David’s men defeat and kill Absalom
v1 David counted the soldiers who were with him. He appointed men to command groups of 1000 soldiers. He also appointed other men to command groups of 100 soldiers. v2 David sent his soldiers out in three groups. Joab commanded a third of them. Joab’s brother Abishai, the son of Zeruiah, commanded a third of them. And Ittai from Gath commanded a third of them. The king said to the soldiers, ‘I will go with you myself.’
v3 But they said to David, ‘You must not come with us. If we have to run away in the battle, Absalom’s men will not care. They will not care even if half of us die. But you are worth 10 000 of us. It will be better for you to stay in the city. You can help us from the city.’
v4 The king answered, ‘I will do whatever seems best to you.’
So, the king stood next to the gate of the city. The soldiers marched out in groups of 100 men and groups of 1000 men. v5 The king ordered Joab, Abishai and Ittai, ‘Be gentle with the young man Absalom. I care about him.’ All the soldiers heard David’s orders about Absalom, which David gave to each leader.
v6 David’s army went out into the open country to fight the army of *Israel. They fought in the forest of Ephraim. v7 And David’s army defeated the army of *Israel. 20 000 men died that day. v8 The battle spread over a large area. More people died in the forest than in the battle.
More men had probably joined David’s army. He organised them so that they were ready for the battle with Absalom. David’s army was much smaller than Absalom’s army. But David’s men were good soldiers. And they had three strong leaders. David wanted to lead his army himself. But his men did not want to risk David’s life. Two men, David and Absalom, were claiming to be king of *Israel. But only one man could be king. David’s army could defeat Absalom’s army in this battle. But, if David died, then Absalom would be the king. So, David had to stay in the city, where he was safe.
The gate of the city was an important place. David watched his army go to the battle. And he waited there until he heard news from the battle. Absalom had taken the *kingdom of *Israel from David. So, Absalom was David’s enemy. But Absalom was also David’s son. David wanted his army to win the battle. But he did not want them to hurt his son. Everyone heard what David said about this.
David’s small army defeated Absalom’s huge army. But many men died. In those days, there was a forest on the east side of the River Jordan. It was easy to fight in a clear area. But it was difficult to fight in a forest. Trees grow close together in a forest. So, it is usually quite dark. Also, there are very few clear paths. Nobody could take food or drink to the soldiers in the forest. They would have lost their way. Some men may have fallen down holes in the ground. And wild animals may have attacked other men. Each soldier had to fight on his own or in a small group. They could not protect each other. Absalom had more men, but David’s men were more skilled in those surroundings.
v9 Then Absalom suddenly met some of David’s soldiers. Absalom was riding his royal *mule. The *mule went under the thick branches of a large oak (a type of tree). The branches went into Absalom’s hair and they stayed there. His *mule ran away. So Absalom was hanging in the air.
v10 One of the men saw this. So he said to Joab, ‘I have just seen Absalom. He was hanging in an oak tree.’
v11 Joab said to the man, ‘If you saw him, you should have killed him. I would then have given you 10 pieces of silver and a special belt.’
v12 But the man replied, ‘I would not hurt the king’s son even if you gave me 1000 pieces of silver. I heard the king give this command to you, Abishai and Ittai, “Protect the young man Absalom. I care about him.” v13 If I had killed Absalom, I would not have obeyed the king. The king would have discovered who did it. And you would not have protected me.’
v14 Joab said, ‘I will not waste any more time with you.’ Absalom was still alive in the oak tree. So Joab took three *spears and pushed them into Absalom’s heart. v15 The 10 young men who helped Joab stood round Absalom. And they killed him.
v16 Then Joab blew a *trumpet. David’s soldiers stopped chasing the *Israelites because Joab had stopped them. v17 Then Joab’s men took Absalom’s body. They threw him into a large hole in the ground. So, they buried him in the forest. Then they put a large pile of rocks over him. Meanwhile the *Israelites ran away to their homes.
v18 While Absalom was alive, he had put up a large column in the King’s valley. He had no sons. So, he thought that nobody would remember his name. Instead, he put his own name on the column. People still call it ‘Absalom’s column’ today.
Absalom should have walked in the forest. It was too difficult to ride a *mule among the trees. But he was proud that he was the king. So he rode on his royal *mule (see 13:29). Then he saw David’s men. Absalom probably tried to escape from them. He did not notice the thick branches near to him. Suddenly he crashed into them. The branches went into his long hair (see 14:26). Absalom could not free himself from the tree. The man who saw Absalom would not kill him. This man obeyed King David. He thought that this was more important than a reward. Ten pieces of silver was about one year’s wages. And the special belt meant that he would be a more important soldier. But the man also knew that he could not trust Joab.
Joab was angry and not patient. He had brought Absalom back to David (chapter 14). David did not punish Absalom for his wrong behaviour. But David did not let Absalom live like the most important prince. Joab guessed that David would not be happy with Absalom after this battle. This could have caused more trouble in *Israel in the future. Many people would still be loyal to Absalom. *Israel could have only one king. So, Joab decided to kill Absalom because he was not the real king. Joab had 10 young men with him. They carried his *weapons and armour (special clothes that protected him). They helped Joab to kill Absalom. Then they buried his body. *Israel is a hot country, so people there bury dead bodies quickly. Absalom did not have a special grave. And they could not bury him in the graves that belonged to his family.
A male sheep grows horns (hard things with a point) on its head. People made *trumpets from these. They blew into the *trumpet and it made a loud noise. In a battle, this meant that the battle had finished. Joab commanded the whole army. The other *Israelites knew that David’s men had defeated them. Absalom was dead. Nobody else needed to die.
*Israelite men wanted sons because their sons kept the family name. Absalom had three sons (14:27). But we suppose that they died earlier. Absalom was proud and he wanted people to remember him. He was not a king. But he put his name in the King’s valley. In verse 18, ‘today’ means while the writer of the book was alive. That was at least 50 years after Absalom’s death. (In fact, there is still such a column near Jerusalem. But its design does not seem ancient enough to be Absalom’s column. So perhaps someone rebuilt it later.)
v19 Ahimaaz, the son of Zadok, said, ‘Let me run to King David with the good news. I will tell him that the *Lord has saved him from his enemies.’
v20 But Joab said to Ahimaaz, ‘No. You cannot take that news to David today. You may take that news to David another day. You cannot do that today because the king’s son is dead.’
v21 Then Joab spoke to a foreign man from Cush. Joab said, ‘Go! Tell the king what you have seen.’ The man from Cush bent down to show honour to Joab. Then the man ran off.
v22 Ahimaaz, the son of Zadok, said to Joab again, ‘Whatever happens, let me run behind the man from Cush.’
But Joab replied, ‘Young man, you should not want to run. You have no news. You will not get any reward.’
v23 Ahimaaz said, ‘Whatever happens, I want to go.’
So Joab said to Ahimaaz, ‘Run!’ And Ahimaaz ran along the Jordan valley. He passed the man from Cush.
Ahimaaz knew that the *Lord had saved David. Ahimaaz thought that David would be happy about this. But Joab knew David very well. He knew that David cared more about his son than about the battle. Joab also knew that David might become angry. (Compare this with the news about Saul’s death in 1:1-16.) So, Joab sent a foreign man. Joab did not want anyone from *Israel to die if the king was angry. But perhaps Joab cared less about foreigners. Cush is in the south of the country of Egypt. However, in 15:27-28 and 15:35-36, David had asked Ahimaaz (and Jonathan) to take news to him. Ahimaaz thought that this was still his duty. Ahimaaz was probably an important man in the army. He was also the son of the Zadok the priest. Joab did not want David to kill Ahimaaz. But Ahimaaz insisted that he wanted to go to David too. He may have taken a different route from the man from Cush. Or he may have just run faster.
David hears that Absalom is dead
v24 David was waiting in Mahanaim. He was sitting between the inner and outer gates of the city. The guard went up to the top of the city wall. He stood on the roof that was over the gates. The guard looked out. He saw a man who was running alone. v25 The guard called out. He told the king what he had seen.
The king said, ‘If the man is alone he must have good news.’ The man came nearer and nearer to the city. v26 Then the guard saw another man who was running. The guard called to the man who guarded the gate. The guard said, ‘I can see another man who is running alone.’
The king said, ‘He must be bringing good news too.’
v27 The guard said, ‘The first man runs like Ahimaaz, the son of Zadok.’
The king said, ‘He is a good man. He is bringing good news.’
v28 Ahimaaz called out to the king, ‘I have good news.’ He bent down in front of the king so that his face touched the ground.
He said to the king, ‘Praise the *Lord your God. He defeated those men who opposed my master the king.’
v29 The king said, ‘Is the young man Absalom safe?’
Ahimaaz answered, ‘Everything was confused when Joab sent me, your servant. I did not know what was happening.’
v30 The king said, ‘Stand over there and wait.’ So, Ahimaaz stood aside and waited.
v31 Then the man from Cush arrived. He said, ‘My master and king, hear the good news. Today the *Lord has defeated the men who opposed you.’
v32 The king said, ‘Is the young man Absalom safe?’
The man from Cush replied, ‘I want your enemies, and everyone who comes to hurt you, to be like that young man.’
v33 The king shook. He went to the room that was over the gate. He cried. As he went there, he said, ‘My son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! I wish that I had died instead of you. Absalom, my son, my son!’
David was worried about his son Absalom. David could not rest in the city. Instead, he waited and watched by the gates. The guard could see further because he was high up. He saw one runner, and then he saw the second runner. David really wanted good news. Ahimaaz was a good man. David thought that he would bring good news. Ahimaaz was wise. First, he praised the *Lord. Then he said that the *Lord defeated David’s enemies. But David’s first question was about Absalom. Ahimaaz knew that answer but he would not tell David. Ahimaaz let the man from Cush give David that sad news. Again, David’s first question was about Absalom. The man from Cush did not actually say that Absalom was dead. But David knew what he meant.
Verse 33 is one of the saddest verses in the Bible. David loved his son. David was very sad. His deep emotions even made him shake. But David also felt guilty. He had *sinned. Absalom’s death was part of the *Lord’s punishment (12:10). So, David believed that he deserved to die instead of Absalom. Three of David’s sons were now dead because of his *sin (Bathsheba’s son in 12:14-20, Amnon in 13:28-29 and Absalom in 18:15).