Absalom in the Wood; David on the Throne
II Samuel xvii:
24, to xx: 26.
on the east of Jordan, where David found a refuge,
was called Gilead, a word which means "high,"
because it is higher than the land opposite on the
west of Jordan. There, in the city of Mahanaim, the
rulers and the people were friendly to David. They
brought food of all kinds and drink for David and
those who were with him; for they said, "The people
are hungry, and thirsty, and very tired, from their
long journey through the wilderness."
And at this place David's friends gathered from all
the tribes of Israel, until around him was an army.
It was not so large as the army of Absalom, but in
it were more of the brave old warriors who had
fought under David in other years. David divided his
army into three parts, and placed over the three
parts Joab, his brother Abishai, and Ittai, who had
followed him so faithfully.
David said to the chiefs of his army and to his men,
"I will go out with you into the battle."
But the men said to David, "No, you must not go with
us; for if half of us should lose our lives, no one
will care; but you are worth ten thousand of us, and
your life is too precious. You must stay here in the
city, and be ready to help us if we need help."
So the king stood by the gate of Mahanaim while his
men marched out by hundreds and by thousands. And as
they went past the king the men heard him say to the
three chiefs, Joab, and Abishai, and Ittai, "For my
sake, deal gently with the young man, Absalom."
Even to the last David loved the son who had done to
him such great wrong, and David would have them
spare his life.
A great battle was fought on that day at a place
called "The Wood of Ephraim," though it was not in
the tribe of Ephraim, but of Gad, on the east of the
Jordan. Absalom's army was under the command of a
man named Amasa, who was a cousin of Joab; for his
mother, Abigail, and Joab's mother, Zeruiah, were
both sisters of David. So both the armies were led
by nephews of King David. Absalom himself went into
the battle, riding upon a mule, as was the custom of
David's soldiers won a great victory, and killed
thousands of Absalom's men. The armies were
scattered in the woods, and many men were lost, so
that it was said that the woods swallowed up more
men than the sword. When Absalom saw that his cause
was hopeless he rode away, hoping to escape. But as
he was riding under the branches of an oak-tree, his
head, with its great mass of long hair, was caught
in the boughs of the tree. He struggled to free
himself, but could not. His mule ran away, and
Absalom was left hanging in the air by his head.
David's soldiers saw him, and said to Joab, "I saw
Absalom hanging in an oak."
"Why did you not kill him?" asked Joab. "If you had
killed him I would have given you ten pieces of
silver and a girdle."
"If you should offer me a thousand pieces of
silver," answered the soldier, "I would not touch
the king's son; for I heard the king charge all the
generals and the men, 'Let no one harm the young man
Absalom.' And if I had slain him, you yourself would
not have saved my life from the king's anger."
"I cannot stay to talk with you," said Joab; and
with three darts in his hand he hastened to the
place where Absalom was hanging. He thrust Absalom's
heart through with the darts, and after that his
followers, finding that Absalom was still living,
pierced his body until they were sure that he was
dead. Then they took down his body, and threw it
into a deep hole in the forest, and heaped a great
pile of stones upon it.
During his life Absalom had built for himself a
monument in the valley of the Kidron, on the east of
Jerusalem. There he had expected to be buried; but
though the monument stood long afterward, and was
called "Absalom's pillar," yet Absalom's body lay
not there, but under a heap of stones in the wood of
After the battle Ahimaaz, the son of the priest
Zadok, came to Joab. Ahimaaz was one of the two
young men who brought news from Jerusalem to David
at the river Jordan. He said to Joab, "Let me run to
the king, and take to him the news of the battle."
But Joab knew that the message of Absalom's death
would not be pleasing to King David, and he said,
"Some other time you shall bear news, but not
to-day, because the king's son is dead."
And Joab called a negro who was standing near, and
said to him, "Go, and tell the king what you have
The negro bowed to Joab, and ran. But after a time
Ahimaaz, the son of Zadok, again said to Joab, "Let
me also run after the negro, and take news."
"Why do you wish to go, my son?" said Joab; "the
news will not bring you any reward."
"Anyhow, let me go," said the young man; and Joab
gave him leave. Then Ahimaaz ran with all his might,
and by a better road over the plain, though less
direct than the road which the negro had taken over
the mountains. Ahimaaz outran the negro, and came
first in sight to the watchman who was standing on
the wall, while King David was waiting below in the
little room between the outer and inner gates,
anxious for news of the battle, but more anxious for
his son, Absalom.
The watchman on the wall called down to the king,
and said, "I see a man running alone."
And the king said, "If he is alone, he is bringing a
message." He knew that if men were running away
after a defeat in battle there would be a crowd
together. Then the watchman called again, "I see
another man running alone."
And the king said, "He also is bringing some news."
The watchman spoke again, "The first runner is
coming near, and he runs like Ahimaaz, the son of
And David said, "He is a good man, and he comes with
good news." Ahimaaz came near, and cried out as he
ran, "All is well!"
The first words which the king spoke were, "Is it
well with the young man Absalom?"
Ahimaaz was too wise to bring to the king the word
of Absalom's death. He left that to the other
messenger, and said, "When Joab sent me, there was a
great noise over something that had taken place, but
I did not stop to learn what it was."
A little later came the negro, crying, "News for my
lord the king! This day the Lord has given you
victory over your enemies!"
And David said again, "Is it well with the young man
Then the negro, who knew nothing of David's
feelings, answered, "May all the enemies of my lord
the king, and all that try to do him harm, be as
that young man is!"
Then the king was deeply moved. His sorrow over
Absalom made him forget the victory that had been
won. Slowly he walked up the steps to the room in
the tower over the gate, and as he walked he said,
"O my son Absalom! my son, my son Absalom! I wish
before God that I had died for you, O Absalom, my
son, my son!"
The word soon went forth that the king, instead of
rejoicing over the victory, was weeping over his
son. The soldiers came stealing back to the city,
not as conquerors, but as if they had been defeated.
Every one felt sorry for the king, who sat in the
room over the gate, with his face covered, and
crying out, "O Absalom, my son! my son, my son
But Joab saw that such great sorrow as the king
showed was not good for his cause. He came to David,
and said to him, "You have put to shame this day all
those who have fought for you and saved your life.
You have shown that you love those who hate you, and
that you hate those who love you. You have said by
your actions that your princes and your servants,
who have been true to you, are nothing to you; and
that if Absalom had lived and we had all died, you
would have been better pleased. Now rise up, and act
like a man, and show regard for those who have
fought for you. I swear to you in the name of the
Lord, that unless you do this, not a man will stay
on your side, and that will be worse for you than
all the harm that has ever come upon you in all your
life before this day!"
Then David rose up, and washed away his tears, and
put on his robes, and took his seat in the gate as a
king. After this he came from Mahanaim to the river
Jordan, and there all the people met him, to bring
him back to his throne in Jerusalem.
Among the first to come was Shimei, the man who had
cursed David and thrown stones at him as he was
flying from Absalom. He fell on his face, and
confessed his crime, and begged for mercy. Abishai,
Joab's brother, said, "Shall not Shimei be put to
death, because he cursed the king, the Lord's
But David said, "Not a man shall be put to death
this day in Israel, for to-day I am king once more
over Israel. You shall not be slain, Shimei; I
pledge you the word of a king."
And Ziba, the servant of Mephibosheth, was there
with his sons and his followers; and Mephibosheth
was there also to meet the king. And Mephibosheth
had not dressed his lame feet, nor trimmed his
beard, nor washed his clothes, from the day when
David had left Jerusalem until the day when he
returned in peace. And David said to him, "Mephibosheth,
why did you not offer to go with me?"
"My lord, O king," said Mephibosheth, "my servant
deceived me. He said, 'You are lame, and cannot go;
but I will go in your name with the king, and will
help him.' And he has done me wrong with the king;
but what matters it all, now that the king has come
David said, "You and Ziba may divide the land and
And Mephibosheth said, "Let him have it all, now
that the king has come in peace to his own house!"
The army of Absalom had melted away, and was
scattered throughout all Israel. David was still
displeased with Joab, the chief of his army, because
he had slain Absalom, contrary to David's orders. He
sent a message to Amasa, who had been the commander
of Absalom's army, and who was, like Joab and
Abishai, David's own nephew. He said to Amasa, "You
are of my own family, of my bone and my flesh, and
you shall be the general in place of Joab."
Joab and his brother were strong men, not willing to
submit to David's rule; and David thought that he
would be safer on his throne if they did not hold so
much power. Also, David thought that to make Amasa
general would please not only those who had been
friends to Absalom, but many more of the people, for
many feared and hated Joab.
At the river Jordan almost the whole tribe of Judah
were gathered to bring the king back to Jerusalem.
But this did not please the men of the other tribes.
They said to the men of Judah, "You act as though
you were the only friends of the king in all the
land! We, too, have some right to David."
The men of Judah said, "The king is of our own
tribe, and is one of us. We come to meet him because
we love him."
But the people of the other tribes were still
offended, and many of them went to their homes in
anger. The tribe of Ephraim, in the middle of the
land, was very jealous of the tribe of Judah, and
unwilling to come again under David's rule. One man
in Ephraim, Sheba, the son of Bichri, began a new
rebellion against David, which for a time threatened
again to overthrow David's power.
Amasa, the new commander of the army, called out his
men to put down Sheba's rebellion. But he was slow
in gathering his army, and Joab, the old general,
went forth with a band of his own followers. Joab
met Amasa, pretending to be his friend, and killed
him, and then took the command. He shut up Sheba in
a city far in the north, and finally caused him to
be slain. So at last every enemy was put down; and
David sat again in peace upon his throne. But Joab,
whom David feared and hated because of many evil
deeds that he had done, was, as before, the
commander of the army and in great power. Joab was
faithful to David, and was a strong helper to
David's throne. Without Joab's courage and skill in
David's cause David might have failed in some of his
wars, and especially in the war against Absalom's
followers. But Joab was cruel and wicked; and he was
so strong that David could not control him. David
felt that he was not fully the king while Joab
But few people knew how David felt toward Joab; and
in appearance the throne of David was now as strong
as it had ever been; and David's last years were
years of peace and of power.