David made it to Mahanaim in safety. Absalom followed and battle between the two forces ensues. David asks his men to ‘treat Absalom kindly’ but he is killed instead.
When we left our story David had arrived in Mahanaim and received much needed supplies from three men who lived there. David’s people were very grateful and much refreshed. We are not told how many people came with David but it was more than 600. Ittai the Gittite came with 600 men. This isn’t counting the other groups who accompanied David. In today’s part of the story we see that there were probably at least 3,000 men with him. David sets “commanders of thousands” and “commanders of hundreds” in place. He then divides his troops into three units, giving me the impression of at least 3,000 troops. I won’t swear to it but it seems probable.
Absalom came to Gilead with troops in the tens of thousands. These two forces are going to square off to see who will rule Israel. Before the battle begins, look back in time and remember who GOD said was to be king. That alone should tell you something about the upcoming battle. Let’s rejoin our story and see where the Spirit takes us today.
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David is exhausted physically and mentally. He is grateful for the food and all the rest of the items that were provided by Shobi, Machir, and Barzillai. The beds were especially welcome but David doesn’t have the luxury of putting one to use. Absalom is on their heels.
David needs to prepare for battle. He first has to ensure his men receive food and rest. They will be no good to him in battle if they can’t hold their heads up from fatigue and hunger. He prays that Absalom’s men are in need of rest too.
While the men are eating and resting David calls his most trusted general together. It’s time to draw up the battle plans. First order is to organize the men into companies. David chooses Joab, Abishai, and Ittai as his captains of thousands. David’s forces will be divided between the three of them. “I will leave the assignment of captain of hundreds to you” says David.
The three men know those who serve under them and already have in mind who to appoint. “We should have everything in order by nightfall. I will set guards to watch the city” offers Joab.
“I will post lookouts in the edge of the forest” responds Abishai.
“I will send scouts to observe Absalom’s movements” offers Ittai.
“Shifts should be no more than four hours each until all the men have had a chance to rest” instructs David. Heads nod in agreement. David then lays out the strategy for the upcoming battle. “One advantage we have is the forest. It is thick and offers a lot of cover. Our men are experienced in this kind of fighting. It’s been a while since we had to use these tactics but it isn’t something one forgets. Absalom’s men are young and lack our seasoning. When the battle begins, Joab you take the right flank, Ittai you take the left and Abishai you move up the center. I think it wise if Abishai move forward first then draw back bringing Absalom’s men deeper into the forest. Then Joab and Ittai can flank them on both sides and also come in behind to cut off their retreat. We must make certain though that they don’t break through our lines and reach the city. I will be joining Abishai’s forces.”
All three men started talking at once. “No!” “You can’t…” “This is a very unwise…” Joab holds his hand up and the other two stop so one voice can be heard on this matter. You shall not go out. For if we flee, they will not care about us. If half of us die, they will not care about us. But you are worth ten thousand of us. Therefore it is better that you send us help from the city” (verse 3).
David looked at his three general’s faces. He could see there was no changing their minds. “Whatever seems best to you I will do” (verse 4a).
Relief washed over the faces of David’s men. The meeting finally broke up and the generals went to their assigned troops.
That day passed in relative quiet. The city was filled with anxiousness but the call to battle was not called. The men were able to get some rest as David had hoped. Ittai’s spies brought back word of the size of Absalom’s troops.
“It appears that Absalom was able to mobilize much of Israel. He has about 30,000 men with him.”
“We are outnumbered, again” said David. “But we have been in this position before. If we stand with the Lord and He will fight for us.” David knew this deep in his heart but he wished he could ask Zadok to consult the Lord on their behalf. It would give him and his men the confidence they needed if they KNEW the Lord would give them victory again.
The next morning Ittai’s scouts hurried back to camp to let it be known that Absalom had mustered his men. They were moving towards the forest. The call to assemble was sounded and the men formed up outside the city gates. David watched from the gate. He would willingly have marched with them but it was not to be this time. As they were preparing to march David called Joab, Abishai, and Ittai to himself.
“Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom” (verse 5b).
All three men heard him and so did the soldiers standing nearby. David spoke these words in earnest and in fear. He loved Absalom. He was his son.
Abishai’s forces lead the charge through the center of the forest. Absalom’s troops willingly take the bait and rush to meet them. They are drawn into the forest and Abishai’s men melt back into the trees. Joab and Ittai lead their men on the flanks while maintaining cover in the trees. Absalom’s men quickly become disoriented when they enter deeper into the forest. David’s men begin picking them off in small groups. Absalom’s men are a mess! Some get trapped in bogs, some fall into ravines, and some become so disoriented that they kill their own fellow soldiers.
Absalom is present in all this activity. He came upon one of David’s men and in his excitement he charged towards him. Absalom is riding his mule and plans to run the man down and run him through with his sword. Absalom was paying no attention to his surroundings as he was driving his mule forward. During the chase the mule passed under a low hanging branch. Absalom’s hair became tangled in the branches. His head was jerked back and his body yanked off the mule’s back. The mule kept running while its rider hung between heaven and earth.
The branches were so thick and gnarled that Absalom couldn’t work his hands through them to free his hair. And his hair was so thick that he had no hope of it slipping through the branches. He flailed and kicked to no avail.
David’s man heard Absalom yelling and cursing. He turned back to see what was happening. He remembered the king’s words at the gate. “Joab will want to know of this” he thought and quickly located his captain. “Behold, I saw Absalom hanging in an oak” (verse 10b) he reported.
“What, you saw him! Why then did not you strike him there to the ground? I would have been glad to give you ten pieces of silver and a belt” (verse 11b) replied Joab.
The man looked stricken. “Even if I felt in my hand the weight of a thousand pieces of silver, I would not reach out my hand against the king’s son, for in our hearing the king commanded you and Abishai and Ittai, ‘For my sake protect the young man Absalom.’ On the other hand, if I had dealt threacherously against his life (and there is nothing hidden from the king), then you yourself would have stood aloof” (verses 12b-13).
Joab looked at the man with anger. “’I will not waste time like this with you’ (verse 14a). Show me where he is.”
The man took Joab and his armor bearers to the place where Absalom still hung by his hair. Absalom’s eyes grew enormous at the appearance of Joab. Before Absalom even uttered a plea for mercy, Joab grabbed three javelins from his men’s hands and thrust them into Absalom’s heart while he hung in the oak.
Joab stepped back from Absalom who was gasping for breath. “Finish him” he commanded.
Ten of Joab’s armor bearers surrounded Absalom. They struck him with their swords and killed him. They then cut him down from the tree. Together with Joab they carried him to a large pit in the forest and threw him in. Then they piled a great mound of stones onto his body, filling the entire pit.
Joab then blew the trumpet. All Israel knew this call. It signaled the battle was over. Both armies gathered around their commanders. David’s armies were missing but a few men. Israel’s army had been decimated. When they regrouped Absalom’s absence was verified. They had lost their new king.
Joab restrained his men as they watched the men of Israel retreat from the field. There was no honor in taking the lives of these remaining men. All that remained was to report the news to their king; the rightful ruler of Israel.
(to be continued)
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Joab went against David’s command. If you want to get picky, David didn’t explicitly say “Don’t kill Absalom.” Instead he said, “Deal gently” with him. Everyone knew what David meant. And everyone knew that Joab’s actions did NOT follow David’s command.
Was Joab looking at the long term possibilities of what Absalom might do if he lived or was he acting out of a desire for revenge? Joab has been known to seek revenge when he feels wronged. And he doesn’t care who gets hurt when he is exacting his revenge. But the fact that Joab blew the trumpet right after makes me wonder if it was all strategy instead. Joab could have let his forces destroy ALL of Absalom’s soldiers but some lives were spared. We aren’t told how many but I would suppose it was quite a few. Israel’s losses were 22,000 in this battle. We aren’t told if David lost any men.
Joab had watched David for years. He knew of David’s weakness with his children. Did he suspect that Absalom would rise up again if he lived because David wouldn’t stop him? I wonder if he would have. Quite probably is my guess. Joab took a short term loss for a long term gain.
Father God, YOU are the one who fought for David in this battle. Were You on Joab’s side of this issue? Or were You on David’s? You offer me SO MANY TIMES to repent and turn from my sin. Absalom had those same chances but he chose not to make the right choice.
I PRAY I don’t have ‘Absalom suspended choices’ in my life right now. Ones that I KNOW are wrong and I’m so hung up on them that I can’t disentangle myself from them. Thinking it over I believe I have at least one. I’m asking Father that You cut the ties that bind me to it. Don’t let ‘Joab’ come along and take that decision out of my hands. Thank You for having a heart that ALWAYS hopes for the best from me. And calls it forth!