II Samuel 13:23 – 39
23 Two years later, when Absalom’s sheep shearers were at Baal Hazor near the border of Ephraim, he invited all the king’s sons to come there. 24 Absalom went to the king and said, “Your servant has had shearers come. Will the king and his attendants please join me?” 25 “No, my son,” the king replied. “All of us should not go; we would only be a burden to you.” Although Absalom urged him, he still refused to go but gave him his blessing. 26 Then Absalom said, “If not, please let my brother Amnon come with us.” The king asked him, “Why should he go with you?” 27 But Absalom urged him, so he sent with him Amnon and the rest of the king’s sons. 28 Absalom ordered his men, “Listen! When Amnon is in high spirits from drinking wine and I say to you, ‘Strike Amnon down,’ then kill him. Don’t be afraid. Haven’t I given you this order? Be strong and brave.” 29 So Absalom’s men did to Amnon what Absalom had ordered. Then all the king’s sons got up, mounted their mules and fled. 30 While they were on their way, the report came to David: “Absalom has struck down all the king’s sons; not one of them is left.” 31 The king stood up, tore his clothes and lay down on the ground; and all his attendants stood by with their clothes torn. 32 But Jonadab son of Shimeah, David’s brother, said, “My lord should not think that they killed all the princes; only Amnon is dead. This has been Absalom’s express intention ever since the day Amnon raped his sister Tamar. 33 My lord the king should not be concerned about the report that all the king’s sons are dead. Only Amnon is dead.” 34 Meanwhile, Absalom had fled. Now the man standing watch looked up and saw many people on the road west of him, coming down the side of the hill. The watchman went and told the king, “I see men in the direction of Horonaim, on the side of the hill.” 35 Jonadab said to the king, “See, the king’s sons have come; it has happened just as your servant said.” 36 As he finished speaking, the king’s sons came in, wailing loudly. The king, too, and all his attendants wept very bitterly. 37 Absalom fled and went to Talmai son of Ammihud, the king of Geshur. But King David mourned many days for his son. 38 After Absalom fled and went to Geshur, he stayed there three years. 39 And King David longed to go to Absalom, for he was consoled concerning Amnon’s death
For two years Absalom harbored and nursed a very deep and strong root of bitterness. “Two years later” (23). During this time his hatred ripened. Perhaps he waited for an opportunity to not only kill him but to also disgrace him as well. Being angry is not good for us. Eph 4:26-27 say, “In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” If one sunset can harm our souls and give a foothold to the devil to work his mischief, what could two years do?
1. Absalom’s Plan And its Execution 23-29
The time of sheering sheep was a celebrative and joyous time for feasts. Just as Nabal had, so now Absalom planned to personally attend such a festive event of his own making. Verses 23-24 say, “when Absalom’s sheep shearers were at Baal Hazor near the border of Ephraim, he invited all the king’s sons to come there. Absalom went to the king and said, “Your servant has had shearers come. Will the king and his attendants please join me?” So we see that Absalom invited his father and his brothers. This would provide an opportunity for Absalom to pay his respects to his guests and also become more respected by his neighbors. David declined the invitation even though Absalom urged him. “‘No, my son,’” the king replied. “‘All of us should not go; we would only be a burden to you.’” Although Absalom urged him, he still refused to go but gave him his blessing” (25). Absalom was not too disappointed that his father would not come because he did get what he really wanted—his brother Amnon’s attendance—Amnon and all the other sons of the kings would grace his table. Verses 26-27 say, “Then Absalom said, ‘If not, please let my brother Amnon come with us.’ The king asked him, ‘Why should he go with you?’ But Absalom urged him, so he sent with him Amnon and the rest of the king’s sons.”
Absalom had concealed his hatred and evil intentions toward Amnon so completely that David was unsuspecting. Amnon had drawn David into his plot inasmuch as David sent Tamar to be with Amnon and now Absalom drew David into his plot because David is the one who now sent Amnon to Absalom’s feast. David had no reason to suspect any design upon him in that particular invitation: “Let my brother Amnon go;” but neither Absalom nor David allowed Amnon to make his own decision; David “sent” Amnon. Amnon might have been hesitant, but being sent by his father later probably added to David’s grief.
Following his own design, Absalom spread a fine table with plenty of wine for all his guests, especially Amnon whom he wanted to be particularly merry. Perhaps Absalom knew Amnon liked to drink and provided for him to drink his fill—for the last time. Verses 28-29 say, “Absalom ordered his men, ‘Listen! When Amnon is in high spirits from drinking wine and I say to you, “Strike Amnon down,” then kill him. Don’t be afraid. Haven’t I given you this order? Be strong and brave.’ So Absalom’s men did to Amnon what Absalom had ordered. Then all the king’s sons got up, mounted their mules and fled.” Absalom’s plan succeeded but at what price? The brothers all fled from Absalom and Absalom fled from justice.
The instructions Absalom gave his servants concerning Amnon, that they should mingle his blood with his wine, were brutal and heartless. Had he challenged him to a debate or duel it might have been less evil. After all, Amon was guilty of raping his sister. Such justice might have even appeared to be excusable if not honorable, but to murder him, as he did, was to follow Cain’s example with one big difference. Cain killed Abel because Able was righteous, but Absalom killed Amnon because Amnon was unrighteous. But murder is murder and neither Cain nor Absalom were authorized to take matters into their own hands. He wanted Amnon to be killed while his heart was merry—less careful and less able to protect himself. Shall we pity Amnon that he did not even have time or thought to ask God for forgiveness as he died?
The deed, however, is even more insidious when we consider that Absalom did not execute “justice” himself, but rather had his servants do it. He would make them guilty too. When he gave the command—who gave Absalom authority to make such a command?—then they were to kill him, strike him down. When the law said not to murder, Amnon said “Murder!” and they obeyed their master. “Haven’t I given you this order?” Yes, but who gave you that authority? “Don’t be afraid . . . . Be strong and brave.” No, that is not bravery and neither is it strength. You, more than one of you, strike down one—and that one drunk—is that bravery or strength? No, that is foolishness, immoral, debase and evil. Servants, underlings of any kind, children under parents, employees under their employer, sheep under their shepherd, pastors under their bishop—none of these—are well instructed if they do not know that to obey God is better than to obey man. Masters too must remember they have a Master in heaven.
II Sam 8:18 says, “Benaiah son of Jehoiada was over the Kerethites and Pelethites; and David’s sons were priests.” Does this behavior look like the proper conduct of priests? If there were any noble sons there, this would be an insult to them, to kill their older brother publicly while he was drunk. Amnon had not acted much like a priest and Absalom was certainly not presently acting like one. Was Amnon’s adultery the only cause for the murder at the party? Wasn’t Amnon the older son, the heir to the throne, and didn’t Absalom later try to take his fathers throne by force? The sword has entered David’s house.
Nathan had prophesied this. II Sam 12:9,10&12 say, “Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’ . . . . You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’” Now that predicted sword is drawn in David’s house. Amnon is killed by it and all the other sons flee from it.
What confusion would this bring to the citizens of this great nation? How could David maintain order in the country if he cannot preserve and sustain it in his family? Little wonder that in the New Testament Paul says to Timothy what a church leader must be like: “He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?)”
2. Fake News Corrected, Reached David 30-32
Understandably David was very distressed when he heard the news—until he learned that it was fake news. Verses 30 says, “While they (the king’s sons) were on their way, the report (fake news) came to David: ‘Absalom has struck down all the king’s sons; not one of them is left.’ The king stood up, tore his clothes and lay down on the ground; and all his attendants stood by with their clothes torn.” David reacted at the level of his perception; he had been told so therefore he thought that all his sons had been killed. All his sons had not been killed, but David reacted as though they had because as far as he knew they had. All of Job’s sons were killed; not because of sin in the family, but because God permitted an opportunity for Job to show himself righteous under distress. What did that righteous man, Job, do when he heard that all his sons and daughters had all been killed? Job 1:20-22 say, “At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.’ In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.” And what did David do when he heard that all of his sons had been killed? “The king stood up, tore his clothes and lay down on the ground; and all his attendants stood by with their clothes torn.” David’s response is understandable, but it was not exemplary. Sometimes extremely bad news needs a confirmation before the receiver of the news reacts. It is possible for the first hearing of such news as this, to sound more dreadful than is actually merited. Perhaps we need to learn that when we hear the worst, we can even still hope for the best, at least hope better. David stood up, tore his clothes, lay on the ground and his servants also tore their clothes. Understandable? Yes. Exemplary? No. Where was faith? Where was the peace of God? Where was trust?
Two things helped bring calm to this trouble scene. First, Jonadab, that evil nephew of David’s who had given Amnon the idea of pretending to be sick, told David that only Amnon was dead. Verses 32-33 say “But Jonadab son of Shimeah, David’s brother, said, ‘My lord should not think that they killed all the princes; only Amnon is dead. This has been Absalom’s express intention ever since the day Amnon raped his sister Tamar. My lord the king should not be concerned about the report that all the king’s sons are dead. Only Amnon is dead.’” Jonadab knew. Jonadab could tell and could have told. Possibly he knew from months before, if he was not lying. We don’t know. If he knew it earlier, why did he not warn his friend Amnon or his uncle David? What a wicked man he was, if he knew but did not warn others. If we do not do our best to avoid or prevent evil, we make ourselves accessory to it. Proverbs 24:11-12 say, “Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. If you say, ‘But we knew nothing about this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay everyone according to what they have done?” Very possibly the “friend” who would not do what he could to prevent Amnon’s sin would also not do what he could to prevent Amnon’s ruin.
Second, the safe return of the kings son’s confirmed the truth of Jonadab’s report. The watchman announced the good news. Verses 34-35 say, “Now the man standing watch looked up and saw many people on the road west of him, coming down the side of the hill. The watchman went and told the king, ‘I see men in the direction of Horonaim, on the side of the hill.’ Jonadab said to the king, ‘See, the king’s sons have come; it has happened just as your servant said.’ As he finished speaking, the king’s sons came in, wailing loudly. The king, too, and all his attendants wept very bitterly.” When David’s sons arrived, the king and his sons all wept together. The good news was that they were not all killed. The bad news was that Amnon was indeed killed, and that by his own brother. We see an outpouring of grief that Amnon was killed by Absalom, but we see no indication that anyone thought to thank and praise God that they were not all killed. The king received bad news, but it was not as bad as it could have been; he had a difficulty, but it was less than it might have been. Could or should he have been thankful?
Also, we see a great outpouring of grief that Amnon was killed, but read nothing about even a stream of heartache that Tamar was raped. To be killed is sad, but the victim’s pain soon passes because the victim is dead. To be raped is bitter and mournful, yet the victim lives and suffers the rest of her life with the bereavement. Did any of the king’s sons find solace in the punishment the wicked Amnon had just now received? They grieved for Amnon, but did anyone think to comfort Tamar? Justice is not always served in this life, but surely will be in the next life.
In this and the next paragraph I want to take the liberty to discuss, from a more general approach than in the preceding paragraphs, the possible optimistic response to having a difficulty that is not as great as it could have been. Not all the sons, only Amnon was killed. Is it a legitimate personal comfort to rejoice that a tragedy is not as bad as it could have been? How many times do Christians suffer, but not as much as we might have? How often do we even think to calculate how the difficulty we are experiencing might, in fact, have been reduced considerably by the invisible and gracious hand of our Protector God? Is it legitimate to thank God, that whatever difficulty we are experiencing, it is not as bad as it could have been? Can we thank Him that we have a half a glass of water, rather than complain that the glass is not full? When the days of our loved ones are cut short, would it not be honorable and virtuous to thank God that we had him or her with us for as long as we did? Is it not better to have loved and lost, than not to have loved at all? How was our life enriched by the one who’s companionship we now no longer enjoy? Look at the positive side.
Along this same line of thought, as church leaders, would it not be prudent for pastors and Christian teachers to thank God for the sincere and hungry listeners God brings to us when we preach or teach, rather than fret or criticize the imagined others who could have attended the meeting but did not? Regrettably, I have heard preachers scold the people who are in attendance at a worship service because others or more were not in attendance. This makes no sense. Praise God that there are listeners sitting before you who are eager to hear the Word of God. Let’s cease our complaints about the imaginary people who are not present. It is much more productive to lovingly pray for them than to criticize them for being absent. It is much better to begin a worship service by saying, “I am very you are here. I am glad to see you” than to say, “Where is everybody? Why are they not here?”
3. Absalom Fled to His Grandfather in Geshur 34a and 37-39
During our years living in Tiberius, Israel on the the west side of the Sea of Galilee, from time to time we visited or recorded teachings at the ancient site of Geshur on the hill above the north-east part of the lake. It was like traveling back in time to David’s visit there, his political marriage to a daughter of the king of Geshur and the place where Absalom for three years lived in seclusion away from his father. Gesher is a real place and Absalom’s flight from justice to his grandfather the king of Geshur was a real event. “ Meanwhile, Absalom had fled” (34). To what place did Absalom flee? This is an interesting part of this drama. Absalom was now just as much afraid of the king’s sons as they were of him; they fled from his malice and he fled from their due process and correction. There was no place for Absalom in Israel, he must flee to Geshur. There would be no safety for him in a city of refuge for the murder he arranged was willful, very willful. David did not punish Amnon’s rape and incest, but Absalom could not guarantee that he would overlook the murder of his brother. So he made his way to his mother’s relations, and was received by his grandfather Talmai, king of Geshur. David did not send for him and Talmai did not send him back to Jerusalem. “Absalom fled and went to Talmai son of Ammihud, the king of Geshur. But King David mourned many days for his son. After Absalom fled and went to Geshur, he stayed there three years. And King David longed to go to Absalom, for he was consoled concerning Amnon’s death.” (37-39)
David mourned for Amnon a good while, but, as with David and Bathsheba’s first son together, David could not call him back from the dead and David got over his grief. But he did not get over the loss of his relationship with his handsome and winsome son, Absalom. Being too easy on sin before, so still now he, instead of detesting him as a disgusting murderer, “longed to go to Absalom” (39). Earlier he could not find it in his heart to do justice for him, but now he can find it in his heart to show him favor. David’s weakness in not controlling, correcting, teaching and discipling his sons appeared again. In the chapters yet ahead of us, we will see the horrible consequences of David’s inability or unwillingness to correct his sons. This was David’s imperfection and deficiency. Shame on our beloved David that he seems at times to love his sons more than he loved God; being lenient with a disobedient son is not really love.