DAVID'S HANDSOME SON, AND HOW HE STOLE THE KINGDOM
II Samuel 13:1 to 17:23
NOT long after David's sin, the sorrows of which the prophet had foretold him, began to fall upon David. He had many wives, and his wives had many sons; but most of his sons had grown up wild and wicked, because David had not watched over them, and had not taught them in their youth to love God and do God's will. He had been too busy as a king to do his duty as a father.
The oldest of David's sons was Absalom, whose mother was the daughter of Talmai, the king of a little country called Geshur, on the north of Israel. Absalom was said to be the most beautiful young man in all the land. He had long locks of hair, of which he was very proud, because all the people admired them. Absalom became very angry with Amnon, another of David's sons, because Amnon had done wrong to Absalom's sister, named Tamar.
But Absalom hid his anger against Amnon, and one day invited Amnon with all the king's sons to a feast at his house in the country. They all went to the feast; and while they were all at the table Absalom's servants, by his orders, rushed in and killed Amnon. The other princes, the king's sons, were alarmed, fearing that they also would be slain; and they ran away in haste. But no harm was done to the other princes, and they came back in safety to David.
David was greatly displeased with Absalom, though he loved him more than any other of his sons; and Absalom went away from his father's court to that of his grandfather, his mother's father, the king of Geshur. There Absalom stayed for three years; and all the time David longed to see him, for he felt that he had now lost both sons, Absalom as well as Amnon. And after three years David allowed Absalom to come back to Jerusalem; but for a time would not meet him, because he had caused his brother's death. At last David's love was so strong that he could no longer refuse to see his son. He sent for Absalom, and kissed him, and took him back to his old place among the king's sons in the palace.
But Absalom's heart was wicked, and ungrateful, and cruel. He formed a plan to take the throne and the kingdom away from his father, David, and to make himself King in David's place. He began by living in great state, as if he were already a king, with a royal chariot, and horses, and fifty men to run before him. Then too, he would rise early in the morning, and stand at the gate of the king's palace, and meet those who came to the king for any cause. He would speak to each man, and find what was the purpose of his coming; and he would say:
"Your cause is good and right, but the king will not hear you; and he will not allow any other man to hear you in his place. O that I were made a judge! then I would see that right was done, and that every man received his due!" And when any man bowed down before Absalom as the king's son, he would reach out his hand, and lift him up, and kiss him as his friend. Thus Absalom won the hearts of all whom he met, from every part of the land, until very many wished that he was king instead of David, his father. For David no longer led the army in war, nor did he sit as judge, nor did he go among the people; but lived apart in his palace, scarcely knowing what was being done in the land.
After four years Absalom thought that he was strong enough to seize the kingdom. He said to David, "Let me go to the city of Hebron, and there worship the Lord, and keep a promise which I made to the Lord while I was in the land of Geshur."
David was pleased at this, for he thought that Absalom really meant to serve the Lord. So Absalom went to Hebron, and with him went a great company of his friends. A few of these knew of Absalom's plans, but most of them knew nothing. At Hebron, Absalom was joined by a very wise man, named Ahithophel, who was one of David's chief advisers, and in one whom David trusted fully.
Suddenly the word was sent through all the land by swift runners, "Absalom has been made king at Hebron!" Those who were in the secret helped to lead others, and soon it seemed as though all the people were on Absalom's side and ready to receive him as king in place of David.
The news came to David in the palace, that Absalom had made himself king, that many of the rulers were with him, and that the people in their hearts really desired Absalom. David did not know whom he could trust, and he prepared to escape before it would be too late. He took with him a few of his servants who chose to remain by his side, and his wives, and especially his wife Bath-sheba, and her son, the little Solomon.
As they were going out of the gates they were joined by Ittai, who was the commander of his guard, and who had with him six hundred trained men of war. Ittai was not an Israelite, but was a stranger in the land, and David was surprised that he should offer to go with him. He said to Ittai, "Why do you, a stranger, go with us? I know not to what places we may go or what trouble we may meet. It would be better for you and your men to go back to your own land; and may mercy and truth go with you!"
And Ittai answered the king, "As the Lord God lives, and as my lord the king lives, surely in what place the king shall be, whether in death or in life, there will we, his servants, be with him."
So Ittai and his brave six hundred soldiers went with David out of the city, over the brook Kedron, toward the wilderness. And soon after came Zadok and Abiathar, the priests, and the Levites, carrying the holy ark of the Lord. And David said, "Take back the ark of God into the city. If I shall find favor in the sight of the Lord, he will bring me again to see it; but if the Lord says, 'I have no pleasure in David,' then let the Lord do with me as seems good to him."
And David thought also that the priests might help him more in the city than if they should go away with him. He said to Zadok, "Do you go back to the city and watch; and send word to me by your son, Ahimaaz, and Jonathan, the son of Abiathar. I will wait at the crossing place of the river Jordan for news from you."
So Zadok and Abiathar, the priests, carried the holy ark back to its Tabernacle on Mount Zion, and watched closely, that they might send David word of anything that would help his cause. David walked up the steep side of the Mount of Olives, on the east of Jerusalem, with his head covered and his feet bare, as one in mourning, weeping as he walked. And all the people who were with him, and those who saw him, were weeping in their sorrow over David's fall from his high place.
On the top of the hill David found another man waiting to see him. It was Hushai, who was one of David's best friends. He stood there in sorrow, with his garments torn and earth upon his head, ready to go into the wilderness with David. But David said to Hushai, "If you go with us you cannot help me in any way; but if you stay in the city, and pretend to be Absalom's friend, then perhaps you can watch against the advice that the wise man, Ahithophel, gives to Absalom, and prevent Absalom from following it. Zadok and Abiathar, the priests, will help you, and through their sons, Ahimaaz and Jonathan, you can send word to me of all that you hear."
A little past the top of the hill another man was waiting for David. It was Ziba, the servant of Mephibosheth. You remember how kindly David had treated Mephibosheth, because he was the son of David's dear friend, Jonathan. Ziba had by his side a couple of asses saddled, and on them two hundred loaves of bread, and a hundred clusters of raisins, and a quantity of fruit, and a goat-skin full of wine. David said to Ziba, "For what purpose are all these things here?"
And Ziba said, "The asses are for the king; and here is food for the journey, and wine for those who may grow faint and may need it in the wilderness."
And David asked Ziba, "Where is Mephibosheth, your master?"
"He is in Jerusalem," said Ziba; "for he says that the kingdom may be given back to him, as he is the heir of Saul's house."
David felt very sad as he heard that Mephibosheth had forsaken him, and he said to Ziba, "Whatever has belonged to Mephibosheth shall be yours from this time."
But David did not know that all Ziba's words were false, and that Mephibosheth had not forsaken him. This man was Shimei, and he belonged to the family of King Saul. As David and his party walked along the crest of the hill, Shimei walked over the hill on the other side of a narrow valley, and as he walked he threw stones at David, and cursed him, shouting, "Get out, get out, you man of blood, you wicked man! Now the Lord is bringing upon you all the wrong that you did to Saul, when he was your king. You robbed Saul of his kingdom, and now your own son is robbing you. You are suffering just as you deserve, for you are a bloody man!"
Then Abishai, the son of Zeruiah, who was one of David's men and David's own nephew, said, "Why should this dog be allowed to bark against my lord the king? Let me go across the valley, and I will strike off his head at one blow!"
But David said, "If it is the Lord's will that this man should curse David, then let him curse on. My own son is seeking to take away my life, and is it strange that this man of another tribe should hate me? It may be that the Lord will look upon the wrong done to me, and will do good to me."
So David and his wives, and his servants, and the soldiers who were faithful to him, went on toward the wilderness and the valley of the Jordan. Soon after David had escaped from the city, Absalom came into it with his friends and a host of his followers. As Absalom drew near, Hushai, David's friend, stood by the road, crying, "Long live the king! Long live the king!"
And Absalom said to Hushai, "Is this the way you treat your friend? Why have you not stayed beside your friend David?"
Hushai said to Absalom, "Whom the Lord and his people have chosen, him will I follow, and with him I will stay. As I have served the father, so will I serve the son."
Then Hushai went into the palace among the followers of Absalom. And Absalom said to Ahithophel, "Tell me what to do next?"
Now Ahithophel was a very wise man. He knew what was best for Absalom's success, and he said, "Let me choose out twelve thousand men, and I will pursue David this very night. We will come upon David when he is tired, while only a few people are with him, and before he has time to form any plans or to gather an army, I will kill David, and will harm no one else; and then you can reign as king in peace, and all the people will submit to you when they know that David is no longer living."
Absalom thought that this was wise advice; but he sent for  Hushai. He told him what Ahithophel had said, and asked for his advice also. And Hushai said, "The advice that Ahithophel gives is not good for the present time. You know that David and his men are very brave, and just now they are as savage as a bear robbed of her cubs. David is with his men in some safe place, hidden in a cave or among the mountains, and they will watch against those who come out to seek for them, and will rush upon them suddenly from their hiding-place. Then, as soon as the news goes through the land that Absalom's men have been beaten, everybody will turn away from Absalom to David. The better plan would be to wait until you can gather all the men of war in Israel, from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south. And then, if David is in a city, there will be men enough to pull the city in pieces, or if he is in the field we will surround him on every side." And Absalom and the rulers who were with him said to each other, "The advice of Hushai is better than the advice of Ahithophel. Let us do as Hushai tells us to do."
So Absalom sat down in his father's palace and began to enjoy himself while they were gathering his army. This was just what Hushai wished, for it would give David time to gather his army also, and he knew that the hearts of the people would soon turn from Absalom back to David.
Hushai told Zadok and Abiathar, the priests, of Absalom's plans, and they sent word by a young woman to their sons, Ahimaaz and Jonathan, who were watching outside the city, and these young men hastened to tell David, who was waiting beside the river Jordan. Then David and his men found a safe refuge in Mahanaim, in the tribe of Gad, across Jordan; and there his friends from all the land began to come to him.
When Ahithophel saw that his advice had not been taken, and that Hushai was preferred in his place, he knew at once that Absalom could not hold the kingdom, and that Absalom's cause was already as good as lost. He went to his home, put all his house and his affairs in order, and hanged himself; for he thought that it was better to die by his own hand than to be put to death as a traitor by King David.
Absalom for a little time had his wish. He sat on the throne, and wore the crown, and lived in the palace at Jerusalem as the king of Israel.