Absalom’s revolt and the Capitol siege

By Miller Griffin

The January 6th, 2021, siege of the United States Capitol building bears similarities to Absalom’s revolt. 

The story of Absalom’s revolt:

David’s eldest son was named Amnon. “Amnon’s attraction to his sister led him to rape her (2 Sm 13:1–21). While appalled at his son’s crime, David did not punish Amnon. The disconsolate Tamar moved in with Absalom, her full-brother. Nothing more is heard of her. Absalom [the 3rd son of king David], however, brooded over his sister’s fate for two years. When the opportunity presented itself, Absalom had Amnon murdered. Absalom then found sanctuary in Geshur, which was located in the southern part of the area now known as the Golan Heights. His maternal grandfather was king there (2 Sm 13:23–37; see 2 Sm 3:3).” [1] Absolom remained in Gesher for three years.

The Banquet of Absalom, attributed to Niccolò De Simone. (source)

“Eventually Joab, David’s nephew and general, was able to effect a reconciliation between David and Absalom, enabling Absalom to return from exile (2 Sm 14:1–33),” knowing that David’s heart had softened toward Absolom. [2] There were restrictions, however. Absolom was not allowed to visit his father, nor to live in the king’s palace.

Absalom “resent[ed] his restrictions, unable to obtain an audience with his father the king for two years. Joab even refuse[d] to come at his request until Absalom [had] Joab’s barley field set on fire to force his presence. At last, Absalom is called to his father’s court, where he does obeisance to him and is kissed by the king, a sign of reconciliation.” [3]

Yet Absalom, still harboring grudges, grew increasingly “impatient with the pace of his rehabilitation, and it is clear that no genuine reconciliation between father and son took place. This led [him] to take advantage of those who expressed dissatisfaction with David’s rule.” [4] His political strategy clearly being to steal the hearts of men, Absalom played on the discontentment and disaffections of “those who [sought] judgement from the king [but] who could get no audience [with him]. The implication [was] that David [had] begun to neglect his duties as judge” (2 Sm 15:1–6). [5] Many Israelites “were fooled and switched their allegiance.” [6]

The Pardon of Absalom by William Blake (source)

After four years, “Absolom [was] ready for open revolt. He used the excuse of having a vow that need[ed] to be fulfilled and [went] to Hebron. The paying or fulfilling of vows was looked upon as a sacred obligation” (2 Sm 15:7-12). [7] In reality, “Absolom went to Hebron because it was his hometown (2 Sam 3:2-3)… and there Absolom could expect loyal friends who would be proud of him.” [8]

“Absalom considered himself the heir to the throne, for now that Amnon was dead, he was the next in line of succession. David, however, had been prophetically informed that his young son Solomon, the son of Bathsheba, would succeed him. Absalom must have suspected this from his father’s attitude, and he secretly prepared a revolt. When his plans had matured, he induced the king to allow him to go to Hebron for the fulfillment of a vow which he professed to have made while living in Geshur. He went southward with two hundred unsuspecting followers. In Hebron he sounded the trumpet-call. Alas! the ungrateful people readily forgot the great king who had been anointed at that very place, and who had gloriously reigned over them for 37 years, and they came flocking to the standard of Absalom. Even Ahitophel the Gilonite, David’s wise counsellor, declared for his son and gave to the rebellion the weight of his name and experience.” [9]

“Absalom’s intrigues led to a full-blown revolution, which nearly succeeded (2 Sm 15:7–12). David had to flee for his life, but he had the presence of mind to instruct his priests to remain in Jerusalem to bring him news of how the rebellion was progressing and to have his friend Hushai infiltrate Absalom’s retinue. Another supporter was Ziba, one of Meribbaal’s servants, who provided David with supplies and informed him that his master had designs on the throne (2 Sm 16:1–4). During this retreat from Jerusalem, David met Shimei, who regarded David as a usurper. Shemei assured David that the rebellion was just what David deserved (2 Sm 16:5–14).” [10]

James J. Tissot, ‘David Praying in the Night’ (1896-1902), gouache on board, The Jewish Museum, New York. (source)

“Upon entering Jerusalem, Absalom, dramatized his break with his father in a most decisive way. He had sexual intercourse with David’s concubines in full view of the people, fulfilling the curse on David pronounced by Nathan in God’s name (2 Sm 12:11–12). Ahithophel, one of David’s counselors who went over to Absalom, advised quick action against the retreating David. Hushai, David’s spy in Absalom’s retinue, bought David time by suggesting that Absalom assemble a large force from all the tribes to deal with David. Absalom took Hushai’s advice. Here again is an instance where [2 Samuel] calls the reader’s attention to the divine hand ordering events. It asserts that God prevented Absalom from taking Ahithophel’s advice (2 Sm 17:14b). David used the time bought by Hushai to prepare a successful counterattack. Absalom fled but was caught by David’s troops and killed by his cousin Joab” (2 Sm 16:20–18:18). [11]

The death of Absalom, hanging from a tree by his hair (14th-century German miniature) (source)

The Capitol siege:

The United States government is not analogous to the kingship of David over Israel. That said, the January 6th, 2021, siege upon the United States Capitol building has a great deal in common with Absalom’s revolt. 


“Absalom is depicted as using a highly distinctive type of political discourse in which granting audience and judgment to all community members is a condition of kingship. This set of tropes is specific to West Semitic literary cultures over at least a millennium and helps explain the plausibility and appeal of the story to an audience familiar with tribal political ideals.” [12] President Trump understood that many Americans felt unrepresented by their representative form of government, believing elected officials were failing to uphold their duty to be representatives of the people. Many were bogged down and wearied by the economic quagmire and restrictive policies on the Obama administration. Others were tired of feeling pushed around and silenced by coastal elites whose patronizing remedies were often, “Why don’t you just move to the city?” as if the poor don’t exist in their city’s emerald paradise. With Trump, struggling Americans suddenly felt heard.



Study for ‘The Assassination of Amnon at the feast of Absalom’ (recto)
1628
Guercino (1591 – 1666)
(source)

For four years, President Trump nurtured the frustrations of those who felt powerless and ignored, the discontent and disaffected. As many Israelites had believed of Absalom, many Americans became convinced that President Trump was the only person fighting for them. Loyalties were gradually switched from the Constitution to the Chief Executive. And no one paid any attention to the growing number of ideologically dangerous personalities joining the Trump train.  No matter. It was idolatry full steam ahead.

Hail to the chief.

For four years the loyalty train, the Trump Express, barreled forward. It was Trump against the world! And it was the world against Trump supporters. It was a mindset that was destined for catastrophe.
With this psychological isolationism, dissatisfaction with the establishment grew into distrust. This distrust grew into paranoia. This paranoia, now untempered and unrestrained by an elementary level of trust in norms or institutions, drove many to embrace and to place their trust into outright preposterous nonsense: bogus and easily disprovable conspiracy theories. Suddenly, that which was inconceivable for many (not all) became possible… became plausible… became true. Incredulousness was replaced with radicalized, unwavering credulity. Eventually, this absurdity was mainstreamed on the right. Many of us watched with horror as family members we sucked into the QAnon delusion without ever visiting 8Chan.

When President Trump failed to win reelection, to be chosen as heir and occupant of the Oval Office throne, he and his Shimei-esque loyalists gave the president’s many supporters – many of whom were confused and disappointed by Trump’s loss and frightened of the uncertain future without their Advocate in Chief – a cause célèbre: to fight to ensure the president remained in the White House, even if it meant embracing immoral tactics and disregarding the United States Constitution. That no country was ever saved from destruction by destroying its very foundation was beyond consideration. To save America, the ends would justify the means. 

For four years, evangelical “leaders” bent over backwards for their Emperor. After the election, when the president needed truth-tellers most, these “leaders” instead rallied the troops. It’s one thing to believe God used Trump. It’s a wholly different thing to believe God wants you to end the great American experiment in order to keep Trump in power. Shimeis.

Hail to the chief.

As “Patriot’s” stormed the Capitol, congress members fled their chambers and cowered in a bunker, like poor King David.

The rest, as they say, is history… tragic, despicable history,

1 Samuel “does not have David’s difficulties end with the collapse of Absalom’s rebellion. David had to encourage members of Judah, his own tribe, to welcome him back as king. He had to deal with Shimei, who cursed him, and Meribbaal, who sought to take advantage of the rebellion. He spared both. David wanted to reward Barzillai’s kindness, but the latter demurred. As a result of having to face an uprising led by his own son, David realized that despite all his machinations, he actually owed this throne to the people (2 Sm 19:23b).” [13]

Like David, America’s trouble won’t end here either.

In the meantime, Christians need to repent of their idolatry, their mob think, and the rest of their sins and worship our Triune God – and Him ALONE.

And we desperately need to begin “evaluat[ing] our leaders to make sure their charisma is not a mask covering grafts, deception, or hunger for power. Make sure that underneath their style and charm, they are able to make good decisions and handle people wisely.” [14]

Hail to the King!

statue of the king David by Adamo Tadolini, 1856 This statue is part of the monument “Virgin of the Immaculate Conception”, Spagna place, Rome, Italy (source)

CItations:
[1] Senior, D., Collins, J. J., & Getty-Sullivan, M. A. (2016). David’s Family and the SUccession (2 Sm 9:1-20:26). In The Catholic study Bible: The New American Bible, revised edition, translated from the original languages with critical use of all the ancient sources (Third ed., p. 410). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[2] Ibid. 1

[3] Academic Community of St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology (2008). 2 Kingdoms. In The Orthodox study Bible (p. 416). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

[4] Senior, D., Collins, J. J., & Getty-Sullivan, M. A. (2016). David’s Family and the SUccession (2 Sm 9:1-20:26). In The Catholic study Bible: The New American Bible, revised edition, translated from the original languages with critical use of all the ancient sources (Third ed., p. 410). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[5] Academic Community of St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology (2008). 2 Kingdoms. In The Orthodox study Bible (p. 416). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

[6] Tyndale House Publishers. (2012). 2 Samuel. In Chronological life application study Bible (p. 512). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Pub.

[7] Academic Community of St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology (2008). 2 Kingdoms. In The Orthodox study Bible (p. 416). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

[8] Tyndale House Publishers. (2012). 2 Samuel. In Chronological life application study Bible (p. 512). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Pub.

[9] Isaacs, J. (2019). Absalom’s Revolt. Retrieved from https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/463978/jewish/Absaloms-Revolt.htm

[10] Senior, D., Collins, J. J., & Getty-Sullivan, M. A. (2016). David’s Family and the SUccession (2 Sm 9:1-20:26). In The Catholic study Bible: The New American Bible, revised edition, translated from the original languages with critical use of all the ancient sources (Third ed., p. 411). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[11] Ibid. 10

[12] Sanders, S. (2019). Absalom’s Audience (2 Samuel 15–19). Journal of Biblical Literature, 138(3), 513-536. Retrieved January 12, 2021, from https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.15699/jbl.1383.2019.2891
[13] Senior, D., Collins, J. J., & Getty-Sullivan, M. A. (2016). David’s Family and the SUccession (2 Sm 9:1-20:26). In The Catholic study Bible: The New American Bible, revised edition, translated from the original languages with critical use of all the ancient sources (Third ed., p. 411). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[14] Tyndale House Publishers. (2012). 2 Samuel. In Chronological life application study Bible (p. 512). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Pub.

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