Sunday School Lesson for July 28, 2002
Background Passage: 2 Samuel 15:1-17:29
Ambition’s Methods: Absalom Conspires to be King (15:1-6)
Chapter fifteen commences with the author’s notation of Absalom’s ambitious rise to power in the nation of Israel in “the course of time.” This was specifically made evident in two arenas. First, Absalom maintained a large contingent of loyal servants, represented here by the “chariot and horses” and the “fifty men,” that accompanied him. These were the trappings of royalty that must have impressed onlookers as they took notice of the prince. Additionally, Absalom strategically positioned himself “by the side of the road leading to the city gate” where he would intercept those who had journeyed to Jerusalem to have their civil cases adjudicated by the king. It is clear from this evidence that Absalom had designs on stripping the kingdom from the hand of his father
Having stationed himself at the city gate, Absalom would claim that those who had come for legal assistances would not find the king interested in their issues—“there is no representative of the king to hear you.” In this way, he continually worked out his plot to overthrow his father by turning the tide of popular opinion in his favor—“If only I were appointed judge in the land!” Absalom’s claim that he would personally see to it that every man “gets justice” was a direct attack on both the integrity and ability of his father to successfully preside over the nation.
The self-serving intentions of Absalom are further revealed by the way he treated those whom he met at Jerusalem’s gate. When the visitors expressed the customary reverence for a member of the royal family by bowing before him, “Absalom would reach out his hand, take hold of him and kiss him.” His knack for flair, drama, and political manipulation proved to be highly effective in accomplishing his diabolical intentions, so much so that “he stole the hearts of the men of Israel.” Dale Davis provides this helpful summary of the significance of Absalom’s actions:
In Absalom’s successful coup we begin to see clearly how Yahweh’s word in 12:10-12 is reaching fulfillment: Absalom and his carefully crafted rebellion constitute the threatened disaster out of David’s own household (12:11a). Yet Absalom’s deed is a wrong and despicable act of rebellion against Yahweh’s kingdom. Absalom has no qualms about putting forth his hand against Yahweh’s anointed (contrast David in 1 Sam. 24 and 26). Side by side we have the truthfulness of God’s word (12:11) and the wickedness of Absalom’s act .
Ambition’s Actions: Absalom Executes His Plan (15:7-12)
After “four years” of political maneuvering and manipulation, Absalom progressed to phase two of his plot to overthrow his father. Ronald Youngblood suggests that during Absalom’s three-year hiatus in Geshur (13:38) “he may have been attempting to drum up support among his eastern allies, looking forward to the time when he would rebel against his father” . Claiming the need to “fulfill a vow” he had made to Yahweh, Absalom requested that David grant him permission to journey to the city of “Hebron” in order that he might “worship the Lord” there. This was, ironically, the very place where David had initially been anointed as king over Israel. That David readily granted him permission—“Go in peace”—seems to suggest that he suspected nothing duplicitous in Absalom’s heart. However, as Joyce Baldwin observes, it is “inconceivable that David did not know what Absalom was doing, but did he feel secure in his hold on the hearts of his people, and judge that he could safely tolerate the play-acting of his upstart son?” .
While in Hebron, supposedly worshipping Yahweh, Absalom secured the services of “secret messengers” whom he scattered “throughout the tribes of Israel.” These loyal accomplices were instructed to relay the bogus news that “Absalom is king in Hebron” at a pre-arranged signal—“the sound of the trumpets.” When this occurred, it would create the illusion that Absalom had assumed the throne. Such a carefully crafted “coup d’etat, announced almost simultaneously in this way to all the tribes,” according to Baldwin, “makes opposition appear useless” .
At the same time, while “offering sacrifices,” Absalom enticed David’s chief counselor, “Ahithophel the Gilonite,” to unite with him in the conspiracy against his father. This man was not only a trusted advisor to the king but also the grandfather of Bathsheba. This final puzzle piece, strategically put into place by Absalom, all but guaranteed the continued escalation of the plot—“the conspiracy gained strength”—and the growth of Absalom’s popularity among the masses—“Absalom’s following kept on increasing.” It is quite interesting that just a few years before, “David had experienced the exhilaration of growing ‘stronger and stronger, while the house of Saul grew weaker and weaker’ (3:1). Now, however, the shoe is on the other foot” [Youngblood, 991].
Ambition’s Damage: David Flees Jerusalem (15:13-14)
Soon David learned of Absalom’s plot to overthrow his kingdom and the sad news, borne by a “messenger,” that his traitorous son had succeeded in capturing the “hearts of the men of Israel.” This phrase, according to Youngblood, means that the men of the nation were “following [Absalom] with total devotion” . In response to this devastating news, David had but one real option if he wanted to avoid personal “ruin” and the unleashing of violence in the city of Jerusalem. Therefore, he immediately gave the executive order to “flee, or none of us will escape Absalom.” Youngblood sees this tragic scene as a “cruelly ironic twist on Absalom’s earlier flight from Jerusalem to escape his father (13:34, 37-38) . David and his son are now forever estranged.
One: The lust for power—As you reflect upon the life of Absalom to this point (13:20-15:14), what are some of the evidences that he desired power and position more than anything else in his life? Why do you suppose he was so dissatisfied with his position as son of the king? Why would he eventually decide to destroy his very own father in his quest for the highest office in the land? Food for Thought: Notice how the unchecked lust for power is internally destructive. You always get much more than you bargain for!
Two: Misuse of the Lord’s name—Absalom employed the diabolical tactic of appealing to his own “commitment” to Yahweh in order to mislead and ultimately overthrow his father. How does such action relate to the Third Commandment? How are believers today guilty of such a sin? Food for Thought: Taking the Lord’s name vainly means much more than simply using it as a curse word.
Three: The consequences of selfish ambition—In the final analysis, is the reckless pursuit of selfish ends really worth it? How many things did Absalom sacrifice in order to become king? Food for Thought: Isn’t this the way sin, especially pride and ambition, operates? It never puts its best foot forward. There are always hidden consequences that the sinner is unaware of until it is too late.