14 1-3 Joab son of Zeruiah knew that the king, deep down, still cared for Absalom. So he sent to Tekoa for a wise woman who lived there and instructed her, “Pretend you are in mourning. Dress in black and don’t comb your hair, so you’ll look like you’ve been grieving over a dead loved one for a long time. Then go to the king and tell him this . . . ” Joab then told her exactly what to say.

The woman of Tekoa went to the king, bowed deeply before him in homage, and said, “O King, help!”

5-7 He said, “How can I help?”

“I’m a widow,” she said. “My husband is dead. I had two sons. The two of them got into a fight out in the field and there was no one around to step between them. The one struck the other and killed him. Then the whole family ganged up against me and demanded, ‘Hand over this murderer so we can kill him for the life of the brother he murdered!’ They want to wipe out the heir and snuff out the one spark of life left to me. And then there would be nothing left of my husband—not so much as a name—on the face of the earth.

15-17 “So now I’ve dared come to the king, my master, about all this. They’re making my life miserable, and I’m afraid. I said to myself, ‘I’ll go to the king. Maybe he’ll do something! When the king hears what’s going on, he’ll step in and rescue me from the abuse of the man who would get rid of me and my son and God’s inheritance—the works!’ As your handmaid, I decided ahead of time, ‘The word of my master, the king, will be the last word in this, for my master is like an angel of God in discerning good and evil.’ God be with you!”

“I’ll take all responsibility for what happens,” the woman of Tekoa said. “I don’t want to compromise the king and his reputation.”

10 “Bring the man who has been harassing you,” the king continued. “I’ll see to it that he doesn’t bother you anymore.”

11 “Let the king invoke the name of God,” said the woman, “so this self-styled vigilante won’t ruin everything, to say nothing of killing my son.”

“As surely as God lives,” he said, “not so much as a hair of your son’s head will be lost.”

12 Then she asked, “May I say one more thing to my master, the king?”

He said, “Go ahead.”

13-14 “Why, then,” the woman said, “have you done this very thing against God’s people? In his verdict, the king convicts himself by not bringing home his exiled son. We all die sometime. Water spilled on the ground can’t be gathered up again. But God does not take away life. He works out ways to get the exile back.”

18 The king then said, “I’m going to ask you something. Answer me truthfully.”

“Certainly,” she said. “Let my master, the king, speak.”

19-20 The king said, “Is the hand of Joab mixed up in this?”

“On your life, my master king, a body can’t veer an inch right or left and get by with it in the royal presence! Yes, it was your servant Joab who put me up to this, and put these very words in my mouth. It was because he wanted to turn things around that your servant Joab did this. But my master is as wise as God’s angels in knowing how to handle things on this earth.”

21 The king spoke to Joab. “All right, I’ll do it. Go and bring the young man Absalom back.”

22 Joab bowed deeply in reverence and blessed the king. “I’m reassured to know that I’m still in your good graces and have your confidence, since the king is taking the counsel of his servant.”

23-24 Joab got up, went to Geshur, and brought Absalom to Jerusalem. The king said, “He may return to his house, but he is not to see me face-to-face.” So Absalom returned home, but was not permitted to see the king.

25-27 This Absalom! There wasn’t a man in all Israel talked about so much for his handsome good looks—and not a blemish on him from head to toe! When he cut his hair—he always cut it short in the spring because it had grown so heavy—the weight of the hair from his head was over two pounds! Three sons were born to Absalom, and one daughter. Her name was Tamar—and she was a beauty.

28-31 Absalom lived in Jerusalem for two years, and not once did he see the king face-to-face. He sent for Joab to get him in to see the king, but Joab still wouldn’t budge. He tried a second time and Joab still wouldn’t. So he told his servants, “Listen. Joab’s field adjoins mine, and he has a crop of barley in it. Go set fire to it.” So Absalom’s servants set fire to the field. That got him moving—Joab came to Absalom at home and said, “Why did your servants set my field on fire?”

32 Absalom answered him, “Listen, I sent for you saying, ‘Come, and soon. I want to send you to the king to ask, “What’s the point of my coming back from Geshur? I’d be better off still there!” Let me see the king face-to-face. If he finds me guilty, then he can put me to death.’”

33 Joab went to the king and told him what was going on. Absalom was then summoned—he came and bowed deeply in reverence before him. And the king kissed Absalom.

15 1-2 As time went on, Absalom took to riding in a horse-drawn chariot, with fifty men running in front of him. Early each morning he would take up his post beside the road at the city gate. When anyone showed up with a case to bring to the king for a decision, Absalom would call him over and say, “Where do you hail from?”

And the answer would come, “Your servant is from one of the tribes of Israel.”

3-6 Then Absalom would say, “Look, you’ve got a strong case; but the king isn’t going to listen to you.” Then he’d say, “Why doesn’t someone make me a judge for this country? Anybody with a case could bring it to me and I’d settle things fair and square.” Whenever someone would treat him with special honor, he’d shrug it off and treat him like an equal, making him feel important. Absalom did this to everyone who came to do business with the king and stole the hearts of everyone in Israel.

7-8 After four years of this, Absalom spoke to the king, “Let me go to Hebron to pay a vow that I made to God. Your servant made a vow when I was living in Geshur in Aram saying, ‘If God will bring me back to Jerusalem, I’ll serve him with my life.’”

The king said, “Go with my blessing.” And he got up and set off for Hebron.

10-12 Then Absalom sent undercover agents to all the tribes of Israel with the message, “When you hear the blast of the ram’s horn trumpet, that’s your signal: Shout, ‘Absalom is king in Hebron!’” Two hundred men went with Absalom from Jerusalem. But they had been called together knowing nothing of the plot and made the trip innocently. While Absalom was offering sacrifices, he managed also to involve Ahithophel the Gilonite, David’s advisor, calling him away from his hometown of Giloh. The conspiracy grew powerful and Absalom’s supporters multiplied.

13 Someone came to David with the report, “The whole country has taken up with Absalom!”

14 “Up and out of here!” called David to all his servants who were with him in Jerusalem. “We’ve got to run for our lives or none of us will escape Absalom! Hurry, he’s about to pull the city down around our ears and slaughter us all!”

15 The king’s servants said, “Whatever our master, the king, says, we’ll do; we’re with you all the way!”

16-18 So the king and his entire household escaped on foot. The king left ten concubines behind to tend to the palace. And so they left, step by step by step, and then paused at the last house as the whole army passed by him—all the Kerethites, all the Pelethites, and the six hundred Gittites who had marched with him from Gath, went past.

19-20 The king called out to Ittai the Gittite, “What are you doing here? Go back with King Absalom. You’re a stranger here and freshly uprooted from your own country. You arrived only yesterday, and am I going to let you take your chances with us as I live on the road like a gypsy? Go back, and take your family with you. And God’s grace and truth go with you!”

21 But Ittai answered, “As God lives and my master the king lives, where my master is, that’s where I’ll be—whether it means life or death.”

22 “All right,” said David, “go ahead.” And they went on, Ittai the Gittite with all his men and all the children he had with him.

23-24 The whole country was weeping in loud lament as all the people passed by. As the king crossed the Brook Kidron, the army headed for the road to the wilderness. Zadok was also there, the Levites with him, carrying God’s Chest of the Covenant. They set the Chest of God down, Abiathar standing by, until all the people had evacuated the city.

25-26 Then the king ordered Zadok, “Take the Chest back to the city. If I get back in God’s good graces, he’ll bring me back and show me where the Chest has been set down. But if he says, ‘I’m not pleased with you’—well, he can then do with me whatever he pleases.”

27-30 The king directed Zadok the priest, “Here’s the plan: Return to the city peacefully, with Ahimaaz your son and Jonathan, Abiathar’s son, with you. I’ll wait at a spot in the wilderness across the river, until I get word from you telling us what’s up.” So Zadok and Abiathar took the Chest of God back to Jerusalem and placed it there, while David went up the Mount of Olives weeping, head covered but barefooted, and the whole army was with him, heads covered and weeping as they ascended.

31 David was told, “Ahithophel has joined the conspirators with Absalom.” He prayed, “Oh, God—turn Ahithophel’s counsel to foolishness.”

32-36 As David approached the top of the hill where God was worshiped, Hushai the Arkite, clothes ripped to shreds and dirt on his head, was there waiting for him. David said, “If you come with me, you’ll be just one more piece of luggage. Go back to the city and say to Absalom, ‘I’m ready to be your servant, O King; I used to be your father’s servant, now I’m your servant.’ Do that and you’ll be able to confuse Ahithophel’s counsel for me. The priests Zadok and Abiathar are already there; whatever information you pick up in the palace, tell them. Their two sons—Zadok’s son Ahimaaz and Abiathar’s son Jonathan—are there with them—anything you pick up can be sent to me by them.”

37 Hushai, David’s friend, arrived at the same time Absalom was entering Jerusalem.

16 Shortly after David passed the crest of the hill, Mephibosheth’s steward Ziba met him with a string of pack animals, saddled and loaded with a hundred loaves of bread, a hundred raisin cakes, a hundred baskets of fresh fruit, and a skin of wine.

The king said to Ziba, “What’s all this?”

“The donkeys,” said Ziba, “are for the king’s household to ride, the bread and fruit are for the servants to eat, and the wine is for drinking, especially for those overcome by fatigue in the wilderness.”

The king said, “And where is your master’s grandson?”

“He stayed in Jerusalem,” said Ziba. “He said, ‘This is the day Israel is going to restore my grandfather’s kingdom to me.’”

“Everything that belonged to Mephibosheth,” said the king, “is now yours.”

Ziba said, “How can I ever thank you? I’ll be forever in your debt, my master and king; may you always look on me with such kindness!”

5-8 When the king got to Bahurim, a man appeared who had connections with Saul’s family. His name was Shimei son of Gera. As he followed along he shouted insults and threw rocks right and left at David and his company, servants and soldiers alike. To the accompaniment of curses he shouted, “Get lost, get lost, you butcher, you hellhound! God has paid you back for all your dirty work in the family of Saul and for stealing his kingdom. God has given the kingdom to your son Absalom. Look at you now—ruined! And good riddance, you pathetic old man!”

Abishai son of Zeruiah said, “This mangy dog can’t insult my master the king this way—let me go over and cut off his head!”

10 But the king said, “Why are you sons of Zeruiah always interfering and getting in the way? If he’s cursing, it’s because God told him, ‘Curse David.’ So who dares raise questions?”

11-12 “Besides,” continued David to Abishai and the rest of his servants, “my own son, my flesh and bone, is right now trying to kill me; compared to that this Benjaminite is small potatoes. Don’t bother with him; let him curse; he’s preaching God’s word to me. And who knows, maybe God will see the trouble I’m in today and exchange the curses for something good.”

13 David and his men went on down the road, while Shimei followed along on the ridge of the hill alongside, cursing, throwing stones down on them, and kicking up dirt.

14 By the time they reached the Jordan River, David and all the men of the company were exhausted. There they rested and were revived.

15 By this time Absalom and all his men were in Jerusalem.

And Ahithophel was with them.

16 Soon after, Hushai the Arkite, David’s friend, came and greeted Absalom, “Long live the king! Long live the king!”

17 Absalom said to Hushai, “Is this the way you show devotion to your good friend? Why didn’t you go with your friend David?”

18-19 “Because,” said Hushai, “I want to be with the person that God and this people and all Israel have chosen. And I want to stay with him. Besides, who is there to serve other than the son? Just as I served your father, I’m now ready to serve you.”

20 Then Absalom spoke to Ahithophel, “Are you ready to give counsel? What do we do next?”

21-22 Ahithophel told Absalom, “Go and sleep with your father’s concubines, the ones he left to tend to the palace. Everyone will hear that you have openly disgraced your father, and the morale of everyone on your side will be strengthened.” So Absalom pitched a tent up on the roof in public view, and went in and slept with his father’s concubines.

23 The counsel that Ahithophel gave in those days was treated as if God himself had spoken. That was the reputation of Ahithophel’s counsel to David; it was the same with Absalom.

17 1-3 Next Ahithophel advised Absalom, “Let me handpick twelve thousand men and go after David tonight. I’ll come on him when he’s bone tired and take him by complete surprise. The whole army will run off and I’ll kill only David. Then I’ll bring the army back to you—a bride brought back to her husband! You’re only after one man, after all. Then everyone will be together in peace!”

Absalom thought it was an excellent strategy, and all the elders of Israel agreed.

But then Absalom said, “Call in Hushai the Arkite—let’s hear what he has to say.”

So Hushai came and Absalom put it to him, “This is what Ahithophel advised. Should we do it? What do you say?”

7-10 Hushai said, “The counsel that Ahithophel has given in this instance is not good. You know your father and his men, brave and bitterly angry—like a bear robbed of her cubs. And your father is an experienced fighter; you can be sure he won’t be caught napping at a time like this. Even while we’re talking, he’s probably holed up in some cave or other. If he jumps your men from ambush, word will soon get back, ‘A slaughter of Absalom’s army!’ Even if your men are valiant with hearts of lions, they’ll fall apart at such news, for everyone in Israel knows the kind of fighting stuff your father’s made of, and also the men with him.

11-13 “Here’s what I’d advise: Muster the whole country, from Dan to Beersheba, an army like the sand of the sea, and you personally lead them. We’ll smoke him out wherever he is, fall on him like dew falls on the earth, and, believe me, there won’t be a single survivor. If he hides out in a city, then the whole army will bring ropes to that city and pull it down and into a gully—not so much as a pebble left of it!”

14 Absalom and all his company agreed that the counsel of Hushai the Arkite was better than the counsel of Ahithophel. (God had determined to discredit the counsel of Ahithophel so as to bring ruin on Absalom.)

15-16 Then Hushai told the priests Zadok and Abiathar, “Ahithophel advised Absalom and the elders of Israel thus and thus, and I advised them thus and thus. Now send this message as quickly as possible to David: ‘Don’t spend the night on this side of the river; cross immediately or the king and everyone with him will be swallowed up alive.’”

17-20 Jonathan and Ahimaaz were waiting around at En Rogel. A servant girl would come and give them messages and then they would go and tell King David, for it wasn’t safe to be seen coming into the city. But a soldier spotted them and told Absalom, so the two of them got out of there fast and went to a man’s house in Bahurim. He had a well in his yard and they climbed into it. The wife took a rug and covered the well, then spread grain on it so no one would notice anything out of the ordinary. Shortly, Absalom’s servants came to the woman’s house and asked her, “Have you seen Ahimaaz and Jonathan?”

The woman said, “They were headed toward the river.”

They looked but didn’t find them, and then went back to Jerusalem.

21 When the coast was clear, Ahimaaz and Jonathan climbed out of the well and went on to make their report to King David, “Get up and cross the river quickly; Ahithophel has given counsel against you!”

22 David and his whole army were soon up and moving and crossed the Jordan. As morning broke there was not a single person who had not made it across the Jordan.

23 When Ahithophel realized that his counsel was not followed, he saddled his donkey and left for his hometown. After making out his will and putting his house in order, he hanged himself and died. He was buried in the family tomb.

24-26 About the time David arrived at Mahanaim, Absalom crossed the Jordan, and the whole army of Israel with him. Absalom had made Amasa head of the army, replacing Joab. (Amasa was the son of a man named Ithra, an Ishmaelite who had married Abigail, daughter of Nahash and sister of Zeruiah, the mother of Joab.) Israel and Absalom set camp in Gilead.

27-29 When David arrived at Mahanaim, Shobi son of Nahash from Ammonite Rabbah, and Makir son of Ammiel from Lo Debar, and Barzillai the Gileadite from Rogelim brought beds and blankets, bowls and jugs filled with wheat, barley, flour, roasted grain, beans and lentils, honey, and curds and cheese from the flocks and herds. They presented all this to David and his army to eat, “because,” they said, “the army must be starved and exhausted and thirsty out in this wilderness.”

18 1-2 David organized his forces. He appointed captains of thousands and captains of hundreds. Then David deployed his troops, a third under Joab, a third under Abishai son of Zeruiah, Joab’s brother, and a third under Ittai the Gittite.

The king then announced, “I’m marching with you.”

They said, “No, you mustn’t march with us. If we’re forced to retreat, the enemy won’t give it a second thought. And if half of us die, they won’t do so either. But you are worth ten thousand of us. It will be better for us if you stay in the city and help from there.”

“If you say so,” said the king. “I’ll do what you think is best.” And so he stood beside the city gate as the whole army marched out by hundreds and by thousands.

Then the king ordered Joab and Abishai and Ittai, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” The whole army heard what the king commanded the three captains regarding Absalom.

6-8 The army took the field to meet Israel. It turned out that the battle was joined in the Forest of Ephraim. The army of Israel was beaten badly there that day by David’s men, a terrific slaughter—twenty thousand men! There was dazed and confused fighting all over the place—the forest claimed more lives that day than the sword!

9-10 Absalom ran into David’s men, but was out in front of them riding his mule, when the mule ran under the branches of a huge oak tree. Absalom’s head was caught in the oak and he was left dangling between heaven and earth, the mule running right out from under him. A solitary soldier saw him and reported it to Joab, “I just saw Absalom hanging from an oak tree!”

11 Joab said to the man who told him, “If you saw him, why didn’t you kill him then and there? I’d have rewarded you with ten pieces of silver and a fancy belt.”

12-13 The man told Joab, “Even if I’d had a chance at a thousand pieces of silver, I wouldn’t have laid a hand on the king’s son. We all heard the king command you and Abishai and Ittai, ‘For my sake, protect the young man Absalom.’ Why, I’d be risking my life, for nothing is hidden from the king. And you would have just stood there!”

14-15 Joab said, “I can’t waste my time with you.” He then grabbed three knives and stabbed Absalom in the heart while he was still alive in the tree; by then Absalom was surrounded by ten of Joab’s armor bearers; they hacked away at him and killed him.

16-17 Joab then blew the ram’s horn trumpet, calling off the army in its pursuit of Israel. They took Absalom, dumped him into a huge pit in the forest, and piled an immense mound of rocks over him.

Meanwhile the whole army of Israel was in flight, each man making his own way home.

18 While alive, Absalom had erected for himself a pillar in the Valley of the King, “because,” he said, “I have no son to carry on my name.” He inscribed the pillar with his own name. To this day it is called “The Absalom Memorial.”

19-20 Ahimaaz, Zadok’s son, said, “Let me run to the king and bring him the good news that God has delivered him from his enemies.” But Joab said, “You’re not the one to deliver the good news today; some other day, maybe, but it’s not ‘good news’ today.” (This was because the king’s son was dead.)

21 Then Joab ordered a Cushite, “You go. Tell the king what you’ve seen.”

“Yes sir,” said the Cushite, and ran off.

22 Ahimaaz son of Zadok kept at it, begging Joab, “What does it matter? Let me run, too, following the Cushite.”

Joab said, “Why all this ‘Run, run’? You’ll get no thanks for it, I can tell you.”

23 “I don’t care; let me run.”

“Okay,” said Joab, “run.” So Ahimaaz ran, taking the lower valley road, and passed the Cushite.

24-25 David was sitting between the two gates. The sentry had gone up to the top of the gate on the wall and looked around. He saw a solitary runner. The sentry called down and told the king. The king said, “If he’s alone, it must be good news!”

25-26 As the runner came closer, the sentry saw another runner and called down to the gate, “Another runner all by himself.”

And the king said, “This also must be good news.”

27 Then the sentry said, “I can see the first man now; he runs like Ahimaaz son of Zadok.”

“He’s a good man,” said the king. “He’s bringing good news for sure.”

28 Then Ahimaaz called out and said to the king, “Peace!” Then he bowed deeply before the king, his face to the ground. “Blessed be your God; he has handed over the men who rebelled against my master the king.”

29 The king asked, “But is the young man Absalom all right?”

Ahimaaz said, “I saw a huge ruckus just as Joab was sending me off, but I don’t know what it was about.”

30 The king said, “Step aside and stand over there.” So he stepped aside.

31 Then the Cushite arrived and said, “Good news, my master and king! God has given victory today over all those who rebelled against you!”

32 “But,” said the king, “is the young man Absalom all right?”

And the Cushite replied, “Would that all of the enemies of my master the king and all who maliciously rose against you end up like that young man.”

33 The king was stunned. Heartbroken, he went up to the room over the gate and wept. As he wept he cried out,

O my son Absalom, my dear, dear son Absalom!
Why not me rather than you, my death and not yours,
O Absalom, my dear, dear son!

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