In this chapter, and the next two chapters, we see that David’s troubles and the trouble for his household are continued to be lived out as Nathan the prophet told him earlier, 2 Samuel 12:10.
After all the evil acts that Absalom had done over the years, in his rebellion against his father, David, in this chapter, we read Absalom’s death.
‘David mustered the men who were with him and appointed over them commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds. David sent out his troops, a third under the command of Joab, a third under Joab’s brother Abishai son of Zeruiah, and a third under Ittai the Gittite. The king told the troops, ‘I myself will surely march out with you.’ But the men said, ‘You must not go out; if we are forced to flee, they won’t care about us. Even if half of us die, they won’t care; but you are worth ten thousand of us. It would be better now for you to give us support from the city.’ The king answered, ‘I will do whatever seems best to you.’ So the king stood beside the gate while all his men marched out in units of hundreds and of thousands. The king commanded Joab, Abishai and Ittai, ‘Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake.’ And all the troops heard the king giving orders concerning Absalom to each of the commanders.’ 2 Samuel 18:1-5
As David and his men are preparing to go to war against Absalom and his men, David divides his men into three groups, one third will be under the command of Joab, another third will be under the command of Abishai and another third will be under the command of Ittai.
This practice of dividing an army into three was fairly common in the Old Testament, Judges 7:16 / Judges 9:43 / 1 Samuel 11:11 / 1 Samuel 13:17 / 2 Kings 9:5-6.
However, there was also another good reason for dividing the army into three here, Ittai had brought a group of foreigners with him, and they would have been very reluctant to fight under an Israelite commander, so David placed the foreigners under Ittai and the Israelite troops under his nephews Joab and Abishai.
David was keen to go and fight with his men but his men advised him not to, it’s obvious that David’s men thought the cause of the nation as a whole was greater than David himself. There’s no question that they were loyal to David as God’s anointed king and they understand that Absalom’s rebellion wasn’t just against his father, David but against the nation of Israel as a whole.
If David had died on the battlefield, then everyone in Israel would have come to the conclusion that God wasn’t with him anymore. The commanders of David’s army knew that this war was going to be a bloody war, they weren’t just fighting for David, they were fighting for the future of Israel as a whole.
David is well aware of this and so commands Joab, Abishai and Ittai to be gentle with his son Absalom after they have won the war. In other words, David wanted to spare Absalom’s life.
‘David’s army marched out of the city to fight Israel, and the battle took place in the forest of Ephraim. There Israel’s troops were routed by David’s men, and the casualties that day were great—twenty thousand men. The battle spread out over the whole countryside, and the forest swallowed up more men that day than the sword.’ 2 Samuel 18:6-8
The battle took place in the forest of Ephraim, Judges 12:1-6, although this place is uncertain in its location. Some believe its located on the east side of the Jordan because that’s where Absalom and his men crossed over earlier, 2 Samuel 17:24, and David’s men returned to Mahanaim that day after the battle ended and that was east of Jordan, 2 Samuel 17:27.
The text doesn’t tell us who the twenty-thousand were, it doesn’t say whether the casualties were from David’s men or Absalom’s men or both. We can presume that most of the casualties were probably from Absalom’s side because as we shall see in a moment, Absalom flees for his life.
‘The forest swallowed up more men than the sword’ probably refers to the many cliffs and large rocks which were located in the forest where men would have slipped or fallen to their death.
‘Now Absalom happened to meet David’s men. He was riding his mule, and as the mule went under the thick branches of a large oak, Absalom’s hair got caught in the tree. He was left hanging in mid-air, while the mule he was riding kept on going. When one of the men saw what had happened, he told Joab, ‘I just saw Absalom hanging in an oak tree.’ Joab said to the man who had told him this, ‘What! You saw him? Why didn’t you strike him to the ground right there? Then I would have had to give you ten shekels of silver and a warrior’s belt.’ But the man replied, ‘Even if a thousand shekels were weighed out into my hands, I would not lay a hand on the king’s son. In our hearing the king commanded you and Abishai and Ittai, ‘Protect the young man Absalom for my sake.’ And if I had put my life in jeopardy—and nothing is hidden from the king—you would have kept your distance from me.’ Joab said, ‘I’m not going to wait like this for you.’ So he took three javelins in his hand and plunged them into Absalom’s heart while Absalom was still alive in the oak tree. And ten of Joab’s armor-bearers surrounded Absalom, struck him and killed him.’ 2 Samuel 18:9-15
When Absalom meets David’s men accidentally, his only choice was to get away from them in order to save his life, sadly, the only form of transport was a mule, and as he passed under a tree, his hair got caught in a tree, leaving him hanging there, remember he had very long hair, 1 Samuel 14:25-26.
One of David’s men found Absalom hanging there and respected David’s earlier words to spare his life, 2 Samuel 18:4. He then goes on to report this to Joab, it’s possible that Joab to remembered the bad advice he gave David earlier when Absalom ran away after killing Ammon, 2 Samuel 14:1-22.
This time Joab wasn’t going to give Absalom another chance to rebel against his father, David, so, he takes three javelins and plunged them into Absalom’s heart whilst he was still alive. Ten of Joab’s armour-bearers also joined in to make sure Absalom was dead.
‘Then Joab sounded the trumpet, and the troops stopped pursuing Israel, for Joab halted them. They took Absalom, threw him into a big pit in the forest and piled up a large heap of rocks over him. Meanwhile, all the Israelites fled to their homes. During his lifetime Absalom had taken a pillar and erected it in the King’s Valley as a monument to himself, for he thought, ‘I have no son to carry on the memory of my name.’ He named the pillar after himself, and it is called Absalom’s Monument to this day.’ 2 Samuel 18:16-18
Because Joab, sounded the trumpet, this tells us that he was in charge of all three groups of David’s army. After the sounding of the trumpet which announced that Joab had won the victory, they threw Absalom’s body into a big pit in the forest and placed large rocks over him.
The King’s Valley is where Absalom had built his own monument because this was where his three sons died, 2 Samuel 14:27, it’s also the place where Abram met with Melchizedek, Genesis 14:17.
‘Now Ahimaaz son of Zadok said, ‘Let me run and take the news to the king that the LORD has vindicated him by delivering him from the hand of his enemies.’ ‘You are not the one to take the news today,’ Joab told him. ‘You may take the news another time, but you must not do so today, because the king’s son is dead.’ Then Joab said to a Cushite, ‘Go, tell the king what you have seen.’ The Cushite bowed down before Joab and ran off. Ahimaaz son of Zadok again said to Joab, ‘Come what may, please let me run behind the Cushite.’ But Joab replied, ‘My son, why do you want to go? You don’t have any news that will bring you a reward.’ He said, ‘Come what may, I want to run.’ So Joab said, ‘Run!’ Then Ahimaaz ran by way of the plain and outran the Cushite. While David was sitting between the inner and outer gates, the watchman went up to the roof of the gateway by the wall. As he looked out, he saw a man running alone. The watchman called out to the king and reported it. The king said, ‘If he is alone, he must have good news.’ And the runner came closer and closer. Then the watchman saw another runner, and he called down to the gatekeeper, ‘Look, another man running alone!’ The king said, ‘He must be bringing good news, too.’ The watchman said, ‘It seems to me that the first one runs like Ahimaaz son of Zadok.’ ‘He’s a good man,’ the king said. ‘He comes with good news.’ Then Ahimaaz called out to the king, ‘All is well!’ He bowed down before the king with his face to the ground and said, ‘Praise be to the LORD your God! He has delivered up those who lifted their hands against my lord the king.’ The king asked, ‘Is the young man Absalom safe?’ Ahimaaz answered, ‘I saw great confusion just as Joab was about to send the king’s servant and me, your servant, but I don’t know what it was.’ The king said, ‘Stand aside and wait here.’ So he stepped aside and stood there. Then the Cushite arrived and said, ‘My lord the king, hear the good news! The LORD has vindicated you today by delivering you from the hand of all who rose up against you.’ The king asked the Cushite, ‘Is the young man Absalom safe?’ The Cushite replied, ‘May the enemies of my lord the king and all who rise up to harm you be like that young man.’ The king was shaken. He 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!’ 2 Samuel 18:19-33
David had earlier executed the messenger who brought him the news of Saul’s death, 2 Samuel 1:15-16, he also executed the ones who brought him the news of the death of Ishbosheth, 2 Samuel 4:5-12, it appears that Joab wanted to spare Ahimaaz the danger he would encounter if he brought David the news of the death of his son Absalom.
Joab decides to send a Cushite, with the news to David which Joab knew would break David’s heart. The race was on to get to David first, when Ahimaaz was asked by David about his son, he deliberately lies, because Joab had plainly told him that Absalom was dead, the reason for him lying is simply, he knew that David might kill him for bringing this kind of news like he did with others before.
When the Cushite arrives, he tells David the truth, and the news of David’s son being dead just devastated him. David wants to be alone to cry and on his way, he says, ‘my son, my son Absalom!’
This is truly a sad moment in the life of David, and it’s no wonder he personally feels responsible for Absalom’s death and feels it should be him who had died because he was the one who ordered the murder of Uriah and he knew that this was a part of God’s punishment, 1 Samuel 12:10 / Psalm 38 / Psalm 40.
Go To 2 Samuel 19