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Getting tangled up in vanity.

2 Samuel 18:9–18

And Absalom happened to meet the servants of David. Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak, and his head caught fast in the oak, and he was suspended between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on. And a certain man saw it and told Joab, “Behold, I saw Absalom hanging in an oak.” Joab said to the man who told him, “What, you saw him! Why then did you not strike him there to the ground? I would have been glad to give you ten pieces of silver and a belt.” But the man said to Joab, “Even if I felt in my hand the weight of a thousand pieces of silver, I would not reach out my hand against the king’s son, for in our hearing the king commanded you and Abishai and Ittai, ‘For my sake protect the young man Absalom.’ On the other hand, if I had dealt treacherously against his life (and there is nothing hidden from the king), then you yourself would have stood aloof.” Joab said, “I will not waste time like this with you.” And he took three javelins in his hand and thrust them into the heart of Absalom while he was still alive in the oak. And ten young men, Joab’s armor-bearers, surrounded Absalom and struck him and killed him.

Then Joab blew the trumpet, and the troops came back from pursuing Israel, for Joab restrained them. And they took Absalom and threw him into a great pit in the forest and raised over him a very great heap of stones. And all Israel fled every one to his own home. Now Absalom in his lifetime had taken and set up for himself the pillar that is in the King’s Valley, for he said, “I have no son to keep my name in remembrance.” He called the pillar after his own name, and it is called Absalom’s monument to this day.

Try to picture Absalom hanging there, stuck in the tree. It’s not easy to do. Why couldn’t he just free himself? Was he unconscious?

Many commentators think it was Absalom’s famously long hair that got tangled in the tree.

Now in all Israel there was no one so much to be praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom. From the sole of his foot to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him. And when he cut the hair of his head (for at the end of every year he used to cut it; when it was heavy on him, he cut it), he weighed the hair of his head, two hundred shekels by the king’s weight. — 2 Samuel 14:25–26 (ESV)

The tangled hair theory makes sense. It’s plausible that as he hangs by his hair, Absalom is unable to free himself—not so much if by the neck. Riding one’s neck into a tree branch fork is pretty far-fetched, and should be instantly fatal anyway. Lastly, in no other passage does Absalom’s hair play a significant role.

If this isn’t it, why is 2 Samuel 14:26 even there?

Joab killing Absalom in direct defiance of David’s commands is doubly shocking because he is reminded of the command by the man who first spotted Absalom hanging there. Yet Joab wastes no time dispatching Absalom, making sure he doesn’t escape.

Joab then gives him a disgraceful burial. Only his pillar remains to memorialize his life.

And that pillar makes no sense. Absalom erected it while he was young enough to have many sons.

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These weekday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay. Saturdays' by Matt Richardson. Subscribe here:

The weekly study guides, which include questions for discussion or meditation, are here:

Scripture taken from the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.

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