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DAVID’S MOURNING FOR ABSALOM

2 Samuel 16:15-19:8
Key Verse: 18:33

Last lesson was about Absalom’s conspiracy and David’s trust in the LORD. Today’s passage is about Absalom’s tragic end and David’s mourning for him. We will see how much David loved Absalom, which can be considered a reflection of God’s love for sinners. This passage also includes the story of Hushai, David’s friend, and Ahithophel, one of Absalom’s co-conspirators. We can think of the meaning of friendship and the end of human wisdom.

First, Hushai and Ahithophel (16:15-17:29). In 16:15, 16, “Meanwhile, Absalom and all the men of Israel came to Jerusalem, and Ahithophel was with him. Then Hushai the Arkite, David’s friend, went to Abaslom and said to him, ‘Long live the king! Long live the king!’” Here Hushai was introduced as David’s friend again after it was written in 15:37, “So David’s friend Hushai arrived at Jerusalem as Absalom was entering the city.” Then in verse 17, “Absalom asked Hushai, ‘Is this the love you show your friend? Why didn’t you go with your friend?’” Absalom doubly indicated that David was Hushai’s friend. In 1 Samuel we saw the wonderful friendship between David and Jonathan. Their friendship was in God. It was to serve God’s will in their lives. Jonathan’s love was sacrificial overcoming his own human desire and ambition, and David was so grateful for Jonathan’s godly, sacrificial friendship and deeply lamented over his death. And in the friendship David remembered his promise to Jonathan and took care of his son Mephibosheth, crippled in both legs, like his own sons.

In 2 Samuel we see another friend of David’s, Hushai. Jonathan and Hushai came from different human backgrounds: Jonathan was from a royal family, Hushai from a totally unknown family, he is described here just as “the Arkite”, about which we are told nothing else. But the quality of their friendship with David was the same. In chapter 15, when David arrived at the summit, where people used to worship God, Hushai the Arkite was there to meet him, in his robe torn and dust on his head. David said to him, ‘If you go with me, you will be a burden to me. But if you return to the city and say to Absalom, “I will be your servant, O king; I was your father’s servant in the past, but now I will be your servant,’ then you can help me by frustrating Ahithophel’s advice.” This request of David was that Hushai be a spy for David, and surely for the sake of the whole nation. The purpose was good, but it was not an easy task to do. It was a life-risking task. But Hushai was willing to accept David’s request. David was in the need of such a friend, and Hushai was indeed the very such a friend. He arrived at Jerusalem and spoke directly to Absalom, “Long live the king! Long live the king!” It must have been difficult for Hushai to say these words of blessing in pretence. And when Absalom asked Hushai, “Is this the love you show your friend? Why didn’t you go with your friend?” Hushai said to Absalom, “No, the one chosen by the LORD, by these people, and by all the men of Israel—his I will be, and I will remain with him. Furthermore, whom should I serve? Should I not serve the son? Just as I served your father, so I will serve you.” It seemed that Hushai spoke confidently. But actually, again it must have been very difficult for him to say these words in disguise. He had to deny himself for the sake of his friend, surely believing that such speaking was right before God. We learn what friendship means. It includes also denying oneself, even one’s own credibility/authenticity temporarily with a clear good purpose before God. Now we will see how much God blesses Hushai’s friendship.

In verse 20 Absalom said to Ahithophel, “Give us your advice. What should we do?” First, Ahithophel advised Absalom to lie with his father’s concubines whom David had left to take care of the palace. This was exactly what God prophesied to David through the prophet Nathan as God’s punishment upon David’s sin. Surely Ahithophel did not know this prophecy, but Ahithophel could give such an outstanding advice which would draw people’s support to Absalom. Ahitohphel said, “Then all Israel will hear that you have made yourself a stench in your father’s nostrils, and the hands of everyone with you will be strengthened.” So the author commented in verse 23, “Now in those days the advice Ahithophel gave was like that of one who inquires of God. That was how both David and Absalom regarded all of Ahithophel’s advice.”

Yet, we will see how the advice of such a remarkable counselor Ahithophel is defeated by Hushai’s because of God’s intervention. Ahithophelp continued to Absalom, “I would choose twelve thousand men and set out tonight in pursuit of David. I would attack him while he is weary and weak. I would strike him with terror, and then all the people with him will flee. I would strike down only the king and bring all the people back to you. The death of the man you seek will mean the return of all; all the people will be unharmed.” The point of Ahithophel’s advice was to attack David right away, that the very night, when he was weary and weak, striking only him. Then all the people will return to Absalom and the victory be guaranteed. The strategy is called “an intensive surprise attack”, “blitz tactics.” Verse 4 says, “This plan seemed good to Absalom and to all the elders of Israel.” So to Absalom this should be the end of soliciting advice.

But Absalom said, “Summon also Hushai the Arkite, so we can hear what he has to say.” When Hushai came to him, Absalom said, “Ahithophel has given this advice. Should we do what he says? If not, give us your opinion.” Humanly speaking, what Absalom said is unusual. To make a right judgment between the two, he should be fair to the both of them. And Ahithophel was the one for whom he had sent to join with him in rebellion against David; Hushai just suddenly came by himself and still could be in his doubt. So Absalom should have not told the advice of Ahithophel to Hushai. But Absalom strangely did. Furthermore he asked Hushai, “Should we do what he says?” It is totally unbelievable that Absalom asked this of Hushai, who was standing there as an opponent of Ahithophel. It is like asking of Hushai, “Should we do what your enemy says?” The answer would be obviously, “No.” At this point Absalom seemed too unfair to Ahithophel, though he did not intend it. Most certainly Absalom did not know what he was saying. It was likely that in his mind he had already sided with Hushai. Humanly it was not understandable at all. But it was possible because of God’s intervention. If God works, one’s mind can be changed even at a moment. So even history can be changed in one moment.

Surely, Hushai could read Absalom’s mind favourable to him. Of course he could not lose this chance. Hushai replied to Absalom, “The advice Ahitophel has given is not good this time.” Then he explained the reason: “You know your father and his men; they are fighters, and as fierce as a wild bear robbed of her cubs. Besides, your father is an experienced fighter; he will not spend the night with the troops. Even now, he is hidden in a cave or some other place.” In saying this Hushai was telling Absalom to be considerate, not so quick. And then he advised Absalom to make a full preparation. He continued, “So I advise you: Let all Israel, from Dan to Beersheba—as numerous as the sand on the seashore—be gathered to you, with you yourself leading them into battle. Then we will attack him wherever he may be found, and we will fall on him as dew settles on the ground. Neither he nor any of his men will be left alive.” Hushai gave this advice to Absalom so that David might have time to prepare for the battle. Also, Hushai boosted Absalom’s pride, saying, “…with you yourself leading them into battle”, while Ahithophel did not mention at all Absalom’s leading the army. So Hushai’s advice was quite opposite to that of Ahithophel. At this Absalom and all the men of Israel said, “The advice of Hushai the Arkite is better than that of Ahithophel.” Probably Absalom’s preference of Hushai quickly spread to all the men of Israel. The author commented in verse 14b, “For the LORD had determined to frustrate the good advice of Ahithophel in order to bring disaster on Absalom.” When God determined to do something, even the good advice of anyone is of no use. God’s purpose stands above even all human good will and advice. Proverbs 19:21 says, “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.” We are also reminded of 1 Corinthians 1:25, “The foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.” And when we think of Ahithophel, although he was such a brilliant counselor, he had no fear of God in joining and siding with Absalom, on whom God determined to bring disaster. So his view of people and events was humanistic, though excellent. However, we can infer that Hushai had the fear of God when he became a friend of David and was willing to do what his friend earnestly asked him to do, even such a risky job of being a spy. Truly the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge and of wisdom (Pro. 1:7; 9:10) and the fear of God wins. We, in the fear of God, need to develop godly view of things and events and people, particularly in making friends with the question, “With whom should I get along?” and “To whom should I listen?”

The following story tells us how dangerous the situation was. Hushai told Zadok and Abiathar, the priests, “Ahithophel has advised Absalom and the elders of Israel to do such and such, but I have advised them to do so and so. Now send a message immediately and tell David, ‘Do not spend the night at the fords in the desert; cross over without fail, or the king and all the people with him will be swallowed up.’” Jonathan and Ahimaaz were staying at En Rogel. A servant girl was to go and inform them, and they were to go and tell King David, for they could not risk being seen entering the city. But a young man saw them and told Absalom. The two men were pursued. But God provided them a refuge in the well of a man’s house. Finally the message was delivered to David. So David and all the people with him set out and crossed the Jordan. By daybreak, no one was left who had not crossed the Jordan.

In verse 23 is written the end of Ahithophel: “When Ahithophel saw that his advice had not been followed, he saddled his donkey and set out for his house in his hometown. He put his house in order and then hanged himself. So he died and was burned in his father’s tomb.” Surely he could foresee the demise of Absalom and his men in rejecting his advice. And for him to die in pride was better than to live in dishonour. Probably it would be unbearable to see David in dishonour since his disloyalty was revealed. Anyway this was the end of Ahithophel, who sided with Absalom according to his smart calculation.

Second, Absalom and David (17:24-19:8). David went to Mahanaim, and Absalome crossed the Jordan with all the men of Israel. Absalom had appointed Amasa over the army in place of Joab. When David came to Mahanaim, some people brought many necessary things for David and his men, who were hungry and tired and thirsty in the desert.

David mustered the men who were with him and appointed over them commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds. David sent the troops out—a third under the command of Joab, a third under Joab’s brother Abishai son of Zeruiah, and a third under Ittai, the Gittite. David himself wanted to march out with them to fight. But his men knew that the enemies would aim only David, not caring any other. They told Davit not to go for the battle together with them but to just support from the city staying there. So the king stood beside the gate while all the men marched out in units of hundreds and of thousands. The king commanded Joab, Abishai and Ittai, “Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake.” And all the troops heard the king giving orders concerning Absalom to each of the commanders.

The army marched into the field to fight Israel, and the battle took place in the forest of Ephraim. There the army of Israel was defeated by David’s men, and the casualties that day were great—twenty thousand men. The battle spread out over the whole countryside, and the forest claimed more lives that day than the sword. Because of the density of the trees and the rugged nature of the terrain (a tract of land), the pursuit through the forest resulted in more deaths than the actual combat.

Then the story goes to Absalom. Now Absalom happened to meet David’s men. He was riding his mule, and as the mule went under the thick branches of a large oak, Absalom’s head got caught in the tree. He was left hanging in midair, while the mule he was riding kept on going. What an interesting event! Most probably his head got caught in the tree because of his strong hair caught in a tangle of thick branches that could sustain his body weight. Probably that’s why his hair was mentioned in the previous passage. It was likely that his strong point became his fatal point.

Then there is a conversation between one of the men who saw this and Joab. The man was a nameless soldier, but he truly honoured David and his word, while Joab the commander did not. The soldier did not want any great amount of money or a warrior’s belt. He kept David’s word and want to follow the king’s instruction above anything else. The man said, “Even if a thousand shekels were weighed out into my hands, I would not lift my hand against the king’s son. In our hearing the king commanded you and Abishai and Ittai, ‘Protect the young man Absalom for my sake.” And the man added, “And if I had put my life in jeopardy—and nothing is hidden from the king—you would have kept your distance from me.” In short “I cannot trust you.” So in NLT, “And if I had betrayed the king by killing his son—and the king would certainly find out who did it—you yourself would be the first to abandon me.” This nameless soldier spoke these words to Joab with such clarity. He seemed to be far better than the commander Joab in honouring David. Even at this Joab said, “I’m not going to wait like this for you.” So he took three javelins in his hand and plunged them into Absalom’s heart while Absalom was still alive in the oak tree. And ten of Joab’s armor-bearers surrounded Absalom, struck him and killed him. Then at Joab’s trumpet sound, the troops stopped pursuing Israel. They took Absalom, threw him into a big pit in the forest and piled up a large heap of rock over him. A heap of stones often showed that the person buried was a criminal or enemy (Josh. 7:26; 8:29). What a tragic end of his life! He was the one who was highly praised by people for his handsome appearance.

Why did he end up his life that way? The author seemed to write the reason in verse 18. “During his lifetime Absalom had taken a pillar and erected it in the King’s Valley as a monument to himself, for he thought, ‘I have no son to carry on the memory of my name.’ He named the pillar after himself, and it is called Absalom’s Monument to this day.” We were informed in the last lesson that Absalom had three sons. But here he said, “I have no son to carry on the memory of my name.” Perhaps, all the sons God took away one by one as a warning to Absalom. Still, he wanted to live for himself, for his own name’s sake, in people’s honour and praise and recognition. Such a life invited a tragic end. In the book of Samuel we see two people who built monument for themselves. One was Absalom, and the other, Saul in 1 Samuel. 1 Samuel 15:12 says, “Saul has gone to Carmel. There he has set up a monument in his own honour and has turned and gone on down to Gilgal.” It was after his victory over Amalekites. Afterwards he was rebuked for his disobedience by Samuel, for he obeyed God in his own way. As we studied in 1 Samuel 31, he died tragically at the war with the Philistines.

In the following verses there is a long description of how the news of Absalom’s death was delivered to David. Two people were running, A Cushite and Ahimaaz. When David was sitting between the inner and outer gates, the watchman went up to the roof of the gateway by the wall. As he looked out, he saw a man running alone. The watchman called out to the king and reported it. The king said, “If he is alone, he must have good news.” And the man came closer and closer. Then the watchman saw another man running, and he called down to the gatekeeper, “Look, another man running alone!” The king said, “He must be bringing good news, too.” The watchman said, “It seems to me that the first one runs like Ahimaaz son of Zadok.” “He’s a good man,” the king said. “He comes with good news.” This description showed how eagerly the king wanted to hear good news. To David the good news was the survival of Absalom, not just his men’s victory.

When David faced each of the two deliverers personally, at each time his question was, “Is the young man Absalom safe?” When he finally learned that Absalom was killed, he was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said, “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son.” And he said in 19:4, “The king covered his face and cried aloud, ‘O my son Absalom! O Absalom, my son, my son.!” Notably David had not called Absalom “my son” until this time. Rather, he called him “the young man Absalom”, probably in the hope of his repentance. Yet, hearing of the death of Absalom, he could not stop saying, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son. O may son Absalom! O Absalom, my son, my son!” He uttered “my son” eight times and “Absalom” five times with five exclamation mark. We can hardly see such an extensive and emphatic expression for a person. The author’s point is that David truly loved Absalom, though such a worthless son, grieving much over his death. Although his love and grief for the son was greatly misunderstood by the people, he expressed his genuine love and sorrow for his son Absalom. Even his men’s victory and revival of the kingdom could not replace his heart for Absalom.

This love of David for Absalom reflects the love of God for sinners through his Son Jesus Christ. Although we were worthless and became the objects of God’s wrath, he showed his great mercy. Apostle Paul described it in Ephesians 2:3b-5, “Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” In his great love we have been saved and have become his dearly loved children. Apostle John exclaimed for this in 3:1, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” This great love of God was shown through the redemption, forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus. On the cross Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” We are to be embraced in his bosom of forgiving and welcoming love at each moment. God wants us to be assured of his love demonstrated through Christ’s death. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrated his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” And Romans 8:38- 39 says, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The love of God is the very assurance and confidence we have with which we can live in this world and live as victors in life.

To God the Father in heaven nothing is good news except the salvation of one sinner after another. Jesus said in Luke 15 that there is rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents, one sinner who turns to God. So 2 Peter 3:9b says, “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

May we dwell in the love of God and live with the fear of God in this wold!

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