David has already experienced great adversity from within his own family as a result of God’s judgment against his sin (2 Sam. 12:10–11), including Amnon’s rape of Tamar and Absalom’s subsequent murder of Amnon. But more sorrows are about to unfold. As we saw in last, month’s studies, David allowed his love for his children to trump his responsibilities as king; he did nothing to punish his sons’ criminal actions, and he permitted the unrepentant Absalom to return to Israel and eventually to the court. This was most unwise, for Absalom is full of ungodly ambition, and he soon begins plotting to overthrow his father. “Absalom is no sooner restored to his place at court than he aims to be in the throne,” Matthew Henry writes. “He cannot be content with the honor of being the king’s son, and the prospect of being his successor, but he must be king now.”
Absalom very shrewdly lays the groundwork for his coup attempt. First, he adopts trappings of magnificence to fit the people’s image of a monarch. He “provides himself with chariots and horses, and with 50 men to parade before him as an entourage and escort. Samuel prophesied that Israel’s kings would do this sort of thing (1 Sam. 8:11), but it was not proper, for it distracted attention from Israel’s true King, Yahweh. Second, Absalom begins trying to ingratiate himself to the people by proclaiming that he wants to be a judge (even though he does not meet the criteria, Ex. 18:21). He starts a grass-roots campaign, intercepting plaintiffs coming to David to make appeals, listening to their arguments, and proclaiming their cases “good and right” (despite having heard just one side). But he also hints that the plaintiffs will not get justice because there is no representative of the king among the judges. Of course, he hastens to add that there would be justice—if only he were a judge. Third, he treats all the people as his equals, refusing to allow anyone to show the deference they might think is due to the king’s son.
In time, Absalom “steals the hearts” of the people. He becomes very popular for his stylish conduct, his concern for justice, and his common touch (not to mention his good looks, 14:25). But it is all a ruse, and under this attractive veneer lies a man with a heart so wicked he is not hesitant to threaten God’s anointed ruler.