Read 2 Samuel 18, Daniel 8, and Psalms 114-116 today. This devotional is about 2 Samuel 18.
Of all the battles David fought in his life, none created as much anxiety for him as this one must have. His anxiety had nothing to do with fear of losing; God had made an eternal covenant with David, so David could be confident that God would be with him.
David also had an impressive army with him (v. 1) led by Joab, his experienced, successful field general (v. 2). Although David expressed his willingness to enter the battle personally (v. 2f), his soldiers convinced him to stay in the fortified city of Mahanaim (2 Samuel 17:24 compare to 2 Samuel 2:8) while they fought on his behalf (18:3-6).
As expected, God gave David’s troops this victory (vv. 7-8). Absalom certainly believed he was a capable judge (remember 15:1-4); apparently he also believed he was a mighty warrior. There is no mention of him fighting in Israel’s army because he probably wasn’t needed in David’s army . Alhough Jonathan fought in his father, King Saul’s army, David’s kingdom and army were more highly developed than Saul’s. It seems unlikely to me, therefore that Absalom had ever fought in any battle prior to this battle here in 2 Samuel 18.
Though the Bible does not accuse Absalom of arrogance, its description of him suggests an arrogant man. He had hired men to go before his chariots and horsemen to announce his arrival (15:1). Unlike most men who have receding hairlines or some type of balding problem, Absalom had a thick head of hair that he allowed to grow long (14:26), maybe to stand out in a crowd and draw attention to himself. Our passage today told us that Absalom built a monument to himself so that he would not be forgotten, since he had no son (v. 18). Despite his great self-confidence, Absalom’s army was no match for his father’s and his thick hair was instrumental in bringing him to a humiliating defeat (vv. 9-17).
Unlike his father, David, who was chosen and anointed king by God and who waited until Saul was dead and Israel was ready for him to become king, Absalom anointed himself king and tried to take David’s kingdom from him by force, despite what God had promised to David.
Absalom’s life and death illustrate the truth Jesus taught in Luke 14:11: “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” May the Lord protect us from the high risk foolishness of arrogance.
I think that we are especially susceptible to arrogance when we are young. I know that I, as a younger man, thought I saw things more clearly at times than the leaders I followed. I remember thinking that I could do better and agitating for more authority. Now that I am older and have struggled with the realities of the adult world and spiritual /church leadership, I have a much lower view of my own abilities.
If you are young, take a lesson from Absalom; there is great virtue in following your leaders as your leaders do their best to follow and obey the Lord. Don’t let arrogance put you into a self-destructive place.
One final thought: I do not believe in allegorical interpretation of the Bible and I think it often produces theology that is untrue and even reckless. But since we are made in God’s image, aspects of human life recorded in scripture can sometimes help us relate personally to God’s own heart. So I can’t help but see God’s heart in David’s deep anguish at the loss of Absalom (v. 33). Like Absalom, humanity—we—have rebelled against God’s authority and rulership. Like Absalom, we think too much of ourselves and act as if we know better than the King.
Like Absalom marching against David’s army, we try to overthrow the Almighty Warrior with logic, science, and other gifts of God that we try to employ perversely as weapons against him. Yet, like David, God still cares for us in our rebellion. He wants to be the king that he rightfully is, but he wants to show us mercy when we try to overthrow him. Our rebellion stirs the heart of God in anger but also in pain, yet he longs to be reconciled to us because he loves us. Unlike David, however, God was able to redeem us, reconcile us, and change our rebellious hearts through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.