King David went through much agony of soul over his sins, and he did his best to repent. In many ways, however, the Lord withdrew from him, and he was left to his own devices. Without the Lord’s help, things changed in David’s life, and tragedy entered his household. Nathan the prophet said to him, “The sword shall never depart from thine house, because thou hast despised me [the Lord], and hast taken the wife of Uriah” ( 2 Samuel 12:10 ). This prophecy was literally fulfilled.
In 2 Samuel 13, we read the sad story of Amnon and Tamar. Amnon was David’s son by Ahinoam. Tamar was the daughter of Maacah, and her brother was Absalom. Thus, Amnon was the half-brother of Tamar. He lusted after her, became obsessed with her. Since they were so closely related, he felt he never would be able to establish a romantic relationship with her. Tamar was a virgin. Amnon lived in his own house. His cousin Jonadab suggested a plan wherein Amnon would feign sickness and request David to send Tamar to attend to him. The plan worked, and when Tamar arrived, Amnon went for her. Tamar pleaded with him to take the necessary steps to betroth her rather than violate her, but Amnon was so inflamed, he didn’t listen. Instead, he raped her, and then hated her.
“Amnon did not really love Tamar. Once he had gratified his lust, he despised her. How often is such gross unfairness toward women demonstrated by evil men? They exploit women and then despise the women rather than themselves. Amnon would not save Tamar from disgrace by making her a part of his household as a wife or concubine. Knowing that she had been disgraced and would therefore be deprived of a husband, Tamar mourned in the manner of a widow (see v. 19 ; note especially v. 20 ). David was furious because of the way Amnon had treated Tamar, but what could he do or say? His own conduct with Bath-sheba had left him without a basis for condemnation. Here was another result of sin. Because of his own guilt, David did not act to correct this great abomination in his own household. David learned the sad lesson that a man’s sins can often visit him even to the third and fourth generation” (see Exodus 34:7 ).
Tamar went instantly into mourning and fled to her brother Absalom’s house for protection. He bade her to keep the situation to herself, so she continued in quiet desperation. David heard about the problem and was “wroth,” but did not act. Two years later, Absalom found an opportunity to kill Amnon, and he did so through his servants. At first David thought that all his sons were dead, and was relieved when Jonadab told him only Amnon had been killed. David mourned for Absalom, who had fled to the King of Geshur, but he knew that Amnon had suffered the punishment David himself should have meted out.
Joab (Yo’av), David’s captain, saw how David pined for his son Absalom and sent a widow to plead for him by artifice. David saw through her pleas, and discerned that Joab had sent her. She confessed, but their conversation showed David that he should send for Absalom and reinstate him to favor. Yet, when Absalom arrived back at his home, he never saw the king. He remain estranged for two years, until he convinced Joab to intercede for him and arrange a reunion with his father (2 Samuel 14).
Absalom was extremely charismatic and very handsome. He began to aspire to power and sat at the gate of the city, setting himself up as a judge.
“Absalom ingratiated himself by telling the people that their causes and complaints were just, but that no one from the king’s court was willing to hear them. While this assertion may have been a lie, it is more likely that David’s court was not functioning properly and that the people were being neglected. Absalom took advantage of the disgruntlement of the people, but he refused to let them bow down to him. Instead, he raised them up, kissed them, and treated them as equals—highly unusual behavior from royalty (see v. 5 ). And in this way “Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel” ( v. 6 ). Absalom then lied to his father, telling him that he needed to go to Hebron to fulfill a vow when, in fact, it was his intention to raise an insurrection against David.”
He began to gather a followership. He gained power in Hebron. Then word came to David of the conspiracy. David decided to flee from Jerusalem. He took all of his household except 10 concubines, partly to keep Absalom from slaying everyone in the city trying to get to David.
“It is very difficult to account for this general defection of the people. Several reasons are given: 1. David was old or afflicted, and could not well attend to the administration of justice in the land. 2. It does appear that the king did not attend to the affairs of state, and that there were no properly appointed judges in the land; [see v. 3 ]. 3. Joab’s power was overgrown; he was wicked and insolent, oppressive to the people, and David was afraid to execute the laws against him. 4. There were still some partisans of the house of Saul, who thought the crown not fairly obtained by David. 5. David was under the displeasure of the Almighty, for his adultery with Bath-sheba, and his murder of Uriah; and God let his enemies loose against him. 6. There are always troublesome and disaffected men in every state, and under every government; who can never rest, and are ever hoping for something from a change. 7. Absalom appeared to be the real and was the undisputed heir to the throne; David could not, in the course of nature, live very long; and most people are more disposed to hail the beams of the rising, than exult in those of the setting, sun. No doubt some of these causes operated, and perhaps most of them exerted less or more influence in this most scandalous business.” (Clarke, Bible Commentary, 2:349–50.)
Others began to join him on his way into the wilderness. Zadok the priest even brought the Ark of the Covenant, which David ordered him to take back to Jerusalem. David went mourning and barefooted along the Mt. of Olives. Others of the pagan tribes tried to join him, but he bid them remain and pass on information if necessary (2 Samuel 15). Ziba the servant of Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth brought food to David and his men, and told David that Mephibosheth thought it was time that he would be restored to the throne of Saul, and Shimei, Saul’s old servant, cursed David as he passed by (2 Samuel 16).
Heeding the counsel of Ahithophel, Absalom spread a tent on the roof of the palace, and in the sight of all Israel, went in unto the 10 concubines David had left behind to care for his house. This was a great sin, and a great insult to the king.
“Lying with the king’s concubines was an appropriation of the royal harem, and, as such, a complete usurpation of the throne . . . which would render any reconciliation between Absalom and his father utterly impossible, and therefore would of necessity instigate the followers of Absalom to maintain his cause with all the greater firmness. This was what Ahithophel hoped to attain through his advice. For unless the breach was too great to be healed, with the affection of David towards his sons, which might in reality be called weakness, it was always a possible thing that he should forgive Absalom; and in that case Ahithophel would be the one to suffer.” (Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 2:2:428.)
Absalom then sought counsel from Ahithophel and from Hushai. The former suggested that Absalom send him with 12,000 men to overtake David. He promised to kill only David the King, and send those with him back as loyal subjects to Absalom. But Hushai felt otherwise, telling Absalom that David and his men were mighty, and that Ahithophel’s plan was folly. Hushai recommended that Absalom gather forces from all over Israel, and himself lead them against David. Absalom liked Hushai’s plan. Hushai then passed the information on to the priests in order to warn David. Ahithophel then hanged himself (2 Samuel 17).
“Ahithophel clearly understood David’s vulnerability at this stage of the revolt. Had his counsel been followed, the result would have been critical for David. Twelve thousand men against the small band who had fled with David would have been a disaster for David. Hushai saved the situation for David, first, by convincing Absalom that a delay while he gathered more strength to his army would be wise, and, second, by warning David to flee in case Ahithophel’s counsel was followed.
“Ahithophel knew his only hope lay in Absalom’s success. Since he was a traitor to King David, if David won, his fate was sealed. Understanding perfectly that a delay meant the ultimate defeat of Absalom and David’s return to the throne, Ahithophel returned to his home and, after putting things in order, committed suicide.”
David’s people were fed along their way by the Ammonites, and the Gileadites. David had gathered some strength. “David numbered the people that werewith him, and set captains of thousands and captains of hundreds over them.” He divided his troops into thirds. David counseled the captains to be gentle with Absalom. Much of the fighting took place in the woods of Ephraim, and more people perished in the wood than in the fighting. Absalom himself, who had been riding through, was caught in the branches of an oak tree. The man who saw the event reported it to Joab, who wondered why the man had not killed Absalom. The man recited to Joab the dictates of King David, not to harm his son. Joab put three darts in Absalom’s heart, and Absalom’s armor-bearers finished him off (2 Samuel 18). David’s heart was rent when he heard the news, and he wailed the famous words, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son”!
David’s mourning for Absalom confused the Israelites, because Absalom was his enemy. Joab chided David and told him to turn to his people and commend them, to praise his friends, not his enemies.
“It is almost as though after his sin with Bath-sheba and the murder of Uriah the light that gave David his political genius went out. His actions during this extreme crisis were of blind loyalty to an evil son and of one foolish decision after another.”
David sat at the gate of the city, until the Israelites unified behind him. He went from Jordan to Gilgal, where the tabernacle was, and where kings were anointed. People came to offer obeisance — Mephibosheth claimed to have been deceived by his servant Ziba. Shimei apologized for cursing the king, and David forgave him. He appointed Amasa to be captain in Joab’s stead. He gave honor to the King of the Gileadites for succoring him. However, jealosy arose between the Judahites and the other tribes of Israel, because Judahites had escorted the king without summoning the other tribes (2 Samuel 19).
Sheba, a Benjaminite, decided to rebel against David. He led away many of the Israelites, but the house of Judah remained true to David. David returned to his palace, but never “went in unto” the ten concubines who had been violated by Absalom. They were ever after cared for at court, but lived as widows.
“According to the Mosaic law (see Leviticus 18 ), married women once defiled could not once again enjoy the married state. A Bible scholar explained David’s actions:
“’He could not well divorce them; he could not punish them, as they were not in the transgression; he could no more be familiar with them, because they had been defiled by his son; and to have married them to other men might have been dangerous to the state: therefore he shut them up and fed them —made them quite comfortable, and they continued as widows to their death.’” (Clarke, Bible Commentary, 2:364.)
David sent his troops after Sheba. But on the way, Joab murdered Amasa. Joab cornered Sheba in Abel. A wise woman bid Joab to spare the city and promised the head of Sheba. The people of the city killed Sheba, and the city was spared (2 Samuel 20).
A famine started and lasted three years. David enquired of the Lord, and determined that the cause was the house of Saul, because Saul had slain the Gibeonites, who were a remnant of the Amorites. David sent seven of the sons of Saul, sparing Mephibosheth (son of Jonathan), to be executed by the Gibeonites.
“This terrible episode must have been done in [the] days of David’s spiritual deterioration. The law would have not permitted sons to be put to death for the guilt of a father or a forefather ( Deuteronomy 24:16 is explicit on that; see another Numbers 35:33 ). It cannot have been a revelation from the Lord that either required or approved this deed done ‘to avenge the Gibeonites’—some of whom Saul had slain in spite of the ancient promise of Joshua that they might live in Israel.
“It is a pathetic picture to envision the innocent mother of innocent sons guarding their bodies from the birds and beasts; and it is repulsive to read that after all this was done ‘God was entreated for the land.’ This is apostate theology, comparable to that of the Canaanite-Baal religions.
“The text is somewhat corrupted too, and the name Michal must be a mistake for Merab, for it was Merab who married Adriel. If it is indeed Michal, David’s wife and Saul’s daughter, who is meant, this is a very bitter ending to their relationships as man and wife.” (Rasmussen, Introduction to the Old Testament, 2:40.)
There ensued several wars with the Philistines, some that included giants like Goliath, but David became faint on the battlefield, and his captains told him to retire from the wars.
“David by now was in his sixties, an old man so far as military service was concerned. Nevertheless, he personally led his forces against the Philistines. In the midst of this battle David found himself confronted by one of the sons of the giants, perhaps even a son of Goliath. He apparently was very large and immediately began bearing down on the man who was famous for killing Goliath. For David this was a life and death struggle, and the scripture states that “David waxed faint” ( 2 Samuel 21:15 ). Fortunately, David’s friends were near by, and Abishai stepped in and slew the giant.
“After the battle was over, David was told, ‘Thou shalt go no more out with us to battle, that thou quench not the light of Israel’ ( 2 Samuel 21:17 ). As king, David was like a lamp or guide to his people, and they did not want that lamp extinguished. David undoubtedly reflected on the days of his youth and remembered his victory over Goliath, but now he realized he must be content with the less active affairs of state because of his old age.”
Samuel 22 is a song of David, singing praises to the merciful God. “The Lord liveth; and blessed be my rock; and exalted be the God of the rock of my salvation….He isthe tower of salvation for his king: and sheweth mercy to his anointed, unto David, and to his seed for evermore” (2 Samuel 22:47, 51). In chapter 23, David extols his mighty men of valor, including Uriah the Hittite.
David ordered a census, and Joab and his men took over 9 months counting the people. The census showed that “there were in Israel eight hundred thousand valiant men that drew the sword; and the men of Judah werefive hundred thousand men” (2 Samuel 24:9). But David realized he had sinned in numbering the men of Israel, and he deeply regretted it. The Lord offered a choice from three punishments through the prophet Gad: seven years of famine, three years fleeing before his enemies, or three days’ pestilence. David’s choice was not to fall into the hand of man, but rather to trust the Lord’s mercy. So, 70,000 Israelite men fell to pestilence, and then the Lord stayed His hand, when David offered sacrifices according to His command.
“God could not be angry with David for numbering the people if he moved him to do it: but in the parallel place [see 1 Chronicles 21:1 ] it is expressly said, Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel. David, in all probability, slackening in his piety and confidence toward God, and meditating some extension of his dominions without the Divine counsel or command, was naturally curious to know whether the number of fighting men in his empire was sufficient for the work which he had projected. . . . He therefore orders Joab and the captains to take an exact account of all the effective men in Israel and Judah. God is justly displeased with this conduct, and determines that the props of his vain ambition shall be taken away, either by famine, war, or pestilence .” (Clarke, Bible Commentary, 2:377.)
“In an attempt to appease the Lord and stay the plague that was smiting Israel, David purchased the threshing floor (a large open area where the rock base is flat and the grain could be threshed and winnowed without getting mixed with dirt) from Araunah and there built an altar to the Lord. This site later became the place where Solomon built his temple” (see Fallows, Bible Encyclopedia, s.v. “Araunah,” 1:140).
*Parts of this lesson were adapted from the LDS Institute Old Testament Manual.
Next: The Psalms