Then a messenger came to David, saying, ” The hearts of the men of Israel are with Absalom.” David said to all his servants who were with him at Jerusalem, ” Arise and let us flee, for otherwise none of us will escape from Absalom. Go in haste, or he will overtake us quickly and bring down calamity on us and strike the city with the edge of the sword.” (2 Samuel 15:13-14 NASB)
David is known for decisive victories against impossible odds. He’s known for leading a small band of six hundred against thousands, fighting ridiculously long battles, and winning. So, why, when he has a famously defensible city, and more than six hundred to fight with, does he decide to leave? Why is this king leaving a fight? In Scripture so far, running from a fight is not his normal ‘modus oparandi’. Well, that is true with one glaring obvious exception: Saul.
Scripture records that the only fight David willingly avoided was against Saul, and that repeatedly he avoided this fight. I’m curious whether or not there are any similarities between there and here. But really, I’m curious about why these circumstances warranted running instead of fighting. So, I’m going to explore a few options, some possible comparisons to David and Saul, and the situation at hand.
David’s Circumstances in Jerusalem
David took Jerusalem, one of the last hold-out Canaanite cities left, and named it for himself. It was famous for its defensibility. The Jebusites were so confident that they could keep David out that they said, even the lame and blind could defend it against it from him. David enlarged and improved the defenses once he took the city, so at the time of these events, it should have been even more defensible and secure.
David has servants and soldiers that remain continually on duty, a standing army. Then there are the troops rallied by ‘blowing the trumpet throughout Israel’. But even without the reserves, there are regular-army soldiers, and I would think, enough to defend Jerusalem from assault.
But we aren’t told details of standing army size, defense conditions in Jerusalem, nor are we told much about the circumstances with Absalom. When the news that the hearts of the men of Israel are with Absalom, David says to pack up and move out believing that they would all die if they stayed. So the situation had to be different than what I expect.
So there weren’t enough supporters of David to defend the city? Where was the regular-army, the veterans of the war with Ammon? The veterans of the wars with Aram? When David leaves Jerusalem, he leaves with six hundred soldiers. How did his troops get down to six hundred and he only get a clue at that point that he’s in danger? It seems like an unnecessarily dramatic situation. It smacks of a tactical blunder by a tactical genius that takes the reader completely by surprise. How did David let this happen?
Was Absalom Like Saul to David?
On the surface, this question begs an automatic and emphatic, ‘NO!’ And in so many ways, Absalom has none of the legitimacy of Saul; primarily before God. But are there some valid comparisons? I think there may be a very select few, and those only by making some rather long leaps of logic.
1. Absalom is popular
Saul was always leading the people, and the people followed Saul. They followed him into an impossible battle with the Philistines. They followed him in his clearly crazy pursuit of David in the wilderness. The people were not so quick to support Ishbosheth, his son. He never garnered the same level of respect as his father.
Absalom is able to gather people to him. By his actions in the gate, his chariot, and his good looks, he gains the attention and adoration he wants. The charioteer with fifty runners kisses the masses paying homage to him. He is both regal, and of the people. Perhaps David, again follows the ebb and flow of the fickle people. Perhaps he sees that his legitimacy as king is both a position given by God, but also at the will of the people (a lesson his grandson totally misses).
2. Absalom is declared king
David hears that the people are now for Absalom, but the word from Absalom’s spies is that he is king in Hebron. Perhaps David views this in somewhat a similar fashion as he did Ishbosheth. That’s quite a leap of logic, and the circumstances neither warrant such a view, nor is David’s response much like his response with Ishbosheth. His response is more like his to Saul than to Ishbosheth, so it’s more than just being in a chair. For some reason, David may have considered Absalom’s declaration to be valid to some degree.
It’s probably more likely that his view of Absalom as ‘king’ was very closely tied to the previous statements about his popularity. It may be less respect for Absalom’s position as king, and more his acceptance that the people seem to be behind him. So, he respects Absalom as king only to the extent Absalom’s popularity carries it? No, not likely.
Beyond these two things I don’t see similarities. Saul was anointed, selected by God, and Absalom has no such pedigree. Saul was a warrior, a leader of men, and Absalom shows no such ability. Saul knew (during lapses of sanity) the will of God and would do it. But Absalom only uses religion as a political ploy. I find far more differences than similarities between the two.
At some point I have to simply rest on the fact that the writer didn’t include every detail. There are a lot of details, but there are a lot left to the imagination. Perhaps some of what’s missing was supplied by euphemism and colloquialism, perhaps by period slang. A lot of that we have, but probably most we don’t. And language of this sort at the time of writing could have been different from that at the time of the events. So, sifting through the linguistic intricacies 2,000 or more years after the events is beyond my ability.
Given what details are supplied, I can surmise a few things. First, the city wasn’t defensible without suffering destruction, and David wasn’t willing to do that. Second, the people remaining in the area around Jerusalem were still supportive of David. Third, it seems David was both in mourning over the circumstances, and had enough wits about him to setup an adhoc intelligence network. And lastly, I clearly perceive an attitude of humility in David totally absent in Absalom; and I suspect this is really the author’s point.
So, what’s my view through the knothole tell me about my Master, my relationship with Him, and how I should live? It tells me that up or down, good or bad, even in the midst of the punishment and consequences of my sin, my Master continues to love me and have my back. So, my circumstances never determine my Master’s acceptance and love for me.
What’s your view look like? Who’s on first?