Almost from the start, Absalom had a number of strikes against him. For one thing, he was much too handsome for his own good, and his special pride was such a magnificent head of hair that once a year when he had it trimmed, the trimmings alone tipped the scales at three and a half pounds. For another thing, his father, King David, was always either spoiling him rotten or reading him the riot act. This did not promote stability of character. He murdered his lecherous brother Amnon for fooling around with their sister Tamar, and when the old war-horse Joab wouldn’t help him patch things up with David afterwards, he set fire to his hay fields. All Israel found this kind of derring-do irresistible, of course, and when he eventually led a revolt against his father, a lot of them joined him.
On the eve of the crucial battle, David was a wreck. If he was afraid he might lose his throne, he was even more afraid he might lose Absalom. The boy was the thorn in his flesh, but he was also the apple of his eye, and before the fighting started, he told the chief of staff until they were tired of hearing it that if Absalom fell into their clutches, they just promise to go easy on him for his father’s sake. Remembering what had happened to his hay field, when old Joab found Absalom caught in the branches of an oak tree by his beautiful hair, he ran him through with three spears to the heart without blinking an eye. When they broke the news to David, it broke his heart, just as simple as that. He cried out in words that have echoed down the centuries ever since. “O my son Absalom, my son, my son. Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son” (2 Sam. 18:33) David meant it, of course. If he could have done the boy’s dying for him, he would have done it. If he could have paid the price for the boy’s betrayal of him, he would have paid it. If he could have given his own life to make the boy alive again, he would have given it. But even a king can’t do things like that. As later history will prove, it takes a God.