(Abʹsa·lom) [Father [that is, God] Is Peace].
The third of six sons born to David at Hebron. His mother was Maacah the daughter of Talmai the king of Geshur. (2Sa 3:3-5) Absalom fathered three sons and one daughter. (2Sa 14:27) He is evidently called Abishalom at 1 Kings 15:2, 10.
Physical beauty ran strong in Absalom’s family. He was nationally praised for his outstanding beauty; his luxuriant growth of hair, doubtless made heavier by the use of oil or ointments, weighed some 200 shekels (2.3 kg; 5 lb) when annually cut. His sister Tamar was also beautiful, and his daughter, named for her aunt, was “most beautiful in appearance.” (2Sa 14:25-27; 13:1) Rather than being of benefit, however, this beauty contributed to some ugly events that caused immense grief to Absalom’s father, David, as well as to others, and produced great turmoil for the nation.
Murder of Amnon. The beauty of Absalom’s sister Tamar caused his older half brother Amnon to become infatuated with her. Feigning illness, Amnon contrived to have Tamar sent to his quarters to cook for him, and then he forcibly violated her. Amnon’s erotic love turned to contemptuous hate and he had Tamar put out into the street. Ripping apart her striped gown that had distinguished her as a virgin daughter of the king, and with ashes on her head, Tamar was met by Absalom. He quickly sized up the situation and voiced immediate suspicion of Amnon, indicating a prior alertness to his half brother’s passionate desire. Absalom instructed his sister to raise no accusation, however, and took her into his home to reside.
According to John Kitto, Absalom’s taking charge of Tamar, rather than her father’s doing so, was in harmony with the Eastern custom, whereby, in a polygamous family, children of the same mother are the more closely knit together and the daughters “come under the special care and protection of their brother, who, . . . in all that affects their safety and honor, is more looked to than the father himself.” (Daily Bible Illustrations, Samuel, Saul, and David, 1857, p. 384) Much earlier, it was Levi and Simeon, two of Dinah’s full brothers, who took it upon themselves to avenge their sister’s dishonor.
Hearing of his daughter’s humiliation, David reacted with great anger but, perhaps due to the fact that no direct or formal accusation was made with the support of evidence or witnesses, took no judicial action against the offender. (De 19:15) Absalom may have preferred not to have an issue made of Amnon’s violation of the Levitical law (Le 18:9; 20:17), to avoid unsavory publicity for his family and name, but he, nevertheless, nursed a murderous hatred for Amnon while outwardly controlling himself until the propitious moment for exacting vengeance in his own way. (Compare Pr 26:24-26; Le 19:17.) From this point forward his life is a study in perfidy, occupying the major part of six chapters of Second Samuel.
Two years passed. Sheepshearing time came, a festive occasion, and Absalom arranged a feast at Baal-hazor about 22 km (14 mi) NNE of Jerusalem, inviting the king’s sons and David himself. When his father begged off from attending, Absalom pressed him to agree to send Amnon, his firstborn, in his stead. (Pr 10:18) At the feast, when Amnon was in “a merry mood with wine,” Absalom ordered his servants to slay him. The other sons headed back to Jerusalem, and Absalom went into exile with his Syrian grandfather in the kingdom of Geshur to the E of the Sea of Galilee. (2Sa 13:23-38) The “sword” foretold by the prophet Nathan had now entered David’s “house” and would continue there for the rest of his life.
Restoration to Favor. When three years’ time had eased the pain of the loss of his firstborn, David felt paternal longing for Absalom. Joab, reading his royal uncle’s thoughts, by means of stratagem opened the way for David to extend a probationary pardon allowing Absalom to be repatriated but without the right to appear in his father’s court. (2Sa 13:39; 14:1-24) Absalom endured this ostracized status for two years and then began maneuvering for full pardon. When Joab, as an official of the king’s court, refused to visit him, Absalom peremptorily had Joab’s barley field burned and, when the indignant Joab came, told him he wanted a final decision by the king and said, “If there is any error in me, he must then put me to death.” When Joab relayed the message, David received his son, who thereupon fell on the ground in symbol of complete submission, and the king gave him the kiss of full pardon.
Treasonous Activity. Any natural or filial affection that Absalom had for David, however, had apparently vanished during the five years of separation from his father. Three years of association with pagan royalty may have cultivated the corroding influence of ambition. Absalom might have viewed himself as destined for the throne because of being descended from royalty on both sides of the family. Since Chileab (Daniel), who was second in line of David’s sons, is not mentioned after the account of his birth, it is also possible that he had died, thereby leaving Absalom as David’s oldest surviving son. (2Sa 3:3; 1Ch 3:1) Nevertheless, God’s promise to David of a future “seed” to inherit the throne was given after Absalom’s birth, and hence he should have known that he was not Jehovah’s choice for the kingship. (2Sa 7:12) At any rate, once restored to royal rank, Absalom began an underhanded political campaign. With consummate skill he feigned great concern for the public welfare and presented himself as a man of the people. He carefully insinuated to the people, particularly those of the tribes outside Judah, that the king’s court was lacking in interest in their problems and was greatly in need of a warmhearted man like Absalom.
The phrase “at the end of forty years” found at 2 Samuel 15:7 is uncertain in its application, and in the Greek Septuagint (Lagardian edition), Syriac Peshitta, and Latin Vulgate it is rendered as “four years.” But it is not likely that Absalom would wait a total of six years to fulfill a vow, if the “four years” were viewed as counting from the time of his complete reinstatement. (2Sa 14:28) Since a three-year famine, a war with the Philistines, and Adonijah’s attempt at the throne all took place during David’s reign but after the events now considered, it is evident that the writer’s starting point of “forty years” would have to have begun considerably prior to the beginning of David’s 40-year reign, and perhaps means 40 years from his first anointing by Samuel. This would then allow for Absalom’s being still a “young man” at this point (2Sa 18:5), since he was born sometime between 1077 and 1070 B.C.E.
Absalom, feeling satisfied that he had built up a strong following throughout the realm, obtained permission from his father by means of a pretext to go to Hebron, the original capital of Judah. From there he quickly organized a full-scale conspiracy for the throne, including a nationwide web of spies to proclaim his kingship. After having invoked God’s blessing on his rule by offering sacrifices, he obtained the support of his father’s most respected counselor, Ahithophel. Many now swung to Absalom’s side.
Faced with a major crisis and anticipating a large-scale attack, David chose to evacuate the palace along with all his household, although he had the loyal support of a large body of faithful men, including the principal priests, Abiathar and Zadok. These two he sent back to Jerusalem to serve as liaison agents. While ascending the Mount of Olives, barefoot, head covered, and weeping, David was met by Hushai, the king’s “companion,” whom he likewise dispatched to Jerusalem to frustrate Ahithophel’s counsel. (2Sa 15:13-37) Beset by opportunists, one seeking favor, another filled with partisan spirit and venting stored-up hatred, David stands in sharp contrast to Absalom by his quiet submission and refusal to render evil for evil. Rejecting his nephew Abishai’s plea for permission to cross over and ‘take off the head’ of the stone-throwing, cursing Shimei, David reasoned: “Here my own son, who has come forth out of my own inward parts, is looking for my soul; and how much more now a Benjaminite! Let him alone that he may call down evil, for Jehovah has said so to him! Perhaps Jehovah will see with his eye, and Jehovah will actually restore to me goodness instead of his malediction this day.”
Occupying Jerusalem and the palace, Absalom accepted Hushai’s apparent defection to his side after first making a sarcastic reference to Hushai’s being the faithful “companion” of David. Then, acting on Ahithophel’s counsel, Absalom publicly had relations with his father’s concubines as proof of the complete break between himself and David and of his unrelenting determination to maintain control of the throne. (2Sa 16:15-23) In this way the latter part of Nathan’s inspired prophecy saw fulfillment.
Ahithophel now urged Absalom to charge him with authority to lead a force against David that very night so as to administer the deathblow before David’s forces could get organized. Pleased, Absalom still thought it wise to hear Hushai’s opinion. Realizing David’s need for time, Hushai painted a vivid picture, possibly designed to play on any lack of genuine courage in Absalom (who, till now, had displayed more arrogance and craftiness than manly valor), as well as to appeal to Absalom’s vanity. Hushai recommended the taking of time first to build up an overwhelming force of men to be then commanded by Absalom himself. By Jehovah’s direction, Hushai’s counsel was accepted. Ahithophel, evidently realizing that Absalom’s revolt would fail, committed suicide.
As a precautionary measure, Hushai sent word to David of Ahithophel’s counsel, and despite Absalom’s efforts to catch the clandestine couriers, David received the warning and crossed over the Jordan and went up into the hills of Gilead to Mahanaim (where Ish-bosheth had had his capital). Here he was received with expressions of generosity and kindness. Preparing for the conflict, David organized his expanding forces into three divisions under Joab, Abishai, and Ittai the Gittite. Urged to remain in the city, as his presence would be of more value there, David submitted and again displayed an amazing lack of rancor toward Absalom by publicly requesting his three captains to “deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.”
Decisive Battle and Death. Absalom’s newly formed forces were administered a crushing defeat by David’s experienced fighters. The battle reached into the forest of Ephraim. Absalom, riding away on his royal mule, passed under the low branches of a large tree and apparently got his head enmeshed in the fork of a branch so that he was left suspended in the air. The man who reported to Joab that he had seen him said he would not have disobeyed David’s request by slaying Absalom for “a thousand pieces of silver [if shekels, c. $2,200],” but Joab felt no such restraint and drove three shafts into Absalom’s heart, after which ten of his men joined their captain in sharing the responsibility for Absalom’s death. Absalom’s body was thereafter thrown into a hollow and covered with a mound of stones as unworthy of burial.
When messengers reached David in Mahanaim, his first concern was for his son. Learning of Absalom’s death, David paced the floor of the roof chamber, crying: “My son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! O that I might have died, I myself, instead of you, Absalom my son, my son!” (2Sa 18:24-33) Only Joab’s blunt, straightforward speech and reasoning brought David out of his great grief due to the tragic course and end of this physically attractive and resourceful young man, whose driving ambition led him to fight against God’s anointed, thus bringing himself to ruin.
Psalm 3 was written by David at the time of Absalom’s revolt, according to the superscription that heads the psalm.
Absalom’s Monument. A pillar had been erected by Absalom in “the Low Plain of the King,” also called “the Low Plain of Shaveh,” near Jerusalem. (2Sa 18:18; Ge 14:17) He had erected it because of having no sons to keep his name alive after his death. It thus appears that his three sons mentioned at 2 Samuel 14:27 had died when young. Absalom was not buried at the place of his monument but was left in a hollow in the forest of Ephraim.
There is a pillar cut out of the rock in the Kidron Valley that has been called the Tomb of Absalom, but its architecture indicates it is from the Greco-Roman period, perhaps of the time of Herod. So there is no basis for associating the name of Absalom with it.