ABSALOM IN THE WOOD: DAVID ON THE THRONE
II Samuel xvii: 24, to xx: 26.
HE land on the east of Jordan, where David found a refuge,
was called Gilead, a word which means "high," because
it is higher than the land opposite on the west of
Jordan. There, in the city of Mahanaim, the rulers and
the people were friendly to David. They brought food of
all kinds and drink for David and those who were with
him; for they said, "The people are hungry, and
thirsty, and very tired, from their long journey
through the wilderness."
And at this place David's friends gathered from all the
tribes of Israel, until around him was an army. It was
not so large as the army of Absalom, but in it were
more of the brave old warriors who had fought under
David in other years. David divided his army into three
parts, and placed over the three parts Joab, his
brother Abishai, and Ittai, who had followed him so
David said to the chiefs of his army and to his men, "I
will go out with you into the battle."
But the men said to David, "No, you must not go with
us; for if half of us should lose our lives, no one
will care; but you are worth ten thousand of us, and
your life is too precious. You must stay here in the
city, and be ready to help us if we need help."
So the king stood by the gate of Mahanaim while his men
marched out by hundreds and by thousands. And as they
went past the king the men heard him say to the three
chiefs, Joab, and Abishai, and Ittai, "For my sake,
deal gently with the young man, Absalom."
Even to the last David loved the son who had done to
him such great wrong, and David would have them spare
A great battle was fought on that day at a place called
Wood of Ephraim," though it was not in the tribe of
Ephraim, but of Gad, on the east of the Jordan.
Absalom's army was under the command of a man named
Amasa, who was a cousin of Joab; for his mother,
Abigail, and Joab's mother, Zeruiah, were both sisters
of David. So both the armies were led by nephews of
King David. Absalom himself went into the battle,
riding upon a mule, as was the custom of kings.
David's soldiers won a great victory, and killed
thousands of Absalom's men. The armies were scattered
in the woods, and many men were lost, so that it was
said that the woods swallowed up more men than the
sword. When Absalom saw that his cause was
hope-  less he rode away, hoping to escape. But as he was
riding under the branches of an oak-tree, his head,
with its great mass of long hair, was caught in the
boughs of the tree. He struggled to free himself, but
could not. His mule ran away, and Absalom was left
hanging in the air by his head.
ABSALOM FLEEING THROUGH THE FOREST
One of David's soldiers saw him, and said to Joab, "I
saw Absalom hanging in an oak."
"Why did you not kill him?" asked Joab. "If you had
killed him I would have given you ten pieces of silver
and a girdle."
"If you should offer me a thousand pieces of silver,"
answered the soldier, "I would not touch the king's
son; for I heard the king charge all the generals and
the men, 'Let no one harm the young man Absalom.' And
if I had slain him, you yourself would not have saved
my life from the king's anger."
"I cannot stay to talk with you," said Joab; and with
three darts in his hand he hastened to the place where
Absalom was hanging. He thrust Absalom's heart through
with the darts, and after that his followers, finding
that Absalom was still living, pierced his body until
they were sure that he was dead. Then they took down
his body, and threw it into a deep hole in the forest,
and heaped a great pile of stones upon it.
During his life Absalom had built for himself a
monument in the valley of the Kidron, on the east of
Jerusalem. There he had expected to be buried; but
though the monument stood long afterward, and was
called "Absalom's pillar," yet Absalom's body lay not
there, but under a heap of stones in the wood of
After the battle Ahimaaz, the son of the priest Zadok,
came to Joab. Ahimaaz was one of the two young men who
brought news from Jerusalem to David at the river
Jordan, as we read in the last Story. He said to Joab,
"Let me run to the king, and take to him the news of
But Joab knew that the message of Absalom's death would
not be pleasing to King David, and he said, "Some other
time you shall bear news, but not to-day, because the
king's son is dead."
And Joab called a negro who was standing near, and said
to him, "Go, and tell the king what you have seen."
The negro bowed to Joab, and ran. But after a time
Ahimaaz, the son of Zadok, again said to Joab, "Let me
also run after the negro, and take news."
 "Why do you wish to go, my son?" said Joab; "the news will
not bring you any reward."
"Anyhow, let me go," said the young man; and Joab gave
him leave. Then Ahimaaz ran with all his might, and by
a better road over the plain, though less direct than
the road which the negro had taken over the mountains.
Ahimaaz outran the negro, and came first in sight to
the watchman who was standing on the wall, while King
David was waiting below in the little room between the
outer and inner gates, anxious for news of the battle,
but more anxious for his son, Absalom.
The watchman on the wall called down to the king, and
said, "I see a man running alone."
And the king said, "If he is alone, he is bringing a
message." He knew that if men were running away after a
defeat in battle there would be a crowd together. Then
the watchman called again, "I see another man running
And the king said, "He also is bringing some news."
The watchman spoke again, "The first runner is coming
near, and he runs like Ahimaaz, the son of Zadok."
And David said, "He is a good man, and he comes with
good news." Ahimaaz came near, and cried out as he ran,
"All is well!"
The first words which the king spoke were, "Is it well
with the young man Absalom?"
Ahimaaz was too wise to bring to the king the word of
Absalom's death. He left that to the other messenger,
and said, "When Joab sent me, there was a great noise
over something that had taken place, but I did not stop
to learn what it was."
A little later came the negro, crying, "News for my
lord the king! This day the Lord has given you victory
over your enemies!"
And David said again, "Is it well with the young man
Then the negro, who knew nothing of David's feelings,
answered, "May all the enemies of my lord the king, and
all that try to do him harm, be as that young man is!"
Then the king was deeply moved. His sorrow over Absalom
made him forget the victory that had been won. Slowly
he walked up the steps to the room in the tower over
the gate, and as he walked he said, "O my son Absalom!
my son, my son Absalom! I wish before God that I had
died for you, O Absalom, my son, my son!"
The word soon went forth that the king, instead of
rejoicing over the victory, was weeping over his son.
The soldiers came stealing back to the city, not as
conquerors, but as if they had been defeated. Every one
felt sorry for the king, who sat in the room over the
gate, with his face covered, and crying out, "O
Absalom, my son! my son, my son Absalom!"
But Joab saw that such great sorrow as the king showed
was not good for his cause. He came to David, and said
to him, "You have put to shame this day all those
who have fought for you and saved your life. You have
shown that you love those who hate you, and that you
hate those who love you. You have said by your actions
that your princes and your servants, who have been true
to you, are nothing to you; and that if Absalom had
lived and we had all died, you would have been better
pleased. Now rise up, and act like a man, and show
regard for those who have fought for you. I swear to
you in the name of the Lord, that unless you do this,
not a man will stay on your side, and that will be
worse for you than all the harm that has ever come upon
you in all your life before this day!"
Then David rose up, and washed away his tears, and put
on his robes, and took his seat in the gate as a king.
After this he came from Mahanaim to the river Jordan,
and there all the people met him, to bring him back to
his throne in Jerusalem.
Among the first to come was Shimei, the man who had
cursed David and thrown stones at him as he was flying
from Absalom. He fell on his face, and confessed his
crime, and begged for mercy. Abishai, Joab's brother,
said, "Shall not Shimei be put to death, because he
cursed the king, the Lord's anointed?"
But David said, "Not a man shall be put to death this
day in Israel, for to-day I am king once more over
Israel. You shall not be slain, Shimei; I pledge you
the word of a king."
And Ziba, the servant of Mephibosheth, was there with
his sons and his followers; and Mephibosheth was there
also to meet the king. And Mephibosheth had not dressed
his lame feet, nor trimmed his beard, nor washed his
clothes, from the day when David had left Jerusalem
until the day when he returned in peace. And David said
to him, "Mephibosheth, why did you not offer to go with
"My lord, O king," said Mephibosheth, "my servant
deceived me. He said, 'You are lame, and cannot go; but
I will go in your name with the king, and will help
him.' And he has done me wrong with the king; but what
matters it all, now that the king has come again?"
David said, "You and Ziba may divide the land and the
And Mephibosheth said, "Let him have it all, now that
the king has come in peace to his own house!"
The army of Absalom had melted away, and was scattered
throughout all Israel. David was still displeased with
Joab, the chief of his army, because he had slain
Absalom, contrary to David's orders. He sent a message
to Amasa, who had been the commander of Absalom's army,
and who was, like Joab and Abishai, David's own nephew.
He said to Amasa, "You are of my own family, of my bone
and my flesh, and you shall be the general in place of
Joab and his brother were strong men, not willing to
submit to David's rule; and David thought that he would
be safer on his throne if they did not hold so much
power. Also, David thought that to make Amasa general
would please not only those who had
been friends to Absalom, but many more of the people,
for many feared and hated Joab.
At the river Jordan almost the whole tribe of Judah
were gathered to bring the king back to Jerusalem. But
this did not please the men of the other tribes. They
said to the men of Judah, "You act as though you were
the only friends of the king in all the land! We, too,
have some right to David."
The men of Judah said, "The king is of our own tribe,
and is one of us. We come to meet him because we love
But the people of the other tribes were still offended,
and many of them went to their homes in anger. The
tribe of Ephraim, in the middle of the land, was very
jealous of the tribe of Judah, and unwilling to come
again under David's rule. One man in Ephraim, Sheba,
the son of Bichri, began a new rebellion against David,
which for a time threatened again to overthrow David's
Amasa, the new commander of the army, called out his
men to put down Sheba's rebellion. But he was slow in
gathering his army, and Joab, the old general, went
forth with a band of his own followers. Joab met Amasa,
pretending to be his friend, and killed him, and then
took the command. He shut up Sheba in a city far in the
north, and finally caused him to be slain. So at last
every enemy was put down; and David sat again in peace
upon his throne. But Joab, whom David feared and hated
because of many evil deeds that he had done, was, as
before, the commander of the army and in great power.
Joab was faithful to David, and was a strong helper to
David's throne. Without Joab's courage and skill in
David's cause David might have failed in some of his
wars, and especially in the war against Absalom's
followers. But Joab was cruel and wicked; and he was so
strong that David could not control him. David felt
that he was not fully the king while Joab lived.
But few people knew how David felt toward Joab; and in
appearance the throne of David was now as strong as it
had ever been; and David's last years were years of
peace and of power.