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Absalom’s conspiracy 15:1-12
Two sub-sections each begin with a reference to time (2 Samuel 15:1; 2 Samuel 15:7) and form a literary "diptych" (i.e., two complementary panels). [Note: Fokkelman, p. 165.] The first six verses explain how Absalom undermined popular confidence in the Lord’s anointed for four years. The last six relate his final preparations to lead a military revolution against David.
"Whatever the reason, he exhibited the same patient scheming and relentless determination which he had already shown when he set out to avenge the rape of his sister (chapter 13); the leopard had not changed his spots. His hatred for Amnon at least had had some excuse, but now it became clear that he had no affection for his father either. Apart from his love for his sister Tamar, he appears to have been a cold, ruthless and above all ambitious man." [Note: Payne, p. 227.]
Absalom spent four years (2 Samuel 15:7, probably 980-976 B.C.) quietly planning a coup. That "four" is the correct number rather than "40" seems clear from other chronological references. [Note: See the Septuagint, and Josephus, 7:9:1.] He did this by securing military weapons and supporters (2 Samuel 15:1; cf. 1 Kings 1:5), criticizing his father’s administration (2 Samuel 15:2-3), promising to rule better than David (2 Samuel 15:4), and exercising personal charm and flattery (2 Samuel 15:5-6). David was at this time (980-976 B.C.) building his palace in Jerusalem, then constructing a new dwelling place for the ark, and finally making preparations for the temple (2 Samuel 5:9-12). This may be the reason David was not meeting the needs of his people as well as he might have done. It probably accounts for David’s surprise when Absalom’s coup began as well.
Perhaps Absalom chose Hebron as the place to announce his rebellion because that was his birthplace, and his support was probably strongest there. Some in Hebron may have resented David’s moving his capital from there to Jerusalem. [Note: Laney, p. 113.] Ahithophel (2 Samuel 15:12) was probably Bathsheba’s grandfather (2 Samuel 11:3; 2 Samuel 23:34). Ahithophel’s support of Absalom may suggest that the general public did not know about God’s choice of David’s successor. Ahithophel came from a town in Judah (Joshua 15:51).
Absalom’s rebellion against God’s anointed king is similar to the reaction of the Jews to Jesus, the Lord’s Messiah. They did not want Him to reign over them. Consequently Jesus departed from them and returned to heaven, from which he will return to reign over them eventually.
David’s flight from Jerusalem 15:13-37
The people of Israel had formerly given the kingdom to David as a gift (2 Samuel 5:1-3), but now they took that gift from him (2 Samuel 15:13). [Note: Gunn, "David and . . .," p. 22.] David knew that Absalom was popular with the people. Evidently he fled Jerusalem to save his own life and to spare the capital from destruction. Perhaps Absalom planned to destroy David’s capital as well as to kill the king and reassert Judean supremacy. Clearly David planned to return to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 15:16). He was fleeing from an attack, not going into exile. The Cherethites and Pelethites were David’s bodyguard. The 600 men from Gath (2 Samuel 15:18) were probably mercenary soldiers. These foreigners were loyal to David even when his own son deserted him.
"Ancient kings quite often preferred to employ foreign bodyguards, since they were unlikely to be affected by local political considerations or won over by local political factions." [Note: Payne, p. 231.]
David later repaid Ittai, another former resident of Gath, for his loyalty by making him commander of one-third of his army (2 Samuel 18:2). David urged Ittai to return to Jerusalem and to remain loyal to him there (2 Samuel 15:19), but Ittai insisted on accompanying the king. Ittai’s commitment to David (2 Samuel 15:19-22) recalls Ruth’s commitment to Naomi (Ruth 1:16-17). David crossed the Kidron Valley immediately east of Zion and moved up the Mount of Olives that lay on the other side of the valley. In this he anticipated the movement of his descendant, Jesus Christ, who also crossed the Kidron Valley to pray on Mt. Olivet during His passion (John 18:1).
At this time there were two leading priests in Israel: Zadok (who was also a prophet, 2 Samuel 15:27) and Abiathar. Probably Zadok was responsible for worship in Jerusalem where David built a new structure to house the ark. Abiathar seems to have functioned for many years as David’s personal chaplain. Earlier Zadok had been in charge of the Gibeon sanctuary (1 Chronicles 16:39-42). God’s "habitation" (2 Samuel 15:25) most likely refers to the new tent David had recently completed in Jerusalem (cf. 1 Chronicles 15:1). These facts suggest another reason for Absalom’s rebellion and the support he enjoyed. Many of the Israelites probably considered David’s projects of building a new tabernacle and bringing the ark into Jerusalem inappropriate, since Jerusalem was a formerly Canaanite stronghold. Many other people may have shared Michal’s reaction (2 Samuel 6:16-20). [Note: Ibid., p. 185.]
David’s complete submission to God’s authority over his life is admirable (2 Samuel 15:26). The phrase "the fords of the wilderness" (2 Samuel 15:28) probably refers to the place people forded the Jordan River near the wilderness of Judah (cf. 2 Samuel 17:22). David did not believe superstitiously that the presence of the ark would ensure his victory (cf. 1 Samuel 4:3).
David trudged up the Mount of Olives, attired for mourning (2 Samuel 15:30), praying as he wept (2 Samuel 15:31). On Mt. Olivet David was still only a few hundred yards from the City of David. It rises about 200 feet above the city to its east. Walking barefoot (2 Samuel 15:30) symbolized "the shameful exile on which he is now embarking (cf. Isaiah 20:2-3; cf. similarly Micah 1:8)." [Note: Youngblood, p. 997.] David’s friend (i.e., counselor) Hushai came from a family that evidently lived on Ephraim’s southern border between Bethel and Ataroth (Joshua 16:2). [Note: Cf. Carl G. Rasmussen, Zondervan NIV Atlas of the Bible, p. 227.] He was probably quite old.
Chapter 15 teaches us a lot about friendship. Absalom is the negative example, and David’s supporters as he left Jerusalem are the positive ones. David lost Absalom as a friend because he failed to reach out to him in genuine forgiveness. David won the friendship of many others in Israel because he had a heart for God that expressed itself in lovingkindness for people (cf. Matthew 22:37-39). This made people love David, and we see the marks of their friendship in their dealings with David in this chapter. The king’s servants modeled true service by offering to do whatever David needed them to do (2 Samuel 15:15-18). Ittai expressed his friendship by being a companion to David (2 Samuel 15:19-23). Zadok and Abiathar became informants and made sure their friend had the information he needed to guarantee his welfare (2 Samuel 15:24-29). Hushai was willing to hazard his own safety to defend David in the presence of his enemies (2 Samuel 15:30-37). These people proved to be "sheltering trees" [Note: Samuel Taylor Coleridge, "Youth and Age," in Poems That Live Forever, p. 256.] for their friend in his hour of need.
"Meanwhile David showed a commendable attitude very much in contrast to Absalom’s arrogance. He was completely willing to submit to God’s will (2 Samuel 15:25 f.), whatever that might prove to be. Such willingness to surrender leadership at the right time is another hallmark of good leadership." [Note: Payne, p. 232.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 15". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany