During the exodus from Jerusalem, David had men come to his aid to war against Absalom, although they weren’t with him before and during the crossing of Jordan. The number of men “who were with him” is unknown. There are those who say it was four thousand; while others it was ten thousand, based on the content of verse 4, that David was “worth ten thousand”. Whatever the number, David divided the leadership into three; with Joab, Abishai and Ittai leading individual bands of men.
David had purposed to go out with them, perhaps to be certain nothing happened to Absalom or perhaps he felt his presence would serve as an encouragement to the army. Heeding the advice of those around him, he stayed back and waited at the gate for the news of the battle’s result. In his commission there was the addendum that they deal “gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” That must have created questions in some minds as to why deal in that manner with such a scoundrel, murderer, rebel and sexually promiscuous man.
The men under David’s command, in part able to be so effective as they were able to rest before engaging the enemy, were successful and overthrew Absalom’s army; the “woods devoured more people that day than the sword devoured.” They had likely either been killed while stuck in swamps or pits by David’s men or were eaten by animals.
Observing this and coming face to face with a band of David’s army, Absalom attempts to flee. There are many who have said he was caught by his long, thick hair in a tree branch; however, that isn’t what the text says. It is more likely he got caught in the fork of two strong limbs at his throat and couldn’t dislodge himself as his mule left him hanging. One of the men in the band came reported to Joab, who immediately returned and finished off the work that the limbs didn’t; which was followed up by ten men after Absalom’s body was dislodged.
Joab blew the trumpet, announcing the victory over the men of Israel. The story of the two runners is interesting in that Joab somehow had kept the death of Absalom in a very small and tight circle, sharing with the Cushite the full story. Ahimaaz wanted to tell David the good news, but Joab basically tells him you don’t have all the information and your energy would be expended unnecessarily. Ahimaaz outran the Cushite and gave news of the victory, but little more than that. The Cushite then arrives and brings David the full story and that Absalom was dead.
David almost undermined his own reign with his paternal response to Absalom’s death. Yet Absalom received his just recompense. Under the Law each of these warranted death; rebellion against his father, murder of his step brother and sexual relations with the concubines on the roof top.
It has been said that “Pay day will come!” For some it’s quick, for others it is a longer season. But it will come!