DAVID WAS warned that Absalom, his son, was near and would probably try to attack Jerusalem in a violent effort to seize the government of Israel. King David and hundreds of his faithful subjects, soldiers and servants and their families hurriedly moved out of the city so that it wouldn't become a scarred site of battle. (II Samuel 15:13-23.) When David realized that the ark was being taken from its place in Jerusalem, he was very upset.
King David's Secret Agent
"Don't bring the ark out of Jerusalem," David told the priests, Zadok and Abiathar. "Return it to where it was. It shouldn't be exposed to the uncertainty of travel. We should rely on God, not the ark." Zadok and Abiathar obeyed with the understanding that by staying in Jerusalem they could also observe what would take place there and inform David of the circumstances. David hardly knew whom else he could trust in this time when so many of his subjects were deserting him. (II Samuel 15:24-29.) He felt that this terrible situation could be the result of past sins concerning Uriah and Uriah's wife, as God had warned. (II Samuel 12:7-10.) Accordingly, he decided to walk to the top of Mount Olivet, just east of Jerusalem, to pray to God. This he did in a repentant manner, covering his head and wearing nothing on his feet. Many others accompanied him, weeping as they went. After a period of worshipping at the top of the hill, David was approached by a friend by the name of Hushai, who was not a warrior, but a counselor. Hushai spoke of his desire to accompany the king wherever he would go. (II Samuel 15:30-32.) "Instead of going with me," David told him, "you could help me more if you would return to Jerusalem and join Zadok and Abiathar to keep me posted, through their sons, of how matters take place in Jerusalem when Absalom arrives there. Perhaps you can even come into Absalom's confidence and wisely offset any advice that might be given to him by Ahithophel, who forsook me for my son." Hushai wanted to do anything he could for the king. He obediently returned to the city. (II Samuel 15:33-37.) On the way down Mount Olivet, David was hailed in a respectful manner by a man named Ziba. He was a servant of Mephibosheth, a son of Jonathan, who was Saul's son and David's boyhood friend. Ziba was leading two donkeys heavily loaded with food. When David asked him where he was taking it, Ziba told him that the donkeys were for carrying David and the members of his family, by turns, so that they wouldn't become so weary by walking. "The bread and the fruit are for keeping up the strength of the young men, and the goatskin of wine is to refresh any who become faint if you have to go into the desert," Ziba explained. "I trust you will return soon to your throne." "Where is Mephibosheth?" David asked. "I'd like to thank him." "This isn't my master's idea," Ziba replied. "He stayed in Jerusalem. He feels that he should be the new king because he is of the royal family of Saul." David was surprised and disappointed to hear that one he had thought of as being so loyal should suddenly become almost as ambitious as Absalom. Under the strain of his distress, David made an error in perception. "You seem to be more faithful to me than Mephibosheth is," David observed. "I think you deserve everything that belongs to him." Ziba bowed low and grinned with satisfaction. He had just lied about Mephibosheth, who was still loyal to David. The wily servant was making every effort to obtain David's goodwill and gratitude. He was certain that it would be well worthwhile, because he was convinced that David would return to the leadership of Israel (II Samuel 16:1-4.)
Curses and Hatred
Later, as David and his followers moved along a ravine well outside of Jerusalem, a man of Saul's tribe came running along one bank of the gully, throwing stones at David and those with the king. He angrily shouted insults and curses, and accused David of having murderously taken the throne of Israel from Saul. "Now at last you're paying for all the bloody crimes you've committed!" the Benjamite yelled. "Your own son is taking from you what you took from Saul! Get out of Israel before someone carries you out as a corpse!" Abishai, second in command of Israel's military forces, was among those accompanying David. When he noticed what the angry man was doing, he became angry too. "Why should this miserable dog be allowed to treat you like this?" he asked David. "Let me send men up the bank to catch him and cut off his head!" "No!" David quickly replied, holding out a restraining hand. "Your way isn't the way I wish to take in this matter. Let him curse me. God allows him to curse me. God hasn't prevented my son from seeking my life, so why should He prevent this man from showing his hate for me? It could be that if I patiently endure abuse, God will have mercy on me, and will perhaps rescue me from this time of trouble." Begrudgingly Abishai restrained his men. The angry Benjamite continued shouting and throwing stones and dust until he became weary and hoarse. Then he disappeared over the side of the ravine. David and the hundreds of people moved on to the northeast toward the Jordan valley. (II Samuel 16:5-14.) Meanwhile, Absalom and his soldiers and supporters moved into Jerusalem from the south, triumphantly taking over the undefended city. Among those who welcomed the king's son was Hushai, David's friend who had agreed to return to Jerusalem to try to help David in any way he could. "God save the king!" Hushai kept on shouting as Absalom passed up a street with his guards. Absalom smugly looked around to see who was greeting him so enthusiastically, not realizing the words were meant for King David instead of for him. When he recognized Hushai, whom he knew was a close friend of his father, he ordered the procession halted. "What are you doing here?" he called out to Hushai. "What has become of your loyalty to my father? I'm surprised that you haven't fled with him and his few remaining subjects!"
"Whoever is chosen by God to be king, and whoever is preferred by the people, that is the man I choose to be with," Hushai declared. "I served your father well, and now I am ready to serve in your presence, too." (II Samuel 16:15-19.) Hushai really meant he would serve David in Absalom's presence. Conceitedly assuming that Hushai was seeking to come over to his side, and knowing him for a wise and capable man, Absalom was pleased to welcome him as one of his advisors. Shortly afterwards he held a council meeting to decide what his next major move should be. Here was the opportunity for Ahithophel, David's disloyal former advisor, to make a base suggestion aimed at forcing Absalom and his father even further apart. Ahithophel knew that a reconciliation between David and Absalom would be disastrous to himself. "The ten women who were left in your father's palace were his wives," Ahithophel whispered to Absalom. "As victor, you should openly take them as YOUR wives. I shall see that the public soon hears you are abhorred by your father. When it is common knowledge, people will take a more definite stand on one side or the other. The result will undoubtedly be in your favor." You see, Ahithophel, like many people today, believed in "situation ethics." Absalom went by Ahithophel's advice, and took his father's ten wives. They were actually concubines, women who were part-time mates. (II Samuel 16:20-23.) God allowed this crime as the fulfillment of a prophecy made to David through Nathan. The old prophet had told the king that someone else would openly take his wives because he had taken Bathsheba, Uriah's wife. (II Samuel 12:9-12.) Later, Ahithophel gave Absalom more counsel. It was a simple plan by which David's son could quickly and surely become the undisputed king of Israel. "Let me have twelve thousand of the best Israelite soldiers available to us," the advisor told Absalom. "I'll take them tonight in pursuit of David and the people with him. We'll make sure that David dies, but that no one else is harmed. Those who escape won't be pursued, but we'll bring back as many as we can to join you, including those soldiers who have been so attached to David in recent years. Our greater numbers will be their speedy undoing." The idea was to Absalom's liking, as well as that of his leaders. (II Samuel 17:1-4.) However, Absalom called for Hushai, explained Ahithophel's proposal, and asked what Hushai thought about it. "Ahithophel is a wise counselor," observed Hushai, "but I don't believe his plan for this situation is good," Hushai knew the plan would work. So he just said it wasn't good. "Even twelve thousand men probably couldn't as much as find David, and he'd have to be found to be killed," Hushai said, making the most of this opportunity to belittle Ahithophel's idea. "David is an old hand at war strategy. In his state of mind now, he's probably being especially wary not to be overtaken. He's like a mother bear that has had her cubs taken away from her. He can be both furious and clever. Undoubtedly he's hiding in some cave or pit right now, separate from his people, with his soldiers concealed to trap any who come looking for him, even in greater numbers than theirs. If his men were to kill just some of the twelve thousand of yours, your new recruits may panic. Israel would rally at once to your father's side, and you would lose your chance at the throne. You would be most unwise to follow Ahithophel's advice on this matter." (II Samuel 17:5-10.)
Counterespionage Service in Action
"Then suggest a better way to help me into quickly becoming the undisputed king of Israel," Absalom impatiently demanded. "I suggest that many more men than twelve thousand be used against David," Hushai replied. "Soldiers should be drafted from all parts of Israel to build you a mighty army that you can personally lead into battle anywhere without fearing defeat. Then you can be certain of taking David and destroying all who would defend him. If he is hiding out in the open, he will surely be found. If he is concealed in some city, there'll be enough men available to tear that city down. Besides, you'll need a large fighting force to repel any surprise attack from outside the nation." The thought of being at the head of an army of multiple thousands appealed strongly to Absalom's sizable vanity, just as Hushai knew it would. When Absalom made it known that he was greatly in favor of this plan, his supporters enthusiastically agreed with him, and that was just as God knew it would be because He had decided it that way. (II Samuel 17:11-14.) While plans were being made for drafting a large army, Hushai went to Zadok and Abiathar, the priests, to tell them what had taken place. "David must be informed of this," Hushai said. "Send a message to your sons, wherever they are, and instruct them to take word to the king." The priests told a certain woman what to do and say. She sought out their sons, Jonathan and Ahimaaz, where she knew they were hiding outside Jerusalem, and conveyed the message to them. They took it to David, who learned that he should hurry eastward across the Jordan River as soon as possible. There was the chance that Absalom would change his mind and decide to immediately send a small army in pursuit of the king. Contacting David wasn't without its perils. Just as the priest's sons started on their mission, they passed a young man who recognized them. It wasn't long before Absalom heard that Jonathan and Ahimaaz were seen hurrying northward. Absalom guessed that something contrary to his welfare could be taking place. He sent soldiers to find the priests' sons and bring them back for questioning. Aware that something like that might happen after they were recognized, Jonathan and Ahimaaz decided to delay their trip for a little while, lest they be overtaken in open country. They sought refuge at the home of a friend who was loyal to David, and not any too soon. Absalom's men were scouring the neighborhood, and even entering and searching homes. When they came to the home where the priests' sons were hiding, their search was in vain. After the soldiers had gone, the woman of the house went outdoors to where some ground corn was spread on a cloth. She took up the corn in the cloth, thereby uncovering the mouth of a well from which Jonathan and Ahimaaz climbed out and went safely and thankfully on their way. After David had been told what had been taking place, he and those with him set off at a brisk pace eastward across the Jordan River. They crossed the stream that same night and continued to the northeast. (II Samuel 17:15-22.) Ahithophel was told that Absalom favored building a large army over the next few days instead of a quick pursuit of David with only a few thousand men. When the advisor learned that his suggestion wouldn't be followed, he realized that Absalom's cause was lost. Ahithophel was very wise in politics. (II Samuel 16:23.) He knew that any delay long enough to raise up a large army would give David time to recruit a loyal army among the rugged cattlemen of the eastern tribes. This would mean that support for David would grow even faster than support for Absalom. Absalom wouldn't stand much chance of overcoming that support, since David's army would have better leadership. Ahithopel knew then that he had been very foolish for deserting David, that there was no more political future for him, and that he would soon be regarded as a traitor to his nation and probably be put to death as one. Later, somebody found him hanging lifeless from a rafter in his home. He knew that it would eventually happen to him, and he preferred that it would come about by his own hand. (II Samuel 17:23.)
Eastern Tribes Are Loyal
David's group soon reached the city of Mahanaim on the south border of the territory of Manasseh, adjoining the territory of Gad. There they were welcomed to stay by loyal Manassites and Gadites. Loyal clan chiefs quickly began to rally support around King David. Every day more and more followers joined David from all parts of Israel, most of them having come to volunteer for a growing army. While King David was at Mahanaim, even Shobi, son of the former king of Ammon, brought gifts and help to David and the people with him. So did two chief Israelites, Barzillai and Machir of the tribe of Manasseh. Having heard that the Manassite city was overcrowded and short on food because of the many guests, they sent beds, metal basins, earthen vessels, grains, beans, lentils, flour, honey, butter, cheese and even sheep. David was very thankful for these needed things. (II Samuel 17:27-29.) So many people came to join David that it was necessary for him to count them and put leaders in command of an organized army. It was divided into three parts, with Joab, Abishai and Ittai in charge. Meanwhile, Absalom's army had been mobilized. It wasn't as large as David's son hoped it would be, but he didn't have the patience to wait for the size of fighting force Hushai had talked about. Anxious to pursue David, Absalom moved his army across the Jordan River to a wooded area on the high plains south of Mahanaim. When David heard that Absalom's army was so close, he ordered his officers to take their troops out to meet Absalom before his army could surround the city of Mahanaim. David intended to go along, but the chief men under him pointed out that it was going to be a battle for the safety of the king, and that he should remain in the city and pray for God's help. (II Samuel 18:1-3.) "So be it," David finally agreed, addressing Joab, Abishai and Ittai. "One reason I want to go is to see that Absalom is taken prisoner without being harmed. If I can't be there, then it is the responsibility of you three." (II Samuel 18:4-5.) Absalom was surprised and troubled when he heard that David's smaller army was coming to meet his. He was disappointed that he wouldn't get a chance to besiege Mahanaim. Riding on a mule at the head of his army, he tried to convince himself that David's men were bluffing, and would not be so foolish as to actually clash with a much larger number of troops. At last the two armies were very close. Then they rushed together in deadly combat. There was the thumping of many feet, a clashing of swords, shrieks of pain and the rattle of armor. Absalom was aware that all about him his men were falling, but no one tried to attack him or even get near him. The noisy, bloody action moved on, leaving him alive and strangely alone among his dying soldiers.