2 Sam 18.1-33 gives us the story of how David prepared for battle with Absalom, and Absalom’s defeat and eventual death. It has been at least seven years since the sin of Amnon (a type of Adam) and Tamar, and this is a picture of the seven thousand year plan of God. David gets ready for the battle and numbers his troops, then he sets commanders over them. He puts one third of the army under Joab, one third under his nephew Abishai, and one third under Ittai the Gittite, who is a new believer but has military experience (2 Sam 15.19-22). David will use a classic three-pronged attack against Absalom.
The people did not want David to go out to battle with them. They said he was more important than all of them. He could bring reserves up if he needed them and they they knew it would be hard for him to fight against his own son. This shows their dedication and devotion and this should be an example for us in our devotion to our king (Yeshua). So, they wanted David to stay in the city of Mahanaim (v 24). David wanted Absalom taken alive and he did not want Absalom to die in his sin. This is like the Lord who does not want any to perish, but have life.
So the army went out and the battle took place in the Forest of Ephraim. David’s army was well trained and Absalom’s army wasn’t. They were no match for David. They were being led by an ego-maniac and David drew Absalom into a place where he had the advantage. The battle was spread over the whole countryside and the forest devoured more people than the sword (v 8).
David picked this battleground because Absalom’s army had weapons not suited for a forest, mountains and underbrush. Bows and slings (long range weapons) are useless there. Absalom’s army was at another disadvantage. They did not know the terrain like David’s army did. Joab knew this area (2 Sam 11.11) and more people will die in the forest than in the field. That is why Ahitophel killed himself in 2 Sam 17.23. When his counsel to Absalom was rejected, he knew David’s army would defeat Absalom in a battle.
Now, Absalom just happened to meet the warriors (“servant”) of David during the battle. He didn’t know which way to go to escape. He was riding his mule and the mule went under the thick branches of an oak tree because Absalom had no control over the mule. His hair (2 Sam 14.25-26) got caught up in the branches of the oak tree, and he was left hanging between “heaven and earth” while his mule that was under him kept going.
Absalom was caught up “in his pride” (hair). Being suspended between heaven and earth speaks of judgment (Zech 5.9; 1 Chr 21.16), which alludes to be unworthy of heaven or earth. He was also caught up in the branches. The branches allude to the Messiah (Zech 6.12; Isa 4.2). The False Messiah, the king of the children of pride (Job 41.34) who will also be caught up in his bride and be caught by the branch Yeshua. This will lead to his judgment and destruction (suspended between heaven and earth).
Now, a certain man saw Absalom hanging and told Joab (v 10). Joab asked him why he did not kill him because he would have given him ten pieces of silver and a “belt” which was an insignia as an officer or honorary (1 Sam 18.4). Then the man said he would not disobey the orders of the king which said he wanted Absalom alive (v 5). He said if he did harm Absalom, and the king heard about it, Joab would not have helped him.
So Joab did not waste anymore time on this, so he took three spears and thrust them through the heart of Absalom while he was still alive hanging in the tree. These spears are the Hebrew word “shevatim” and it means a scepter. Why did he disobey the order of David? Because he was directed by God to save the nation and the king (2 Sam 19.1-7). Joab knew that Absalom was a murderer, a traitor and a rapist and deserved death. He also knew that David was over indulgent with his children and would never punish Absalom, so he acted. But Joab will be held accountable for this (1 Kings 2.5-6). But Absalom did not die immediately, so ten soldiers who attended Joab struck Absalom again and killed him. Then Joab blew the trumpet recalling his men from pursuing Absalom’s army. Now that Absalom was dead, there was no further need of bloodshed.
They took the body of Absalom and cast him into a deep pit in the forest and put great stones over his body in the wilderness. This alludes to the destruction of the False Messiah, like Azazel (Lev 16.21; Ezek 29.1-5, 32.1-8; Isa 22.15-25; 2 Kings 11.1-15; Rev 19.20-21). All the people of Israel fled “each to his own tent” which means they went back to their own business.
To perpetuate his memory, Absalom set up a pillar to himself in the Kidron Valley (2 Sam 18.18). He had three sons (2 Sam 14.27) but they seem to have died prior to this, so he called this pillar after himself. There is a pillar in the Kidron Valley today that may be on the spot where Absalom placed his, but it can’t be the one he put up because the style is not consistent with the architecture of Absalom’s era. What Joab did with the body is consistent with the Torah in Deut 21.21 with the death of a rebellious son.
Then Ahimaaz the son of Zadok the priest wanted to run and tell David the “news” (Hebrew “basar” where we get the word “gospel” from) that he was safe and his enemies are dead. However, Joab did not want him to do it. He was a priest and did not think he should be the one to bear such news because Joab respected him. So Joab sent a Cushite to David with the news, but Ahimaaz persisted in his request, so Joab said he could go, and he passed up the Cushite on the way. Ahimaaz ran to David in Mahanaim. He was well known because the watchmen recognized his running style (v 27).
Because he was alone it was assured that it was good news and he was not fleeing from battle. They also saw the Cushite running by himself. He called out, “All is well” before he got to the city gate. David was sitting by the city gates to hear of news asked, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?” But Ahimaaz did not say anything right away. Then the Cushite arrived and said, “Let my lord the king receive good news (basar), for the Lord has freed you this day from them the hand of all those who rose up against you.” Then David said to the Cushite, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?” And the Cushite answered, “Let the enemies of my lord the king, and all who rise up against you for evil, be as that young man!”
Then 2 Sam 18.33 says that David was “deeply moved.” The Hebrew idea of this is a violent trembling. This phrase is also used in conjunction with Yeshua in John 11.33 when he hears about the death of Lazarus. David knew that his sin with Bathsheba caused this, and he was an indulgent parent. David’s story shows us that parents must first train themselves in godliness before they can train their children. David wept for Absalom, and this shows us God’s heart. David wanted to die in the place of his sinful son, but David could not do that. But Yeshua did, dying in the place of rebellious sinners like us.
We will pick up here in Part 17.