O Absalom, My Son, My Son!
Based on Series of Sermons on the Repetition of Name and Titles
Preached in PCC Worship Service, 29 September 2013
Part 1 of 3

In our continuing study of the repetition of names and words in the Bible, we come now to consider an episode in the life of David where he repeatedly calls out the name of his son in great grief and anguish. The text is 2 Samuel 18:1-19:8.

Chapter 18 verse 33, “And the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept: and as he went, thus he said, O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!” And again in chapter 19 verse 4, “But the king covered his face, and the king cried with a loud voice, O my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son!”

Notice how in just these two verses, Absalom’s name is mentioned a total of five times and the phrase “my son” appears a total of eight times. When a name or title is repeated once, we already have a sign or indication of deep affection and emotion and endearment. But when it is repeated so many times, we know we are dealing with very deep and profound emotions.

Why was David so grieved? And what are some things we can learn from his grief? This is what we want to look at in these series of articles. But first, let us briefly review this part of Israel’s history.

Context and Background

Our text is part of a larger section of 2 Samuel that stretches all the way back to the beginning of chapter 15 and extends all the way to the end of chapter 19. These five chapters record the sad rebellion and revolt of Absalom against King David his father.

There are six parts to this story of Absalom’s rebellion. In chapter 15 verses 1-12, we read of Absalom’s conspiracy, which took place over at least 4 years, and how he eventually proclaimed himself king of Israel.

Next from verse 13 of chapter 15 till verse 14 of chapter 16, the narrative shifts to David’s flight and escape from Jerusalem to the river Jordan, and the various people that he met along the way including Zadok the priest, his good friend Hushai, who later played a very important role in his restoration, and the wicked Shimei, who cursed David along the way.

The third part of the story is from chapter 16 verse 15 to chapter 17 verse 23, which records Absalom’s entrance into Jerusalem to begin his reign as the new king of Israel. Especially important was the council meeting he held to determine the fate of David. In that very crucial meeting, both Ahithophel and Hushai presented their respective recommendations and proposals to Absalom. Ahithophel makes the very sound proposal to attack and kill David without delay using only a small but powerful force. In contrast, Hushai, the secret friend and supporter of David, criticises Ahithophel’s plan and then gives a lengthy speech in which he flatters Absalom and tells him to delay pursuing after David. His intention was to allow David time to regroup and for him to choose his own time and place for the battle. Absalom and his advisors decided to go along with Hushai’s proposal and the reason is not because Hushai’s plan was better. Rather, the real reason is found in 2 Samuel 17:14b, “For the LORD had appointed to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, to the intent that the LORD might bring evil upon Absalom.” The Lord was in absolute sovereign control, and, though unseen and unknown to the people involved, He was bringing about His own purposes and plans. Ahithophel was wise enough to realise that Absalom’s foolish decision would mark the end of his reign in a very short time and so he chose to take his own life first rather than witness the inevitable defeat.

The fourth part of the story is a short section from verses 24-29 of chapter 17, which records David’s favourable reception at Mahanaim, where he had set up his headquarters.

This brings us to the fifth part, which is our text. The sixth and last part of the story is from verse 9 of chapter 19 till the end of that chapter, and it has to do with David’s return to Jerusalem.

So this is a brief review of the context and background. Next, we move on to our text proper, which I’ve divided into four sub-sections. First, the battle is fought (18:1-8), second, the rebel is killed (18:9-18), third, the messengers are sent (18:19-32) and fourth, the king is overwhelmed (18:33-19:8).

The Battle is fought (18:1-8)

David gathers his army and organises them into three divisions. The first division is placed under the command of General Joab. The second division is placed under the command of General Abishai, Joab’s brother, while the third, came under General Ittai the Gittite.

As for David, who was the Chief of Army, he had every intention of going into the battle with his soldiers. “I will surely go forth with you myself also,” he said. However, his decision to do so was overturned by the people, who were concerned for his safety and didn’t want any harm to come to him. They, like Ahithophel, believed that the success of Absalom’s rebellion was dependent on whether Absalom could kill David.

If David was killed, the civil war in Israel would be over, and everyone would come under the reign of Absalom. So it was of utmost importance that David be protected and not be allowed to risk his life. But the flipside or the opposite was also true. If Absalom was killed, then the civil war would likewise come to an end.

David could see the first part, and so he agreed not to go into battle. He said in verse 4, “What seemeth you best I will do.” Sadly though, he couldn’t or didn’t want to see the flipside of things. In verse 5, we read that he commanded his three generals, Joab, Abishai and Ittai, saying, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man, even with Absalom.”

The verse goes on to tell us that all the soldiers heard the instruction that David gave to his three generals concerning Absalom. From a military point of view, this is a terrible command. David was essentially telling his army to fight well and to fight hard but they were not allowed to harm the one enemy who was the cause of this whole war and whose death would mark the end of the war! As one commentator wrote, “it does nothing for a soldier’s morale to know that his leader does not want his enemy to be hurt!”

Well, David’s army went forth into battle and they met Absalom’s army in the forest of Ephraim, which was located somewhere in Gilead, east of the river Jordan. For some reason, David’s smaller army was able to effectively attack and defeat the much larger force of Absalom, which was apparently unable to manoeuvre effectively in that terrain.

Twenty thousand men from Absalom’s army were slaughtered in that day of battle. Nature itself was fighting against them, which is what the phrase “and the wood devoured more people that day than the sword devoured” in verse 8 means.

This brings us to the second section of the text on the death of Absalom, which we will look at in the next article.

… to be continued

—Linus Chua