Now Absalom happened to meet the servants of David. For Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak. And his head caught fast in the oak, so he was left hanging between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him kept going (2 Samuel 18:9 NASB)
I had a friend ask me where I come up with these titles. I’m not sure. I suppose when I imagine a guy riding a mule going under a tree, getting his head stuck in the tree, and the mule continuing on, leaving the man hanging from the tree; I’m likely to suspect his head was too big. The irony of the term applied to Absalom also makes it very attractive, almost as attractive as he thought he was. See, it just works so well on too many levels.
I want to recap Absalom from fratricide to human-pinata. It shouldn’t take long. But it should make an entertaining story. Let’s begin with his sister, Tamar.
The Opportunity Of His Sister’s Horror
In 2 Samuel 13, we’re introduced to Amnon, the psychotic spoiled prince who eventually rapes his step sister Tamar. Immediately after we meet Absalom, her full brother, who instructs her to not tell anyone. I have said in a previous entry in the the predecessor to this blog, that I believed that Absalom saw this as an opportunity to remove the person closer to the throne than himself.
Next, in the same chapter 13, Absalom ‘avenges’ his sister on Amnon by killing him and escaping to his mother’s home country. This presents a legal issue, in that he could stand as a ‘kinsman avenger’ in a sense, but as a premeditated murderer in another. The king would normally decide such things. In this case, the role of kinsman avenger is complicated by the fact that he kept his sister from accusing Amnon. The role of premeditated murderer is furthered by the fact he stood to gain much by removing Amnon. Legally, it was a quagmire where the king would find it difficult to make an objective judgement.
The Search for Legitimacy
In the next chapter, Joab, the general of the army and nephew to David, perceives that David wants to bring Absalom back, but can’t on legal grounds. Actually the language here is far from clear, and therefore so are Joab’s motives. Whatever his motives, he resorts to using a ‘wise woman of Tekoa’. Why Tekoa, and why such a woman is also unclear. But David sees through the ruse as soon as the woman attempts to pin a sin to David in that he won’t bring Absalom back. It’s pretty silly actually, and my most difficult quandary is why such a wise woman didn’t see the foolishness of Joab’s story.
Absalom returns to Jerusalem, but is not allowed to see the kings face. This is only a small step in the direction Absalom needs to move in order to eventually take the throne. He has the ‘looks’, everyone knows it, and he even weighs his hair after his annual haircut. But he still needs legitimacy.
He needs to be absolved by the king. As long as the king won’t see him it remains possible that he will not be accepted as a legitimate heir to the throne if he is possibly a murderer. So, he burns Joab’s field to get him to take him to the king, and he’s accepted, arson and all.
The Battle For The Hearts And Minds of Israel
Then in chapter 15, Absalom begins to win the hearts of the people in three ways. First, he uses 50 men running before his chariot to establish himself as a person of importance. Next he discusses legal problems with the people coming for judgment before the king. Finally, he kisses those who bow to him, accepting them as one of them. These methods are so effective, the Scripture says that, ‘…so Absalom stole away the hearts of the men of Israel.’
Then Absalom heads to Hebron, where his father started his reign. He uses a religious pretense, he sends out spies to exaggerate his ascension, and calls for David’s best adviser, Ahithophel. It works so well, that David flees Jerusalem in a mass barefoot exodus. It’s weird to have David, the warrior-poet-king, flee from his popular whelp when he has enough people to defend the city; but he leaves.
As David leaves he sets up an adhoc intelligence network, and endures the pelting of stones by some disgruntled Benjamite. His son enters the city, almost as he leaves, and David’s prospects do not improve.
Taking Over Business
Absalom sets up house on the house with his father’s concubines, and then, as if at a sign from God, opts to go with the plan of his father’s best friend. It’s the plan of God to bring down this vain, excuse for leader, and humble the people before the man that He chose. And in God’s plan, He is going to use this beautiful arrogant head suspended from a tree by 5 pounds of hair.
Death of a Human Pinata
Fast forward to chapter 18. The brilliant beautiful human being is unable to escape on his mule from the fray. He is caught by his head in a tree and hangs there as the mule rides off into the sunset. People see him, and talk about him, and finally, Joab avenges his burnt field by turning Absalom into a pin cushion. His men surround and kill him the rest of the way, and his body is tossed into a pit in the forest, and a huge heap of stones is heaped on top.
What do I learn from Absalom? I hate guys like that! No, wait, that’s not what I learn from him… It’s certainly true that Absalom was brilliant, a political genius, and was very wise in discerning how to sway and control public opinion. That coupled with his good looks and wealth made him a formidable person. In our day, he would be the handsome ‘geek’ who eventually starts his own company and retires on some island he bought.
Yet the truth of his life is the truth of our lives. What God plans trumps all the wisdom and intelligence of any person. David was brilliant as well. He was a ruthless and tireless warrior. He was also a poet, and a man of worship. He sought God himself, not through a priest. He was one who pursued God. And because of this, God pursued him. He was a man after God’s own heart, both in pattern, but also as a personal goal.
What I learn is that no wisdom on my part, no idea, no insight, no ability, nor any sort of intelligence makes any difference with my Master. I am at His disposal, or I might as well be digging holes to build character. I am either aligned with His purpose for me, or I wander aimlessly. Either what I want is eternity with my Master, or empty, hollow, and without value. The truth is that my value is in the eyes of my Maker, my Master, and my Savior. And that is the only value I have. I am worth the brutal death of the Son of God, and worth His resurrection, and worth His Kingdom. No amount of effort on my part can compete with such an estimation of value.
What’s your view through the knothole known as Absalom? I mean, he was a total knothole. What do you think?