the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26
Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
(Heb. Abshalom', אִבְשָׁלוֹם , fully Abishalom', אֲבְישָׁלוֹם, 1 Kings 15:2; 1 Kings 15:10, father of peace, i.e. peaceful; Sept. Ἀβεσσαλώμ, Josephus, Ἀψάλωμος, Ant. 14, 4, 4), the name of three men.
1. The third son of David, and his only one (comp. 1 Kings 1:6) by Maacah, the daughter of Talmai, king of Geshur (2 Samuel 3:3; 1 Chronicles 3:2), born B.C. cir. 1050. He was particularly noted for his personal beauty, especially his profusion of hair, the inconvenient weight of which often (not necessarily "every year," as in the Auth. Vers.) compelled him to cut it off, when it was found to weigh "200 shekels after the king's weight" — an amount variously estimated from 112 ounces (Geddes) to 71 ounces (A. Clarke), and, at least, designating an extraordinary quantity (2 Samuel 14:25-26; see Journal de Trevoux. 1702, p. 176; Diedrichs, Ueb. d. Haare Absalom's, Gott. 1776; Handb. d. A. T. p. 142 sq.; Bochart, Opp. 2, 384).
David's other child by Maacah 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 pursuance of a plot suggested by the artful Jonadab (2 Samuel 13:1-20), B.C. cir. 1033. See AMNON. 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 (see Niebuhr, Beschr. p. 39). We trace this notion even in the time of Jacob (Genesis 34:6; Genesis 34:13; Genesis 34:25 sq.). So in this case the wrong of Tamar was taken up by Absalom, who kept her secluded in his own house, and brooded silently over the injury he had sustained. 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 at Baal-hazoi near Ephraim, to which he invited all the king's sons and, to lull suspicion, he also solicited the presence of his father. As he expected, David declined for himself, but allowed Amnon and the other princes to attend. They feasted together; and when they were warm with wine Amnon was set upon and slain by the servants of Absalom, according to the previous directions of their master. The others fled to Jerusalem, filling the king with grief and horror by the tidings which they brought. Absalom hastened to Geshur, and remained there three years with his grandfather, king Talmai (2 Samuel 13:23-38). (See GESHUR).
Absalom, with all his faults, was eminently dear to his father. David mourned every day after the banished fratricide, whom a regard for public opinion and a just horror of his crime forbade him to recall. 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 controlled 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 him a complete reconciliation was thus effected, and the father once more indulged himself with the presence of his son (2 Samuel 13:39; 2 Samuel 14:33), B.C. cir. 1027. Scarcely had he returned when he began to cherish aspirations to the throne, which he must have known was already pledged to another (see 2 Samuel 7:12). His reckless ambition was probably only quickened by the fear lest Bathsheba's child should supplant him in the succession, to which he would feel himself entitled, as of royal birth on his mother's side as well as his father's, and as being now David's eldest surviving son, since we may infer that the second son, Chileab, as dead, from no mention being made of him after 2 Samuel 3:3. It is harder to account for his temporary success, and the imminent danger which befell so powerful, a government as his father's. The sin with Bathsheba had probably weakened David's moral and religious hold upon the people; and as he grew older he may have become less attentive to individual complaints, and that personal administration of justice which was one of an Eastern king's chief duties. The populace were disposed to regard Absalom's pretensions with favor; and by many arts he so succeeded in winning their affections that when, four years (the text has erroneously 40 years; comp. Josephus, Ant. 7:9, 1; see Kennicott, Diss. p. 367; Ewald, Isr. Gesch. 2, 637) after his return from Geshur, he repaired to Hebron, and there proclaimed himself king, the great body of the people declared for him. It is probable that the great tribe of Judah had taken some offense at David's government, perhaps from finding themselves completely merged in one united Israel; and that they hoped secretly for pre-eminence under the less wise and liberal rule of his son. Thus Absalom selects Hebron, the old capital of Judah (now supplanted by Jerusalem), as the scene of the outbreak; Amasa, his chief captain, and Ahithophel of Giloh, his principal counsellor, are both of Judah, and, after the rebellion was crushed, we see signs of ill-feeling between Judah and the other tribes (19, 41).
But whatever the causes may have been, the revolt was at first completely successful. 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 counsellor, and whose profound sagacity caused his counsels to be regarded like oracles in Israel. This defection alarmed David more than any other single circumstance in the affair, 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; thus fulfilling Nathan's prophecy (2 Samuel 13:11). This was not only a mode by which the succession to the throne might be confirmed [ (See ABISHAG); comp. Herodotus, 3, 68], but in the present case, as suggested by the wily counsellor, this villainous measure would dispose the people to throw themselves the more unreservedly into his cause, from the assurance that no possibility of reconcilement between him and his father remained. But David had left friends who watched over his interests. 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 counselled 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 disastrous 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 afforded for the king, by the help of his influential followers, to collect his resources, as well as for the people to reflect upon the undertaking in which so many of them had embarked. David soon raised a large force, 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 (or oak; see Thomson's Land and Book, 1, 374; 2:234) tree caught the long hair in which he gloried, and he was left suspended there (comp. Josephus, Ant. 7, 10, 2; Celsii Hierob. 1, 43). 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 as a sign of abhorrence (see Thomson, ibid. 2, 234). David's fondness for Absalom was unextinguished by all that had passed; and as he sat, awaiting tidings of the battle, at the gate of Mahanaim, he was probably more anxious to learn that Absalom lived than that the battle was gained; and no sooner did he hear that Absalom was dead, than he retired to the chamber above the gate, to give vent to his paternal anguish. The victors, as they returned, slunk into the town like criminals when they heard the bitter wailings of the king: "O my son Absalom! my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!" The consequences of this weakness might have been most dangerous, had net 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 15:1; 2 Samuel 19:8; comp. Psalms 3:1-8, title), B.C. cir. 1023.
Absalom is elsewhere mentioned only in 2 S. m. 20, 6; 1 Kings 2:7; 1 Kings 2:28; 1 Kings 15:2; 1 Kings 15:10; 2 Chronicles 11:20-21; from the last two of which passages he appears to have left only a daughter (having lost three sons, 2 Samuel 14:27; comp. 18:18), who was the grandmother of Abijah (q.v.). See, generally, Niemeyer, Charakt. 4, 319 sq.; Kitto, Daily Bible Illust. in loc.; Debaeza, Com. Allegor. p. 5; Evans, Script. Biog. p. 1; Lindsay, Lect. 2; Dietric, Antiq. p. 353; Laurie, Lect. p. 68; Harris, Works, p. 209; Spencer, Sermons, p. 273; Simeon, Works, 3, 281, 294; Dibdin, ‘ Sermons, 3, 410; Williams, Sermons, 2, 190. (See DAVID); (See JOAB).
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