2 Samuel 15:1 In the course of time, Absalom provided himself with a chariot and horses and with fifty men to run ahead of him.
Absalom was about thirty years old at this time, and had a royal appearance. In all Israel there was not a man so highly praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom. From the top of his head to the sole of his foot there was no blemish in him. Whenever he cut the hair of his head . . . he would weigh it, and its weight was two hundred shekels by the royal standard (1 Samuel 14:25-26).
Absalom enhanced his royal appearance with a chariot and a body guard of fifty men. Having murdered his older brother Amnon, Absalom was next in line for David’s throne. He often stood by the road to the city gate and heard the concerns of the people.
[W]henever anyone approached him to bow down before him, Absalom would reach out his hand, take hold of him and kiss him. Absalom behaved in this way toward all the Israelites who came to the king asking for justice, and so he stole the hearts of the people of Israel (2 Samuel 15:5-6).
It is not clear why David allowed his son to act this way. The king likely watched with interest, but underestimated his son’s ambition. Absalom would not wait for David to die of natural causes. He was plotting his father’s demise in order to take his throne.
2 Samuel 15:7 At the end of four years, Absalom said to the king, Let me go to Hebron and fulfill a vow I made to the Lord.
After four years of winning people’s hearts, Absalom decided the time had come for him to act. Hebron was about nineteen miles south of Jerusalem, and was a town of some importance. It is where David was anointed king (2 Samuel 2:4), and where Absalom was born (2 Samuel 3:2-3).
To get his father’s permission to go to Hebron, Absalom used a religious lie. While your servant was living at Geshur in Aram, I made this vow: If the Lord takes me back to Jerusalem, I will worship the Lord in Hebron (2 Samuel 15:8).
David may have been pleased with Absalom’s apparent commitment to God. At last, perhaps, he was growing in his faith. The king said to him, Go in peace (2 Samuel 15:9). But Absalom was planning war.
Absalom’s use of a religious lie, to conceal his godless plan, shows the bankruptcy of his character. He was an ambitious man in the worst possible sense. Perhaps the murder of his older brother was not merely revenge, but a clearing of the way for him to become king. Now that he had the people’s support, he was willing to kill his father to make it happen.
Here we see the difference between good ambition and bad ambition. It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known (Romans 15:20), wrote Paul. We ought to be ambitious to do all the good we can, but ambition becomes evil whenever we are willing to hurt others to promote ourselves. For where you have . . . selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice (James 3:16), wrote James. Beware of the person with selfish ambition.
2 Samuel 15:9 So [Absalom] went to Hebron.
There he declared himself king with such success, that David and his officials had to flee Jerusalem, lest Absalom come with an army and put the city to the sword (2 Samuel 15:14). This was a total assault on David’s reign, and Absalom was winning.
2 Samuel 15:31 Now David had been told, Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom.
Ahithophel was one of David’s top advisors, and now he was serving David’s enemy. This gave Absalom another advantage, since the advice Ahithophel gave was like that of one who inquires of God (2 Samuel 16:23). The defection of Ahithophel also hurt David personally. Even my close friend, someone I trusted, one who shared my bread, has turned against me (Psalm 41:9), he wrote.
Jesus quoted David’s words and applied them to Judas Iscariot (John 13:18). Judas appeared to be Jesus’ friend in many ways. He walked with Jesus, talked with Jesus, ate with Jesus, and gave every appearance of being a faithful disciple. But when it became clear that Jesus would die, Judas switched sides (Luke 22:4). Both Judas and Ahithophel turned against their king in order to save themselves.
Unless we want to be like Judas and Ahithophel, we must be more loyal to Christ than we are to ourselves. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it (Luke 9:24), said Jesus. Judas and Ahithophel share something else in common. Centuries apart from each other, they both committed suicide (Matthew 27:5, 2 Samuel 17:23). If we put ourselves ahead of Christ, we are likely to die despairing.
Reflection and Review
How did Absalom become so evil?
What is the difference between good ambition and bad ambition?
Why do people turn away from Christ?