The narrative for this story has several plot lines. The first involves Absalom’s deception and rise to power.
Absalom begins taking steps to establish himself as judge and then as king by acting as if he truly cared, “he stole the hearts of the people of Israel” (2 Samuel 15:6). Slowly and surely, Absalom turned people toward himself and away from David. Perhaps the people knew that David is getting older and a new king only made sense. David’s response: run!
David is a shrewd leader, far greater than his son Absalom and his charismatic style of leadership. David plants an informant (Hushai) inside Absalom’s advisor team to frustrate Ahithophel’s advice (2 Samuel 15:31-34). Hushai gives advice that seems better then Ahithophel to Absalom. Essentially, the first was a tactical strike that removed David, the second was a massive attack that fed Absalom’s ego and need for visibility.
Side note: Shimei son of Gera sees David and his men running off into hiding and decides it makes sense to protest, to throw dirt and stones at his men. David shrugs it off and lets him continue his tirade. Interesting that it’s mentioned here (2 Samuel 16:5-14). It’s concluded in 2 Samuel 19:16-23).
Absalom marches out on his donkey as a king riding onto certain victory. David deploys his troops strategically and they do what the do best, inflicting some 20,000 casualties immediately! David’s one order was to be kind to Absalom, but Joab is involved in this fight–not going to go well for sure!
Now Absalom happened to meet David’s men. He was riding his mule, and as the mule when under the thick branches of a large oak, Absalom’s hair got caught in the tree. He was left hanging in midair, while the mule he was riding kept on going. 2 Samuel 18:9
Absalom was proud of his personal beauty, his lovely hair. His vanity now gets the best of him. As he is hanging there Joab learns of his location and tosses 3 javelins into his heart. Joab’s men make sure he’s dead. Joab has done what Joab does best. He knows the news will not go well, so he devises a plan to soften the blow. When David finds out Absalom is dead he grieves openly.
O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom, my son, my son! 2 Samuel 18:33
Joab is ticked! He confronts David and rebukes his behavior.
“Today you have humiliated all your men, who have just saved your life and the lives of your sons and daughters and the lives of your wives and concubines. You love those who hate you and hate those who love you. You have made it clear today that the commanders and their men mean nothing to you.” 2 Samuel 19:5-6
David does what Joab says, but puts Amasa in charge of the army in place of Joab (2 Samuel 19:13. Joab is cool and calculating as ever. He waits for the opportunity. Chapter 20 shows this doesn’t take long. A troublemaker, Bikri, decides to stir the pot. He musters the men of Israel (except Judah) to defy David. David tells Amasa to summon the men of Judah, so he goes out to deliver the message, but takes too long (he’s still new!). David then orders Abishai to find Bikri, so Abishai (and his brother Joab), set off to pursue Bikri.
Amasa meets Joab along the way. Not a good plan. Joab takes his dagger and splits open the belly of Amasa so his intestines fall out and leaves him in the middle of the road to wallow in his blood and die. The troops rally around Joab, their seasoned commander. Someone drags Amasa off the road and covers him with a garment to let him die.
Joab corners Bikri and builds a siege ramp in preparation to destroy the entire city.
While they were battering the wall to bring it down, a wise woman called from the city, “Listen! Listen! Tell Joab to come here so I can speak to him.” 2 Samuel 20:18
A wise woman. Odd isn’t it? An army advances on a city, has time enough to build a siege ramp and begins battering down its walls and a woman appears to negotiate with this brutal warrior. Joab agrees to the meeting and somehow agrees to cease operations if she will deliver Bikri’s head.
The the woman went to all the people with her wise advice, and they cut off the head of Sheba son of Bikri and threw it to Joab. 2 Samuel 20:22
End of Absalom. End of Amasa. End of Bikri. David is fully restored as king with Joab as the commander of the army.
As God promised David, his years would be filled with bloodshed, living by the sword.
[Nathan speaking] Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own. This is what the Lord says: “Our of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes i will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. 2 Samuel 12:10-11
All this came to pass in this narrative. Absalom setup a tent and had sex with David’s concubines on the roof of the palace for all to see. Amasa was his own flesh and blood (somewhere in the lineage) and Absalom, of course, was one of his sons.
Through it all, David remains steadfast as a man of God. He openly expresses his anguish and joy throughout the psalms. One lesson I take from this narrative is simply this: I can only be fully responsible for my own actions, not that I should condone anyone else’s behavior, but I can decide to follow Christ, regardless of what goes on around me. There will be Shimei’s of the world to throw dirt and stones at me, even shout obscenities, but I must remain steadfast. Lord, help my actions, my words, my loyalty, my love to be ever yours in this day and age. Teach me to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ, to be one worthy of making disciples who make disciples, even if that number is only one. May you be honored through all of my actions.