2 Samuel 15 – “Absalom’s Rebellion”

Hebrew-English Text
I. Summary
Absalom leads a revolt and forces David to flee Jerusalem. David sends spies to Jerusalem.

II. Photo
David is dejected as he flees Jerusalem: “His head was covered and he walked barefoot.” (v. 30)

III. Important Verses
2-6: Absalom used to rise early and stand by the road to the city gates; and whenever a man had a case that was to come before the king for judgment, Absalom would call out to him, “What town are you from?” And when he answered, “Your servant is from such and such a tribe in Israel,” Absalom would say to him, “It is clear that your claim is right and just, but there is no one assigned to you by the king to hear it.” And Absalom went on, “If only I were appointed judge in the land and everyone with a legal dispute came before me, I would see that he got his rights.” And if a man approached to bow to him, [Absalom] would extend his hand and take hold of him and kiss him. Absalom did this to every Israelite who came to the king for judgment. Thus Absalom won away the hearts of the men of Israel.
13-14: Someone came and told David, “The loyalty of the men of Israel has veered toward Absalom.” Whereupon David said to all the courtiers who were with him in Jerusalem, “Let us flee at once, or none of us will escape from Absalom. We must get away quickly, or he will soon overtake us and bring down disaster upon us and put the city to the sword.”
25-26: But the king said to Zadok, “Take the Ark of God back to the city. If I find favor with the LORD, He will bring me back and let me see it and its abode. And if He should say, ‘I do not want you,’ I am ready; let Him do with me as He pleases.”

33-36: David said to him, “If you march on with me, you will be a burden to me. But if you go back to the city and say to Absalom, ‘I will be your servant, O king; I was your father’s servant formerly, and now I will be yours,’ then you can nullify Ahithophel’s counsel for me. You will have the priests Zadok and Abiathar there, and you can report everything that you hear in the king’s palace to the priests Zadok and Abiathar. Also, their two sons are there with them, Zadok’s son Ahimaaz and Abiathar’s son Jonathan; and through them you can report to me everything you hear.”

IV. Outline
1-6. Absalom wins the heart of the people by promising judgment
7-9. Absalom travels to Hebron
10-12. Absalom’s rebellion gains strength
13-16. David flees Jerusalem
17-22. David travels with the Cherethites, Pelethites, and the Gittites
23. The people mourn
24-29. David sends the ark to Jerusalem
30. The lugubrious march
31. David curses Ahitophel
32-37. David sends Hushai to spy on Absalom

V. Comment
Chapter 15 tells the story of Absalom’s rebellion. David is forced to flee Jerusalem in a funereal procession. Although he is forlorn, David manages to send Hushai and the priests to spy on Absalom.

The chapter begins with Absalom amassing a small force: “Sometime afterward, Absalom provided himself with a chariot, horses, and fifty outrunners” (v. 1) What was the purpose of these men? Anderson points out that Absalom was probably claiming the kingship. This theory is supported by 1 Samuel 8:11 which describes the servants of a king: “He said, ‘This will be the practice of the king who will rule over you: He will take your sons and appoint them as his charioteers and horsemen, and they will serve as outrunners for his chariots.’” Similarly, 1 Kings 1:5 describes Adonijah’s claim to the throne: “Now Adonijah son of Haggith went about boasting, ‘I will be king!’ He provided himself with chariots and horses, and an escort of fifty outrunners.” Finally, Joseph is provided with men and a chariot in Genesis 41:43: “He had him ride in the chariot of his second-in-command, and they cried before him, “Abrek!” Thus he placed him over all the land of Egypt.” Anderson also points out that the “fifty men” who accompany Absalom are a “standard military unit.” For example, Exodus 18:21b says, “Set these over them as chiefs of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens.” Similarly, Deuteronomy 1:15 says, “So I took your tribal leaders, wise and experienced men, and appointed them heads over you: chiefs of thousands, chiefs of hundreds, chiefs of fifties, and chiefs of tens, and officials for your tribes.”

How long did the rebellion last? While our chapter hints that it was a precipitous event, scholars suggest a different version of events. Anderson writes: “The account of Absalom’s political subversion must have been greatly abbreviated and simplified. The extensive scale of the revolt seems to suggest that it must have been preceded by, at least, some negotiations and careful planning on the part of Absalom and his advisers. The pattern of subversion outlined in vv 2–5 was, most likely, only one of the ways in which Absalom gained support among the Israelites and built up his public image and following. It is also likely that some time elapsed between Absalom’s coronation in Hebron (v 10) and his march on Jerusalem. This seems to be implied by v 12 which laconically comments that ‘the conspiracy gained strength and the people with Absalom went on increasing.’ It would be rather naive to assume that David had no knowledge of this prolonged (?) political maneuvering, and that Absalom’s march on Jerusalem came as a complete surprise to David and to his supporters. Consequently, v 13 can hardly be the first intimation of the rebellion.” (194)

One last point. David sends Hushai the Archite to spy on Absalom. Hushai is described with the appellation “the friend of David” (v. 37). While Hushai might have simply been a “friend” of David’s, he might have also served a more official role. Support for this can be drawn from 1 Kings 4:5 which lists the “friend of the king” as an official position: “Azariah son of Nathan — in charge of the prefects; Zabud son of Nathan the priest — friend of the king.”

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Anderson, A. A. “2 Samuel” Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 11 (Waco Texas: Wordbooks, 1989).
Campbell, Antony F. “2 Samuel” The Forms of the Old Testament Literature, vol 8 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eedrdmans, 2005).
Collins, John J. “Introduction to the Hebrew Bible,” (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004).
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