Read: 2 Samuel 15:1-12

After this Absalom got himself a chariot and horses, and fifty men to run ahead of him. Absalom used to rise early and stand beside the road into the gate; and when anyone brought a suit before the king for judgment, Absalom would call out and say, “From what city are you?” When the person said, “Your servant is of such and such a tribe in Israel,” Absalom would say, “See, your claims are good and right; but there is no one deputed by the king to hear you.” Thus Absalom did to every Israelite who came to the king for judgment; so Absalom stole the hearts of the people of Israel (2 Samuel 15:1-3, 6, NRSV).

Whenever a Bible story begins with the words, “after this,” it’s a sure sign that what’s about to happen isn’t coming out of nowhere.

We left off last week asking, “What will Absalom do with his second chance?” Six verses into the next chapter, and we’ve got our answer: he’s planning a good old-fashioned coup d’etat.

Of course, he’s somewhat subtle about it. I say “somewhat” because anybody who was paying attention could have seen him intercepting claimants on their way to see King David. After greeting them with the age-old “hail fellow well met” back-slap and handshake, he commiserates with their complaint. Then he shakes his head sadly and opines the “fact” that the claimant will never get justice from the king. “If only I were judge in the land!” he says wistfully, implying that he would dispense justice like candy bars from a vending machine. And when people try to bow and scrape before him, he’s quick to reach out and raise them up, kissing them like long-lost cousins.

Is it any wonder the people fall for him? Absalom is one smooth operator. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s handsome. Back in the previous chapter the narrator made a point of telling us that “in all Israel there was no one to be praised so much for his beauty as Absalom; from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him” (2 Sam. 14:25). Now, when he tells us that “Absalom stole the hearts of the people of Israel,” it seems almost inevitable.

After four years of campaigning, Absalom decides that he’s waited long enough for the throne. But he’s clever about how he makes his move.

He actually gets David’s permission to make a religious pilgrimage to Hebron. Perhaps the “vow” he had to pay was to declare himself king! And what better place to do it than Hebron—the very place where David himself had been crowned and had ruled for his first seven years?

Every move Absalom makes is deliberate. Secret messengers are dispatched throughout the kingdom with instructions about when and how to shout a carefully-crafted version of “Long live the king!” When he sets out for Hebron, he invites a crowd of unwitting guests who will have to either throw in with him or risk being branded as traitors to the new king. Finally, he lures David’s chief of staff, Ahithophel the Gilonite, to join the conspiracy.

You’ve got to hand it to him. This man knows how to plan a revolt. But you also have to wonder: How does he justify it in his own mind? Does he really believe his own propaganda?

Ponder: Can you think of any contemporary politicians who cloak their shenanigans in false piety? Why do you think people fall for this kind of nonsense?

Pray: From politicians who justify their treachery with false patriotism and piety, good Lord, deliver us.