II Samuel 15:1-15
1 In the course of time, Absalom provided himself with a chariot and horses and with fifty men to run ahead of him. 2 He would get up early and stand by the side of the road leading to the city gate. Whenever anyone came with a complaint to be placed before the king for a decision, Absalom would call out to him, “What town are you from?” He would answer, “Your servant is from one of the tribes of Israel.” 3 Then Absalom would say to him, “Look, your claims are valid and proper, but there is no representative of the king to hear you.” 4 And Absalom would add, “If only I were appointed judge in the land! Then everyone who has a complaint or case could come to me and I would see that they receive justice.” 5 Also, whenever anyone approached him to bow down before him, Absalom would reach out his hand, take hold of him and kiss him.6 Absalom behaved in this way toward all the Israelites who came to the king asking for justice, and so he stole the hearts of the people of Israel. 7 At the end of four years, Absalom said to the king, “Let me go to Hebron and fulfill a vow I made to the Lord. 8 While your servant was living at Geshur in Aram, I made this vow: ‘If the Lord takes me back to Jerusalem, I will worship the Lord in Hebron.’” 9 The king said to him, “Go in peace.” So he went to Hebron. 10 Then Absalom sent secret messengers throughout the tribes of Israel to say, “As soon as you hear the sound of the trumpets, then say, ‘Absalom is king in Hebron.’” 11 Two hundred men from Jerusalem had accompanied Absalom. They had been invited as guests and went quite innocently, knowing nothing about the matter. 12 While Absalom was offering sacrifices, he also sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David’s counselor, to come from Giloh, his hometown. And so the conspiracy gained strength, and Absalom’s following kept on increasing. 13 A messenger came and told David, “The hearts of the people of Israel are with Absalom.” 14 Then David said to all his officials who were with him in Jerusalem, “Come! We must flee, or none of us will escape from Absalom. We must leave immediately, or he will move quickly to overtake us and bring ruin on us and put the city to the sword.” 15 The king’s officials answered him, “Your servants are ready to do whatever our lord the king chooses.”
My studies of effective administration in Christian churches began about 1956 when I was twelve years old. My Father and Mother were both pastors and worked together. I once overheard my mother say something about how they mishandled a disgruntled believer family and I went with my father to a week-long Pastor's meeting two states distance from where we lived. These experiences were the beginning of my training to do what I do now, more than 60 years later—develop Christian leaders. Over the years of formal training for the ministry, participation in public ministry, observation of other's ministries and teaching future pastors, evangelists, missionaries, teachers and church leaders in addition to reading about behavior in organizations and administration, I have come to firmly believe that the stories in the Bible teach us about administrative issues. If we understand them we can be more effective in our church work—the whole Church benefits.
I therefore look with interest at the mistakes that both David and Absalom made and discover again how the Bible addresses very practical matters. And I realize that either one of them could have behaved differently and the story would have been very different for Jerusalem and Israel. Absalom was ambitious and did not control his desire for power, authority, position and dominance. David was soft-hearted, did not correct his son, did not control or discipline him and failed to bring out what could have been good qualities in him. Neither Absalom nor David could control Absalom. Because of the failure of both these men they and many others suffered needlessly.
Today some aspiring church leaders need to control their ambitions, humble themselves before God, learn to wait and let God lift them in His time and in His way. Others need to guide, encourage, nurture, train, control and instruct potential leaders so that they do not destroy themselves and others. Lets see what we can learn from Abe and Dave.
1. Absalom's Devious Plan to Become Israel's King 1-6
Soon after Absalom is restored to his place at court he clearly aimed for the throne. He did not learn humility through his difficulties but became very proud. He was not content to be the king's son, he must soon be the king. He was a grandson of a heathen king and obviously not as concerned for Israel's welfare as for his own. Instead of being humbly grateful for restoration to his father and Israel he arrogantly sought to steal the hearts of those over whom he aimed to have dominion. Such evil is potentially present in anyone who aspires for church leadership, but if we let Absalom's foolhardy example warn us, we can flee from that temptation with the gracious hand of the Lord assisting us.
Absalom looked great with his chariot, horses and fifty men running before it; it all was as attractive to the people of Israel then as the desire to have a king and be like the other nations had influenced popular sentiment in the previous generation. Possibly he learned from his grandfather, Talmai king of Geshur to multiply horses, which made him look wonderful, while his father on his mule looked too common. Absalom's decorations and magnificence surpassed what had been seen in Jerusalem. I Sam. 8:11 tells us what Samuel told the Israelites years before, "He said, 'This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots.'" This would easily satisfy Absalom's pride and the people's foolish fancy. Where was David during these four years of Absalom's efforts to win hearts? Parents do not know not what they do when they indulge a proud attitude in their children, for some youth are spoiled by their pride and others are ruined by their lust. Both need to be controlled.
If he had been a truly good son he would have served his father's interest and after David was dead served the people of Israel. It is good to be a good judge, but it is not good at all to pretend to be good prematurely. Verse 4 says, "And Absalom would add, 'If only I were appointed judge in the land! Then everyone who has a complaint or case could come to me and I would see that they receive justice.'" He enjoyed all the position and all the pleasure anyone could wish for and lived in as much ease as any man could, but that did not satisfy him; he wanted power. He needed to be judged, but he wants to be the judge. Where is there a reference to Absalom's wisdom, virtue, learning in the laws or proofs of his love for justice? Humility and a servants heart are better qualification for the position he sought than a desire for it.
Moses' father-in-law, Jethro gave Moses some very good advice. As recorded in Exodus 18:20-22b "He said, 'Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave. But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. Have them serve as judges for the people at all times.'" So if Absalom really wanted to serve as a judge he could have gone about it in a proper way—prepare himself. When he was ready, his father would have given him the position. But no, it is beneath him to be subordinate, he must be the highest chief or nothing. He wanted to be such a judge that every man with any cause will come to him, but he did not realize what an exhausting task that would be. Even Moses could not carry that load. A position in God's kingdom is an opportunity to serve; it is not for lording it over others.
Scripture is clear that David ruled in righteousness and kindness. So Absalom basely misrepresented his father's administration to the people. He told the people, "your claims are valid and proper" (v 3), but can a fair judge know that if only listening to one side? He also said, "there is no representative of the king to hear you" (v 3). The king is old, cannot do business, or too busy for business, his sons, though called chief rulers are just party animals. Oh really? David had time for the woman of Tekoa who appealed to him for Absalom! Absalom accused David unjustly of the same thing that David had inferred justly when complaining about Saul, "You (God) say, 'I choose the appointed time; it is I who judge with equity. When the earth and all its people quake, it is I who hold its pillars firm'" (Ps. 75:2-3).
Ambitious and aspiring men, speak ill of the administration under which they struggle. II Peter 2:10 says, "This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the flesh and despise authority. Bold and arrogant, they are not afraid to heap abuse on celestial beings." If the arrogant are not afraid to speak ill of angels then naturally they would not be afraid to speak ill of humans either. Absalom was arrogant—would he make a better judge?.
Absalom had too good of an opinion of his own qualification to rule. He was very diligent, rose up early, and appeared on the road to the gate of the city where the court was held. Where are you from? What is your name? What is your grievance? Oh what a thief! He was so humble! If anyone bowed before him he would lift them up and embrace him as a friend. Col 2:23 is all too accurate in its description of Absalom's skills. It says, "Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence." Verse 4 adds, "If only I were appointed judge in the land! Then everyone who has a complaint or case could come to me and I would see that they receive justice." Yes, Absalom, do you really expect us to believe that? Yet, evidently the people of his day did, for it says that he stole the hearts of the people.
2. Absalom Makes His Move 7-12
Absalom's plot to take the kingdom was ripe and Absalom was bold to pursue it. Verses 7-8 say, "At the end of four years, Absalom said to the king, 'Let me go to Hebron and fulfill a vow I made to the Lord. While your servant was living at Geshur in Aram, I made this vow: "If the Lord takes me back to Jerusalem, I will worship the Lord in Hebron."The king said to him, 'Go in peace.' So he went to Hebron."
Absalom chose Hebron as the place where he would be anointed king. That was where he was born and where his father began his reign. Israeli people knew Hebron was a royal city. So he pretended to go there with his invited friends to offer a sacrifice. It is doubtful that Absalom really had made such a vow as he claimed to have made.
Do we think that David really believed that Absalom had made a religious vow in Geshur? Leaders should not have or often exercise the gifts of suspicion and doubt, but neither are we to be gullible. If we have an honest, unsuspecting and humble heart, we may be inclined to think that other people do too. But this can be a problem. We should not be too unsuspecting and simple. David was so overjoyed to hear that Absalom was now inclined to serve the Lord that he promptly gave him permission to go to Hebron and with quite a procession of others too. Verses 11-12 say, "Two hundred men from Jerusalem had accompanied Absalom. They had been invited as guests and went quite innocently, knowing nothing about the matter. While Absalom was offering sacrifices, he also sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David's counselor, to come from Giloh, his hometown. And so the conspiracy gained strength, and Absalom's following kept on increasing." It is not new for good men and good things, to be used to make bad things look good. Good displays may give the good impression, but they do not always prove good intent, desire or result.
Absalom's goal was to get himself proclaimed king throughout all the tribes of Israel. Apparently men were sent out to be ready to receive bad news as though it were good and fake news as if it were true. Verse 10 says, "Then Absalom sent secret messengers throughout the tribes of Israel to say, 'As soon as you hear the sound of the trumpets, then say, "Absalom is king in Hebron.'"" This was so that all concerned would take up arms for their new king not knowing whether David had died, resigned or what. Surely there were some of the common people who, had they understood the real situation, would not have joined in the revolt against David. They would have abhorred the thought of it, but as it was they were drawn in and would support the usurper.
There was a particular person Absalom especially wanted to be a part of his ambitious plan—Ahithophel a politically thinking man with good understanding. He had been a counsellor, guide and friend to David. Absalom wanted Ahithophel on his team. It may have been Ahithophel or someone like him to whom David referred in Ps 55:12-14, "If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were rising against me, I could hide. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship at the house of God, as we walked about among the worshipers." Ps 41:9 could also have been written by David about Ahithophel, "Even my close friend, someone I trusted, one who shared my bread, has turned against me."
Just as we do not understand how David could be so dull as to think Absalom was a worthy son, so we cannot understand how David could have such a long-term and happy relationship with someone so much a traitor as Ahithophel. We really do need to know ourselves so that we know our weaknesses and can be on guard against their misuse. David did not seem to know himself or his weakness. On the other hand, Absalom could not have found a better tool than Ahithophel—so great a statesman who was now so unattached to his father's administration. So we see Absalom offering sacrifice, but at the same time plotting and planning destruction. While we are worshipping where is our heart? Where is our focus?
The plan for gathering a following was apparently successful—so readily are some people to follow the crowd without thinking. Remember all those people Absalom had met on the road approaching Jerusalem's gate where court was held? Do you remember the times Absalom had befriended so many? For four years he had made his effort and now it was paying off. He was getting what he wanted. However, think about this. How many realized that the size of the crowd was not a good reason to support Absalom? What has size or large numbers to do with quality, truth, virtue and worth?
We do not know which of these two was Absalom's principle motivation, a desire for the crown itself or desire for revenge against his father for the years he spent banished and in Geshur. It was very likely a combination of the two for that which aims at the crown aims at the head that wears it.
3. David Prepared to Leave Jerusalem 13-15
David heard of Absalom's rebellion. Verse 13 says, "A messenger came and told David, 'The hearts of the people of Israel are with Absalom.'" We judge from David's reaction that David believed the message. How is it that he believed this message from Hebron when he had overlooked or ignored the numerous reports he had been receiving during the previous four years—reports that Absalom was cunningly winning the hearts of the people of Israel? Surely this matter had been described for the king many times. As the woman from Tekoa had said. "for my lord the king is like an angel of God in discerning good and evil. May the Lord your God be with you." How is it that David could overlook what had been announced to him often and then so quickly accept the unwelcome message now?
The human brain not only can hold an opinion, but thoughts or opinions can have momentum or staying power. We don't change our minds easily or at least some people with firmly established opinions do not change their minds easily. It is called normalcy bias. We tend to continue to think what we always thought. A person convinced against his will is of the same opinion still. David believed (knew) his son was loving, kind and good. That was a fixed impression in David's worldview. A worldview is an unconsciously held fixed opinion or assumption. Otherwise, how could the impact of the message that Absalom killed Amnon not have made David change his mind about Absalom's character? Two years after the Tamar affair Absalom killed Amnon. And the three years in Geshur and the two years the unrepentant Absalom stayed in his house in Jerusalem followed by four more years cunningly and deliberately winning the hearts of the people? Now finally David sees his son as a threat to the kingdom. Sorry David, you are too late. Even at the end of this rebellion when Joab thrust darts into Absalom's heart and killed him, when David heard the news, he wept profusely for his dead son. Can we Christian leaders today surround ourselves with trusted counselors so that we are not blindsided like David was? And can we believe them when they tell us the truth? What opinions or assessments are we holding onto too strongly.
Why is the warrior David willing to flee? Perhaps David's conscience reminded him of his sin in the matter of Uriah, and the sentence he had received, that "the sword will never depart from your house." The word of God is being fulfilled, and it is not for me to contend with it or fight against it; God is righteous and I submit. I will flee. Also David had such a love for Jerusalem that he was hesitant to make it a place of war, and expose it to the calamities of a siege
David's servants agreed to stay with him whatever he decided. Verse 15 says, "The king's officials answered him, 'Your servants are ready to do whatever our lord the king chooses.'" He departed from Jerusalem on foot as we will see while Absalom had chariots and horses. Not always does the best man, nor the best cause appear as the most attractive. Behold a traitor on a horse and a humble, righteous and rightful king fleeing on foot. Ecc 10:7 says "I have seen slaves on horseback, while princes go on foot like slaves."
"If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied" (I Cor 15:19). There will be times when the humble servants of the Lord will not appear alluring, captivating, prestigious, classy, glamorous, radiant, well-groomed or polished—and still more times we will feel we are none of those. But we do not live for the things of the world or recognition from the world. We serve the living God and if He tells us to walk on foot while others ride fine horses, we will do that without being intimidated. There is another life for us in the future. We are living for that.
Neither David nor Absalom could control Absalom. But David did not see it. What is it we don't see? Whom must we confront for their good as well as for everyone's good? Lord, help me control myself, my ambitions and my ego. Please open my eyes. In Jesus; name, AMEN