2 Samuel 18 (NRSV)
The Defeat and Death of Absalom
Then David mustered the men who were with him, and set over them commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds. 2And David divided the army into three groups: one third under the command of Joab, one third under the command of Abishai son of Zeruiah, Joab’s brother, and one third under the command of Ittai the Gittite. The king said to the men, “I myself will also go out with you.”
David is a good military commander. He immediately organizes the soldiers into groups, and (unlike when he stayed home with Bathsheba) he declares he will fight with the army.
3But the men said, “You shall not go out. For if we flee, they will not care about us. If half of us die, they will not care about us. But you are worth ten thousand of us; therefore it is better that you send us help from the city.”
The men, however, ask him to stay out of the battle. He is too valuable to the nation, and (although it is not stated) might they have realized it would be hard for David to fight against his own son?
4The king said to them, “Whatever seems best to you I will do.”
So the king stood at the side of the gate, while all the army marched out by hundreds and by thousands. 5The king ordered Joab and Abishai and Ittai, saying, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” And all the people heard when the king gave orders to all the commanders concerning Absalom.
David wants his son brought back to him alive.
6So the army went out into the field against Israel; and the battle was fought in the forest of Ephraim. 7The men of Israel were defeated there by the servants of David, and the slaughter there was great on that day, twenty thousand men. 8The battle spread over the face of all the country; and the forest claimed more victims that day than the sword.
The men of Israel, disloyal to David, were defeated by David. Casualties in fighting were high, and there were even more deaths in the forest, perhaps by wild beasts.
9Absalom happened to meet the servants of David. Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak. His head caught fast in the oak, and he was left hanging between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on.
His beautiful hair! — his pride is his undoing.
10A man saw it, and told Joab, “I saw Absalom hanging in an oak.”
11Joab said to the man who told him, “What, you saw him! Why then did you not strike him there to the ground? I would have been glad to give you ten pieces of silver and a belt.”
12But the man said to Joab, “Even if I felt in my hand the weight of a thousand pieces of silver, I would not raise my hand against the king’s son; for in our hearing the king commanded you and Abishai and Ittai, saying: For my sake protect the young man Absalom! 13On the other hand, if I had dealt treacherously against his life (and there is nothing hidden from the king), then you yourself would have stood aloof.”
14Joab said, “I will not waste time like this with you.” He took three spears in his hand, and thrust them into the heart of Absalom, while he was still alive in the oak.
15And ten young men, Joab’s armor-bearers, surrounded Absalom and struck him, and killed him.
16Then Joab sounded the trumpet, and the troops came back from pursuing Israel, for Joab restrained the troops. 17They took Absalom, threw him into a great pit in the forest, and raised over him a very great heap of stones. Meanwhile all the Israelites fled to their homes.
18Now Absalom in his lifetime had taken and set up for himself a pillar that is in the King’s Valley, for he said, “I have no son to keep my name in remembrance”; he called the pillar by his own name.
In 2 Samuel 14:27, Absalom has three sons listed; Jewish tradition says that all three predeceased their father.
It is called Absalom’s Monument to this day.
Absalom’s Tomb, also known as Absalom’s Pillar, is a rock-cut tomb with a cone-shaped roof located in the Kidron Valley of Jerusalem. For centuries it was thought to be the actual tomb of King David’s rebellious son, and people who passed by would throw stones at it as a sign of disrespect. Modern scholars date the tomb to Roman times.
David Hears of Absalom’s Death
20Joab said to him, “You are not to carry tidings today; you may carry tidings another day, but today you shall not do so, because the king’s son is dead.”
21Then Joab said to a Cushite, “Go, tell the king what you have seen.” The Cushite bowed before Joab, and ran.
22Then Ahimaaz son of Zadok said again to Joab, “Come what may, let me also run after the Cushite.”
And Joab said, “Why will you run, my son, seeing that you have no reward for the tidings?”
23“Come what may,” he said, “I will run.”
So he said to him, “Run.” Then Ahimaaz ran by the way of the Plain, and outran the Cushite.
24Now David was sitting between the two gates. The sentinel went up to the roof of the gate by the wall, and when he looked up, he saw a man running alone. 25The sentinel shouted and told the king.
The king said, “If he is alone, there are tidings in his mouth.” He kept coming, and drew near.
26Then the sentinel saw another man running; and the sentinel called to the gatekeeper and said, “See, another man running alone!”
The king said, “He also is bringing tidings.”
27The sentinel said, “I think the running of the first one is like the running of Ahimaaz son of Zadok.”
The king said, “He is a good man, and comes with good tidings.”
28Then Ahimaaz cried out to the king, “All is well!” He prostrated himself before the king with his face to the ground, and said, “Blessed be the Lord your God, who has delivered up the men who raised their hand against my lord the king.”
29The king said, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?”
Ahimaaz answered, “When Joab sent your servant, I saw a great tumult, but I do not know what it was.”
30The king said, “Turn aside, and stand here.” So he turned aside, and stood still.
31Then the Cushite came; and the Cushite said, “Good tidings for my lord the king! For the Lord has vindicated you this day, delivering you from the power of all who rose up against you.”
32The king said to the Cushite, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?”
The Cushite answered, “May the enemies of my lord the king, and all who rise up to do you harm, be like that young man.”
David Mourns for Absalom
33The king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept; and as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”
Indeed Absalom was David’s son — David’s own sins, weaknesses, and rebellion were prominently displayed in his son.
This is one of the most moving youtube pieces I have had the privilege of bringing to you, my readers. “When David Heard that Absalom Was Dead” is a motet written by Thomas Tompkins (1572-1656); it is performed HERE by the Cambridge Singers and directed by John Rutter. I dedicate this to all those, around the world, who have lost a loved one in a war or conflict — so much grief in our world! And Romans 12:15 instructs us to “weep with those who weep.”
The text is straight from Scripture:
“When David heard that Absalom was slain, he went up to his chamber and wept. And thus he said: Oh, my son! Absalom my son. Would God I had died for you.”
The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Images courtesy of:
eyes of a fox. http://www.permuted.org.uk/photography/wp-content/uploads/2007/08/fox_cub_eyes_0108072215_crop.jpg
Absalom’s Tomb. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Avtomb.JPG
David weeping. https://davemcdowell.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/www-st-takla-org-20-david-weeping-over-the-death-of-absalom.jpg