Absalom, Abishalom

See also Absalom

ABSALOM, ABISHALOM, ab sə ləm, ə bĭsh e ləm אַבְשָׁלֹ֣ום, father is of peace; אֲבִישָׁלֹֽום in 1 Kings 15:2, 10; Apoc. ̓Αβεσσάλμος, ̓Αψάλωμος, ̓Αβεσσάλωμος). 1. The third son of David born at Hebron to his third wife Maacah, the daughter of Talmai, king of Geshur (2 Sam 3:3). The person of Absalom is described in 2 Samuel 14:25-27 in great detail. All Israel praised his beauty, for there was not a blemish in him from “the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.” So heavy was his hair that the weight of that gathered from his occasional cuttings would run at four and half pounds (LXX—two and a quarter pounds).

His sister, Tamar, was a beautiful girl (2 Sam 13:1) and this was to be the beginning of misery and grief in many Israelite lives. David’s first son by Ahinoam of Jezreel, named Amnon, fell in love with Tamar. One day he became ill (2 Sam 13:1, 2). Since his half sister was evidently kept in close guard, there was no way in which to gain access to her. Amnon’s friend, the son of David’s brother Shimeah, named Jonadab, suggested a crafty way of realizing Amnon’s objective: the custom of preparing a special meal for the sick in which the sick could request the dish his heart desired (2 Sam 13:4-6). Soft-touch David allowed Amnon’s request to have Tamar perform this custom and Amnon seized the opportunity to force Tamar. She tried to talk sense and offered counter proposals, but the fool would not listen. When sin had borne its fruit, Amnon hated her with a stronger passion than with which he had just previously loved her. Tamar was promptly dismissed to lead a solitary life as a widow even though she had never been a wife.

Absalom, as Tamar’s brother, waited in a rage to see if their father David would act against Amnon, but it was useless. After two years had elapsed, Absalom planned his revenge for the dishonor of his sister at a royal feast on the occasion of the sheep-shearing festivities. Apparently, Absalom owned some estates and pasture land N of Jerusalem (13:23) in the territory of Benjamin. This was similar to such a festival in connection with Nabal and David (1 Sam 25:1-8), so Absalom planned to celebrate his sheep-shearing by inviting the king and the king’s sons. The king had to decline, but he gave his consent to Amnon to attend (2 Sam 13:25-27). A plan was laid whereby the servants would openly murder Amnon at a given signal from Absalom. No attempt was made at concealment, for the princes were to be forced into being witnesses to a just revenge to give it due legality. Amnon had come to the feast feeling that the invitation was a sign of forgiveness and reconciliation; but he was wrong. In the pandemonium that followed, everyone mounted his mule (signs of nobility) and rode off; Absalom himself decided to hasten across the Jordan to Talmai, king of Geshur, where he stayed for three years in exile (2 Sam 13:28, 29, 37). In this incident one sees the character of Absalom: tender, jealous and fierce in his love for his sister Tamar; crafty, false, and sinister in his success in inducing David to allow Amnon to join the feast; daring, reckless, and foolhardy in his murder of Amnon; and ambitious, covetous, and heady in his designs on the throne of David now that his elder brother was rightfully put to death. Nothing was said of Chileab, the only other older brother. Should not he be the next legitimate king to reign since he now was the eldest son, and prob. the first son to be born to David after he began to reign in Hebron? Did he not also have royal blood in his veins from his mother’s side?

The news was a shock David didn’t forget for years, for even after Absalom was restored at the end of three years (13:38), it took an additional two years before he was admitted to the king’s presence (14:28). Actually, even Absalom’s return from exile was brought about by the clever engineering of Joab, David’s chief of the military. Joab employed a wise woman from Tekoa (the village from which the prophet Amos came) and together they devised a story ostensibly to secure the king’s help in the woman’s personal domestic life, but actually to involve the king psychologically because of the parallelism between his own son Absalom and that of the woman’s case. The story involved the case of two sons in which one smote the other and now the woman stood in jeopardy of losing the other son because of the custom of blood revenge. Craftily she repeatedly obtained the oath of the king that no one may kill the brother until finally she introduced the Lord God’s name in the repeated assurances given to her by David. David then even swore to her by the name of Yahweh that there would be no new killing (14:11). Instead of leaving satisfied, the woman pressed for one more objective and boldly substituted the “people of God” for the family and “the banished one” for her ficticious son in her parable. She named David the king as “the guilty one” (14:13). Sensing that the king was catching on too quickly, the woman tried to do a type of double-talk and make it appear that she was still describing her own case, when in fact David knew better. David, knowing Joab’s views on the matter, asked the woman, “Is the hand of Joab with thee in all this?” (14:19). Quickly the woman revealed the truth and praised the king’s wisdom in extravagant terms (14:19, 20). The permission was given to Joab to restore Absalom, but Absalom remained unhappy because he had not been restored to a full reconciliation. When Joab refused to do anything more for Absalom, his temper flared and he ordered his servants to set Joab’s field of barley on fire. Joab quickly came to see Absalom and the arrangements to see David were completed (14:28-33).

Reinstated, Absalom lost no time in going after his father’s throne. With his retinue of horses, chariots, and fifty retainers to run before him he began to capture the imagination of Israel (15:1). Early each morning he arose to see the people who had come to see the king for adjudication. With innuendo and insinuation, he intimated that if he were king things would straighten out in a hurry (15:2-4) and so he “stole the hearts of the men of Israel” (15:6). While the present text reads that it was after a period of “forty years” that Absalom made his move for the throne by asking the king to allow him to go to Hebron to pay an old vow to the Lord (15:7) most authorities including the LXX and Syr. agree it should read “after four years” from his return from his grandfather’s home in Geshur. This excuse revealed the same Absalom who once before had asked David to allow Amnon to attend a feast. He retreated to the old capital of David in Hebron with two hundred men. He then called for the wise counselor of David named Ahithophel to be his strategist (17:23).

When David learned of the planned rebellion, he immediately left Jerusalem. Apparently the opposition of the Saulist party and the defection of the tribes was so serious that the aging king decided to escape to Mahanaim, E of the Jordan with the Cherethites, Pelethites, Gittites, Zadok the priest, Hushai the counselor and Ahimaaz, Zadok’s son, and Jonathan, Abiathar’s son (15:13-30). Absalom was proclaimed king in Hebron and he took Jerusalem without any opposition at all. Nevertheless David was able to upset and defeat the wise counsel of Ahithophel by the spy infiltrator Hushai (15:32; 17:14). The messengers for David’s spy network were the sons of the two priests, Ahimaaz and Jonathan (17:17-24).

Ahithophel counseled Absalom to publicly violate the harem of David left behind in Jerusalem and thus establish his legitimacy to the throne (2 Sam 16:20-23). Next he counseled the usurper to attack David immediately before he could gather support (17:17), but fortunately for David, Hushai’s counsel was heeded instead and David had the time he needed due to the elaborate story which Hushai improvised and which contained great eulogies built to cater to Absalom’s vanity and pride (17:5-13).

When the battle finally took place, David’s forces had been neatly divided into three groups under Joab, Abishai and Ittai (18:1, 2). Absalom was caught by his hair in the branches of an oak tree while his mule rode out from under him and there a certain man found him (18:9-14). Joab had promised ten shekels of silver and a wrestling belt to the man who slew Absalom, but the man declined the offer. Joab, refusing the soft-hearted king’s request for mercy, thrust three darts into Absalom and thus the curtain fell on his career. He was buried on the spot and a heap of stones marked the rebel’s grave (2 Sam 18:15-17). During his lifetime, Absalom had erected a pillar to his name in the king’s valley (2 Sam 18:18, Jos. Antiq. VII. x. 3), since his sons prob. had died in their youth (2 Sam 14:27). Nothing is known with certainty about this monument.

David did not rejoice in the death of his son, but lamented over and over, “O my son Absalam, my son, my son!” (2 Sam 18:33; 19:1).

2. Abishalom, another name for Absalom, is the grandfather of Maach, the wife of Rehoboam, and the word “daughter” in 1 Kings 15:2 prob. means “granddaughter,” and “mother” of Asa in 1 Kings 15:10 means “grandmother.” (See Abijah.)

3. An ambassador in the army of Jonathan Maccabeas and father of Mattathias and Jonathan (1 Macc 11:9, 70; 13:11 and 2 Macc 11:17). There is some question about the equation of the messenger in 2 Maccabees with the one in 1 Maccabees.

Bibliography C. H. Gordon, “Belt-Wrestling in the Bible World,” HUCA, 23 (1950), 131-136; H. W. Hertzberg, I and II Samuel (1964), 253, 254, 320-362; R. N. Whybray, The Succession Narrative: A Study of II Samuel 9-20; I Kings 1 and 2 (1968).