Christian Churches of God
Trouble in David’s Family
(Edition 1.0 20061214-20061214)
Even though David had acknowledged his sin and repented and God forgave him, nevertheless he had yet to suffer the consequences of breaking God’s Law as foretold by Nathan the prophet. This paper has been adapted from chapters 102 and 103, Volume IV and chapter 104, Volume V of The Bible Story by Basil Wolverton, published by Ambassador College Press.
Trouble in David’s Family
We continue here from the paper David’s Conquests (No. CB93).
Matters went fairly well for David during the next several months. Then an unpleasant event developed. As usual, it was because of breaking some of God's Laws – and was part of the penalty Nathan had foretold. Amnon, one of David's sons, fell in love with Tamar, one of David's daughters, but by another mother. Tamar was therefore a half-sister to Amnon. It was a blood relationship that was so close that it was a sin for either one of them to consider marriage or any of its privileges. Nevertheless, Amnon had a great desire for his half-sister, and was so tormented that he became ill.
Amnon had a friend by the name of Jonadab, who was also his cousin. Jonadab was a very shrewd man and when he found out what was bothering Amnon, he suggested a scheme by which David's son could be alone with Tamar.
"Go to bed and pretend to be ill," Jonadab said. "When your father comes to visit you, he'll probably ask what he can do for you. Tell him that you would like your sister Tamar to come and prepare some food for you. He'll undoubtedly ask Tamar to carry out your wish" (2Sam. 13:1-5).
Amnon's desire to be with Tamar was so great that he eagerly put Jonadab's suggestion into action. When the king came to see his son Amnon said to him, “I would like my sister to come and make some special bread in my sight, so I may eat from her hand.”
David agreed and sent word to Tamar to go to Amnon’s quarters and prepare some food for him. So Tamar went to her brother’s house where she took some dough, kneaded it, made the bread in his sight and baked it.
When the food was done, she took it out of the baking pan and put it on a serving plate. But Amnon refused the food.
He grunted angrily, "I want Tamar to come in here and serve me! Everybody else get out of the house!" (vv. 6-9).
Tamar entered her half-brother's room with the food. As she placed the plate before him, Amnon grabbed her and said, “Come to bed with me, my sister.”
“Don’t force me my brother,” she said to him. “You know what a serious crime this is in Israel! Where could I get rid of my shame? And you would be called one the greatest fools in Israel. If you want me for your wife, speak to the king, and he'll arrange our marriage!" (vv. 10-13).
Tamar knew that David wouldn't do that. But it was the only thing she could think to say in those frenzied moments to try to persuade Amnon to release her.
But he wouldn’t listen to her; and since he was stronger than she was he raped her. Then suddenly his love turned to hate, and now he hated her more than he had loved her.
To add insult to injury, he demanded that she leave immediately.
“No!” she said. “Sending me away is a greater crime that what you have already done to me.”
But Amnon would not listen to her, and he shouted to his servant to throw Tamar out and lock the door behind her.
God put this experience in the Bible as a lesson for every young person never to get involved in fornication.
Tamar was wearing a richly ornamented robe, as was the custom in those days for virgin daughters of the king. Now she tore the robe and put ashes on her head and went away crying loudly with her hand on her head.
Tamar's brother, Absalom, asked her, “Has Amnon your brother raped you? "Don't worry about this," Absalom said. "And don't tell anyone about it. If you do, the scandal would harm you as well as our family.” So Tamar lived as a desolate woman in Absalom’s house (vv. 14-20).
His father, David, was the last person Absalom would have wanted to learn about this matter. But the most secret things have a way of coming into the open. It wasn't long before the king found out what Amnon had done. He was grieved and angry, but he unwisely didn't apply any punishment to Amnon because Amnon was his first son, and he had a special liking for him. One of David's weaknesses was his failure to properly discipline his children (1Kgs. 1:6).
As for Absalom, he also said nothing to Amnon, although he hated him for what he had done. He felt that an opportunity would come when he could cause Amnon to pay for the crime against his sister (vv. 21-22).
He waited two years for that opportunity. It was sheep-shearing season, a time when there were special gatherings of friends and relatives to celebrate the wool harvest. Absalom wanted to make this a very special occasion, so he invited his father and all his brothers to come to a feast to celebrate the occasion. David declined with the explanation that it would too much of a burden on Absalom if they all went.
Absalom persisted but his father wouldn’t come, though he sent his thanks.
"If you can't be there, then I would like Amnon to be my special guest," Absalom stated.
"Why Amnon?" David asked suspiciously, remembering what had happened to Tamar.
Absalom kept urging the king and finally he agreed to let all his sons attend, including Amnon (vv. 23-27).
Later, when all the guests were assembled at his home, Absalom issued a ghastly order to his servants.
Absalom said to his men, “Wait until Amnon gets drunk, then when I signal, kill him! Don't be afraid. I'll bear the responsibility. I give the orders around here, and this is my command. Take courage and do it."
So they murdered Amnon. The other sons were so shocked and frightened by his murder that they fled from Absalom's house (vv. 28-29).
The Bible doesn't reveal whether Amnon was killed by a spear, a dagger or a sword, but he died suddenly at the table while he was too befuddled to be aware of his assailants.
While David’s sons were on their way, a wild rumour somehow reached David that Absalom had massacred all his sons. There was no way to prove or disprove this report. David was inclined to fear the worst. He went into a state of mourning, which included tearing his clothes and lying on the floor and all his servants stood by with their clothes torn.
Just then Jonadab (the son of David’s brother Shimeah) arrived and said, “No, not all your sons are dead. It was only Amnon! Absalom has been planning this since Amnon raped Tamar (vv. 30-33).
Meanwhile, Absalom fled (v. 34). He knew that it wouldn't be safe for him to remain at home, nor would he be welcome for very long in any of the cities of refuge in Israel. The only possible safety was in the land of Geshur, an area to the northeast in Syria. (2Sam. 15:8.) Talmai, king of Geshur, was Absalom's grandfather on his mother's side. Being not too friendly toward Israel, he nevertheless welcomed Absalom because they were related. For the next three years he was pleased to harbour his grandson from those who would try to avenge Amnon's death.
Now the watchmen on the Jerusalem wall saw a great crowd coming towards the city along the road at the side of the hill.
“See!” Jonadab said to the king. “Your sons are coming just as I said.”
The king’s sons soon arrived wailing loudly and the king and his officials wept with them (vv. 35-36).
During that time David never quite recovered from the loss of his firstborn son. But as his sorrow decreased, he thought more and more about Absalom, finally forgiving him for what he had done to Amnon, and even desperately hoping that Absalom would return to Jerusalem (vv. 37-39).
Joab, David's loyal general, became aware that the king longed to see Absalom. He sensed that David wanted to send to Geshur for his son, but that he feared what the public reaction would be to his pardoning a murderer in the royal family. Joab had a plan by which he hoped to cause David to decide to have Absalom returned to Jerusalem. He arranged for a wise elderly widow, a stranger in Jerusalem, to obtain an audience with the king, and instructed her what to say. When she came before David she told him that she was a widow, a mother of two men who had fallen into a fight in which one was killed. She said that angry relatives were demanding that she turn her only son over to them so that they could take his life for what he had done to his brother.
"If they kill my only remaining son, then my dead husband's name and family will come to an end," the woman murmured sadly.
"Don't worry about this matter," David told her. "I'll see that your son is pardoned and that no one will harm him" (2Sam. 14:1-10).
The woman pretended that she was very relieved and thankful. Then she said that she would like David to explain something to her.
"If you so readily can pardon my son, why haven't you done the same thing for your son, who has been banished for so long? Saving my son is a vital thing only to me and my husband's family, but saving your son is important to the welfare of all Israel."
David finally said, "Did Joab have anything to do with your being here?"
"He did," the woman said. "It was he who told me what to say so that you might decide to take steps to bring your son back home. But you are as wise as an angel of God, and you know everything that happens" (vv. 11-20).
So the king sent for Joab and told him to go and bring Absalom back.
A few days later Absalom was back in his home in Jerusalem, but he wasn't taken to see his father. David felt that it was enough, for the time being, that he should be pardoned. Although he wanted to see his son, he didn't choose to allow a big happy reunion that might seem to indicate to the people that Absalom was being regarded as blameless because he was the king's son (vv. 21-24).
Absalom was a very good-looking man whose unusual appearance gained him the reputation of being the most handsome man in Israel. There were no blemishes on his skin. His hair was so exceptionally thick and heavy and so admired that he became very vain about it. He let it grow very long and then every year he would have it trimmed because it was too much of a load to carry around. He had three sons and a daughter. He named his daughter Tamar, after the sister who had been involved in the reason for his plotting Amnon's death (vv. 25-27).
Two years passed without Absalom seeing his father. He considered Joab a friend who could help build relations between himself and his father. So he sent a message asking him to try to get him in touch with the king. Joab didn't reply. After sending a second message and again receiving no reply, Absalom decided to resort to a more effective method of gaining Joab's attention.
Absalom said to his servants, “Go and set fire to that barley field of Joab’s next to mine," and they did.
Then Joab said to Absalom, "Why did your servants set fire to my field?" (vv. 28-31).
Absalom replied. "I had to do this thing to get you here. Please go to my father and ask him why I was brought back from Geshur. Tell him that I would prefer to still be there if I can't be allowed to see him. If he still regards me as a criminal, he should have me killed. It might be better than living here as an outcast from my own family."
So Joab told the king what Absalom had said. Then David was moved to send for his son immediately. Absalom happily came to the palace. When he saw his father, he sank to his knees and bowed low before the king, and David kissed him (vv. 32-33).
It wasn't long after Absalom was welcomed at the palace that he began to change. Because Absalom had not been properly disciplined, he was self-willed and self-centred. He began to lust after his father's throne. Amnon's death led Absalom to believe he would be the one to succeed his father on the throne of Israel. The very thought of coming into that rank and power spurred him with ambition to try to hasten the time when it would happen.
Absalom's vanity increased with his ambition. He equipped himself with a chariot and horses and with fifty men to run ahead of him. He would get up early and stand by the side of the road leading to the city gate, and when people came with a complaint to place before the king for a decision, Absalom would call out to them. When they replied he would call them over and express interest in their problem.
He tried to make the decisions in favour of parties to whom he could look for support in the day when he might need support from as many people as possible. He was building up a following that would be necessary in the near future.
Soon David's son became very popular in Israel. At the same time, he became so impressed with that popularity and the way in which he was able to influence people, that he soon decided that it was the time for him to try to wrest the rulership of Israel from his father David! (2Sam. 15:1-6).
To do this, he had to go away to organise his political and military forces. As an excuse to leave Jerusalem, he told his father that he had made a vow, when he was in Geshur, that if ever he could return to Jerusalem he would make a special thank offering and would thereafter serve God.
"I want to go to Hebron, the ancient sacred city of the priests, to offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving," Absalom told David.
David agreed, pleased that his son had such inclinations. "Go in peace," the king said to him. Two hundred men from Jerusalem accompanied Absalom to Hebron.
Unknown to the king, Absalom took many conspirators with him, besides the two hundred, who weren't aware that they would turn out to be something more than just impressive guards for the king's son. Absalom had already secretly arranged to send men out to all parts of the nation to help swing the people over to support him as king. Because David was getting old and because he had made what people thought were unwise and unpopular moves, Absalom's campaigning helpers had some effective tools to use in promoting David's son for king. The people were becoming more agitated by the day, and far more than David was told or suspected (vv. 7-11).
Even Ahithophel, David's chief advisor, went over to Absalom's side (v. 12). Perhaps his reason for deserting the king was that he was Bathsheba's grandfather (2Sam. 11:3; 23:34). Both Bathsheba’s father Eliam, son Ahithophel the Gilonite, and her husband Uriah the Hittite were of the Thirty, the Mighty Men who were war leaders of Israel.
He could have harboured some secret ill will against David because of the way he had treated Bathsheba and her husband.
It was a grave shock to David when he was informed by a loyal subject that the state of affairs in Israel had changed almost overnight. Not until then did he learn that Absalom was seeking the throne and that he was planning to make a surprise attack on Jerusalem in a sudden effort to gain control of the nation by taking over the seat of government (2Sam. 15:13).
David could have ordered soldiers to occupy every foot of the wall around Jerusalem, but he didn't want to make the city the site of a possible battle that would mar the capital. Instead of taking defensive measures, he called together only his family, servants and palace guards.
"Prepare to leave Jerusalem at once!" he warned. "Absalom has turned against me, and might attack us here with an army he has raised!"
The servants declared their loyalty to David, and assured him that they were eager to go with him anywhere.
Leaving ten women to take care of the palace, David and his family, servants and guards set out. The party included the six hundred men David had brought from the Philistine city of Gath years before, and who were still loyally attached to him.
David was very moved that these people were intent on staying by him at a time when so many in Israel were switching their devotion and allegiance from the king to Absalom. David suggested to Ittai, who commanded the palace guards and others from Gath, that he and his men and their families remain in Jerusalem, but Ittai made it evident that he wanted to stay with the king no matter what happened. So David consented to Ittai's going with him.
The whole countryside wept aloud as all the people passed by. They crossed the Kidron Valley, and all the people moved on towards the desert (vv. 14-24).
Abiathar and Zadok and the Levites took the Ark of the Covenant and set it down beside the road until everyone had passed.
David was upset when he saw the Ark and he said, "Return the Ark to where it was. We should rely on God, not the Ark. If the Lord sees fit he will bring me back to see the Ark and the Tabernacle again. But if he is through with me then let him do what seems best to him.”
Zadok and Abiathar obeyed with the understanding that by staying in Jerusalem they could also observe what would take place there and inform David of the circumstances. David hardly knew whom else he could trust in this time when so many of his subjects were deserting him (vv. 24-29).
David walked up the road that led to the Mount of Olives to pray to God. This he did in a repentant manner, covering his head and wearing nothing on his feet. Many others accompanied him, weeping as they went. David was told that Ahithophel, his advisor, was with Absalom. David prayed that God would turn Ahithophel’s counsel into foolishness.
When David reached the top of the Mount of Olives, where people worshipped God, David found Hushai waiting for him with his robes torn and dust on his head (vv. 30-32).
"Instead of going with me," David told him, "you could help me more if you would return to Jerusalem and join Zadok and Abiathar to keep me posted, through their sons, of how matters take place in Jerusalem when Absalom arrives there. Perhaps you can even come into Absalom's confidence and wisely offset any advice that might be given to him by Ahithophel, who forsook me for my son." Hushai obediently returned to the city, getting there just as Absalom arrived (vv. 33-37).
On the way down from the Mount of Olives David was hailed by Ziba, the manager of Mephibosheth’s household. Ziba was leading two donkeys heavily laden with food. When David asked him where he was taking it. Ziba told him that the donkeys were for carrying David and the members of his family, by turns, so that they wouldn't become so weary by walking.
"The bread and the fruit are for keeping up the strength of the young men, and the goatskin of wine is to refresh any who become faint if you have to go into the desert," Ziba explained.
"Where is Mephibosheth?" David asked. "I'd like to thank him."
"He stayed in Jerusalem,” Ziba replied. “He feels that he should be the new king because he is of the royal family of Saul."
David was surprised and disappointed to hear that one he had thought of as being so loyal should suddenly become almost as ambitious as Absalom. Under the strain of his distress, David made an error in perception. He was deceived.
"In that case," the king told Ziba, "I’ll give you everything that belongs to him."
Thank you,” Ziba replied.
Ziba had just lied about Mephibosheth, who was still loyal to David. He was making every effort to obtain David's goodwill and gratitude. He was certain that it would be well worthwhile, because he was convinced that David would return to the leadership of Israel (2Sam. 16:1-4).
Later, as David and his followers passed Bahurim, a man of Saul's tribe came running out of the village throwing stones at David and those with the king. It was Shimei, son of Gera. He angrily shouted insults and curses, and accused David of having murdered Saul and his family and taking the throne of Israel from Saul.
"Now at last you're paying for all the bloody crimes you've committed!" the Benjaminite yelled. "Your own son is taking from you what you took from Saul! Get out of here!"
Abishai, second in command of Israel's military forces, was among those accompanying David. When he noticed what the angry man was doing, he became angry too.
"Why should this miserable dog be allowed to treat you like this?" he asked David. "Let me send men up the bank to catch him and cut off his head!"
"No!" David quickly replied, holding out a restraining hand. "Your way isn't the way I wish to take in this matter. Let him curse me. God allows him to curse me. God hasn't prevented my son from seeking my life, so why should He prevent this man from showing his hatred for me? It could be that if I patiently endure abuse, God will have mercy on me, and will perhaps rescue me from this time of trouble.”
So the king and his men continued on and Shimei kept pace with them on a nearby hill, cursing and throwing stones at David and tossing dust into the air as he went. Eventually the king and all his followers arrived at their destination exhausted (vv. 5-14).
Meanwhile, Absalom and his soldiers and supporters moved into Jerusalem taking over the undefended city. Among those who welcomed the king's son was Hushai, David's friend who had agreed to return to Jerusalem to try to help David in any way he could.
"Long live the king!" Hushai kept on shouting as Absalom passed up a street with his guards.
When Absalom recognised Hushai, whom he knew was a close friend of his father, he called out, "What are you doing here? What has become of your loyalty to my father? I'm surprised that you haven't fled with him and his few remaining subjects!"
"Whoever is chosen by God to be king, and whoever is preferred by the people, that is the man I choose to be with," Hushai declared. "I served your father well, and now I am ready to serve in your presence too" (vv. 15-19). Hushai really meant he would serve David in Absalom's presence.
Absalom then said to Ahithophel, “Give us your advice. What should we do?”
"The ten women who were left in your father's palace were his concubines," Ahithophel whispered to Absalom. "As victor, you should openly take them as your wives. I shall see that the public soon hears your father hates you. When it is common knowledge, people will take a more definite stand on one side or the other. The result will undoubtedly be in your favour."
Absalom went by Ahithophel's advice, and took his father's ten concubines (vv. 20-23). God allowed this crime as the fulfilment of a prophecy made to David through Nathan. The old prophet had told the king that someone else would openly take his wives because he had taken Bathsheba, Uriah's wife (2Sam. 12:9-12).
Ahithophel thus avenged himself on David because David had taken Bathsheba, his granddaughter, from Uriah and he used Nathan’s prophecy to do that.
Later, Ahithophel gave Absalom more counsel. It was a simple plan by which David's son could quickly and surely become the undisputed king of Israel.
"I would choose twelve thousand of the best Israelite soldiers available to us," Ahithophel told Absalom. "I would take them tonight in pursuit of David and the people with him. I would make sure that David dies, but that no one else is harmed. It would bring all the people back to you."
The idea was to Absalom's liking, as well as that of his leaders (2Sam. 17:1-4). However, Absalom called for Hushai, explained Ahithophel's proposal, and asked what Hushai thought about it.
"Ahithophel is a wise counsellor," observed Hushai, "but I don't believe his plan for this situation is good." Hushai knew the plan would work. So he just said it wasn't good.
"You know your father and his men are fighters. Even twelve thousand men probably couldn't as much as find David, and he'd have to be found to be killed," Hushai said, making the most of this opportunity to belittle Ahithophel's idea. "David is an old hand at war strategy. In his state of mind now, he's probably being especially wary not to be overtaken. He's like a mother bear that has had her cubs taken away from her. He can be both furious and clever. Undoubtedly he's hiding in some cave or pit right now, separate from his people, with his soldiers concealed to trap any who come looking for him, even in greater numbers than theirs. If his men were to kill just some of the twelve thousand of yours, Israel would rally at once to your father's side, and you would lose your chance at the throne. You would be most unwise to follow Ahithophel's advice on this matter" (vv. 5-10).
Hushai went on, "I suggest that you gather troops from all parts of Israel to build you a mighty army that you can personally lead into battle anywhere without fearing defeat. Then you can be certain of taking David and destroying all who would defend him. If he is hiding out in the open, he will surely be found. If he is concealed in some city, there'll be enough men available to tear that city down. Besides, you'll need a large fighting force to repel any surprise attack from outside the nation."
When Absalom made it known that he was greatly in favour of this plan, his supporters enthusiastically agreed with him, and that was just as God knew it would be because He had decided it that way (vv. 11-14).
While plans were being made for drafting a large army, Hushai went to Zadok and Abiathar, the priests, to tell them what had taken place.
Hushai said, "Send a message immediately to David to tell him not to spend the night at the fords in the desert. Tell the king to cross over without fail or he and his followers will be killed."
A servant girl was sent with a message to tell Jonathan and Ahimaaz what they were to convey to David.
Contacting David wasn't without its perils. Just as the priest's sons started on their mission, they passed a young man who recognised them. It wasn't long before Absalom heard that Jonathan and Ahimaaz were seen hurrying northward. Absalom guessed that something contrary to his welfare could be taking place. He sent soldiers to find the priests' sons and bring them back for questioning.
Jonathan and Ahimaaz decided to delay their trip for a little while, lest they be overtaken in open country. They sought refuge at the home of a friend who was loyal to David. Absalom's men were soon scouring the neighbourhood, and even entering and searching homes. When they came to the home where the priests' sons were hiding, their search was in vain. After the soldiers had gone, the woman of the house went outdoors to where some grain was spread on a cloth. She took up the cloth, thereby uncovering the mouth of a well from which Jonathan and Ahimaaz climbed out and went safely and thankfully on their way.
After David had been told what had been taking place, he and those with him set off at a brisk pace and crossed the Jordan River. By daybreak they had all crossed over (vv. 15-22).
When Ahithopel saw that his advice was ignored, he saddled his donkey and set out for his house in his hometown. He knew then that he had been very foolish for deserting David, that there was no more political future for him, and that he would soon be regarded as a traitor to his nation and probably be put to death as one.
Later, somebody found him hanging lifeless from a rafter in his home. He knew that it would eventually happen to him, and he preferred that it would come about by his own hand (v. 23).
David's group soon reached the city of Mahanaim and there they were welcomed to stay by loyal Manassites and Gadites. Loyal clan chiefs quickly began to rally support around King David. Every day more and more followers joined David from all parts of Israel, most of them having come to volunteer for a growing army.
While King David was at Mahanaim, even Shobi, son of the former king of Ammon, brought gifts and help to David and the people with him. So did two chief Israelites, Barzillai and Machir of the tribe of Manasseh. Having heard that the Manassite city was overcrowded and short on food because of the many guests, they sent beds, metal basins, earthen vessels, grains, beans, lentils, flour, honey, butter, cheese and even sheep. The people had become hungry and tired and thirsty in the desert and David was very thankful for these much needed things (vv. 27-29).
So many people came to join David that it was necessary for him to count them and put leaders in command of an organised army divided into three parts. He appointed over them commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds and sent the troops out – a third under Joab, a third under Joab’s brother, Abishai, and a third under Ittai.
David intended to go along with the troops, but the chief men under him pointed out that it was going to be a battle for the safety of the king, and that he should remain and give them support from the city (2Sam. 18:1-3).
"I’ll do whatever seems best to you," David finally agreed. Then addressing Joab, Abishai and Ittai, he said, "Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake." And all the troops heard these orders the king gave to the commanders concerning Absalom (vv. 4-5).