Now in all Israel there was no one so much to be praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom. From the sole of his foot to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him. And when he cut the hair of his head (for at the end of every year he used to cut it; when it was heavy on him, he cut it), he weighed the hair of his head, two hundred shekels by the king’s weight. There were born to Absalom three sons, and one daughter whose name was Tamar. She was a beautiful woman.
So Absalom lived two full years in Jerusalem, without coming into the king’s presence. Then Absalom sent for Joab, to send him to the king, but Joab would not come to him. And he sent a second time, but Joab would not come. Then he said to his servants, “See, Joab’s field is next to mine, and he has barley there; go and set it on fire.” So Absalom’s servants set the field on fire. Then Joab arose and went to Absalom at his house and said to him, “Why have your servants set my field on fire?” Absalom answered Joab, “Behold, I sent word to you, ‘Come here, that I may send you to the king, to ask, “Why have I come from Geshur? It would be better for me to be there still.” Now therefore let me go into the presence of the king, and if there is guilt in me, let him put me to death.’” Then Joab went to the king and told him, and he summoned Absalom. So he came to the king and bowed himself on his face to the ground before the king, and the king kissed Absalom. – 2 Samuel 14:25-33 ESV
David had agreed to Absalom’s return to Jerusalem, but had essentially placed him under house arrest and refusing to see him. After a three-year absence from the kingdom, Absalom found himself persona non grata, ignored by his own father and left to wonder why he had agreed to come home at all. And he would wait two full years, because David continued to rely upon his parenting style of inaction. There would be no punishment or pardon for the wrong committed. And all this time gave Absalom time to grow in his resentment for his father. He most likely recalled David’s unwillingness to take action against Amnon for raping his sister. David had done nothing. And, two years later, Absalom would get frustrated by David’s lack of decisive action, take matters into his own hands and have his brother, Amnon, murdered. This had led to his three-year exile. Now, he was home, but another two years had passed and he saw his father’s incapacity to deal with the issue at hand. Whatever respect he had once held for his father was gone. He viewed David as a man of weakness, plagued by indecisiveness.
It would be centuries later that the apostle Paul wrote the words:
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord. – Ephesians 6:4 NLT
David could have used this simple, yet profound advice. The Greek word Paul used is parorgizō and it is translated “provoke to anger”. But it can also mean “to exasperate”. To provoke someone to anger sounds like it refers to a deliberate attempt to purposefully annoy or deliberately try to rouse anger in another individual. And that most certainly can be true in many cases. But we can create anger in another human being by doing nothing. We can frustrate them by our lack of initiative or general apathy. David was provoking in Absalom an anger and resentment that was fed by his father’s lack of leadership. He was slowly beginning to view David as weak and incapable of leading decisively. And because Absalom viewed his father as being incompetent to lead his own family, he would soon reach the conclusion that he was unqualified to lead the nation of Israel.
We can see Absalom’s growing anger and frustration in how he handled Joab’s refusal to answer his requests for an audience with the king. Like his boss, Joab did nothing. And finally, Absalom snapped, taking matters into his own hands and commanding his servants to set fire to Joab’s barley crops. That got his attention. You can see Absalom’s growing exasperation with the whole situation. He had waited two years and simply wanted something to be done. He even told Joab, “I wanted you to ask the king why he brought me back from Geshur if he didn’t intend to see me. I might as well have stayed there. Let me see the king; if he finds me guilty of anything, then let him kill me” (2 Samuel 14:32 NLT). Absalom would rather face death than having to live in limbo, confined to his home. But there is almost an underlying sense that Absalom knew David would do nothing. He seems to know that his father would never sentence him to death for his murder of Amnon. So he was willing to force David’s hand, confident that his father would act true to form and do nothing. Which is exactly what happened. Joab went to David and convinced him to see Absalom, which David did. And from all appearances, it seems that David pardoned Absalom, kissing his son and restoring him to his former state. Absalom got what he wanted, but he would not be satisfied. He had had plenty of time to consider his future and plan his next moves. This would prove to be just the first step in his plan to take advantage of what he perceived as his father’s leadership flaws.
The text gives us an interesting, and somewhat out-of-context, description of Absalom’s appearance. It describes his good looks and goes into great detail about the thickness of his hair. All of this talk about Absalom’s appearance seems out of place and a bit odd. But it is designed to set up what is coming next. Absalom is handsome in appearance. In fact, “He was flawless from head to foot” (2 Samuel 14:25 NLT). And we are going to find out that he was also clever. He was a natural-born leader, who had good looks, charisma, charm and and powers of persuasion that would make any politician envious. Now that he was out from under any threat of punishment for his murder of Amnon, Absalom was going to use his good looks and natural leadership skills to plan his future, which would include his father’s downfall.
It is interesting to note that Paul gives another warning to fathers in his letter to the Colossians. He writes, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart” (Colossians 3:21 NASB). David had frustrated his son. He had done nothing to bring justice to the cause of Tamar. He had left his own daughter in a state of mourning, having had her virginity taken from her by force. The law clearly stated what David should have done.
If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days. – Deuteronomy 22:28-29 ESV
According to the law, David should have forced Amnon to marry Tamar, and forbidden him from ever divorcing her. No longer a virgin, Tamar was left in a state where she would have been considered “damaged goods” by the men in her community. Her value as a potential wife had been irreparably damaged. All along the way, because of his indecisiveness, David had left a wake of disaster and damaged lives. His inaction had left Amnon unpunished and Tamar a humiliated and unwanted woman. His unwillingness to do the right thing had only resulted in a host of wrong outcomes. Absalom had killed Amnon and then spent three years in exile. Even when he was allowed to return home, Absalom found himself in a frustrating limbo, trapped by his father’s unwillingness to do his job as a father and his duties as a king. And all of this was going to lead to further resentment on Absalom’s part that would ultimately surface as rebellion.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.