The Death of Absalom Foretold

When you read the Bible you begin to see the story-within-the-story.  What I mean by that is that stories in the histories and prophets of the Tanakh are often first told in the Torah.  These new stories retell the same one in the Torah but add new insights to the precepts of God.  These stories show us the meaning of God’s will in our lives through a lived-out story.  An example is how the rabbis have viewed the story of Jonah as a retelling of Noah, but in an entirely new light.  In Noah, the one man (and his family) was saved from the flood – in Jonah the one man is plunged into the flood.  In Noah, the wicked would be destroyed – in Jonah, the wicked would be saved.  The comparisons can go on and on (perhaps the subject of a future post).  But once you understand this idea of stories being retold in new ways, you begin to see them all over the place.

At our Sunday evening church service, our preacher Gordon Dabbs was continuing his series on David’s life, this week focusing on David’s son, Absalom.  While I listened to his sermon, his words triggered something in my mind and I found a Torah parallel to this story that I will now share with you.  My thanks to Gordon for sharing his sermon which triggered my thoughts.

Absalom’s Rebellion

Absalom started his journey down the road of rebellion many years before he openly rebelled against his father, David.  In 2 Samuel 15 we find the story of Absalom beginning his uprising by standing at the city gate (which is where officials and town elders would be) and lying to people who sought justice from the king.  He would tell them that there was no one to hear their claim, but if Absalom was in power, they would be heard and granted justice.

After four (some manuscripts have seven) years, Absalom began his open rebellion.  He heads for Hebron to be anointed, the same place where his father David was anointed.  He amasses a large force and David must flee for his life.  But God was with David, and David was able to retake the throne and defeat Absalom’s army.  Even through all of this, David did not want his son to be harmed and gave strict orders not to kill him.  But during the  battle, Absalom is killed by David’s own general, Joab.

9 Now Absalom happened to meet David’s men. He was riding his mule, and as the mule went under the thick branches of a large oak, Absalom’s head got caught in the tree. He was left hanging in midair, while the mule he was riding kept on going.

10 When one of the men saw this, he told Joab, “I just saw Absalom hanging in an oak tree.”

11 Joab said to the man who had told him this, “What! You saw him? Why didn’t you strike him to the ground right there? Then I would have had to give you ten shekels of silver and a warrior’s belt.”

12 But the man replied, “Even if a thousand shekels were weighed out into my hands, I would not lift my hand against the king’s son. In our hearing the king commanded you and Abishai and Ittai, ‘Protect the young man Absalom for my sake. ‘ 13 And if I had put my life in jeopardy — and nothing is hidden from the king — you would have kept your distance from me.”

14 Joab said, “I’m not going to wait like this for you.” So he took three javelins in his hand and plunged them into Absalom’s heart while Absalom was still alive in the oak tree. 15 And ten of Joab’s armor-bearers surrounded Absalom, struck him and killed him.

16 Then Joab sounded the trumpet, and the troops stopped pursuing Israel, for Joab halted them. 17 They took Absalom, threw him into a big pit in the forest and piled up a large heap of rocks over him.

–2 Samuel 18:9-17

Absalom began his rebellion at the city gates, and was hung in a tree by his hair and killed, and then they piled up a large heap of rocks over his body.  These are important details for the finding the story in the Torah that this one is based off of.

The Torah Foundation

The story of Absalom is foretold in the Book of Deuteronomy where rules are given about rebellious sons.

18 If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, 19 his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. 20 They shall say to the elders, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a profligate and a drunkard.” 21 Then all the men of his town shall stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid.

–Deut. 21:18-21

Absalom was a rebellious son.  Notice his rebellion started at the city gates where rebellious children are taken to be stoned, and he ends his life being covered in stones.  But what’s the very next verse in Deuteronomy?

22 If a man guilty of a capital offense is put to death and his body is hung on a tree, 23 you must not leave his body on the tree overnight. Be sure to bury him that same day, because anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse.

–Deut. 21:22-23

Anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse!  Absalom was hung on a tree!  I do not think that these two passages in Deuteronomy were put next to each other by random happenstance.  Rather, the God of the universe put them together for a reason, and that reason was the rebellion and death of Absalom.

So What?

Okay, so there’s a parallel to the story of Absalom in the Torah.  So what?  What does this mean for the average believer in the Bible?  I see two main applications here.

It means that the laws of the Bible are not mere rules for life – they are prophecies about what our own lives will be like if we stray from the Lord.  The story of Absalom was prophetically written in the Torah 500 years before it actually happened.  When you read the Torah, you will find the stories of your own life’s failures written there as well.  The good news?  By reading the Bible, we can avert catastrophe by obeying the laws of God.  Once you realize that the stories of Bible are told multiple times and in different ways, you begin to see deeper connections in the Word of God.  These two passages from 2 Samuel and Deuteronomy are intrinsically linked together and only by understanding the link can we go beyond the surface understanding of the story of Absalom.  The way Absalom died wasn’t just a random and strange occurrence.  The details placed in that story were placed there to let you know: for the crimes he committed, Absalom got what he deserved and exactly how God prescribed it.

The second application is how the story is told yet a third time in the Bible in the story of Jesus.  Understand this:  Absalom was hung on a tree, pierced by javelins, and buried under a large pile of rocks.  Jesus was hung on a tree (Mark 15:25), he was pierced with a spear (John 19:34), and he was buried behind a large rock (Mark 15:46).  And not only is the story of Jesus related to the story of Absalom, but also to the passage in Deuteronomy, as Rabbi Sha’ul (Paul) picks up on in Galatians:

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.”

–Galatians 3:13

All three stories are related!  When you understand the deep connections of the passages in the Bible, you not only see new things, but also gain new understandings of the Messiah, Jesus.

Peace to you,

James

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