The king stood beside the gate while all the men marched out in units of hundreds and of thousands. The king commanded Joav, Abishai and Ittai (commanders of the army), ‘Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake.’ And all the troops heard the king giving orders concerning Absalom to each of his commanders. 2 Samuel 18:4-5
The time had come. King David’s ragtag army was ready to take back the throne from Absalom and restore the king to his palace. The battle took place in the forest of Ephraim and there the army of David defeated the troops of Absalom. Twenty thousand men lost their lives fighting for the rebel ‘king’.
Now Absalom happened to meet David’s men. He was riding his mule and as the mule went under the thick branches of a large oak, Absalom’s head got caught in the tree. He was left hanging in mid-air as his mule kept on going. When one of the men saw this, he said to Joav, ‘I have just seen Absalom hanging in an oak tree.’ (2 Sam. 18:10)
Hearing these words, the commander rebuked the man and said, ‘What you saw him? Why didn’t you strike him to the ground right there? (2 Sam. 18:11) But the soldier had heard what David said to the commanders about how to treat Absalom and he answered, ‘Even if a thousand shekels were weight into my hands, I would not lift my hand against the king’s son…’ (2 Sam. 18:12)
Joav, fiercely loyal to David, ignored the man’s remark – and the king’s order – and took three javelins in his hand and plunged them into Absalom’s heart as he was hanging from the oak tree. After Joav had thrust the javelins into Absalom, ten of his armour-bearers surrounded Absalom and killed him.
The fall of Absalom was, from the beginning of this story, just a matter of time. God is supremely patient with all of us and He was with Absalom. There was more than enough time for Absalom to repent but he didn’t.
The scripture has numerous warnings against arrogance and pride. The warnings are there precisely so that we will heed those words, repent of any arrogance in ourselves and learn to walk in humility. However, for those who refuse to heed the LORD’s warnings, God Himself will eventually humble them. And it’s not a pretty sight!
Proverbs 16:18 says ‘Pride goes before destruction and a haughty [arrogant] spirit before a fall.’ How graphically that describes what happened to Absalom.
Sadly, Absalom was exceedingly full of himself. He had erected a pillar in the King’s valley as a monument to himself because he had no son to carry on his memory. Imagine that! Someone once said that the man who deserves a monument does not need one, and the man who thinks he needs one does not deserve it.
The source of Absalom’s fall was his pride and the source of his pride was his handsome appearance, especially his long hair. (See 2 Samuel 14:25-26) He was so proud of his hair that he refused to wear a helmet for he wanted everyone to see his long hair flying behind him in the wind as he rode into battle. How ironic that it was that very hair that got caught in the branches of an oak tree and left him a hanging and helpless target.
From the fate of Absalom we learn several lessons, primarily this one: it is incumbent upon us to constantly keep before us that whatever we have received is not the result of our own efforts but is a gift of God. If you are handsome, or strikingly beautiful, do not take pride in that but give thanks to God for how He chose to make you. Outer beauty is temporary and will yield to age, no matter what you try to do about it. It is the inner beauty of the heart that will last forever. That is where our attention should be focused.
Being the godly man he was, David surely knew that Absalom’s pride and rebellion were dangerous primarily to himself. It is no wonder that he feared for his son.
In due time, the runner carrying the message back to the king regarding the outcome of the battle, appeared on the horizon.
All is well! He bowed down before the king with his face to the ground and said, ‘Praise be to the LORD your God! He has delivered up the men who lifted their hands against my lord the king.’ (vs. 28)
But David wanted news of his son and asked if Absalom was safe. Reluctant to tell the king that his son was dead, the messenger gave a vague reply. Moments later, a second messenger arrived, sent by Joav. It was he who informed David that Absalom was dead.
The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said, ‘O my son, Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you – O Absalom, m son, my son!’ vs. 32-33
How do we understand the king’s grief? Remember that David was a man after God’s own heart. He understood the principles of God’s Word. He knew the power of repentance and forgiveness for he himself had experienced it. I believe the depth of his grief was not primarily the fact that his son had died but that he died without repenting of his pride and rebellion. So David cried, ‘If only I had died instead of you…’ What was he saying?
If only I had died instead of you, so that you, Absalom, would have had more time to think about your soul, to ponder your spiritual condition, to find a heart of repentance and learn humility.
Arrogance – an attitude that assumes superiority over others – is abhorrent to God. Arrogance cost Absalom his life. It will also cost us ours if we allow it to rule us unchecked. We may not be subjected to a hideous death like Absalom but arrogance or pride DOES lead to humiliation of one kind or another. More importantly, it is obnoxious in the eyes of God.
The struggle against pride is ours for life. In little ways and big ways we show how self-protective we are. Humility on the other hand grants us the freedom of knowing we have nothing to prove for all we are is by the grace of God and to Him belongs the praise.
Pride is enslaving – it causes you to constantly worry about what other people think, how other people judge you, whether or not, you are being acknowledged and/or applauded as you think you should be.
On the other hand, humility is liberating – it brings peace to your inner person, the ability to care about others freely and generously, the freedom to be yourself at all times without anxiety, clothes you with a gentleness and a kindness that is endearing and delivers you from the burden – and it IS a burden – of constantly worrying about yourself!
May humility be the hallmark of all of our lives!