the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
Click to donate today!
Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature
Ab´salom (father of peace) the third son of David, and his only son by Maachah, daughter of Talmai, king of Geshur (2 Samuel 3:3). He was deemed the handsomest man in the kingdom; and was particularly noted for the profusion of his beautiful hair, which appears to have been regarded with great admiration. David's other child by Maachah was a daughter named Tamar, who was also very beautiful. She became the object of lustful regard to her half-brother Amnon, David's eldest son; and was violated by him. In all cases where polygamy is allowed, we find that the honor of a sister is in the guardianship of her full brother, more even than in that of her father, whose interest in her is considered less peculiar and intimate. We trace this notion even in the time of Jacob (Genesis 34:6; Genesis 34:13; Genesis 34:25, sqq.). So in this case the wrong of Tamar was taken up by Absalom, who kept her secluded in his own house, and said nothing for the present, but brooded silently over the wrong he had sustained and the vengeance which devolved upon him. It was not until two years had passed that Absalom found opportunity for the bloody revenge he had meditated. He then held a great sheep-shearing feast at Baal-hazor near Ephraim, to which he invited all the king's sons. Amnon attended among the other princes; and, when they were warm with wine, he was slain by the servants of Absalom, according to the previous directions of their master. Absalom then hastened to Geshur, and remained there three years with his father-in-law, king Talmai.
Now Absalom, with all his faults, was eminently dear to the heart of his father, who mourned every day after the banished fratricide. His secret wishes to have home his beloved though guilty son were however discerned by Joab, who employed a clever woman of Tekoah to lay a supposed case before him for judgment; and she applied the anticipated decision so adroitly to the case of Absalom, that the king discovered the object, and detected the interposition of Joab. Regarding this as in some degree expressing the sanction of public opinion, David gladly commissioned Joab to 'call home his banished.' Absalom returned; but David, still mindful of his duties as a king and father, controlled the impulse of his feelings, and declined to admit him to his presence. After two years, however, Absalom, impatient of his disgrace, found means to compel the attention of Joab to his case; and through his means a complete reconciliation with the king was effected (2 Samuel 13-14).
Absalom was now, by the death of his elder brothers, Amnon and Chileab, become the eldest surviving son of David, and heir apparent to the throne. But under the peculiar theocratic institutions of the Hebrews, the Divine king reserved the power of bestowing the crown on any person whom he might prefer. The house of David was now established as the reigning dynasty, and out of his family Solomon had been selected by God as the successor of his father. In this fact, which was probably well known to the mass of the nation, we have a clear motive for the rebellion of Absalom, who wished to secure the throne, which he deemed to be his by the laws of primogeniture, during the lifetime of his father, while the destined successor was yet a child.
The fine person of Absalom, his superior birth, and his natural claim, pre-disposed the people to regard his pretensions with favor: and this pre-disposition was strengthened by the condescending sympathy with which he accosted the suitors who repaired for justice or favor to the royal audience, combined with the state and attendance with which, as the heir apparent, he appeared in public. By these influences 'he stole the hearts of the men of Israel;' and when at length, four years after his return from Geshur, he repaired to Hebron, and there proclaimed himself king, the great body of the people declared for him. So strong ran the tide of opinion in his favor, that David found it expedient to quit Jerusalem and retire to Mahanaim, beyond the Jordan.
When Absalom heard of this, he proceeded to Jerusalem and took possession of the throne without opposition. Among those who had joined him was Ahithophel, who had been David's counselor, and whose profound sagacity caused his counsels to be regarded like oracles in Israel. This defection alarmed David more than any other circumstance, and he persuaded his friend Hushai to go and join Absalom, in the hope that he might be made instrumental in turning the sagacious counsels of Ahithophel to foolishness. The first piece of advice which Ahithophel gave Absalom was, that he should publicly take possession of that portion of his father's harem which had been left behind in Jerusalem. This was not only a mode by which the succession of the throne might be confirmed [ABISHAG], but in the present case this villainous measure would dispose the people to throw themselves the more unreservedly into his cause, from the assurance that no possibility of reconciliation between him and his father remained. Hushai had not then arrived. Soon after he came, when a council of war was held to consider the course of operations to be taken against David, Ahithophel counseled that the king should be pursued that very night, and smitten, while he was 'weary and weak handed, and before he had time to recover strength.' Hushai, however, whose object was to gain time for David, speciously urged, from the known valor of the king, the possibility and fatal consequences of a defeat, and advised that all Israel should be assembled against him in such force as it would be impossible for him to withstand. Fatally for Absalom, the counsel of Hushai was preferred to that of Ahithophel; and time was thus given to enable the king to collect his resources. A large force was soon raised, which he properly organized and separated into three divisions, commanded severally by Joab, Abishai, and Ittai of Gath. The king himself intended to take the chief command; but the people refused to allow him to risk his valued life, and the command then devolved upon Joab. The battle took place in the borders of the forest of Ephraim; and the tactics of Joab, in drawing the enemy into the wood, and there hemming them in, so that they were destroyed with ease, eventually, under the providence of God, decided the action against Absalom. Twenty thousand of his troops were slain, and the rest fled to their homes. Absalom himself fled on a swift mule; but as he went, the boughs of a terebinth tree caught the long hair in which he gloried, and he was left suspended there. The charge which David had given to the troops to respect the life of Absalom prevented any one from slaying him: but when Joab heard of it, he hastened to the spot, and pierced him through with three darts. His body was then taken down and cast into a pit there in the forest, and a heap of stones was raised upon it.
David's fondness for Absalom was unextinguished by all that had passed; and no sooner did he hear that his son was dead, than he retired to his chamber and gave vent to his paternal anguish in the most bitter wailings—'O my son Absalom! my son, my son Absalom! I would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!' The consequences might have been most dangerous, had not Joab gone up to him, and, after sharply rebuking him for thus discouraging those who had risked their lives in his cause, induced him to go down and cheer the returning warriors by his presence (2 Samuel 13:1 to 2 Samuel 19:8).
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Absalom'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature". https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​kbe/​a/absalom.html.