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The Rise and Ruin of Absalom

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: 2 Samuel 15–18

At a low point in life, betrayed by his son and abandoned by much of Israel, David discovered who his true friends were. They not only saved his life, but also helped him turn back an insurrection. The importance of having faithful friends and being one can hardly be overstated.


There’s an old proverb that says, “Lust for power is the strongest of all passions.” You will find this passion for power in the workplace, on the university campus, and parading across the world stage.

Here in 2 Samuel chapter 15, we are going to watch this lust for power ruin the life of David’s son Absalom. He sets in motion a threefold strategy to steal the throne of Israel from his father.

First, Absalom starts acting like a king: “Absalom got himself a chariot and horses, and fifty men to run before him” (verse 1). He’s essentially acting like a victorious ruler.

Second, he begins to criticize his father’s administration. He goes to the city gate, where people come to have their grievances heard and legal cases settled, and this is what he tells these people:

“Your claims are good and right, but there is no man designated by the king to hear you.” Then Absalom would say, “Oh that I were judge in the land! Then every man with a dispute or cause might come to me, and I would give him justice.” (verses 3-4)

In other words, he is saying, “It’s too bad I’m not in charge around here.”

Third, he creates favorable impressions. We read in verse 5, “Whenever a man came near to pay homage to him, he would put out his hand and take hold of him and kiss him.” Absalom is showing personal attention to people who treat him as royalty.

Let me tell you, this strategy is effective. Verse 6 puts it bluntly here: “Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel.” And after four years of this, he is ready to make his move.

Absalom tells his father he is going to Hebron for religious purposes, but he has something else in mind. He gathers many supporters about him, and they declare him king. Even Ahithophel, David’s longtime trusted counselor, joins Absalom.

Finally, the insurrection reaches a point that David realizes he cannot maintain power in Jerusalem and his life is in danger. We read in verse 14:

Then David said to all his servants who were with him at Jerusalem, “Arise, and let us flee, or else there will be no escape for us from Absalom.”

With that, David is running for his life. And as he flees Jerusalem, I want to point out some people he encounters along the way.

First, a general named Ittai and six hundred of his soldiers offer to assist David. But in verse 19, David tells this man he would be better off serving Absalom. David seems to believe he has lost the throne for good.

But Ittai refuses and says to David, “As the Lord lives . . . wherever my lord the king shall be, whether for death or for life, there also will your servant be” (verse 21). If you have a loyal friend like that, you are incredibly blessed.

Next, the priests Abiathar and Zadok come out of the city with the Levites carrying the ark of the covenant. But David tells them to return the ark to Jerusalem. He is going to leave this matter in the Lord’s hands; and if it is the Lord’s will, he will return to Jerusalem. However, David does ask these priests to report to him through their two sons what they learn of Absalom’s plans.

As David reaches the top of the Mount of Olives, weeping as he goes, he meets another advisor by the name of Hushai. David asks him to remain behind and serve as a counselor to Absalom. David is hoping that Hushai’s counsel will counter the traitorous advice of Ahithophel—and we will see that take place shortly.

David encounters two more men in chapter 16. The first is Ziba, the man David had appointed to serve Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s son. Ziba takes advantage of this moment and claims that Mephibosheth has sided with Absalom. David takes his word for it and immediately transfers all that Mephibosheth owns to him, which is exactly what Ziba had hoped 

Finally, a man named Shimei appears on the scene. He is a descendant of King Saul and undoubtedly has always resented David. He begins to curse David and throws stones at him. Instead of retaliating, though, David leaves his vindication in the hands of God. Maybe you need to do that today as well. Instead of picking up those stones and throwing them back, leave it all in the Lord’s hands.

Now with that we come to chapter 17. Absalom has reached Jerusalem, and Ahithophel counsels him to immediately go after David and kill him before he can organize a defense.

But Hushai counters, saying that Absalom should wait until he is established on his throne. And we are told here in verse 14, “Absalom and all the men of Israel said, ‘The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel.’” The author then adds this little insight: “For the Lord had ordained to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, so that the Lord might bring harm upon Absalom.”

Hushai’s counsel will save David’s life by giving him time to prepare for battle. Ahithophel knows this too—he knows David will now have the time he needs to succeed. Verse 23 tells us that Ahithophel goes home, puts his affairs in order, and then takes his own life.

Now in chapter 18, David’s men prepare to attack Absalom’s forces, and David makes one request of his soldiers: “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom” (verse 5). In other words, spare his life if at all possible.

The Bible gives us a very brief description of the battle in verse 7: “The men of Israel were defeated there by the servants of David, and the loss there was great on that day, twenty thousand men.” Most of chapter 18 focuses on the death of Absalom. We are given the rather unusual details here in verses 9-10:

Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak, and his head caught fast in the oak, and he was suspended between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on. And a certain man saw it and told Joab, “Behold, I saw Absalom hanging in an oak.”

When Joab asks this soldier why he did not kill Absalom, he repeats David’s request to spare Absalom’s life. Well, General Joab knows the danger Absalom will be to David’s throne if left alive. So, Joab goes out and personally spears Absalom through the heart (verse 14)

When David learns of all that happened, he doesn’t rejoice over this victory. Instead, he grieves the death of Absalom. David might have regained his throne, but he has lost his son. He cries out in verse 33, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you!”

Now let me emphasize something here: David and his men were outnumbered and on the run. Absalom had won just about everybody over to his side. David’s side didn’t seem to be the best one to choose. But David’s friends were supporting God’s chosen king, even though it did not look so good at the moment.

Well, does it look like God’s side is winning today? Does it look like following Christ is the best choice right now? It might not look so good at times, but in following Him you are choosing the winning side. You are serving the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And one day your loyalty and service will be personally rewarded by your Commander—your King, the Lord Jesus Christ.

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