AMNON one of David's sons, had cruelly forced Tamar, his half-sister. After Tamar had escaped from him, she hurried in anguish to the home of Absalom, her brother, who opened the door for her. (II Samuel 13:7-19.)
A Plot for Revenge
Sobbing, Tamar jerked off her coat, a colorful and expensive garment such as was worn by a virgin in the royal family, and vigorously ripped it. Absalom knew that something tragic had taken place when he saw this demonstration. Then he remembered that his father had sent a message to Tamar that she should visit Amnon because of his sickness. "Have you been with Amnon just now?" Absalom asked. Tamar nodded and went to a chair to sit down and try to hide her tear-filled eyes. Knowing Amnon, Absalom didn't have to try very hard to understand the reason for his sister's misery. "Don't worry about this," Absalom said, putting his arm about her. "And don't tell anyone about it. If you do, the scandal would harm you as well as our family. Stay here in my home for a while and try to put it out of your mind." (II Samuel 13:20.) His father David was the last person Absalom would have wanted to learn about this matter. But the most secret things have a way of coming into the open. It wasn't long before the king found out what Amnon had done. He was grieved and angry, but he unwisely didn't apply any punishment to Amnon because Amnon was his first son, and he had a special liking for him. One of David's weaknesses was his failure to properly discipline his children. (I Kings 1:6.) As for Absalom, he also said nothing to Amnon, although he hated him for what he had done. He felt that an opportunity would come when he could cause Amnon to pay for the crime against his sister. (II Samuel 13:21-22.) He waited two years for that opportunity. It was sheep-shearing season, a time when there were special gatherings of friends and relatives to celebrate the wool harvest. Absalom wanted to make this a very special occasion, so he invited his father to a gathering at Absalom's estate a few miles northeast of Jerusalem. David declined with the explanation that the entertainment of royalty, such as the public would expect, would entail too much expense, and that he didn't want Absalom to be burdened with such a heavy bill. "But I would be very pleased and honored to have my father the king at my home as the guest of honor on this occasion," Absalom persisted. "Thank you, my son," David said, "but it would be better that I should not be there. I am sure that the celebration will be most enjoyable without me." "If you can't be there, then I would like Amnon to be my special guest," Absalom stated. "Why Amnon?" David asked suspiciously, remembering what had happened to Tamar. "Because he is your firstborn son," Absalom quickly replied. "I trust that you will encourage him and all your sons to be there." (II Samuel 13:23-27.) Later, when all the guests were assembled at his home, Absalom issued a ghastly order to his servants. "When we go in to dine," he told them, "give Amnon plenty of the strongest wine. Make sure that he drinks so much that he will become dull and careless. Then, at a signal from me, do what I have planned for you to do. Don't hesitate. I'll bear the responsibility. Anyone who fails to do his part is lacking courage, and must leave my employ."
Aftermath of Revenge
The Bible doesn't reveal whether Amnon was killed by a spear, a dagger or a sword, but he died suddenly at the table while he was too befuddled to be aware of his assailants. The other guests were so shocked and frightened by his murder that they fled from Absalom's house without so much as attempting to find out who was guilty. (II Samuel 13:28-29.) Even before the horrified people had reached their respective homes, a wild rumor somehow reached David that all his sons had been massacred at Absalom's home by Absalom and a bloodthirsty group of servants. There was no way to prove or disprove this report. David was inclined to fear the worst. He went into a state of mourning, which included tearing the clothes he was wearing and sprawling on the floor. His servants also believed the rumor, and joined him in the strange, ancient custom by ripping their clothes, too. Jonadab, the crafty fellow who had been partly responsible for starting this trouble, and who knew what had really happened at Absalom's home, came to David. He informed him that it wasn't true that all his sons had been slain, but that Amnon had been the only victim. David knew that Jonadab wasn't always to be trusted, so he wasn't sure what to believe until Jonadab pointed out a large group of people approaching. The king looked closely at them, and saw that they were his sons and their families. Only Absalom and Amnon were missing. (II Samuel 13:30-36.) Meanwhile, Absalom was fleeing for his life with his family and servants, He knew that it wouldn't long be safe for him to remain at home, nor would he very long be welcome in any of the cities of refuge in Israel. The only possible safety was in the land of Geshur, an area to the northeast in Syria. (II Samuel 15:8.) Talmai, king of Geshur, was Absalom's grandfather on his mother's side. Being not too friendly toward Israel, he nevertheless welcomed Absalom because of being related. For the next three years he was pleased to harbor his grandson from those who would try to avenge Amnon's death. During that time David never quite recovered from the loss of his firstborn son. But as his sorrow decreased, he thought more and more about Absalom, finally forgiving him for what he had done to Amnon, and even desperately hoping that Absalom would return to Jerusalem. (II Samuel 13:37-39.) Joab, David's hardhearted, crafty but loyal general, became aware that the king longed to see Absalom. He sensed that David wanted to send to Geshur for his son, but that he feared what the public reaction would be to his pardoning a murderer in the royal family. Joab had a plan by which he hoped to cause David to decide to have Absalom returned to Jerusalem. He arranged for a wise elderly widow, a stranger in Jerusalem, to obtain an audience with the king. He instructed her what to say. When she came before David she told him that she was a widow, a mother of two men who had fallen into a fight in which one was killed. She said that angry relatives were demanding that she turn her only son over to them so that they could take his life for what he had done to his brother.
The Sprouting of Vanity
"If they kill my only remaining son, then my dead husband's name and family will come to an end," the woman murmured sadly. "Don't worry about this matter," David told her. "I'll see that your son is pardoned and that no one will harm him." (II Samuel 14:1-10.) The woman pretended that she was very relieved and thankful. Then she said that she would like David to explain something to her. "If you so readily can pardon my son, why haven't you done the same thing for your son, who has been banished for so long? Saving my son is a vital thing only to me and my husband's family, but saving your son is important to the welfare of all Israel." Suddenly the woman felt very uncomfortable under David's steady gaze. Uneasy seconds dragged by while he said nothing. "I would like YOU to explain something to ME," he finally said. "Did Joab, my army commander, have anything to do with your being here?" "He did," the embarrassed and fearful woman hesitantly confessed. "It was he who told me what to say so that you might decide to take steps to bring your son back home. Forgive me for having some part in this thing. You must have the wisdom of an angel to have perceived that I was scheming." (II Samuel 14:11-20.) "It's not that I'm so wise," David observed. "I've known Joab long enough to recognize his schemes." "Did you think that sending a woman to me with a wild tale about a murderous son would cause me to decide to pardon Absalom?" David asked Joab after summoning the army commander. "I had hoped it would," responded Joab, maintaining his military dignity. "I know a way in which you can help even more," the king declared. Joab noted David's stern expression. He expected to be told that he could help by keeping out of the king's business from then on. Respectfully he waited for his superior to continue. "You can assemble the necessary attendants and equipment for going to Geshur to bring Absalom back," David grinned. Joab stared in momentary disbelief, then prostrated himself before the king. "Thank you!" he exclaimed. "I am happy to find favor in your sight so that your son might be restored to Israel!" A few days later Absalom was back in his home in Jerusalem, but he wasn't taken to see his father. David felt that it was enough, for the time being, that he should be pardoned. Although he wanted to see his son, he didn't choose to allow a big happy reunion that might seem to indicate to the people that Absalom was being regarded as blameless because he was the king's son. (II Samuel 14:21-24.) Absalom received much public interest, but not just because he was a royal person who had returned from the protection of another nation. He was a very good-looking, well-proportioned, muscular man whose unusual appearance gained for him the reputation of being the most handsome man in Israel. There were no blemishes on his skin. His hair was so exceptionally thick and heavy and so admired that he became very vain about it. He let it grow very long and then every year he would have about six pounds of it trimmed off. He was the object of admiration of many women and the cause of jealousy in many men, but his interest was in his wife and children. He had three sons and a daughter. He named his daughter Tamar, after the sister who had been involved in the reason for his plotting Amnon's death. (II Samuel 14:25-27.)
Vanity Begets a Plot
Two years passed without Absalom seeing his father. The younger man couldn't understand this lack of contact. He considered Joab a friend who could help build relations between himself and his father. So he sent a message to the army commander, asking him to try to get him in touch with the king. Joab didn't reply. After sending a second message and again receiving no reply, Absalom decided to resort to a more effective method of gaining Joab's attention. "See that field of barley just beyond mine?" Absalom pointed out to his servants. "Go set it on fire." The servants considered this a most unusual order. But they faithfully did as their master ordered. After the field was burned, the owner quickly showed up at Absalom's home, just as Absalom knew he would because the field belonged to Joab. "My barley field has been burned, and I've been told that your servants set fire to it," Joab angrily said to Absalom. "Why have you allowed such an outrageous thing?" (II Samuel 14:28-31.) "You are very alert to what happened to your field, but you paid no attention to the messages I sent you," Absalom replied. "I had to do this thing to get you here. Please go to my father and ask him why I was brought back from Geshur. Tell him that I would prefer to still be there if I can't be allowed to see him. If he still regards me as a criminal, he should have me killed. It might be better than living here as an outcast from my own family." Joab was quite upset because of the loss of his barley. Probably Absalom paid for it, but he managed to get a message to his father. When David heard from Joab how disquieted Absalom was about not seeing him, he was moved to send for his son immediately. Absalom happily came to the palace. When he saw his father, he sank to his knees and bowed his forehead to the floor. David pulled him up to embrace him for the first time in five years. (II Samuel 14:32-33.) It wasn't long after Absalom was welcomed at the palace that he began; to change. Because Absalom had not been properly disciplined, he was self-willed and self-centered. He began to lust after his father's throne. Amnon's death led Absalom to believe he would be the one to succeed his father on the throne of Israel. The very thought of coming into that rank and power spurred him with ambition to try to hasten the time when it would happen. Absalom's vanity increased with his ambition. He equipped himself with fancy chariots in which he rode haughtily about, sometimes preceded by as many as fifty men to herald his approach and to clear the streets and roads. To many people Absalom was a more exciting and interesting figure than the king, and they were quite impressed by the manner in which he conducted himself. Often he went to the main gate of the city to mingle with the many people who brought problems and grievances there to be settled. He was always anxious to have some part in helping make decisions. He tried to make the decisions in favor of parties to whom he could look for support in the day when he might need support from as many people as possible. He was building up a following that would be necessary in the near future. By these back-slapping, favor-performing methods, together with his unusual appearance and manners, David's son soon became very popular in Israel. At the same time, he became so impressed with that popularity and the way in which he was able to influence people, that he soon decided that it was the time for him to try to wrest the rulership of Israel from his father David! (II Samuel 15:1-6.)
Absalom Leads Revolt
To do this, he had to go away to organize his political and military forces. As an excuse to leave Jerusalem, he told his father that he had made a vow, when he was in Geshur, that if ever he could return to Jerusalem, he would make a special thank offering and would thereafter serve God. "I want to go to Hebron, the ancient sacred city of the priests, to offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving," Absalom told David. "Indeed you should," David agreed, pleased that his son had such inclinations. "Take two hundred of my soldiers with you, and may your sacrifice be pleasing to God." Unknown to the king, Absalom took many conspirators with him, besides the two hundred, who weren't aware that they would turn out to be something more than just impressive guards for the king's son. Absalom had already secretly arranged to send men out to all parts of the nation to help swing the people over to support him as king. Because David was getting old and because he had made what people thought were unwise and unpopular moves, Absalom's campaigning helpers had some effective tools to use in promoting David's son for king. The people were becoming more agitated by the day, and far more than David was told or suspected. (II Samuel 15:7-11.) Even Ahithophel, David's chief advisor and prime minister, went over to Absalom's side. (II Samuel 15:12.) Perhaps his reason for deserting the king was that he was Bathsheba's grandfather. (II Samuel 11:3; 23:34.) He could have harbored some secret ill will against David because of the way he had treated her. It was a grave shock to David when he was informed by a loyal subject that the state of affairs in Israel had changed almost overnight. Not until then did he learn that Absalom was seeking the throne and that he was planning to make a surprise attack on Jerusalem in a sudden effort to gain control of the nation by taking over the seat of government. (II Samuel 15:13.) David could have ordered soldiers to occupy every foot of the wall around Jerusalem, but he didn't want to make the city the site of a possible battle that would mar the capital. Instead of taking defense measures, he called together only his family, servants and palace guards. "Prepare to leave Jerusalem at once!" he warned. "Absalom has turned against me, and might attack us here with an army he has raised!" For a time there was confusion and fearful excitement, but then the women and children became calmer. The servants declared their loyalty to David, and assured him that they were eager to go with him anywhere. Leaving ten women to take care of the palace, David and his family, servants and guards left with a few hastily collected provisions. The party included the six hundred men David had brought from the Philistine city of Gath years before, and who were still loyally attached to him. David was very moved that these people were intent on staying by him at a time when so many in Israel were switching their devotion and allegiance from the king to Absalom. David suggested to Ittai, who commanded the palace guards and others from Gath, that he and his men and their families remain in Jerusalem, but Ittai made it evident that he wanted to stay with the king no matter what happened. David consented to Ittai's going with him. (II Samuel 15:14-24.) Not far outside the city David paused to watch the loyal lines of people move on toward safety. He was suddenly quite perturbed when he saw that the ark of the covenant was being carried from Jerusalem.