Thursday, February 4, 2016

Absalom's death: a Phyrric victory for King David

Since my childhood, the story of Absalom intrigued me, especially because of his long hair and the unusual circumstances of David's third son's death.

Who was Absalom?

Absalom is the third of the six sons born to David (and Maacah) in Hebron. He would soon move to Jerusalem. Maacah, his mom, happened to be the daughter of  Talmai, king of Geshur.

The name Absalom comes from Av Shalom in Hebrew, and means the Father of Peace.
The second Book of Samuel describes Absalom as a very handsome man, of perfect appearance:

" Now in all Israel there was no one so much to be praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom. From the sole of his foot to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him." 2 Samuel 14:25

King David seemed to cherish his son in a very special way. Even when Absalom rebelled against his father, David did not want him to be harmed. The King had given clear orders that no one touched Absalom: " Beware that no one touch the young man Absalom".

Absalom the avenger

The Book of Samuel tells us about about a sad story of the rape of Tamar, Absalom's sister by his half brother Amnon. The story of Tamar's rape came to David's ears, who was very displeased with it. One might wonder why King David didn't punish his son Amnon for his horrendous crime. Some people state that David had sinned himself for sending Urie to death and taking Bathsheva as his wife, so he wasn't really entitled to judge his son after Jewish law. 

Absalom was deeply affected by the rape of his sister whom he seemed to love very much and be very close to (Absalom's own daughter was named Tamar, probably after his beloved sister). After it had happened, he kept silent, but began to nourish a deep hatred towards his half brother Amnon because of his lustful crime.

"But Absalom spoke to Amnon neither good nor bad, for Absalom hated Amnon, because he had violated his sister Tamar." 2 Samuel 13:22

Absalom would carefully plan his half-brother's murder. He let Amnon believe that he had completely forgotten about the affair, so Amnon would progressively lower his guard.
He then invites all of King David's sons to a sheep-shearing feast. Moreover, he requests his father's presence.
Abshalom uses his cleverness in order to trap his brother.  Since David declines his son Absalom's invites, he will insist to have Amnon participate to the feast. Amnon being King David's eldest son, Absalom's request seems very logical.

Maybe David had some gut feeling about his son's request, because he replied:

"Why should he go with you?"

But he would eventually agree to Amnon's venue in front of Absalom's insistance.

"And Absalom commanded his servants, saying, "Mark you know, when Amnon's heart is merry with wine and when I say unto you, 'Smite Amon', then kill him, fear not; have I not commanded you? be courageous and be valiant. And the servants of Absalom did to Amnon as Absalom had commanded. Then all the king's sons arose, and every man got him up upon his mule and fled."

Absalom is reported to have fled to his maternal grandfather, the king of Geshur, for three years, before he could access King David's grace again.

Absalom: a Nazirite?

"Whenever he cut his hair at the end of every year, because it grew thick on his head, which is why he cut it-his hair weighed in at 200 shekels measured by the royal standard." 2 Samuel 14:26

Absalom is described as having very long, heavy hair that he did only cut once a year. However, the Bible doesn't mention explicitely if he had taken a vow before Hashem or not.

One could assume that he probably did.

Absalom's fate during the battle of Ephraim

Absalom's object of pride (his beautiful and long hair) would also become the object of his fate.
Although King David was actively involved in fighting against the rebels led by Absalom, the king gave precise orders that one should deal "gently with the young man Absalom", which reveals a father's heart for his son.

But Joab would disregard David's order and kill Absalom which caused King David immense sorrow.

Joab expected him to rejoice because of the victory, but David's pain was so great that he wished he had died instead of his son.
While some people will find multiple interpretations about David's lament over Absalom in regards to Heaven or hell, I simply choose to look at a heartbroken father who lost a child he probably had a special affection and connection with. 

This episode of David's life is also more painful than losing Batsheva's newborn son, because Absalom had grown into an adult man. Over the years, David had probably developed a lot of complicity with his son, despite their differences. Although Absalom had become a rebel to his father, David probably always expected to reconcile with him.

In my opinion, the battle of Ephraim is probably a phyrric victory for King David who suffers in the same way Hashem suffers for His lost sons and daughters, always renewing our chances for Teshuva (repentance).

Copyright© by Isabelle Esling


  1. Gostei muito meus parabéns , muito bom o seu blog.

  2. thank you for your comment, but I don't understand Spanish...would you mind posting in English, please?


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