Death of a Rebel

II Samuel 18

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
February 2022

Today, we come to a frightening chapter.  It is a sad chapter.  It describes Absalom’s DEFEAT, Absalom’s DEATH and David’s DEPRESSION.  We studied the life of David’s son Absalom.  He was the heir to the throne.  He was a good-looking son but he was also a rebellious son. He was the prodigal son of the OT.

Absalom gathered an army and tried to take over the throne.  Absalom not only tried to kick his father off his throne, but he also tried to kill him.  It is ironic because Absalom has “peace” (shalom) in his name.

His name in Hebrew is pronounced Av-shalom but Absalom was not thinking of non-violence and peace, but bloodshed and murder.  Absalom became another John Wilkes Booth, but he was even worse.  Absalom did not just try to kill the leader of the country.  He tried to kill his own father.  Booth killed a President but never tried to kill his own father.

Absalom was a man who broke the Fifth Commandment.  Honor your father and your mother (Exodus 20:12 NIV)That is not a commandment that people take too seriously these days. It is routinely mocked.

The Bible says, “The eye that mocks a father, that scorns an aged mother, will be pecked out by the ravens of the valley, will be eaten by the vultures. (Proverbs 30:17 NIV).

How do we respond to authority in our lives?  Do we respond like Absalom, or do we respond differently?  How do we treat our parents? Absalom not only committed this sin; he committed rape.  He raped ten of David’s wives.  He had an orgy on the palace roof.

The spirit of Absalom today is the spirit of murder, the spirit of sexual perversion and the spirit of rebellion, rebellion to God-given authority.  Our nation right now is full of it.  In fact, it began in rebellion to another king.  Rebellion is a sin that God hates.

I Samuel 15:23 says, “For rebellion is like the sin of divination” (NIV).  Divination was a capital crime in the OT.  God said that anyone who practices divination commits an ABOMINATON (Deuteronomy 18:9-12).

II Samuel 18 describes the judgment of a rebel.  It shows the results of rebellion.  It is not a pretty picture.  This rebellion led to not just a slaughter but a GREAT slaughter (II Samuel 18:7 KJV, NLT), as most war leads to.  We see that in the war against Ukraine.

This war led to twenty thousand deaths.  It led to a dead prince, and it led to a heartbroken father, weeping over his dead son.  It is one of the most emotional passages in the Bible.

In this chapter, we see that the price of rebellion is DEATH, as the rebel prince is killed.  He has a gruesome death. The price of rebellion to God is also death. He had some initial success.  The people loved him.  He took over the palace.  He slept with the concubines, but his success was short-lived.  Rebellion leads to death.

This death could not be stopped.  David tried to stop it.  He told his generals to go easy on him and keep him alive.  He ordered them to do this.  They all heard him.  They understood the order, but they deliberately disobeyed it.  Absalom rebelled against God and His anointed and wrote his own death sentence.  Today, we are going to look at three scenes in this chapter.

A Nation at War

The first part of the chapter describes a nation at war. The last few chapters of II Samuel had been building up.  Absalom started a revolt.  He had the people behind him.  David fled the palace.  In II Samuel 18, the two sides meet on a battlefield in the forest of Ephraim, which today is located in Jordan and the result is war, civil war.  Israelites are going to war against fellow Israelites.

David is outnumbered.  He is the underdog.  Absalom has more troops.  The odds were with Absalom if you were to take a bet, but David made some wise military decisions.

He chose the location of the battle.  He left Jerusalem and went into the forest to fight.  If he stayed in the city, it would have been a bloodbath.

He used guerilla warfare to fight this war.  He used jungle warfare.  That is an effective strategy when you are outnumbered.  David and his men were used to this kind of fighting.  Absalom was not.

He divided his troops into three parts.  David did not keep all of his troops in one place.  He used the Divide and Conquer strategy.  He had three generals who led the army (Joab, Abishai and Ittai).  One was a Philistine.

He took himself out of the battle.  David wanted to go to war.  He asked to go to war.  He might have wanted not to be left behind, like he was at one time, and got in trouble with Bathsheba.  He might have wanted to go to make sure nothing happened to Absalom, but his military advisers told him to stay home.  He took their advice. It saved his life.

David’s army marched out of the city to fight Israel, and the battle took place in the forest of Ephraim. 7 There Israel’s troops were routed by David’s men, and the casualties that day were great—twenty thousand men. 8 The battle spread out over the whole countryside, and the forest swallowed up more men that day than the sword. (II Samuel 18:6-8 NIV)

A Prince Executed

The second part of the chapter describes the execution of a prince.  There are all kinds of bizarre ways that people have died.  One lawyer in 1871, named Clement Vallandigham, tried to reenact how a murder victim shot himself and in the process the gun went off in court and he killed himself.

In 1982, a French undertaker named Marc Bourjade died when a pile of caskets in his workshop fell on top of him. He was crushed by his own coffins.  He was later buried in one of them.

Some have died during sex.  That would be embarrassing.  There were four popes who died this way (Pope Leo VII, Pope John XIII, Pope John VII, Pope Paul II).  All of them lived in the Middle Ages.

People have died in some unusual ways.  In fact, in 2018, one woman wrote a book entitled, The Book of Extraordinary Deaths: True Accounts of Ill-Fated Lives.  Well, there are also some bizarre deaths recorded in Scripture.  One of the most bizarre is the death of Absalom.  What happened to him?  Before the battle, King David gave clear orders.

5 The king commanded Joab, Abishai and Ittai, “Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake.” And all the troops heard the king giving orders concerning Absalom to each of the commanders. (II Samuel 18:5 NIV).

This was a command from the king.  The three commanders heard it and so did all of the troops.  During the battle, something happened.

Now Absalom happened to meet David’s men. He was riding his mule, and as the mule went under the thick branches of a large oak, Absalom’s hair got caught in the tree. He was left hanging in midair, while the mule he was riding kept on going.

10 When one of the men saw what had happened, he told Joab, “I just saw Absalom hanging in an oak tree.”

11 Joab said to the man who had told him this, “What! You saw him? Why didn’t you strike him to the ground right there? Then I would have had to give you ten shekels of silver and a warrior’s belt.”

12 But the man replied, “Even if a thousand shekels were weighed out into my hands, I would not lay a hand on the king’s son. In our hearing the king commanded you and Abishai and Ittai, ‘Protect the young man Absalom for my sake.’ 13 And if I had put my life in jeopardy—and nothing is hidden from the king—you would have kept your distance from me.”

14 Joab said, “I’m not going to wait like this for you.” So he took three javelins in his hand and plunged them into Absalom’s heart while Absalom was still alive in the oak tree. 15 And ten of Joab’s armor-bearers surrounded Absalom, struck him and killed him. (II Samuel 18:9-15 NIV)

This was a strange way for a royal prince to die.  Absalom was on the battlefield.  He met some of David’s troops.  He tried to escape.  He was being chased.  He went under a tree and his hair got tangled up in the branches.  The mule rides on and he is stuck in a tree, hanging by his head.  He was obviously in pain.  He was completely defenseless.  He was a sitting duck.  He was completely helpless.

There is a little humor here, a little irony.  The one thing that Absalom prided himself in was his gorgeous hair.  It was his beautiful hair that caused his downfall.  That was not a coincidence. It was not an accident or bad luck.

It was divine providence.  The one who prided himself in his hair is now dangled between heaven and earth, hanging by his hair.  That is what you call a bad hair day.

Is this a good passage to use to say that men should not have long hair?  Some preachers use it to say that.  They say that long hair is a sin.  Paul said that it was a shame for a man to have long hair (I Corinthians 11:14).  They say that Absalom died because of his long hair.  Is it true?

That view misses the point, in my opinion.  The problem was NOT his hair but his pride.  Absalom was a proud man.  He built a monument to himself (II Samuel 18:18).  He prided himself in his good looks.

“But in all Israel there was none to be so much praised as Absalom for his beauty: from the sole of his foot even to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him.” (II Samuel 14:25 NIV). 

He prided himself in his gorgeous hair hair.  He weighed it.  He measured it (II Samuel 14:26).  All long hair is not a sin.  Samson had long hair and it was a good thing.  He was a Nazarite.  They were supposed to have long hair.  They were not supposed to cut their hair (Numbers 6:5).

The Bible says, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18 NIV).  The Bible says that God opposes the proud.  He resists the proud.  God is against that person.  It was his pride that led to his downfall.

Absalom a life of rebellion to authority.  He conspired against God’s king.  He set himself against the Lord’s anointed and he put himself under the judgment of God.

Absalom was a man of wasted potential. He wasted his life, like a lot of people do today.  He could have become king.  He could have had God’s blessing on him.

He was the most handsome man in the nation.  He was heir to the throne.  He had great potential to be used by God and do great things and yet he completely wasted his life, lived as a fool and died in complete disgrace and shame.

A soldier found him hanging from a tree and told his commander Joab.  Joab told him to kill him, but he refused, so Joab did it.

He took three javelins in his hand and plunged them into Absalom’s heart while Absalom was still alive in the oak tree. 15 And ten of Joab’s armor-bearers surrounded Absalom, struck him and killed him. (II Samuel 18:14-15 NIV)

First, Absalom is chased by David’s men.  He is fleeing for his life.  Then, he got his head or hair caught in a tree.  Then, Joab puts three javelins in his heart.

Finally, a mob of angry, bloodthirsty, vindictive soldiers finish him off.  Absalom used a bunch of servants to attack Amnon and now ten soldiers attack and kill him.

They took Absalom, threw him into a big pit in the forest and piled up a large heap of rocks over him. Meanwhile, all the Israelites fled to their homes. (II Samuel 18:17 NIV)

This handsome prince was killed and thrown in a big hole in the ground, like a dog, and covered with rocks.  No one knows where he is buried.  There is a place called Absalom’s tomb in Israel today, but that was built a thousand years later.

He not only died in pain; he died in shame.  He was the heir to the throne and was not even given a proper funeral.  There was no royal funeral for Absalom.

None of us want to die but we especially do not want to die in an embarrassing way, like Elvis, sitting on the toilet.  That is how Absalom died in total embarrassment.  Absalom died a man under God’s curse, hanging from a tree in shame and humiliation.  It was a terrible way to die.

A Father Heartbroken

Then, David gets the news that his son is dead.  They did not have cell phones or email in that day.  They had to learn by word of mouth, so two messengers ran to tell him the news.  There are two runners in this chapter: one was an Israelite, and one was a foreigner.

The first runner was Ahimaaz.  He was the son of the high priest and apparently, he was a fast runner.  He would have made a great athlete.  The second runner was a Cushite.  He was African.  He was from Ethiopia.  Ahimaaz outran him.  He was probably younger and told him that David won the war.  He also gave God the credit for the victory.

Then Ahimaaz called out to the king, “All is well!” He bowed down before the king with his face to the ground and said, “Praise be to the Lord your God! He has delivered up those who lifted their hands against my lord the king.” (II Samuel 18:28 NIV).

David asked him what happened to Absalom, and he said that he did not know.  That was not true, but he could not tell him the bad news.  Then, the Cushite arrives on the scene and David learns the truth, but he does not give David any details.  He is very vague as to what happened.

Then the Cushite arrived and said, “My lord the king, hear the good news! The Lord has vindicated you today by delivering you from the hand of all who rose up against you.”

32 The king asked the Cushite, “Is the young man Absalom safe?” The Cushite replied, “May the enemies of my lord the king and all who rise up to harm you be like that young man.”  (II Samuel 18:31-32 NIV).

This raises all kinds of interesting questions.  How should you respond when a loved one dies?  How should you respond when a child dies?  What if the child is an unbeliever?  What if the child is a complete rebel and goes into eternity as a rebel?  Is it possible to show too much emotion and grief when a child dies?  How can you find comfort if an unsaved loved one dies?

These are important questions.  Fortunately, I have never had to deal with the death of a child, but David did.  In fact, he has had several kids die.  His love child from his affair with or rape of Bathsheba died.

Amnon died when his brother killed him.  Now, Absalom dies by the hand of Joab and his men.  One got sick and died.  The other two died violent deaths from fellow Israelites.  God told David that the sword would not depart from his house.

What do we say to an unsaved loved one who died?  If they are unsaved, we want to try to focus on them and not the person who died.  The destiny of the person who already died is fixed.  It cannot be changed.  That person does not have another chance to repent but the person who is alive does.

If we are talking to a believer who lost an unsaved loved one, there is a different approach to take.  There are five things we can say.

One, God gives people free will.  As much as we can talk to them and preach to them, they make the choice to believe or nor believe.  Parents cannot believe for their children.  One day, everyone will stand individually before God.

Two we do not know a person’s spiritual state when they die, only God does.  We cannot read hearts and minds.  We do not determine a person’s eternal destiny.  Only God does that.

Three, whatever God does is right.  He is perfect.  Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25 NKJV)

Four, when we get to heaven, God promises that “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4 ESV)

Five, it is appropriate to mourn and grieve when a loved one dies.  Even Jesus did that.  He was not only sorrowful at Lazarus’ tomb.  He was sorrowful at Gethsemane.

It is appropriate to mourn but there is such a thing as inordinate grief.  It is possible to grieve too much.  It is possible to let our emotions get the best of us.  Paul exhorts Christians to not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope (I Thessalonians 4:13 NIV). Paul does not tell Christians not to grieve at all.  There is a grief that is normal.  There is a grief that is unbiblical and excessive.

How do we know?  We have an example of this in I Samuel.  God told the Prophet Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.” (I Samuel 16:1 NIV).

That is what happened to King David.  The last time his son died, he responded correctly.  When his baby with Bathsheba died, he responded very well.  When Absalom died, his grief was excessive.  He was heartbroken over the death of his one son but did not care too much for the other twenty thousand that were killed.

David wins the war.  Instead of celebrating, he mourns.  He plunges into a deep depression and cannot function as king.  His grief has paralyzed him.  He needed Joab to snap him out of his depression and wake up.  That is where we will pick up next time in II Samuel.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *