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brand it with the stamp of public condemnation.

David no doubt believed that Bathsheba alone was
cognisant of his sin, and Joab the only accessory to

CH. viii. DAVID'S SIN. 1 33

the plot against Uriah's life. But this error was sud-
denly and rudely dispelled. The prophet Nathan
one day came to David, and requested permission
to bring a certain case to his notice. He then
related the following parable :- In a great city there
lived a rich man, who possessed great flocks
and herds; and near him lived a poor man who
possessed but one little lamb, which he had reared
for himself. One day, when a guest came to the
rich man, he was too stingy to kill one of his flock
for the meal, but he took the lamb of the poor man
to feast his friend. On hearing this complaint,
David's sense of justice was aroused, and he said
indignantly that the heartless rich man deserved to
die, and should pay the poor man four times the
value of the lamb. Then the prophet replied, "Thou
art the man !"

Any other king would have punished the moralist
who had dared speak the truth to a crowned head,
to the representative of God on earth. David, how-
ever, the pupil of the prophet Samuel, when the
picture of his misdeeds was thus placed before him,
penitently answered, " Yes, I have sinned." He cer-
tainly did not fail to offer up heartfelt prayers, and
to make atonement in order to obtain God's forgive-
ness. The child which was born died in early infancy,
although David had worn himself away in fasting
and prayers for its life. Bathsheba afterwards had
a second son named Jedidiah, or Solomon (1033),
who became the favourite of his father.

But though God pardoned the king for his heinous
sins, humanity did not forgive them, and they proved
fatal to domestic peace. Bathsheba, the wife of
Uriah, was the daughter of Eliam (one of David's war-
riors), and the granddaughter of his counsellor Ahi-
thophel. The father and grandfather felt their honour
disgraced through their daughter's seduction, which
they could never forgive, although they kept silence,
and did not betray their hatred. Ahithophel especi-


ally nursed his vengeance in secret, and only awaited
an opportunity to wreak it on the king. David did
all in his power to appease them. He elevated
Bathsheba to the rank of first queen, promised her
secretly that her son should be his successor, and
solemnly swore to fulfil this promise. He wished
at any cost to make peace with Ahithophel, whose
counsel was precious to him. Ahithophel, however,
remained immovable. A scandalous event in the
house of David involved matters to a still greater
extent, and robbed his remaining years of all tran-
quillity. His eldest son Amnon seduced his half-
sister Tamar, and thereby aroused the fierce anger
of her brother Absalom, who determined to avenge
her. Each of the king's sons, six of whom had
been born in Hebron, and eleven, in Jerusalem, had,
when he attained manhood, his own house, house-
hold and lands. Absalom's lands and herds were
situated at Baal-Hazor, not far from the capital.
Thither he invited all the king's sons to the feast of
sheep-shearing. Whilst they and their guests were
enjoying the feast, and drinking freely, Absalom's
servants, at their master's command, attacked Am-
non, and dealt him his death-blow. Absalom served
a double purpose by this murder. He avenged the
insult offered to his sister, and hoped to secure his
own succession to the throne by ridding himself
of his elder brother. The son of Abigail, the second
in succession, was already dead, and so it seemed
inevitable that he, as the third son, must be the suc-
cessor. David's son a fratricide ! What will be the
consequences of this bloody deed ? Only his faith
in God saved him from becoming, like his predeces-
sor, a victim to insanity, although the dire fate which
had befallen him was but too real, and not merely
the effect of a distrustful imagination.

David's first impulse was to seek out the murderer,
who had taken refuge with his grandfather, King Tal-
mai, of Geshur, on the south-west boundary of Judaea,


in order to deal with him as he deserved, even at the
risk of going to war on his account. But there were
various influences at work against such a policy. In
fact, since the affair with Bathsheba, intrigues had
been rife at David's court. Joab was opposed to the
succession of the last-born, Solomon, and was natur-
ally on the side of Absalom, the eldest surviving
son. Ahithophel, David's infallible counsellor, also
favoured Absalom's claim to the throne, because he
could use him as a tool against his father. On the
other hand, Adonijah, David's fourth son, advocated
the infliction of condign punishment on Absalom.
Adonijah thought his prospects of displacing the infant
Solomon fairer than his chance with the remorseless
Absalom. If the latter were punished for fratricide,
Adonijah would be the next in succession. He and
his mother Haggith may perhaps, therefore, have
incensed David against Absalom, but Joab and
Ahithophel were wiser, and knew how to exert their
influence in favour of abandoning all warlike attempts
upon him or his grandfather, whose protection he
was enjoying.

When David had at length decided on seizing or
demanding the surrender of his guilty son (though
he had been absent for three years), Joab employed a
ruse to turn the king from his resolve. He sent for
a woman living in the adjacent town of Tekoah,
who had a reputation for adroit and clever speech.
With her he devised a plan to make the king
realise how horrible it was for a father to be willing
to put to death a son for the not altogether
unjustifiable murder of his brother. The wise
woman of Tekoah consequently appeared before
the king in mourning garments, and as though
invoking his mercy she called out in an entreating
voice and with deep prostrations, Help ! O king,
help! When she stated her fictitious case, the
king readily recognised the hidden point of her
story, and the allusion to his own case, and he


demanded an open answer from her as to whether
Joab had assisted her in her disguise and invention.
When the woman of Tekoah had confessed the
truth, the king sent for Joab, and assured him
that he no longer entertained evil intentions against
Absalom, and assigned to him the task of conducting
his son to Jerusalem. The woman of Tekoah had,
in her ingenious manner, made it clear to him that
blood-revenge against his own son would be a con-
tradiction in itself.

Joab himself brought Absalom from Geshur to
Jerusalem. The son, however, was not permitted to
appear before his father, but was obliged to remain
in his own house. By this means Joab uncon-
sciously sowed the seeds of dissension in the house
of David. Night and day, Absalom, in his isola-
tion and disgrace, brooded over the vile plan of
deposing his father. But he dissembled in order to
lull the latter's suspicion. To this end it was abso-
lutely necessary that a reconciliation should be
effected. Joab, who earnestly desired peace between
father and son, became the mediator, and David
decided that, after a two years' exile from his pres-
ence, his son might now be allowed to return. At
this meeting, Absalom played to perfection the part
of the penitent, obedient son; David then gave
him a fatherly embrace, and the reconciliation was
complete. Seven years had passed since the death
of Amnon. But now Absalom's intrigues com-
menced. No doubt he had frequent meetings with
Ahithophel, and was following his advice. He ob-
tained chariots and horses from Egypt, procured a
guard of fifty men, and displayed regal grandeur.
He arose betimes in the morning, listened to dis-
putes, and found every one's case just, but regretted
that the king would not listen to all, and would
not give justice to all. He hinted that were he the
judge, no one would have to complain of difficulty
in obtaining his dues. Absalom pursued this course


for four years after the reconciliation with his father.
He was the handsomest man of his times. He was
then about thirty, and in the full pride of his strength.
His beautitul thick hair fell in waves over his neck
and shoulders, like the mane of a lion. His affability
won him the hearts of all who approached him. David
was so blinded that he did not see how his crafty son
was alienating the affections of the people from their
sovereign, whilst Absalom merely awaited a favour-
able opportunity to proceed against his father, to
dethrone him, and perhaps to attempt his life. This
opportunity soon offered itself.

It appears that David was occupied, in the last
decade of his reign, with a comprehensive plan,
apparently that of a great war which would require
a numerous body of soldiers. He had already
enlisted bands of mercenaries, six hundred Hittites,
who, with their general Ittai, (whose admiration for
David secured his unswerving attachment), had
arrived from Gath. The king also wished to ascer-
tain the number of able-bodied men over twenty
years of age in all the Israelitish tribes, in order
to determine whether he could undertake with
their aid a campaign which would probably prove
severe and tedious. The king delegated the office
of numbering the men who could bear arms to his
commander-in-chief, Joab, and the other generals.
The work of enumeration lasted nine months and
twenty days. From the numbers which were handed
in, supposing them to be correct, it appears that, out
of an entire population of 4,000,000, there were
1,300,000 men and youths capable of bearing arms.
This counting of the nation, however, proved to
be a mistake for which David had to pay heavily.
The people were highly incensed against him. In
itself the act was displeasing to them, as they saw in
it the preliminaries to enlistments for a war of long
duration ; added to this was the fear that the counting
itself must be attended by evil results, for such was


the view held in those days. A fearful pestilence
broke out, which carried off great numbers, and
confirmed all minds in the belief that it had arisen
in consequence of the numbering of the people. The
capital, being densely populated, naturally suffered
the greatest loss from the pestilence. On seeing
the heaps of corpses, or, to speak in the metaphori-
cal language of those days, at sight of " the angel
of Destruction " that had snatched away so many,
David exclaimed : " I have sinned and done wrong,
but what has my poor flock done ? Let thy hand
strike me and the house of my fathers." The plague
having spared Mount Moriah, where the Jebusites
had settled, the prophet Gad bade the king erect an
altar, and offer up sacrifices on that mountain, and he
announced that the pestilence would then be averted
from Jerusalem. Without hesitation, David and his
entire court repaired thither. When the chief of the
Jebusites, Ornah (Araunah), saw David approaching,
he hurried to meet him, saluted him humbly, and
asked what was his desire. David then informed
him that he wished to buy the mountain in order to
build an altar on it. Ornah graciously offered him
the spot and all appertaining to it as a gift, but David
refused to accept it. No sooner was an altar hastily
erected there and a sacrifice offered, than the pestilence
ceased in Jerusalem. From that time Mount Moriah
was considered a sacred spot, which destruction could
not approach; it was also the mountain on which
Abraham was supposed to have offered his son Isaac
as a sacrifice.

In consequence of this plague the nation conceived
a dislike to David ; it condemned him for the loss of
the thousands of human beings whom the Angel of
Destruction had snatched away. Ahithophel made
use of this dislike in order to avenge himself on
David, and he employed Absalom as his tool, and,
with him, contrived a conspiracy which could not fail
to succeed.


Absalom secretly despatched messengers in every
direction, in order to give those adherents who were
already attached to him the necessary signal. The
insurrection was to be set on foot in Hebron, an out-
post of the tribe of Judah, whose elders had already
been won for Absalom. The latter invented subter-
fuges by which to deceive David as to the true
purpose of his visit to Hebron, and the king per-
mitted him to depart without suspicion.

Absalom arrived at Hebron, attended by his friends
and guards, and by two hundred prominent men of
Jerusalem, whom he had invited under some pretext,
and who did not suspect his real aims. These two
hundred men, through their very ignorance of mat-
ters, contributed to the success of the project. The
people of Hebron, seeing that even prominent men
had joined Absalom's party, gave up David's cause
as lost, Ahithophel, who had likewise invented a
pretext to absent himself from court, openly declared
for Absalom, thus giving his cause an immense ac-
cession of power, as he was known to be David's
right hand.

The traitorous plan succeeded but too well. The
Hebronites and others present saluted Absalom as
king, forswore their allegiance to David, and sacri-
ficed burnt-offerings. Ambition prompted various
members of David's family also to join Absalom.
This was more especially the case with Amasa, his
cousin, who considered himself a great commander,
and thought that Joab had unjustly been preferred
to him. The messengers then gave the signal
previously agreed upon, and the conspirators who
sided with Absalom gathered together, and shouted
" Long live King Absalom !" They carried with
them all who had been incensed against David for
taking a census of the people, and in fact all who
hoped to gain some advantage from changes and
dissension. The Benjamites, whom the accession
of David had deprived of supremacy, and the ever-


dissatisfied Ephraimites, were more particularly
delighted at David's downfall, and willingly did
homage to the usurper ; they hoped to regain their
former freedom through David's misfortunes. They
had greater chances of obtaining power under Ab-
salom, who was very vain, and not likely to retain
the favour of the nation for a long time, than under
the rule of David. The chief towns of all the tribes
sent ambassadors to Hebron to salute the new king,
and his adherents daily increased in number. At
first the conspiracy was kept secret from those in
authority; no one was permitted to journey to Jeru-
salem, lest the news spread. David received the
information of his own dethronement and the acces-
sion of his son simultaneously with the news that the
houses of Judah and Israel had renounced their alle-
giance to him.

It was a terrible blow for the king. But his resolve
was soon taken ; he would not resort to a civil war,
as the sons of Zeruiah and many other faithful fol-
lowers probably urged him to do. Deserted by all the
tribes, he would be obliged to shut himself up in his
capital. The city would not be able to resist the at-
tack of so large an army ; and he saw, now that he was
undeceived, that Absalom would not scruple to turn
Jerusalem into a sea of blood. David felt deeply
wounded by the alliance of Ahithophel with his
usurping son, and he was greatly discouraged by it.
He saw, too late, that the conspiracy was of long
standing, that the plan had been maturely considered,
and that resistance on his part would only lead to
his own destruction. He therefore announced to his
people that he would depart from Jerusalem in all
haste, before Absalom could leave Hebron with his
numerous followers.

This step was instrumental in proving to David
that he still had faithful friends, who would be true
to him till death. When, on leaving his palace, he
passed the Place of the Sellers of Ointment, he ob-

CH. vni. DAVID'S FLIGHT. 141

served to his great joy that a great concourse fol-
lowed him. Not only his general, Joab, with his
brother, Abishai, and their followers ; not only a great
number of the warrior-corps (Gibborim), the hired
troops, Cherethites and Pelethites, with Benaiah their
leader, but also Ittai the Hittite, with six hundred men,
whom David had only a short time before enlisted.
The entire population wept aloud, whilst David with-
drew to the Vale of Kedron, where he mustered his
followers before taking the road over the Mount
of Olives to the desert near the Jordan. He did
not venture to take refuge in a city from fear of

Later on the two high priests Zadok and Abiathar
with all the Levites hurried after him, bearing the
ark of the covenant with them. David, however,
urged the priests to return to Zion with the ark, saying,
" If by God's mercy I shall be permitted to return
to Jerusalem, then I shall again behold the ark of the
covenant and the sanctuary; if not, if God rejects
me, I am ready to endure what seemeth good unto
Him." It also appeared to him that the priests could
be of more service to him if they remained in Jeru-
salem than if they joined him in exile. Whilst, then,
the priests hastily took the ark back to Jerusalem,
David ascended the Mount of Olives barefoot, his
head covered, and his face bathed in tears. All his at-
tendants wept bitterly. But when his grief and despair
had reached their climax, a friend, who was to give him
help, came from the other side of the Mount of Olives,
and met him at its highest point. Hushai from the city
of Erech was a confidant of David, and a counsellor
of no less wisdom than Ahithophel. He advanced
in mourning array, his garments torn, and earth
upon his head, prepared to share the king's flight.
David, however, refused to permit this, because, being
an aged man, he would only be a burden. In
Absalom's vicinity he might do valiant service by
counteracting Ahithophel's counsels, and by keeping


David informed of all that occurred. Hushai there-
fore repaired to Jerusalem.

The first town through which David passed in his
flight was the Benjamite city of Bahurim. Far from
meeting with a friendly reception there, he was received
with insult and neglect. A Benjamite named Shimei,
of the house of Gera, reviled and cursed him, saying,
" Thou outcast and man of blood, God will repay thee
for thy treatment of the house of Saul, whose crown
thou hast stolen." He followed David's march for
a long distance, throwing stones and earth at him, so
that the soldiers had to shield the king. David, how-
ever, had some friends in Bahurim also. Humbled
and exhausted, the king at length accomplished the
jfourney through the desert, and reached the neigh-
bourhood of Jericho with his forces.

Here he could recruit his energies after his recent
bodily and mental exertions, while awaiting the news
which his faithful adherents would transmit to him
from Jerusalem.

When David was approaching the banks of the Jor-
dan, Absalom arrived in Jerusalem with his traitorous
adherents, among them Ahithophel, the faithless coun-
sellor. Ahithophel urged the usurper to commit ever
greater crimes in order to widen the breach between
him and his father, and render a reconciliation im-
possible ; he advised him to take possession of his
father's harem. It mattered little to Ahithophel
that Absalom would incur the hatred of the people
through this fresh misdeed. His sole object was to
revenge himself on David, and to ruin him. The
weak-minded sinner who called himself king, and
who was incapable of undertaking anything, unless
incited thereto by others, allowed himself to be
induced to commit this crime. But, whilst Absalom
was revelling in sin, the man who was destined to
frustrate all his ruthless plans was near at hand.
Hushai had apparently submitted to the new king,
and had assured him that he would serve him as


faithfully as he had served his father, and Absalom
relied on this promise. He called a council to con-
sider the most expedient plan for defeating and
ruining his father. The elders of the tribes, who
were in the city, were invited to attend. Ahithophel
gave the diabolical advice to attack David that very
night with a strong army, to disperse his following
in a sudden onslaught made by a force its superior
in point of numbers, and to capture and slay the
king, whom he imagined to be utterly worn out and
dispirited. But Absalom also consulted Hushai with
regard to the campaign against his father, and
Ahithophel's advice was rejected by him as impracti-
cable. Hushai urged such plausible objections that
Absalom was duped by them ; he advised that
David should not be attacked with a small force,
but that Absalom should raise from the entire nation
from Dan to Beersheba an army whose numbers
would render it irresistible. Hushai's advice was
more favourably received than Ahithophel's, and steps
were forthwith taken to act upon it. The attack was
postponed, and the campaign was deferred till the
numerous forces could be assembled. Hushai im-
mediately conveyed the results of the meeting to
David by means of Jonathan and Ahimaaz, the sons
of the High Priest.

The first result of these events was favourable to
the cause of David, for Ahithophel departed from
Jerusalem, and hanged himself in his native town of
Gilo. He was led to this course either by disgust
at Absalom's conduct in setting aside his counsel,
or by the conviction that Absalom's cause would be
lost through delay, and that he himself would reap
well-deserved punishment. This suicide was a
severe blow to the usurper, for he had no capable
man amongst his followers, and he himself was
neither warlike nor prudent. His general Amasa
had but little military genius. The enrolment of
soldiers was actually begun, but before it could be


completed David had obtained an important advan-
tage. He went to Mahanaim, the inhabitants of
which town received him with a welcome as cordial
as that which in former times they had extended to
the fugitive son of Saul. All the Israelites on the
opposite side of the Jordan offered their assistance,
and placed themselves under his command. Two
men of Gilead outvied each other in attentions to
the unhappy king and father, and provided him and
his followers with all necessaries. They were old
men Barzillai from Rogelim, and Machir from
Lo-debar and help came also from Shobi, king of
Ammon, the son of Nahash. When at length Absa-
lom or Amasa had succeeded in collecting a large
force, they crossed the Jordan by means of rafts, and
approached Mahanaim. The Absalomites encamped
opposite the wood without any particular plan or
order. David, on the other hand, divided his army
into three divisions, commanded respectively by
Joab, Abishai and Ittai, who were all proved and
competent soldiers. David himself was not per-
mitted to accompany them, as his generals knew
too well his love for his wicked son. The contest
cost many human lives. Although Absalom's forces
exceeded those of David in point of numbers, yet
they were defeated, for they were not well disciplined,
and were not able to find their way in the forest.
David's troops, on the other hand, fought valiantly.
The forest was more destructive than the sword.
Twenty thousand warriors are said to have fallen
there. The forest of Rephaim was also the cause
of Absalom's personal destruction. His long hair,
of which he was very vain, caught in the branches
of an oak, and the mule he had been riding gal-
loped away. It seems providential that the death-blow
was dealt by Joab, who had formerly favoured him,
and who had thus unwittingly assisted him in his
conspiracy. Joab then sounded the horn as a signal
for David's army to cease from the contest, and the

CH. vni. DAVID'S RETURN. 145

adherents of Absalom took to flight, and crossed the

Thus ended the second civil war of David's reign,
a war which was the more unnatural because of the
close relationship between the rival combatants, and
the sad causes which led to the contest. The first
duty of the victors was to transmit the news of their
triumph to David. This was in itself a painful office,
for all knew how deeply David would feel the death
of his wicked son. David was terrified at the news,
wept and sobbed, and cried repeatedly, "My son, my
son, Absalom; would, I had fallen instead of thee! '
The depths of a father's heart are unsearchable. Per-
haps, he considered Absalom in the light of a victim
whom Ahithophel had inveigled and urged on to re-

Online LibraryHeinrich GraetzHistory of the Jews (Volume 1) → online text (page 12 of 46)