2 Samuel 18 is the climax of the story of the rebellion of Absalom. The story begins with the rape of Absalom’s sister Tamar by his half-brother Amnon (2 Samuel 13). Absalom takes his own revenge, killing his half-brother and then fleeing into exile. After 3 years in exile, he is allowed to return to Jerusalem and reunites with this father King David (2 Samuel 14). But Absalom’s rebellion continues as he declares himself king (2 Samuel 15), forcing David to flee Jerusalem (2 Samuel 16) while the Lord keeps David safe through a variety of faithful servants (2 Samuel 17).
In 2 Samuel 18 we see how the story ends. In a Hollywood movie, this chapter would be the climax. The camera would show each twist and turn of the battle. At first the rebel forces would gain the upper hand, forcing back our heroes. But just when all appears lost, our hero would summon some last shred of inner strength and the tide would slowly turn in his favor. His courage would inspire his friends to try just a little harder, and then step by step, the villains would be beaten back.
But in our text the battle is allotted only three short verses. Instead, the narrator focuses our attention on: 1) how Absalom dies and 2) how David both fears for and reacts to the news of Absalom’s death, especially when David learns that the price of rebellion is the death of his son.
Preparation for the battle
- The commanders of the divisions on both sides are related to David.
- If David takes part in the battle, it makes him an easier target, multiplies their risk and place them in greater jeopardy. So they ask David to remain in the city.
- Death is the appropriate response for Absalom’s treason. As king David must know this, but as father, he cannot bear it, just like he could not bear to sentence his other son, Amnon, for his crime against Tamar.
- Absalom’s troops are decimated with a tremendous loss of life. Then the narrator shifts his attention to the fate of Absalom himself.
The Death of Absalom
- The details of Absalom’s burial (2 Samuel 18:17) mark him as a traitor. Compare Absalom’s burial with Joshua 7 where Achan is buried under a large pile of stones for his sacrilege; Joshua 8 where the king of Ai after having been hanged on a tree is thrown into a pit; and Joshua 10 where five enemy kings are hanged from trees and thrown into a cave which is sealed with large stones.
- Note Deuteronomy 21:22-23: “And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God. You shall not defile your land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance.”
- Absalom, the would-be King, dies with no legacy, no son, no house of his own and is buried in a traitor’s grave. But that leaves a textual problem: We need to reconcile 2 Samuel 18:18 with 2 Samuel 14:7: “There were born to Absalom three sons, and one daughter whose name was Tamar. She was a beautiful woman.” The most likely explanation is that Absalom’s sons preceded him in death, especially since they are not named in 14:27. Most only his daughter survived into adulthood.
- David’s orders to spare Absalom were clear and public but hardly wise. Joab did what was best for David and the nation, regardless of David’s wishes.
- Absalom’s death on the battlefield was politically necessary, legally required and morally justifiable
- Every time we pray “deliver us from evil” we implicitly ask God to bring judgment on evil.
- The messenger reports the spiritual reality: “The Lord has delivered you from the hand of your enemies.” Joab and the army recognize that this is a kingdom battle for God’s chosen King.
- Finally David understands that the price of rebellion and the penalty for treason is the death of a son — a son hung on a tree. It is a cost David cannot bear. Notice the five-fold repetition of “my son” — as if his grief cannot be contained.
- David let his role as father take precedence over his role as God’s chosen king. Joab realizes the damage the King’s grief can do to the nation and he takes action.
- God’s anointed king is a suffering king. David foreshadows Jesus, who is called a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3).
- The price of restoring the kingdom is the death of a son hung on a tree.
- It is a price David cannot bear to pay, but it is a price God pays for us.
- David’s grief gives us a glimpse of the price our heavenly father was willing to pay on our behalf.
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.– 1 Peter 2:24
You are not your own, 1Co 6:20 for you were bought with a price. – 1 Corinthians 6:19
For more detail and explanation, please listen to the podcast.
Series: The Rebellion of Absalom
Also: 2Samuel: David as King
Scripture quotes are from the English Standard Version of the Bible.