2 Samuel 15:1-12
And it came to pass after this, that Absalom prepared him chariots and horses, and fifty men to run before him.
About twelve years had elapsed since David's fall into sin. One of its effects was the rebellion of Absalom. The history of this event - most critical for the theocratic monarchy, and "revealing the thoughts of many hearts" - sheds a clear light upon the condition of Israel. "We seem to know all the people; the natural manners and vivid outbursts of feeling make the scene stand out with a kind of homely poetry." In it we discern the presence and influence of:
1. Divine chastisement, announced by the prophet (2 Samuel 12:10), "The sword shall never depart from thine house," etc. Forgiveness of sin does not annul its natural consequences. Such consequences are sure, however they may appear to be delayed; and, though inflicted by the hand of man, they do not less really proceed from the hand of God. Already David had experienced the effects of his transgression in his family; he must now experience them, on a larger scale, in his kingdom.
2. Defective administration of judgment by the king (ver. 3); due, not so much to advancing age (over sixty), as to timidity, irresolution, and want of energy, consequent on what had taken place; and "a tendency to shrink into private life, with a preference for such duties as preparing materials for the future temple rather than those of active government;" perhaps also to serious illness, brought on by trouble of heart, and partially incapacitating him from performing the increasing duties of his office (Psalm 38, 39, 41, 55).
3. Prevalent dissatisfaction among the people. His sin "broke the powerful spell which had hitherto bound the whole nation to the name of David" (Ewald). "The imperfections and defects of his internal administration of the kingdom, when the time of his brilliant victories was past, became more and more perceptible to the people, and furnished occasion for dissatisfaction with his government" (Keil). "His pious actions, his attention to the public ordinances of worship, perhaps even his psalms, had for the time lost their credit and their sacredness. Not every one was capable of estimating aright the repentance of the fallen man, and his humiliation before the Almighty. It was almost forgotten that he was king by the grace of God" (Krummacher). "The infirm condition of the king, his eminent godliness and opposition to popular feelings, and the distance of age that now separated him from the sympathies of the younger portion of the people" (Blaikie); some discontent in his own tribe of Judah (ver. 10); "the still lingering hopes of the house of Saul and of the tribe of Benjamin (2 Samuel 16:3, 8); and the deep-rooted feeling of Ephraim and the northern tribes (2 Samuel 19:41) against Judah" (Stanley); - all combined to make the people ripe for insurrection.
4. Private animosity on the part of its leaders: Absalom, on account of his long banishment in Geshur and exclusion from court; Ahithophel, the grandfather of Bathsheba (ver. 12; 2 Samuel:3), on account of the dishonour done to his house; Amasa, son of Abigal, David's half-sister (2 Samuel 17:25), possibly on account of some neglect or discourtesy shown toward him. "These four years (ver. 7) were for David a time of increasing care and anxiety, for that which was planned cannot have remained altogether concealed from him; but he had neither the courage nor the strength to smother the evil undertaking in the germ" (Delitzsch, in Psalm 41.). The course of Absalom (now twenty-seven years of age) was marked by -
I. AMBITION CRIMINALLY INDULGED. Sinful perversion of the natural desire of preeminence; unhallowed love of power and glory (as in the case of Adonijah, his brother, 1 Kings 1:5), the bait by which Satan seeks to allure men to a false worship (Matthew 4:9; 1 Samuel 15:1-9).
"He showed him in a jewell'd wreath
All crowns the earth bestows;
But not the rankling thorns beneath,
That pierce the wearer's brows." Absalom's ambition was peculiarly culpable; because of his:
1. Self-conceit; his selfish, proud, and false estimate of his own worth. He was "the representative of vain glory and self-conceit (Wordsworth). Those are commonly most ambitious of preferment that are least fit for it" (Matthew Henry).
2. Covetousness; the object of his desire belonging to another, and unattainable save by injustice. It is not likely that he wished simply to share the sovereignty of Israel.
3. Disaffection and unnatural envy toward his father.
4. Disloyalty toward the king.
5. Rebellion against God, the supreme King of Israel, by whose ordinance David had been appointed. He had, apparently, "no spark of religious principle in his breast."
6. Self-will; indisposition to submit to the will of Jehovah, to defer to the nomination of the king, or to wait for his decease. He resolved to anticipate all, and have his own way. "He that destroys self-will, destroys hell."
7. Suspicion and jealousy of his brother. "It is our impression that David already knew that Solomon was, by the Lord's appointment, to be his successor to the throne. In the promise made to David through Nathan, it was clearly indicated that a son not yet born was to sit upon his throne, and when Solomon was burn he could not but understand that this applied to him. If he had any doubt of this, it must have been removed by his knowledge that the 'Lord loved him,' and had, through Nathan, bestowed upon him the new name of Jedidiah (2 Samuel 12:24, 25). It is even probable that he had, tong before the present time, if not from the first, received those more distinct intimations of the Lord's will in this matter, which he mentions in 1 Chronicles 28:5-7 .... As the intimations we have traced were long before afforded, it is likely that the pledge (1 Kings 1:17) which was founded on them had not been so long delayed" (Kitto, 'Daily Bible Illust.'). "Absalom was a bold, valiant, revengeful, haughty, enterprising, magnificent, eloquent, and popular prince; he was also rich, ambitious, and vain of his personal accomplishments; and, after the death of Amnon and his reconciliation with his father, he saw no hindrance in his way to the throne. He despised Solomon because of the meanness of his birth and his tender years. He was himself of the blood royal, not only by his father, but also by his mother; and doubtless in his own apprehension of sufficient age, authority, and wisdom to sustain the weight of government. He seemed to stand nearest to the throne; but his sin was that he sought it during his father's lifetime, and endeavoured to dethrone him in order to sit in his stead" (Calmer).
"O sacred hunger of ambitious minds,
And impotent desire of men to reign!
Whom neither dread of God, that devils binds,
Nor laws of men, that common weals contain,
Nor bands of nature, that wild beasts restrain,
Can keep from outrage and from doing wrong,
Where they may hope a kingdom to obtain:
No faith so firm, no trust can be so strong,
No love so lasting then, that may endure long."
(The Faerie Queene,' canto 12.)
II. POPULARITY FRAUDULENTLY ACQUIRED. "Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel" (ver. 6); by methods which many a demagogue has since adopted. "David won their hearts by noble deeds of generosity, as well as by deeds of prowess;" but Absalom stole them by:
1. Subtlety and guile.
2. Ostentation; affecting royal state. "Absalom prepared him chariots," etc. (ver. 1; 2 Samuel 13:23, 27; 1 Samuel 8:4-22):
3. Assiduity, in attending to public affairs. "Absalom rose up early," etc. (ver. 2). "Those who least understand the duties and could least endure the burdens of authority are commonly most desirous of it; but when ambition prompts, the most self-indulgent assume the appearance of diligence, and the most haughty that of affability and condescension; and while men aspire to the pinnacle of earthly grandeur, they, for the time, pay the most abject court to the meanest of the mob!" (Scott).
4. Courtesy and pretended sympathy. "Absalom called unto him, and said, Of what city art thou?" etc.; "He put forth his hand, and took him, and kissed him" (ver. 6).
"And then I stole all courtesy from heaven,
And dressed myself in such humility,
That I did pluck allegiance from men's hearts,
Loud shouts and salutations from their mouths,
Even in. the presence of the crowned king."
(King Henry IV.,' Part 1. act 3. sc. 2.)
5. Flattery. "Absalom said unto him, See, thy matters are good and right" (ver. 3).
6. Disparagement of the existing, adminstration, and insinuation of the king's incapability and neglect. "But there is no man deputed of the king to hear thee."
7. Fair and lavish promises, and holding out the prospect of a golden age under his reign. "And Absalom said, Oh that I were made judge in the land!" etc. (ver. 4). It is not to be wondered at that, by such arts as these, aided by his ready speech and attractive person and manners, he turned the hearts of the people, already prepared for change, from their rightful monarch. "After thus flattering the people, and ingratiating himself into their favour during four years, he decides upon the execution of his cunningly devised project" (Ewald). "The success of this godless rebel shows a lack of true theocratic feeling in the mass of the people, who, in abandoning the king's government, were guilty of opposition to the government of God" (Erdmann).
III. CONSPIRACY CRAFTILY CARRIED OUT (vers. 7-12); apparent in:
1. The selection of the place, Hebron (his birthplace), notable on many accounts, especially as the chief city of Judah, where sympathy could be calculated upon. "There may have been many persons there who had been displeased by the removal of the court to Jerusalem" (Keil). "Accustomed from the earliest times to independence and pre-eminence, Judah stood proudly apart under David even after Saul's death, and now probably offered some opposition to the growing unity of the kingdom" (Ewald).
2. The profession of a religious purpose - the fulfilment of a vow (vers. 7, 8; 1 Samuel 1:11). "With a subtle refinement of hypocrisy, he pretended that his thank offering was for his return to Jerusalem" (Plumptre). "No villainy can be termed complete which is not disguised under the mask of religion, especially at those times when the profession of godliness is treated with general respect."
3. The obtaining of the king's sanction: "Go in peace" (ver. 9); thereby disarming suspicion and winning confidence.
4. The despatch of emissaries through all the tribes, to prepare for the simultaneous proclamation, "Absalom reigneth in Hebron!" (ver. 10).
5. The securing of the presence of numerous persons from Jerusalem; depriving the king of their aid, and making them unwittingly adherents of Absalom (ver. 11).
6. The gaining of the open support of Ahithophel, whose secret counsel had doubtless been long before afforded (vers. 12, 31). He was "the sinews of Absalom's cause" (Blunt). "While the sacrifices were proceeding, Absalom sent for him from Giloh, and the presence of this influential personage appears to have caused the final outbreak of a conspiracy which had been carefully prepared, and which immediately spread with amazing rapidity, and pouring like a wild mountain torrent from the ancient capital of Judah, soon threatened to flood the whole country" (Ewald).
IV. INSURRECTION SUCCESSFULLY INCITED, only to be disastrously defeated. "And the conspiracy was strong," etc. Its success was:
1. Great, swift, surprising. A few hours later, Jerusalem was in the hands of Absalom.
2. Temporary. The prosperity of the wicked is but for a moment.
3. Followed by signal retribution, whilst itself employed as an instrument thereof, by Divine providence, whose ways, though mysterious, are always just and right. The death of Absalom (2 Samuel 18:14) was "the end of a bitter family history, whose every sorrow was linked to the father's blame." The people who shared his crime shared his punishment. The fatal spark of tribal enmity kindled under his influence, though quenched for the moment, soon burst forth again, and ultimately destroyed the unity, independence, and strength of the nation. - D.
Parallel VersesKJV: And it came to pass after this, that Absalom prepared him chariots and horses, and fifty men to run before him.