And David went up the ascent of the Mount of Olives, and wept as he went, and his head was covered and he walked barefoot. Then all the people who were with him each covered his head and went up weeping as they went. (2 Samuel 15:30 NASB)
In contrast to a chariot and fifty men running before him, this king walks barefoot, head covered, and weeping. Absalom sought to steal the hearts of people at the gate, but these people who knew the king best wept as he left the city of his name. There is a very evident contrast between the two ‘royal’ figures. And yet, there are similarities as well.
What’s So Different?
Absalom steals the hearts of the people from David, or seems to. But that implies that David had them to be stolen. Why was that? In various passages leading up to David becoming king, we see some stark differences between these two characters, and how they won the hearts of the people of Israel.
David Leaves To Save The City
Absalom is coming to the city for the throne. And with the people behind him, he believes he is able to take Jerusalem to get it. David leaves the city, and verse 14 that he wants to save the city, and the lives of his people. David truly cares, where Absalom wants to appear to care.
The Ark Follows David
It doesn’t take genius priests to know which king would preserve the worship of God. Both priests, Abiathar and Zadok, bring the Ark after David. Do they want to preserve it? Do they want to show their support for David? Do they want to demonstrate that God prefers David over Absalom? We’re not told, but since the context seems to be a lot of people faithful to David even in these dark times, faithfulness is at least a little better of a guess. We do know the two priests listened to David and returned with the Ark to Jerusalem.
The Countryside Around Jerusalem Weeps For the King
The people in and around Jerusalem wept for David rather than rejoiced with Absalom. They were more privy to the real actions and attitudes of this would-be king, and clearly did not see him as an improvement on David. Whatever the reasons, whether self-motivated, a better understanding of the two personalities involved, or whether they simply sympathized with his plight, they still wept with him. We’re not told anyone rejoiced at Absalom’s entrance.
David Collect Warriors
In some ways, David’s exodus is like an old VFW meeting where the old crusty warriors come out of the wood work to follow him. His thirty-man body guard isn’t a surprise, but the six hundred following him now are made up of many of the old guard of the days running from Saul. The interesting exception is Ittai the Gittite. He seems to bring his own two hundred soldiers, all from Gath, a Philistine city.
The connection that David and the Ark have had with Gath runs deep. David served Achish, the king of Gath. Achish gave David Ziklag to live in and raid from. And Gath is where the Philistines kept the Ark of God when they captured it. Gath is the city from which they returned it to remove the plagues God brought on them.
And Gath is where these two hundred men are from who make up a full third of David’s troops. Why would such people leave their homeland, and follow a foreign soldier on an uncertain ascent to the throne of an upstart confederacy of tribes? I believe they saw something in David’s character that indicated that David was one in line with the God who trounced their popular religion. It only made sense to follow him.
So David is back to six hundred men. And from the accounts of his exploits before, it’s all he needs to defeat any foe. They include the likes of Joab and his brother Abashai, sons of Zeruiah (David’s sister), faithful leaders under David. The ‘Three Mighty Men’, Josheb-Basshebeth, Eleazar, and Shammah, each responsible for winning battles against the Philistines alone and unaided. Just these five were responsible for over a thousand just between them alone. And David had six hundred of them. What sort of man would such as these follow? I doubt very seriously that one like Absalom would be able to win such hearts. Perhaps he could buy their swords, but never win their hearts.
What’s So Similar?
One of the interesting similarities is the network of spies David sets up, seemingly adhoc, on his way out of town. First he charges the priests to permit their sons to be ‘runners’ to David of whatever news they hear. And the priests return with this charge, and I’m sure some unsettling feelings. Yet they show their faithfulness to David in that they go.
Second, David hears from someone that Ahithophel is with Absalom (verse 31), David immediately prays that God would frustrate the counsel of Ahithophel and make it foolishness, and up pops Hushai, the friend of David. Now David has the final part of the network he needs, someone on the ‘inside’. He sends Hushai back with instructions to counter Ahithophel, and also to send word to David through the sons of the priests. It’s perfect! It’s subtle! It’s small, it’s private, it’s exactly how such a thing can be done and actually work.
But it’s done on the fly as David is leaving town, which makes David not only shrewd but so comfortable with shrewdness he can do it spontaneously as he leaving on a trip barefoot. He is able to make the most of what God provides to put together something that didn’t exist before just when he needs it. David is weeping, and thinking. He’s mourning and plotting. He’s the quintessential Warrior-Poet-King; all three true at once.
Absalom was patient to wait eight years, like his father waited twelve. The patience and plotting Absalom saw in his father in Hebron was a lesson he learned well. He turned that lesson on his father. The shrewdness to find the right people to help in his quest was also like his father. They even gathered similar people: counselors, soldiers, and servants. And perhaps the most dangerous similarity was the ability of both to negotiate with the people for their loyalty.
The ability to gain followers was there in both men, but there was a stark difference. David’s followers were truer and fiercer, where Absalom’s were faithful as long as everything went well with the rebellion. Spoiler-Alert: Once it came to fighting and dying, the people stopped following Absalom. As patient as Asbsalom was, he wasn’t patient enough, and his rebellion was still half-baked.
David and Absalom were very different, and yet somewhat the same. The one stark difference that outweighed them all was the Ark following David. I believe that given all other circumstances, if it had not been for the presence of God, there would have been little to stop Absalom. He went to Hebron on a pretense of a vow to God, and completely missed that only were that true would he have had a chance. He relied on himself and his 20lb hair rather than God. Another Spoiler-Alert: Eventually God uses that hair against him in a most humiliating manner.
What I learn from this view through the knothole is that my Master sees more than the hearts of people. What is popular, or seems to be, isn’t as important to my Master as underlying quality of character. And I learn that I should never trifle with experienced men of valor; even fleeing ones.
What’s your view through the knothole?