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The Story of Absalom: Resentment As The Root of Rebellion

King David and his son Absalom..
An offended heart can unleash great chaos in the world (photo cred).

The character of Absalom is among the most complex and fascinating in the entire Bible. Absalom was the son of King David, known for his Adonis-good looks and popularity (2 Samuel 14:25). Absalom eventually rebelled against his father, and prompted him to flee his palace in Jerusalem before his kingdom was restored. We do not know all that went on inside Absalom’s head, but we do enough to infer an interesting relationship–the relationship between offense and rebellion. A massive offense drove Absalom down a self and other-destructive moral spiral that ultimately ruined his life and stained the legacy of his family.

The Story Of Absalom And King David

Absalom’s story begins in 2 Samuel 13, not with his own misdeeds, but with those of his half-brother Ammon, whom he was related to through his father David. To make a long story short, Amnon sexually assaulted Absalom’s sister Tamar. While King David was “very angry” as a result (v. 21), he did nothing to punish Amnon. Sexual assault was a capital offense in that culture and should have warranted the death penalty. 2 Samuel 13 says that Absalom “spoke to Amnon neither good nor bad, for Absalom hated Amnon, because he had violated his sister Tamar” (v. 22). Tamar “lived a desolate woman in her brother Absalom’s house” (v. 20). You can imagine the impact of watching her suffer on a daily basis had on him.

After two years, Absalom took revenge. Similar to the Revenge Of The Forty-Seven Rōnin, he had waited until his target was off-guard. Absalom threw a party, invited all of King David’s sons, including Amnon, and instructed his servants to murder Amnon while he was intoxicated (v. 29). This event prompted great consternation in the royal family, and prompted Absalom to flee Jerusalem to the independent Kingdom of Geshur. After three years, Absalom was forgiven by his father and invited back to Jerusalem, but that is far from the end of the story.

Absalom ultimately amassed strong popular support, declared himself king, and posed such a threat that his father had to abandon his home in Jerusalem (15:14). In verse 22, Absalom violated his father’s concubines on a public roof to declare his open hostility toward him. War between the duo ensued, until King David’s army earned a huge victory (18:8), and Absalom was killed by David’s chief military officer, Joab (18:14).

The rebellion of Absalom was likely the greatest trial King David ever endured. If you read about his life, that is saying a lot. It was reminiscent of the curse pronounced by Nathan the prophet after David committed adultery with a man’s wife while he was serving in the military.

Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.

2 Samuel 12:10

The Psychology Of Absalom

It is likely that Absalom’s rebellion against his father was fueled by offense and resentment—Absalom’s perception, a correct one at that, that his father denied justice to his sister. Pay special attention to verses 3 and 4.

And Absalom used to rise early and stand beside the way of the gate. And when any man had a dispute to come before the king for judgment, Absalom would call to him and say, “From what city are you?” And when he said, “Your servant is of such and such a tribe in Israel,” 3 Absalom would say to him, “See, your claims are good and right, but there is no man designated by the king to hear you.” 4 Then Absalom would say, “Oh that I were judge in the land! Then every man with a dispute or cause might come to me, and I would give him justice.” 5 And whenever a man came near to pay homage to him, he would put out his hand and take hold of him and kiss him. 6 Thus Absalom did to all of Israel who came to the king for judgment. So Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel.

2 SAMUEL 2:15

I paraphrase, Your claims are good and right, but the King is not doing you justice. . . If I were king, everybody would get justice!

This is likely exactly how Absalom felt after King David refused to take action to redress the sexual assault of his sister. In Absalom’s own mind, he was the victim, not the aggressor. If anyone is evil, it is my father. As a result of his father’s lack of understanding and misuse of power, Absalom desired to inflict pain on him.

Absalom had no right to be king. Even after his brother Amnon was dead, Absalom’s wickedness increased. Many people died and were traumatized as a result of his actions, starting with those who were closest to him. And we can see by Absalom’s behavior during the rebellion how vile and disgusting of a man he had become.

Absalom’s story is of medieval proportions, but the psychology at work is a common one indeed. I can’t tell you how many times I have observed in children, young and old, a desire to inflict pain on their parents for some resentment they carry toward them. Maybe, like me, you have felt this temptation yourself. The truth is that how we respond to being mistreated often says as much about our character as it does the character of the offending party.

Parental Honor

The Bible instructs us to honor our parents, both in the Hebrew Bible and in the New Testament, “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land” (Ephesians 6:3). We have to work out what honor looks like in our unique situation. However, this honor is not conditioned on our parents understanding us or acting in a way we deem appropriate. When we get offended and stay offended, we invite chaos into our hearts. And, with an offense left unchecked, there’s no telling what evil we are capable of doing.

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.

1 Peter 4:8

When we extend forgiveness to others, especially when they don’t deserve it, God treats us in the same manner (Matthew 6:14).

Were you familiar with Absalom’s story before? Let me know your biggest takeaways down below!

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An intellectually curious millennial passionate about seeing people make healthy, informed choices about the moral direction of their lives. When I’m not reading or writing, I enjoy hiking, web-making, learning foreign languages, and watching live sports. Alumnus of Georgetown University (B.S.) and The Ohio State University (M.A.).


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