The Power of Words.

And at the end of four years Absalom said to the king, “Please let me go and pay my vow, which I have vowed to the Lord, in Hebron. For your servant vowed a vow while I lived at Geshur in Aram, saying, ‘If the Lord will indeed bring me back to Jerusalem, then I will offer worship to the Lord.’” The king said to him, “Go in peace.” So he arose and went to Hebron. But Absalom sent secret messengers throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, “As soon as you hear the sound of the trumpet, then say, ‘Absalom is king at Hebron!’” With Absalom went two hundred men from Jerusalem who were invited guests, and they went in their innocence and knew nothing. And while Absalom was offering the sacrifices, he sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David’s counselor, from his city Giloh. And the conspiracy grew strong, and the people with Absalom kept increasing. 2 Samuel 15:7-12 ESV

Another four years would pass before Absalom made the next move in his plan to overthrow his father and take the throne of Israel. The Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, which came out somewhere between 300-300 BC, has the time length of Absalom’s wait as 40 years. But this would seem to be a scribal error, because that length of time does not fit in with the chronological circumstances surrounding the story. But during his wait, Absalom had been anything but idle. He was carefully and craftily planning for the day when he would launch his attempt at a coup. And the day had arrived.

Absalom requested permission from David to return to Hebron, the town in which he was born, to offer sacrifices to God. The reason he gave for this trip was that it was in keeping with a vow he had made to God while he had been in exile in Geshur. He had promised God, that in exchange for his safe return to Jerusalem, he would offer sacrifices to Him in Hebron. Now, it seems to escape David’s notice that Absalom had waited at least six years to keep his vow to God. There had been plenty of time for him to go to Hebron. Why now? But this question doesn’t seem to cross David’s mind. He gave Absalom his permission and his blessing, saying, “Go in peace” (2 Samuel 15:9 ESV).

Little did David know, that his son was plotting his overthrow. As soon as Absalom got David’s okay, he sent spies to out to all the tribes of Israel in order to prepare for the next phase of his plan. These men were to spread the news of Absalom’s coup by telling the people, “As soon as you hear the sound of the trumpet, then say, ‘Absalom is king at Hebron!’” (2Samuel 15:10 ESV). He had established a network of spies throughout the kingdom that would help announce the news of his kingship as soon as the time was right. This little tidbit of information seems to indicate that Absalom had been winning over the hearts of the people throughout Israel, not just within the walls of the city of Jerusalem. He had been busy priming the pump and preparing the people for his takeover of David’s kingdom. And it would begin with his inauguration as king in Hebron.

Absalom had invited 200 guests to join him. We are not told who these individuals were, but they were most likely influential leaders and individuals whom he had established close relationships. The text tells us that they were ignorant of his plan: “they went in their innocence and knew nothing” (2 Samuel 15:11 ESV). But when Absalom sent for Ahithophel, one of David’s personal counselors, to join him in Hebron, it would seem to indicate that there were others involved in the plot. This whole thing had been well-planned and carefully orchestrated. And we’re told, “the conspiracy grew strong, and the people with Absalom kept increasing” (2 Samuel 15:12 ESV).

Once again, we see Absalom biding his time. His was going to be a coup based on a strong public relations strategy. He was going to win through insinuation and incitement. He was going to defeat the mighty David through the spreading rumors of rumors and the instilling of doubt. He was slowly setting himself up as the rightful and logical replacement for the n0t-to-be-trusted king of Israel. He was busy portraying David as immoral and unjust, an incompetent leader and uncaring judge of his people. Absalom would win the kingdom without ever having to draw his sword and fight a single battle. He would win this war in the court of public opinion. He would take advantage of the peoples’ discontentment and foment increasing dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs. If Absalom had been given the benefit of the power of social media as we know it today, his efforts would have taken far less time. We know first-hand just how destructive and effective words can be. Whether its a Facebook post criticizing the current administration or a Twitter feed promoting a new product, these seemingly innocuous and ubiquitous bits of information are everywhere. They are a regular and ordinary part of our lives. We have seen careers ruined, political campaigns derailed, rumors become reality, lies be taken as truth, and uninformed opinions shared in ignorance and without discretion.

Absalom understood the power of words. He knew the destructive nature of innuendo and insinuation. Given enough time, he would be able to take down the most powerful man in the kingdom, without a fight. David’s reputation would be destroyed and his throne taken by a war of words and an onslaught of rumors, half-truths, and intimations regarding his leadership and moral character. But so much of it had been the result of his own sinful indiscretions and indecisive reactions to the events surrounding his life. He had brought this on himself. Absalom had simply exploited David’s weaknesses. And his determination to do so, to his own father, reveal the degree of his dissatisfaction and disdain for David. He was a son who had long ago lost any respect or regard for his own father. He saw David, not as a dad to be honored, but as an unfit king who deserved to be taken down.

David would later write in one of his psalms:

O God, you take no pleasure in wickedness;
    you cannot tolerate the sins of the wicked.
Therefore, the proud may not stand in your presence,
    for you hate all who do evil.
You will destroy those who tell lies.
    The Lord detests murderers and deceivers. – Psalm 5:4-6 NLT

Absalom was wicked and proud. He was a murderer and deceiver. He was a liar and a lover of evil. And, as we will see, his plan to overthrow his father and take his throne, would be successful. But God would have the last word. In the book of Proverbs, compiled by Solomon, God’s chosen successor to David’s throne, we read the following words:

The plans of the godly are just;
    the advice of the wicked is treacherous.

The words of the wicked are like a murderous ambush,
    but the words of the godly save lives. – Proverbs 12:5-6 NLT

While David had made many mistakes and had brought much of what was happening on himself, he was still a man after God’s own heart. He still longed to serve his God and care for the kingdom he had been given to rule and reign over. He had not always done it well or with integrity, but his heart was right. Absalom, on the other hand, was an impetuous, headstrong upstart who cared more for himself than anyone else. He could not be trusted. His words, while powerful and effective, were deceitful and ungodly. Nothing Absalom had planned or put into action had been done with God’s guidance or approval. He had acted according to his own wicked heart. His motives had been purely selfish and driven by revenge against David. It is interesting to note that, years later, Solomon would write a proverb, addressed to his son. Perhaps he had his own brother, Absalom in mind when he penned these words:
My child, pay attention to what I say.
Listen carefully to my words.
Don’t lose sight of them.
Let them penetrate deep into your heart,
for they bring life to those who find them,
and healing to their whole body.
Guard your heart above all else,
for it determines the course of your life. – Proverbs 4:20-23 NLT
Centuries later, Jesus, a descendant of David, would pick up on this same theme:
But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile you. – Matthew 15:18-20 NLT
Absalom’s actions reveal the condition of his heart. His words condemn him. And his words, while initially the cause of his rise to power, will be the reason for his demise.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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