Peter Misselbrook's Blog
May 13 2019 - 2 Samuel 18 – The death of Absalom

David had been forced to flee from Jerusalem before the rebellion of his son Absalom. He escaped to the city of Mahanaim, a place near the Jabbok, beyond the Jordan, where angels had met Jacob as he returned from Paddan Aram to meet with his brother Esau (see Genesis 32:1). Meanwhile, Absalom has put together an army to pursue David and his supporters. David has to prepare his men for a battle. How tragic that lives must now be lost in a battle between David and his own son to see which of them can secure the kingdom for himself.

David divided his troops into three bands: one under Joab the commander of his army; one under Abishai, Joab's brother; one under Ittai the Gittite who had sworn allegiance to David. They left the city to face battle refusing to allow David to go with them because they wanted to make sure that the king was not captured. David's last words to the three commanders as they left the city were, "Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake" (v. 5). David loved his wayward and rebellious son, even though Absalom seemed intent not only on seizing his throne but on taking his life.

The story of Absalom's death is well known. This young man with flowing locks of hair was riding his mule through the woods where the battle was being fought when he came across David's men. As Absalom turned to flee his hair got caught in the overhanging branch of a great oak tree. Absalom's mule went on its way leaving its owner hanging in the air. One of Joab's men told him that he had seen Absalom hanging there. Joab asked why the man had not killed him. The soldier reminded Joab of David's final instructions, but Joab would have none of it. Joab went to where Absalom was hanging and thrust three javelins into him, one piercing his heart. The battle was over; the Israelites fled back to their homes while Joab and his men buried Absalom in the forest.

Joab had proved himself a wise commander of David's army. No doubt he had argued that if Absalom was spared and lived it would not have been long before he started another rebellion. Nevertheless, he had disobeyed the king's explicit instructions and taken no notice of David's deep love for his rebellious son.

When the news of Absalom's defeat and death reaches David, he finds no joy in his victory and that of his men but only deep sorrow and mourning that his son is dead. David "went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: ‘O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you – O Absalom, my son, my son!’" (v.33).

David had failed to be the godly king the Lord had called him to be. He had been weak and sinful, had set a bad example to his sons and had failed to discipline them or to work at reconciliation with them. We have a king over us, David's greater son, who is quite different. He is the very best of kings, the perfect example of what it means to live the life God requires. Nevertheless, we, by nature are rebels against him. Given the gracious and loving character of Jesus' rule, we are rebels without a cause.

King Jesus has waged war not on us but upon the prince of our rebellion – on Satan himself. David's mourning over his son, "O my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you", was a mark of his helpless love for his son. King Jesus loved us in all our rebellion against him and did die instead of us. He died in our place and, defeating all the powers of sin and death, rose victorious from the grave. By the power of his risen life and his outpoured Spirit he is reconciling rebels to himself. In grace he has embraced us and brought us home into his kingdom.

Father God, we thank you for King Jesus who gave himself for us that we might be brought back into the embrace of your family. Help us to celebrate Christ's victory, rejoice in his great love for us and to invite those still in rebellion to come to him and discover the delights of his grace.

Peter Misselbrook