Murder among Brothers

David had a number of sons, of whom four, Amnon, Absalom, Adoniah, and Solomon became conspicuous in the history of Israel.

Amnon, the son of Ahinoam of Jezreel, was David's first-born. His brother Absalom, the son of David's other wife, was famous for his splendid appearance. His long and luxuriant hair was his peculiar pride. Absalom had a sister named Tamar, who was very fair. Once Amnon deeply offended her,1 which exceedingly enraged Absalom. Between Absalom and his half-brother Amnon there was now kindled a terrible feud which could only be quenched in the life-blood of the offender.

Absalom had large flocks of sheep grazing in Baal-Hazor, near the frontier of Ephraim: at the time of the sheep-shearing, he invited all his brothers to the rural feast, and Amnon went among the rest. When Amnon's heart was merry with wine, the servants of Absalom slew him on a predetermined sign from their master. A general panic seized the guests. No one thought of retaliation for the bloody deed of Absalom. All sprang upon their mules and fled. Absalom, meanwhile, had fled to his mother's family in Geshur, where he dwelt for three years.

At last Absalom was, by Joab's intercession, permitted to return to Jerusalem, but for two years he was not permitted to see his father. David could not forgive him for his cruel deed of fratricide.

Absalom now hated his father and designed schemes for dethroning him and wresting the kingdom from him. The false and faithless son began, ostensibly, to seek his father's forgiveness, as otherwise he could not hope to succeed in his plans. After repeated intercession by Joab, David finally permitted his son to appear before him.

Absalom's Revolt Succeeds

Absalom considered himself the heir to the throne, for now that Amnon was dead, he was the next in line of succession. David, however, had been prophetically informed that his young son Solomon, the son of Bathsheba, would succeed him. Absalom must have suspected this from his father's attitude, and he secretly prepared a revolt. When his plans had matured, he induced the king to allow him to go to Hebron for the fulfillment of a vow which he professed to have made while living in Geshur. He went southward with two hundred unsuspecting followers. In Hebron he sounded the trumpet-call. Alas! the ungrateful people readily forgot the great king who had been anointed at that very place, and who had gloriously reigned over them for 37 years, and they came flocking to the standard of Absalom. Even Ahitophel the Gilonite, David's wise counsellor, declared for his son and gave to the rebellion the weight of his name and experience.

David in Flight

When the aged king heard the sad tidings, his great spirit was crushed.

He did not think of resistance but at once prepared for flight. With his entire household, with all his servants, and with his devoted followers, he departed from his own beloved city Jerusalem. Six hundred men of Gath had recently joined him under their chief Ittai and insisted upon accompanying him. The procession, mourning and weeping, passed over the brook Kidron and took the road that led to the wilderness. On the opposite side of the brook they were met by Zadok and Abiathar, the two priests; with them came their sons Ahimaaz and Jonathan, and a host of Levites bearing the Ark of the Covenant. But David refused to let the sacred shrine accompany him in his uncertain wanderings. With humility and resignation, he ordered that the Ark of G‑d be borne back to Jerusalem. Then David commenced the ascent of Mount Olivet; he walked barefooted, with his mantle drawn over his head; and in like manner all the people that went with him hid their weeping faces. Now the bitter tidings came to David that Ahitophel was among the conspirators who had joined Absalom. David's sorrow and despondency knew no bounds.

When he had completed the ascent of the mountain he was overtaken by the faithful Hushai the Archite, who came with his clothes rent and earth upon his head. To him, David confided his wishes and plans. According to these plans, Hushai was to return to Jerusalem and pretend to be one of Absalom's followers. He was then to try to induce Absalom to do just the opposite of what Ahitophel would advise him to do, for David knew that if Absalom followed Ahitophel's guidance, the revolt would succeed. Obedient to the king, Hushai returned to Jerusalem and entered the city about the same time that Absalom arrived.

David, still traveling on, was now met by Ziba, the servant of Mephibosheth, who brought the king two donkeys laden with bread and wine. David was surprised that Mephibosheth should express his loyalty to him at the very time when Absalom's revolt seemed to be spreading. The false Ziba, however, said that the gifts were his own, and that Mephibosheth had joined the revolt in the hope of having the throne returned to him. David, believing this falsehood, exclaimed that Mephibosheth had forfeited all his possessions, which the king now bestowed upon Ziba.