We began studying the fallout from David’s sin with Bathsheba in our sermon last week. David’s oldest son Amnon raped Tamar, one of the king’s younger daughters, and was later killed. Absalom, another of David’s sons, committed this murder to avenge his sister and afterwards fled the country. Eventually Absalom was brought back to Jerusalem and finally spoke with his father David. The whole sordid mess lasted for 7 long years.
Despite David’s feeble attempt to reconcile with his son, Absalom remained furious about everything that had happened. As the months passed his anger became increasingly directed toward his father David, who had passively sit and watched for years as his family fell apart. Absalom began thinking to himself that David was unfit to be king, and that he’d be a much better leader in Israel than his dad was. And so it began… Absalom’s plan to oust his father by overthrowing the government.
Today’s message is titled “Absalom’s Conspiracy”. The story spans 5 full chapters of the Bible. Due to the large amount of ground we will cover today, I will not have time to delve into every detail recorded in these chapters. I will summarize the events that took place on this occasion, but encourage each of you to read these chapters for yourself. By doing this, you will discover some information that I will likely leave out of this morning’s message.
I. ABSALOM’S RISE (2 Samuel 15-16)
Absalom began undermining King David’s authority by judging the peoples’ cases at the city gate. Over the course of time, he endeared himself to many who lived in and all around Jerusalem. Having built up a large following, Absalom traveled to Hebron where he made final preparations for a coup against his father. Many people, including some of David’s closest advisors, joined Absalom in his conspiracy.
When David received word that Absalom was planning to overthrow the government by force, he decided to flee from the capital city. Those loyal to David joined him in this mass departure. The priests and Levites wanted to bring the Ark of the Covenant too, but David ordered that it remain in Jerusalem. As he was leaving, David met his dear friend and counselor Hushai on the Mount of Olives. He instructed Hushai to remain in Jerusalem, to feign allegiance to Absalom, and to serve as his spy.
During his flight David met Ziba, the man who’d earlier been assigned to be Mephibosheth’s servant. Ziba lied to David by claiming that Mephibosheth had forsaken him and taken sides with Absalom. David went on Bahurim, where a disgruntled man cursed him openly and threw rocks at him. David tolerated the abuse and continued his escape.
Meanwhile Absalom and those who’d joined him in the conspiracy entered Jerusalem without incident. Hushai faked his allegiance to Absalom, and covertly inserted himself into his inner circle. Ahithophel, who had formerly been a servant of David, was now serving as Absalom’s chief counselor. He advised Absalom to publicly sleep with the concubines which David had left behind in Jerusalem. This was the fulfillment of yet another punishment which God had spoken against David through the prophet Nathan.
II. ABSALOM’S FALL (2 Samuel 17-18:18)
Ahithophel volunteered to lead a force of men in pursuit of David, hoping to find and kill him before he had time to rest and regroup. But Hushai reminded Absalom of David’s fierce reputation as a mighty warrior, and advised him to wait until they could muster up a larger army before making any assault. Upon consideration Absalom followed Hushai’s advice, which left Ahithophel feeling quite humiliated. In shame, Ahithophel returned to his home and committed suicide.
Meanwhile Hushai sent a message to David to inform him of Absalom’s plan. The message was almost intercepted when a young boy saw David’s messengers and told on them. They had to hide in a well to avoid being caught. When these messengers finally delivered the warning, David and his men crossed over the Jordan River and came to a place called Mahanaim. They were met there by many sympathizers, who gave them food and other needed provisions.
Hushai had bought David enough time to get organized. Once prepared, David divided his army into 3 companies and sent them out to meet Absalom’s forces. He instructed them to deal gently with his son. By this point, Absalom had amassed a large army as well. The 2 sides met and battled against one another in the Valley of Ephraim. The fighting was severe and over 20,000 men died. David’s men were victorious. During the contest, in direct defiance of David’s orders, Joab killed Absalom after finding him caught hanging from a tree by his hair.
III. DAVID’S RETURN (2 Samuel 18:19-19)
As the fighting came to an end, Joab sent 2 messengers from the battlefield to give a report to David who had stayed back in Mahanaim. One of them outran the other. The first to arrive told David that his men had won the war and the conspirators had been defeated. When the second messenger showed up, he added that Absalom had been killed. David, who had a long history of grieving over the death of his enemies, was heartbroken to learn of his son’s death.
Joab was disgusted by David’s mournful behavior. When his men returned from the fight, David did not show them any honor or make any attempt to commend their bravery or celebrate their victory. Instead he just lamented over his slain son Absalom. Joab approached David and scolded him for disrespecting his army in such a shameful way. He warned David that his own people would soon forsake him if he didn’t get it together.
So David composed himself and took up his rightful place as leader. During the conspiracy, the people of Israel had been divided. Now that it was over, most of them wanted David to return to Jerusalem. However, many of those in Judah - who had given much assistance to Absalom - were hesitant to have David back on the throne. In order to win back their allegiance, David named Amasa as his new military commander in place of Joab. Amasa had been Absalom’s general during the attempted coup. Seeing this, Judah welcomed David back.
Shemei and the men of Judah hurriedly came to the Jordan River and assisted David as he crossed back over into Israel. Rather than having them executed, the merciful king forgave Shemei and many other conspirators of their treachery. Several others met with David as and even after he returned to Jerusalem, including Mephibosheth. Mephibosheth told David that he’d never sided with Absalom, and that Ziba’s claims about him were all lies. A large group of men from Israel also greeted David at Gilgal as he returned home.
Absalom’s conspiracy to overthrow his father David ultimately ended in failure. Sadly, Absalom himself was killed during the attempted coup he led. Though David had vacated the throne temporarily, he soon returned and continued his reign as king. David was extremely gracious and lenient towards those who had conspired against him, perhaps because he did not want to do any further damage to the nation.
I have often wondered why David fled from Jerusalem so readily. When you consider his past bravery and valor, it seems odd that he would just abandon the capital rather than boldly defending it. Jerusalem had strong city walls and was quite well fortified, which would have likely made any attempted invasion very difficult for Absalom. But David and his loyal followers abruptly left, essentially handing Jerusalem over to the conspirators. I think there is a lesson to be learned from David’s peculiar decision.
After hearing the whole story, it is clear to me that David’s forces were stronger than Absalom’s. I have come to believe that David did not withdraw from Jerusalem primarily out of fear, but rather because the majority of the people there wanted him to leave. In other words, he wasn’t forced out but rather chose to go because he wasn’t wanted. He could have asserted his strength against the will of the majority, but he didn’t. Likewise, after the conspiracy ended David did not immediately return to Jerusalem. Instead he made attempts to appease the men of Judah and Israel so they would welcome him back. Again, he waited to be received voluntarily rather than returning belligerently.
Jesus is infinitely more powerful than the conspirator Satan is, yet Satan reigns in the lives of many people. Why is this so? I believe it is because Jesus respects and honors each individual’s will. If a person prefers to serve someone or something other than Jesus, he will voluntarily withdraw. This doesn’t make him any less powerful. Fortunately for the us, even after he leaves the Lord lovingly remains closeby and patiently waits to be invited back. He affords sinners with occasional reminders of his nearness. Still, Jesus will not enter into a person’s heart and grant them salvation apart from a sincere invitation.
Perhaps you have rebelled against God and rejected his son Jesus. Many years ago you may have sensed his presence and influence, but now he seems distant and silent. I have good news! Even though he respected your past wishes by leaving you to wallow in your own sinfulness, the Lord is still near and eager to return. No power can stop him. Will you repent of your sins today and welcome Jesus into your life? He is patiently waiting for you to say yes.