V. 1 Oh, wow. Chapter 18 starts with David numbering his people and setting up commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds.
- First, that's a lot of people. multiple thousands of people went with him. That's amazing.
- Second, that's exactly what Moses did in the wilderness. God has fully sent them back into the wilderness.
- It shows, again, God's love of structure.
David divided the people into three groups. One led by Joab. One led by Joab's nephew. And one led by the leader of the Philistines that supported David and came back with him, Ittai.
Oh, this was all battle prep. David offered to go; but they told him to stay safe in the city walls.
He asked that they deal gently with "the young man, Absalom", for his sake. And everyone heard these instructions.
Then they went out and battled in the forest of Ephraim. They defeated Israel and 20,000 were slaughtered.
V9. Then it gets a little weird. Absalom is riding a mule through the dense forest and his magnificent, thick, heavy hair catches in the branches of oak trees. But his mule keeps going, so he is caught "between heaven and earth" and is just hanging there. Someone spots him and informs Joab.
It's a bit telling to me that he seems to be caught there alone, or his people would have been getting him out. Why is their commander in chief alone riding through the forest? And how did he not have the sense to get off the mule and walk with it so dense?
v. 14 Joab was furious with the anonymous man who reported it. Joab asked him why he hadn't slain Absalom when he had a chance. The man reminded Joab that the king had specifically asked that Joab deal gently with Absalom and he knew that even if he did it in secret, word would get back to David.
Joab said he didn't have time to argue, so he grabbed three spears and thrust them all through Absalom's heart while still alive and still hanging from the tree by his magnificent hair. Then 10 of Joab's armor bearers struck Absalom until he was dead. It seems like the spears through the heart would have done that...but apparently not.
v. 16At that point, Joab called off the pursuit of Israel with a trumpet sound. "Joab restrained the people." Once the traitorous leader died, the civil war was over. No need to inflect further damage to family. Israel fled.
v. 18 Then they dropped Absalom in a pit and and covered him with stones. Apparently, at some point in his life, Absalom had no sons and realized he wouldn't have a traditional legacy, so he built himself a monument to himself...
v 19-21 Ahimaaz, the son of Zadok wanted to run and tell the news to King David, but Joab wouldn't let him. Instead he send a Cushite slave to tell David. Ryrie theorizes that Joab send a Chusite and not and Israelite, in case David handled it poorly and reacted with violence. The Cushite ran off to tell the news.
Joab is such an interesting study. At times brash and selfish, but also loyal...sort of. It would be interesting to do a study with a timeline of his actions and try to understand him a little bit. He can be heartless and yet, seems like he's also part "good guy".
Ahimaaz asked again to be the one to tell the King. Joab asked him why, since there would be no reward in it for him (another data point about Joab that's not very flattering). But Ahimaaz persisted, so Joab sent him. He took another path and ran ahead of the Cushite messenger.
David is back in the city, waiting by the gate. As the watchmen announced the runners, David assumed good news.
Ahimaaz starts with the good news. The Lord your God delivered up those who came against you. Then he feigns ignorance about what happened to Absalom. The Cushite arrives and starts with the same good news. But he does let David know that Absalom was dead. No details about how or who yet.
David goes and grieves and wishes it was himself who died and not his son.