“And the king commanded Joab and Abishai and Ittai, saying, Deal gently for my sake with the young man, even with Absalom. And all the people heard when the king gave all the captains charge concerning Absalom. So the people went out into the field against Israel: and the battle was in the wood of Ephraim; Where the people of Israel were slain before the servants of David, and there was there a great slaughter that day of twenty thousand men. For the battle was there scattered over the face of all the country: and the wood devoured more people that day than the sword devoured. And Absalom met the servants of David. And Absalom rode upon a mule, and the mule went under the thick boughs of a great oak, and his head caught hold of the oak, and he was taken up between the heaven and the earth; and the mule that was under him went away. And a certain man saw it, and told Joab, and said, Behold, I saw Absalom hanged in an oak. And Joab said unto the man that told him, And, behold, thou sawest him, and why didst thou not smite him there to the ground? And I would have given thee ten shekels of silver, and a girdle. And the man said unto Joab, Though I should receive a thousand shekels of silver in mine hand, yet would I not put forth mine hand against the king’s son: for in our hearing the king charged thee and Abishai and Ittai, saying, Beware that none touch the young man Absalom. Otherwise I should have wrought falsehood against mine own life: for there is no matter hid from the king, and thou thyself wouldest have set thyself against me. Then said Joab, I may not tarry thus with thee. And he took three darts in his hand, and thrust them through the heart of Absalom, while he was yet alive in the midst of the oak. And ten young men that bare Joab’s armour compassed about and smote Absalom, and slew him. And Joab blew the trumpet, and the people returned from pursuing after Israel: for Joab held back the people. And they took Absalom, and cast him into a great pit in the wood, and laid a very great heap of stones upon him: and all Israel fled every one to his tent. Now Absalom in his lifetime had taken and reared up for himself a pillar, which is in the king’s dale: for he said, I have no son to keep my name in remembrance: and he called the pillar after his own name: and it is called unto this day, Absalom’s place” (2 Samuel 18:5-18).
It seems that Absalom had in fact changed his mind and reverted to Ahithophel’s advice and so found himself on the battlefield to commence a war against his own father. Whilst he had no compassion for David, we will see in this study that David still loved him.
David was confident that he would overcome Absalom’s army that day, but though there would be great bloodshed, he wanted no harm to come to his son. Everyone heard and understood David’s order but not all agreed, and so had no intention of obeying it. David’s love for his wayward son was commendable, and no doubt he would have allowed him to get away with the things he had done, just as he had done in the past. “This affecting charge, which the king gave to his generals, proceeded not only from his overwhelming affection for his children, but from his consciousness that this rebellion was the chastisement of his own crimes, Absalom being merely an instrument in the hand of retributive Providence;-and also from his piety, lest the unhappy prince should die with his sins unrepented of” (Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary).
David’s men took control of the situation very quickly, for Absalom’s army was routed almost as soon as the battle commenced. His army may have outnumbered David’s men, evenso they were no match for their mastery on the field of battle, for they were outclassed and outmanoeuvred. Absalom appears to have thought that fighting in the woods would be a great advantage to him, but this unwise strategy would be the downfall of his army and himself. Twenty thousand men would die that day, yet the greater part of them were lost because of fighting in the forest, which David’s men were acquainted with. Absalom’s army would have been unaware of the gorges, bogs, and the other hazardous areas of the woods so would have immediately found themselves in trouble.
Because David had divided his men into three groups it was an easy task to deal with the battle both in the forest and on open ground. The battle was scattered [broken up] over the whole countryside; this tells us that the enemy were undisciplined and did not stay in their ranks, so they were easy prey for David’s men. “Let God arise, let His enemies be scattered” (Psalm 68:1). We may wonder why David allowed his men to kill so many of their own countrymen, but it must be realised that they had the choice to reject Absalom from the start and remain faithful to the king. Treason ought always be punished or it will seep through the land like a cancer. Nevertheless it is remarkable that David did not have the same sense of justice concerning his son. Maybe he thought that he could be reconciled with Absalom despite all that had happened.
Absalom, who with great pomp and ceremony violently took the throne of Israel, would be humiliated in death while hanging by his hair on a tree. “Thus the matter of his pride was the instrument of his ruin” (John Wesley). We find him fleeing for his life from David’s men but got caught on a branch in the forest. Though there is no mention of his long hair being the cause of his problem, it does seem to be the likeliest reason (2 Samuel 14:25-26). Some commentators suggest that he simply got his head wedged in a forked branch of the oak tree which paralysed him as he hung limply from it. Which ever way it happened, it does reveal that he had brought a curse upon himself, for Deuteronomy 21:23 states, “He that is hanged is accursed of God”. Absalom thought he had taken control, but he forgot that God watches over everything. “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us. He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision. Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure” (Psalm 2:2-5).
Joab, who had no intention of obeying David’s command, soon heard about what had happened to Absalom and saw his chance to assassinate him. He would have richly rewarded the man who brought the news, but he had enough sense not to disobey the king’s order for any amount of money. He was brave enough to tell his commander that he would have put him to death if he had killed Absalom. He knew that Joab was not an honourable and trustworthy man. Joab was obviously impatient with the messenger and rushed of with three small spears to finish Absalom off by driving them through his heart while he hung in the tree. Why did Joab carry out this cruel act? Was it with thoughts of divine retribution for what he had done to David? In fact he had selfish motives for doing so, for had not Absalom crossed him by burning his barley field? (2 Samuel 14:30-31). Ten of Joab’s men beat Absalom’s body to make sure he was really dead. All this proves that they were disloyal and cowardly.
Joab had a trumpet sounded to announce that the battle was over when he was certain that Absalom was dead. The body was hastily thrown into a pit and was covered with rocks. We notice that there was no victory parade back to camp, instead everyone fled and hid in their tents. They had heard David’s command and had seen Joab’s total disregard for it, so they knew that there was going to be trouble and wanted no part of it.
Absalom had built a monument to honour himself in a dale, but he received another heap of stones that would forever speak of dishonour. The monument was to remind others about him, for it seems at this point he had no sons. This means that the three sons mentioned in 2 Samuel 14:27 must have died young for they are never mentioned again. A personal monuement such as this is called a folly, and folly is the keyword in Absalom’s life. Everything about the close of his life suggests defeat and disgrace. Here was a man who was a born loser.
Joab, who once thought that Absalom was a good candidate for the throne, changed his mind when he saw his immaturity. He also was willing to expose himself to the wrath of David to get even with Absalom. His actions might have served David’s best interests, but we must understand that all he did was out of a selfish desire to gain advantage for himself. David would never forgive Joab for what he did that day; “Moreover thou knowest also what Joab the son of Zeruiah did to me” (1 Kings 2:5).