Bible Commentary: 2 Samuel 14

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2 Samuel 14

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Seeds of Rebellion

Absalom certainly didn't grow up in a good family situation. Remember, David had six sons by six different women in seven and a half years (see 2 Samuel 3:2-5; 2 Samuel 5:5), of whom Absalom was the third. The marriage of his mother, Maacah, daughter of King Talmai of Geshur, to David was undoubtedly a political one, and thus there was probably little love involved in it. This was far from ideal for God intended the stable home environment of a loving, monogamous marriage to produce godly offspring (see Malachi 2:15). But sadly, Absalom and his other siblings have been denied this. This is not to say that people cannot overcome an adverse family situation, as a number of biblical heroes did. It is just to point out that those in such circumstances begin with a disadvantage. Furthermore, it appears that David was rarely home while his earlier children were growing up. Instead, he was away fighting wars (compare 2 Samuel 3-10). This is not stated to condemn David, as these wars carved out the empire God intended Israel to attain. Rather, it is to help us understand the added difficulty Absalom and David's other earlier children had while growing up. And it should also serve as a lesson that a person can be righteous and still need to work on properly balancing work and family responsibilities.

It should also be pointed out that Absalom was a teenager when David committed his terrible sin with Bathsheba and Uriah. How disillusioning this must have been for the boy. His father, the righteous king and great hero, reduced to this. David's actions surely left an impression on his children. Furthermore, besides the natural consequences all of these factors might have produced on their own, God's punishment of turmoil as a consequence of David's sin is now directly at work in David's family. Amnon's character was probably, in part, a result of the same upbringing Absalom experienced. The weaknesses in both of David's sons played a part in the awful circumstances of our previous reading—and the continuing turmoil that God had foretold.

In his longing to see Absalom (2 Samuel 13:39), David perhaps thought about some of the mistakes he had made as a father. He probably couldn't help but realize the fact that his own sin of adultery and murder was, at least in part, responsible for what was happening.

Joab, perhaps viewing the king's distraction over the matter as a threat to national security, devises a scheme to get David to reexamine the whole situation and reestablish a relationship with his son. He sends a woman to tell the king a supposedly parallel story—as Nathan had done earlier following David's sin with Bathsheba. Yet this story is only partially parallel: "The fictitious story does not fit Absalom's case, which involved premeditated murder with known hostile intent (2 Samuel 13:32). David could only have responded as he did because he wanted his son to return so badly (cf. vv. 37-39)" (Bible Reader's Companion, note on 14:1-4).

However, there may have been a mitigating circumstance in Absalom's killing of Amnon that David could have considered, though it isn't stated in the account. God equated rape with murder--“for just as when a man rises against his neighbor and kills him, even so is this matter" (Deuteronomy 22:26). Though rape in this verse is that of an engaged or married woman, the rape of a sister, who could not legally marry her guilty brother, was surely just as heinous. Indeed, both crimes merited the death penalty. Had Amnon murdered Tamar, Absalom could have, according to the law, pursued and killed him as the "avenger of blood." Perhaps there was some justification, then, for avenging something that was evidently on par with murder. Moreover, David may have come to reason that he should have personally ordered Amnon put to death—and that Absalom was justified for doing what he did upon David's own failure to act.

In any case, David acquiesces to Joab's wish to have Absalom brought back. However, the king refuses to see his son face to face for another two years. Perhaps he cannot break through the barrier of resentment that has built up over the killing of Amnon. Yet this just serves to further fuel Absalom's growing resentment. For consider how atrocious this is from the young man's perspective. First, his father would not punish Amnon for defiling his sister. Then, he is not allowed to see his father for three years. When his father at last sends for him to come back, he still refuses to see him for two more years, which must have been humiliating. It is apparently during these five years that Absalom's children are born, some at Jerusalem. And yet David will not even deign to visit his own grandchildren. Worse, it may even be that some of Absalom's sons die in infancy during this period—as we later see a declaration from him that he has no sons (2 Samuel 18:18)—and yet David still won't come to see Absalom, and neither will he allow Absalom to see him.

Absalom finally presses Joab into intervening, which results in a meeting at last between David and his son—Absalom bowing his head to the ground and the king kissing him. "The kiss was the symbol of their reconciliation. Although David and Absalom were reconciled, the seeds of bitterness that had been sown would soon bear the fruit of conspiracy and rebellion. David's protracted delay in coming to terms with his son ultimately led to disaster. For the moment, though, there was peace" (Nelson Study Bible, note on 14:33).

The Scriptures tell us that it is always best to resolve our differences and not let them drag on. There is no other way out. If an offense occurs, both parties should seek settlement and reconciliation. One of David's major faults was that of not addressing family problems head on, along with not spending the time to guide, direct and correct his children in a timely manner. David, a man after God's own heart, was by no means an evil person. Rather, like all of us, he made mistakes—and those mistakes had serious consequences.