Absalom: a Study
2 Samuel 15:1-37
And it came to pass after this, that Absalom prepared him chariots and horses, and fifty men to run before him.…

Untrained, except in self-admiration and self-indulgence, imperious, ambitious, quick to take offence and slow to forgive, hot with the riot of youthful blood, the young man — so fathered, so mothered, so brought up — is suddenly flung upon the world, and exposed to the temptations of a court in which the Uriah and Bathsheba scandal is being discussed in all its forms and incidents. And the first grave adventure he meets in it is the intolerable wrong and shame inflicted on his beautiful sister by the heir to the throne! Will not the king avenge so dreadful a crime? No; David is very wroth with Amnon, but does not care "to vex his spirit, because he is his first-born." By all Eastern as well as by Hebrew law, then, public justice having failed, Absalom is the goel, the avenger of his sister; it is no crime, bug a duty, to wipe out her shame with blood. But as David will not "vex the spirit of Amnon, his son" — and there is a world of weak unfatherliness in that fatherly phrase — so neither will he suffer it to be vexed. Hence Absalom is left to brood over the wrong in silence for a couple of years, till, by a treacherous ruse, he makes way for his revenge, and Amnon is stabbed as he sits at his brother's table and drinks his brother's wine. We blame the deed, and, above all, the manner of the deed: but can we very severely blame the man? Not if we remember what the wrong was which he avenged, and how the world has always allowed a certain latitude to the avenger of such wrongs. Not if we remember that the justice, which the king ought to have been forward to execute, had been deliberately refused, and how imperative were the duties imposed on the goel both by Eastern custom and Hebrew law. Amnon was his half-brother, indeed — a thought which might well have given him pause; but have we yet to learn that brothers born in the harem are born enemies, rivals from the first to the last? And it was not Absalom's fault that harem manners and jealousies had been introduced into Israel. If "beauty is a gift," "beauty is also a snare." To few has the gift been so largely accorded as to Absalom; to few has it proved a snare so deadly. In him the personal comeliness and vigour of Jesse's line seems to have culminated. Of Absalom we are told simply that his beauty was without blemish and beyond compare; but it seems probable that it may have been of that rare type in the Hebrew race which stirs even them to an unwonted admiration. It may have been because of his rare and superb beauty that, while still a child, he was celled Absalom, "father of peace," though he proved to be a "father of strife" rather than of peace; for it may not unnaturally have been thought that a child so exceptionally lovely would kindle smiles and win a kindly welcome wherever he went. It adds the last touch to our conception of his beauty if we note that it sprang from the most vigorous physical health, as his magnificent fell of hair indicates. For, then, we can only think of him as quick with life and energy, and accomplished in all the exercises of peace and of war. Now if we think of this young prince with his hereditary bias, his defective training, never taught to rule or deny himself, coming out into a lax world — tall, graceful, strong, his blue eyes swimming in light, his fair locks failing thickly on his broad shoulders — we shall understand that his very beauty may have been a fatal gift to him. Met with smiles, welcome, and an easy compliance with his whims and desires, on every hand, hardly any one saying "No" to him, he never saying "No" to himself, what wonder if he became wilful, bold, insolent? What wonder if, his will once thwarted, he should kindle into a blaze; or, If he hid his fire, he should nurse and feed it till it found vent, and swept him beyond all bounds of law and duty? Is it not plain that position, training, temperament, habits, gifts, even the gift of beauty, all worked together to make him self-willed, capricious, restless, imperious, and, if crossed, violent and revengeful? Even in the brief space he occupies in the Sacred Record, we have many proofs that there was something reckless and desperate in the man, that he was apt to throw the reins on the neck of his lusts, and let. them carry him where they would. That David and his men had some such suspicion of him, that they held him to be at least capable of an excessive and criminal violence in order to serve his ends, is proved by the fact that whoa an exaggerated report, of Amnon's assassination reached them, when they were told, "Absalom hath slain all the king's sons, there is not one of them left," they found nothing incredible in the horrible rumour, but rent their clothes and cast themselves on the earth, and wept for the goodly young men cut off in their prime (2 Samuel 13:30, 31.) If the tale were not true, it was only too likely to have been true. A touch of the same recklessness and desperation comes out in the manner in which he jogged the drowsy memory of Joab (2 Samuel 14:23.) It was by the intervention of Joab that Absalom was called back to Jerusalem from his three years' banishment in Syria. It was on Joab's intercession that he relied for an entire reconciliation with the king, who for two years after his return, refused to see his face. Joab may have been doing his best, or he may not. In any case he did not move fast enough for the imperious prince. He sends for Joab, therefore; but, Joab having no good tidings to give him, will not come. He sends a second time, and still Joab will not come. Whereupon he sends servants into Joab's farm to fire his standing barley, and so compels the old warrior to wait upon him, and to listen to his complaint that he would rather die than continue to live such a life as his. But, of course, it, was in his long-planned and artfully prepared rebellion against his father and king that all that was vehement, self-willed, unrestrained in the man found full vent. With Absalom's tragic end the bolt of retribution flew right home. And yet the pity of it! For, had Absalom been reared as hardily and piously as David was, in the home and on the hills of Bethlehem; had he been snubbed, laughed at, kept down, as David was, by a band of tall, stalwart brothers; had he, like David, been tried by stroke on stroke of adversity and undeserved reproach through all the opening years of manhood, there seems little reason to doubt that he might have been no worse a man morally than his father was; or, at least, no room to doubt that, by such a severe and pious training in duty and obedience, he might have been saved from the crimes by which his life was stained, and from the shame by which his memory is oppressed. In him, too, the spiritual man might have conquered the natural man at the last, and stilled and controlled the fever of his blood. As it is, we can but use his name "to point a moral," for we can hardly add "and to adorn a tale." And that moral is, of course, the immense danger of suffering the animal man in us to overget the spiritual man. The bias of our blood and temperament may not jump with his; our training may have been better than his; our faults, our passions, our gifts, may not resemble his; and certainly we arc not, most of us. tempted to an indolent self-indulgence and self-will by a splendour of personal beauty and charm which makes it hard for any one to resist us. And yet .no one who knows himself will doubt that the brute is strong in him; that he, too, has inherited cravings, passions, lusts, which must be subdued if he is to be saved from sins as fatal, if not as flagrant, as those of Absalom. And the flesh is not to be subdued and starved in any of us save as we feed and cherish the spirit. We can only overcome evil as we follow after that which is good. But if we seek to subdue the flesh by nourishing the spirit, whether in ourselves or in our children, He who makes large allowance for us all will largely and effectively help us all.

(S. Cox, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: And it came to pass after this, that Absalom prepared him chariots and horses, and fifty men to run before him.

WEB: It happened after this, that Absalom prepared him a chariot and horses, and fifty men to run before him.

A Struggle for a Crown
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