Now in all Israel was no one as handsome as Absalom, so highly praised; from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head there was no defect in him. When he cut the hair of his head (and it was at the end of every year that he cut it, for it was heavy on him so he cut it), he weighed the hair of his head at 200 shekels by the king’s weight (2 Samuel 14:25-16 NASB)
Plots Within Plots
One character in Scripture who I never see put in a good light is Absalom. He is often put in a ‘sympathetic’ light, but never held up as a good example of character. And he isn’t. In fact, I’m not so sure seeing him in a sympathetic light is really what was intended by the author here. In the previous chapter, he tells his sister not to say anything about being raped, so she has no legal support from her father. Absalom doesn’t say anything either. This seems rather odd, except that the depraved brother is also the first-born, first in line for the throne. So, in a very real sense, Tamar’s rape gives Absalom an angle to kill the person in front of him in line for the throne.
Beyond that, we see that he is brought back from exile, but never ‘repents’. So he sees himself as above whatever law exists in Israel regarding what he did. This isn’t a great situation for a would-be king to be in. On top of that, we also get a glimpse of his character toward the end of chapter 14 which sets up the following chapter. He is handsome, more than anyone else in Israel. But he is very aware of this. Who weighs his hair after cutting? He cuts it because it’s ‘heavy on him’, and then weighs it to show off how much hair he has. I’m thinking it would be lighter if he cleaned the anointing oil out of it from time to time, but again, that’s my opinion.
Absalom is living the good life. He is back in Jerusalem, but not in court. So he has a scheme for that. It takes him two years to scheme against his depraved brother Amnon. He waits another two years in exile, and now he waits two years to see his father. Joab was instrumental in bringing him back, but ignores him once he’s back. Absalom is not one to take being ignored, so he sets Joab’s field on fire. Keep in mind, Joab is not above murder himself. He’s not one to be trifled with, but Absalom is confident that no one can touch him. He wants to see the king, and nothing will stand in his way. But why?
I think that Absalom has been after the throne since before his sister is violated. While his depraved brother Amnon is sick over his step sister, I believe Absalom is sick over how to get the throne. Amnon unwittingly helps his brother when he ‘helps himself’ to his sister. Absalom can kill Amnon and blame it on avenging Tamar. And it really makes him look good in a way, like a kinsman-avenger. But he still requires a few things to make a solid bid for the throne. He needs legitimacy. What I mean by legitimacy is that he must be perceived as the natural one to be next on the throne by everyone. But the first step toward that is to be seen as legitimate within the court, but also with the king.
He has to have the king’s acceptance in order to be seen as really legitimate as an heir to the throne. So, he comes home, but then must see the king. He waits two years, and finally gets Joab’s attention by setting his field on fire. It works, and Absalom is accepted by David. Now Absalom can move on to stealing the hearts of the people.
Absalom is smart. But he is also strategic, and patient. He would be perfect in his diabolical pursuit if it weren’t for his one huge fault: Pride! He really sees very little besides himself, and seems to truly believe that he is in pursuit of what is rightfully his to take. He’s beautiful, he has heavy hair, he’s rich, he’s the kings eldest son (number 2 disappears, never to be heard from after being listed once). What could possibly go wrong? As long as he continues to be wise all should be well. It really is interesting that he is so smart and patient at his age. Most aren’t. Amnon wasn’t. Why is Absalom?
The Point of the Lesson of Absalom
We don’t know why Absalom is so cunning. Scripture doesn’t tell us, and we’re left with the view that Absalom is just that smart. And maybe he is. That would make him very smart, very handsome, and with very little to slow down his inflated view of himself. But there is a piece to this story that must not be lost. Solomon must become king.
I’m not sure why, but Chronicles completely ignores these accounts of David. There’s nothing about Bathsheba, nothing about Absalom, and from that account, we’re left wondering what happened to the eldest of David’s sons. But this account seeks to solve a problem. Keep in mind that of all David’s children, only Solomon is renamed by God, and this name is Jedidiah, a version of David’s own name but now it means ‘beloved of Yahweh’.
That happens as Solomon is a child, before he can ‘prove’ himself by his deeds, God sees something in him and approves of him already; before he can earn it. The problem is that there are many brothers ahead of him. And many of these brothers are dangerous, like Absalom. So, in a sense, Absalom is a bad example, but what is also being shown here is that no amount of smarts, good looks, and strategic scheming will thwart the plans of the Almighty Creator. This account explains what happened to some of those ahead of Solomon who assume the throne belonged to them. But this account also supports God’s choice of Solomon. Amnon wasn’t a good choice, he was depraved. Absalom wasn’t a good choice, he was a conniving pretty-boy. Adonijah is left to the final ascension of Solomon.
What I learn from Absalom, at least up through chapter 14, is that it’s not about how smart I am. I already know I’m no looker, and I will never weigh my hair (nor let it get that long). But I can become very impressed with my own ideas. I can become very intoxicated with my particular view through a knothole. This is partly (perhaps mostly) why I pursue this path of theology. I need the reminder that there are other views, and mine is incomplete without the others. I must not loose sight of the ‘game’, the Person and work of my Master. He reveals Himself through Scripture, and I’m looking at Him, not myself. There is real danger is looking myopically at the knothole itself and forgetting that the point lies in the view beyond. God has a purpose in bringing Solomon to the throne. This would have been true even if Amnon wasn’t depraved, Absalom wasn’t a conniving pretty-face, or anyone else thought they should have the throne. God wanted Solomon on the throne, and that was what was going to happen.
What does God want for my neighborhood, my community, my church, may family? Whatever it is, I better be on board with that and forget my own ‘plans’. No amount of scheming, planning, conniving, or cleverness will change what He wants to what I want. At least, that’s my view through the knothole. What’s yours?