David Gets Ready
1David divided his soldiers into groups of 100 and groups of 1,000. Then he chose officers to be in command of each group. 2He sent out one third of his army under the command of Joab, another third under the command of Abishai the son of Zeruiah, and the rest under the command of Ittai from Gath. He told the soldiers, “I'm going into battle with you.”
3But the soldiers said, “No, don't go into battle with us! It won't matter to our enemies if they make us all run away, or even if they kill half of us. But you are worth 10,000 of us. It would be better for you to stay in town and send help if we need it.”
4-6David said, “All right, if you think I should.”
Then in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear, he said, “Joab! Abishai! Ittai! For my sake, be sure that Absalom comes back unharmed.”
David stood beside the town gate as his army marched past in groups of 100 and in groups of 1,000.
Joab Kills Absalom
The war with Israel took place in Ephraim Forest. 7-8Battles were being fought all over the forest, and David's soldiers were winning. Twenty thousand soldiers were killed that day, and more of them died from the dangers of the forest than from the fighting itself.
9Absalom was riding his mule under a huge tree when his head caught in the branches. The mule ran off and left Absalom hanging in midair. Some of David's soldiers happened by, 10and one of them went and told Joab, “I saw Absalom hanging in a tree!”
11Joab said, “You saw Absalom? Why didn't you kill him? I would have given you ten pieces of silver and a special belt.”
12The man answered, “Even if you paid me 1,000 pieces of silver here and now, I still wouldn't touch the king's son. We all heard King David tell you and Abishai and Ittai not to harm Absalom. 13He always finds out what's going on. I would have been risking my life to kill Absalom, because you would have let me take the blame.”
14Joab said, “I'm not going to waste any more time on you!”
Absalom was still alive, so Joab took three spears and stuck them through Absalom's chest. 15Ten of Joab's bodyguards came over and finished him off. 16Then Joab blew a trumpet to signal his troops to stop chasing Israel's soldiers. 17They threw Absalom's body into a deep pit in the forest and put a big pile of rocks over it.
Meanwhile, the people of Israel had all run back to their own homes.
18When Absalom was alive, he had set up a stone monument for himself in King's Valley. He explained, “I don't have any sons to keep my name alive.” He called it Absalom's Monument, and that is the name it still has today.
Throughout his life, David was known as a man of action. In fact, he caused trouble when he remained idle, such as when he used his power to take advantage of Bathsheba and Uriah (2 Sam 11). He also fomented dissension when he neglected to tend to family relationships, especially his failure to deal with the rape of Tamar (2 Sam 13:1-19).
In retrospect it’s plain to see how David’s inactivity created the circumstances that made his final years on the throne so unsatisfying. He was at his best when he devoted attention to God and concentrated on his kingly calling. He floundered when he catered to favorites and misused his authority.
In the later stages of his career, David clearly was not the right man to lead troops into battle. Especially during the Absalom-led insurrection, it made no sense to put the king at risk. And David’s desire to spare the life of his son hindered the ability of the soldiers to win the war and preserve the kingdom. David’s previous inactivity took him out of the game.
So, against his will, he was forced to sit.
In a military sense, things went well for the king’s troops on the battlefield. From a father’s perspective, however, the most dreadful thing happened. Against David’s explicit command, Absalom was ignominiously killed. David’s kingdom may have been restored, but he never saw his estranged son again. The relationship mattered more than his powerful office.
What can we learn from the sorry saga of an ancient king who tried too late to redeem a precious relationship he’d neglected for too long? For one, to recognize how our actions – and inactions – have far reaching consequences. And, for another, to realize that if we neglect our relationships when we have a chance to be present, we’re apt to be relegated to the sidelines later on.
O God, give me the ability to see how the things I do – and the things I don’t do – impact and influence the lives of people around me. Help me to be aware of the implications of my actions and preserve me from absorbing the full brunt of harsh consequences.