Yeah, this was an interesting read. I’ve read about Absalom before, but not while actively engaging with the life story of David the way I am with this blog.
So… I get why he hates Amnon. That’s… that’s pretty understandable. That dude was pretty despicable. FaithLife Study Bible suggests that Absalom’s persistence in inviting his father out when he killed Amnon may suggest he intended to kill them both, angry with David for not punishing Amnon.
Scripture doesn’t say why David didn’t punish his oldest son and heir for what he did. Could be he didn’t feel he had the authority to punish his son when he himself was guilty of a very… similar crime. Could be it was just because the man was his heir.
It does say that David’s heart went out to Absalom when he fled. David didn’t want him to flee. He mourned his son. I don’t think he mourned Amnon. I think he was mourning Absalom. The narrative is this: Absalom fled. David mourned his son. Absalom was gone three years. David missed Absalom because he was comforted about Amnon, since he was dead. Yeah, pretty sure that’s clear: David mourned Absalom, not Amnon.
Then you’ve got Joab. He’s rash, a bit of a hot head, but he seems like a good friend as well as a general and councilor. He sees that David misses his son, so he schemes out a way to make David admit it and do something about it. Of course, David does say Absalom can’t come into his presence once he’s home. I mean… he kinda restores Absalom? But he’s still trying to… maintain face? I guess? He’s… pardoning Absalom, but not… approving of his actions?
Here’s the thing: I DO NOT ENVY DAVID HERE AT ALL! How conflicted must he be over all of this? He’s got to mourn that one son turned out to be a monster and that another killed him for it, and he’s got to figure out… some semblance of justice for both of their actions, totally missing the boat on the first and… trying with the second.
But Absalom is already gone. He’s just done. He’s going to be king, and he’s not going to wait. I think sitting with his hatred for two long years, watching his sister process her trauma, was too much for him. I think hatred and rage and arrogance may be all he is anymore. He sets Joab’s fields on fire because the man won’t come speak to him. I get that he wanted a response, but I feel like he skipped a couple dozen steps jumping right to fire like that.
The FaithLife Study Bible says he sits at the gates publicly calling out a flaw in David’s administration, but it reads more to me like he’s straight up lying. He’s telling everyone who comes in there’s no one designated to hear them. One thing David has always demonstrated skill and wisdom with is justice. He’s shown himself patient, kind, humble, and merciful but just. I’d bet money Absalom is just lying to people about what they’ll find, coloring their expectations, and just plain running a con.
But David. He doesn’t try to fight back. He leaves the city. FaithLife Study Bible says two things I want to make note on. First, they say that David feels he has no option but to flee, which might suggest Absalom has won over the military as well. I’m… not so sure. I’m not sure that would have happened without note, or that Joab would have let it happen without challenging him. Yes, David says that if they don’t leave quickly there will be no escape, but it still feels a lot more like he has no intention of fighting back. That there will be no escape because there won’t be time, not because they couldn’t win if they tried. Secondly, they highlight David’s fear that Absalom will put the city to the sword, and he is trying to spare the innocent occupants. That definitely tracks.
He says: “If I find favor in the eyes of the Lord, he will bring me back and let me see both [the ark] and his dwelling place. But if he says, ‘I have no pleasure in you,’ behold, here I am, let him do to me what seems good to him.”
My personal theory? David sees this as part of his judgment. The strife that he brought on his own house. I think he pulled his family and household out of the city because Absalom would have killed them all. I think he left the city because his household would have the right to defend themselves and the city would be afflicted with battle. I think he’s surrendering to God’s will and God’s judgment while attempting to minimize the bloodshed as much as possible. I think he’s trying to humbly do penance. He may even be a bit broken at this point by grief and guilt.