of Olives. David was very humble and in mourning as he left. 2 Samuel 15:30 says, “David went up the Mt. of Olives and wept as he went with his head covered in shame and he walked barefoot. All of the people with him also went up weeping”. Piling on, a past supporter of King Saul heaped insults on David and threw rocks at him. One of David’s men offered to cut off the guy’s head, but David said, “Let him alone…Perhaps the Lord will look on my affliction and return good to me instead of his cursing”. This reminded me of Peter’s commentary on righteous suffering in 1 Peter 2:19, “For this finds favor if for the sake of conscience toward God a man bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly”. Now that Absalom and his army were in Jerusalem he appointed himself as King of Israel and gathered advisors to himself to determine how to finish off David and his small army.
Secret Agent Man—Hushai
In 2 Samuel 15:32-37, Hushai, one of David’s wisest advisors, tried to leave with David, but David had a better idea. David told him that he would be more useful to David as a double agent in Jerusalem. Ahithophel had been a very wise counselor to David, but he went with the momentum to be the new advisor to Absalom. Hushai’s job was to thwart the wise counsel of Ahithophel. In 2 Samuel 16:15-19, Absalom questions the loyalty of Hushai, but the double agent convinced Absalom that he was loyal to the King of Israel. We the readers know that Hushai secretly means David, but in his vanity Absalom buys into Hushai’s statement. The focus of 2 Samuel chapter 17 is the conflicting advice of these two counselors. The very wise Ahithophel counsels to attack David immediately before he can get organized, but Hushai tells him no, David knows the terrain too well where he is. David could hide in the rocks and caves and surprise attack them like he used to do to Saul. Instead Absalom should gather all the forces from all the tribes, and then go to meet David with an overwhelming force. Therefore, you could say one advisor said “Strike while the iron is hot”, but the other said “Look before you leap”. Absalom settled on Hushai’s plan, but before we can give too much credit to Hushai we read 2 Samuel 17:14, “For the Lord had ordained to thwart the good counsel of Ahithophel, in order that the Lord might bring calamity on Absalom”. Given enough time, David raises an army and crosses the Jordan River, and prepares to do battle in the forest of Ephraim. In this thick forest, Absalom’s larger army will not be able to maneuver and take advantage of their size. Again in ch.18:5, David orders his generals Joab, Abishai, and Ittai to “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom”. In the rugged terrain and forest, David’s men slaughtered the army of Absalom. When David’s men approached Absalom, he fled on his mule, but hitting thick branches his hair got stuck in an elm tree. He hung there until Joab showed up and thrust three spears through Absalom’s heart. Then they threw him into a pit and covered him with stones.
True to form, David did not rejoice in the news of the death of his enemy. Instead David wept and cried out, “Oh Absalom, my son! Would I had died instead of you, Oh Absalom my son!” Absalom was the example of a promising beautiful young man with potential, but brought to a disgraceful death by his own vanity. The obvious contrast may be drawn here between the compassionate humble David who recognizes his sin, and the prideful vain Absalom who lusted after power, wealth, and fame. David is remembered as a great man buried in an honorable service, but Absalom was road-kill dumped into a pit in an unknown location. We must remember the Scriptures, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (Prov.3:34, James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5).