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2 Samuel 15 Part 3

The Conspiracy of Absalom 15:1-12

The chapter divides into two sections, the conspiracy of Absalom and the flight of David.[1] It follows the reconciliation of David and Absalom in chapter 14, depicted here in this painting by Rembrandt.

This opening section of 2 Samuel 15 portrays the swift and sweeping manner in which Absalom undermines David’s hold over the kingdom (15:1-12). Absalom’s prestige and position quickly move from chariot and horses to the acquisition of the hearts of the men of Israel. There is no delay in Absalom’s seeking for right judgment for Israel. In the space of a few verses, the theft is recounted and the thief’s escape to Hebron is made possible by the king’s own permit. Absalom’s move to Hebron provides the occasion, opportunity and location from which he will launch his conspiracy. The very brevity of the narrative is a sign that this unfolding drama is not about Absalom or any other successor of the king, but about David and his right to be king over Israel. David, the man who was unjustly accused of conspiring against King Saul (1 Sam 22:8,13), now finds his own kingship under attack from a genuine conspiratorial uprising.

            The conspiracy of Absalom against David derives from a dispute about the notion of justice – mishpat. Absalom’s contention with David centres upon the ability to make right judgments (15:1-6). The delivery of justice is the mark of the one who makes the attack upon the king:

    ‘Oh that I were judge (sapat) in the land! Then every man with a dispute or cause (mishpat) might come to me, and I would give him justice (sedeq).’ (15:4).

 

Absalom asserts that the people’s claims are valid, but the current magisterial system of David’s reign is woefully inadequate (15:3). Israel’s plea prior to the monarchy was to end the wickedness of the sons of Samuel (1 Sam 8:1-3), and Absalom’s outcry directs attention to the parallel with Israel’s present situation under Davidic rule. From the people’s perspective, justice is the king’s raison d’etre.[2] It was the perversion of mishpat which motivated the elders to go to Samuel and seek for the first king of Israel (1 Sam 8:3-4). ‘Give us a king to judge (sapat) us’ was the cry then, and the same verb for judging, sapat, is used in Absalom’s cry to be able to fulfil this role of the king of Israel (15:4). Just as Samuel’s sons failed as judges over Israel, now Absalom’s action implies that it is the king of Israel himself who is perverting justice. What good is it for the men of Israel to have such a ruler? The implication is that David has failed in this matter of justice, mishpat. Having drawn attention to the current regime’s inadequacy, Absalom declares his longing to satisfy the needs of the people and his self-belief that he can do just that.


[1] Arnold prefers to extend the second section through until 16:14. Arnold, 573.

[2] Compare also, for example, 1 Kings 3:28. Proverbs 16:10-13 and Isaiah 32:1 expound upon this principle.

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