Pictures a Revolt Against Jesus

The Revolt of Absalom

And the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept: and as he went, thus he said, O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!—2 Samuel 18:33

David Rice

The tears of David over his beloved but rebellious Absalom in the aftermath of his tragedy remind us of the tears Jesus’ shed over his beloved but wayward Israel in prospect of the approaching tragedy. “When he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, Saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, And shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation” (Luke 19:41-44).

The revolt of Absalom against David was a revolt against the divinely appointed king. We believe this had typical meaning respecting Christ, who was divinely invested with royal authority at his resurrection. After Christ had been victoriously seated “on the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3), and Christ’s power and authority as the Jewish messiah was taking root among the faithful, another element in Judaism refused to appreciate the new rulership and revolted against it. They endeavored to reestablish the independence of Israel under a different authority, and revolted from the Roman yoke.

This revolt opened in the year 66 A.D., and though remnants held out until the fall of Ma­sada in 73 A.D., the strength of the revolt was broken when Rome took Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and burned the sacred temple. However, this revolt appeared successful in the early stages, as victories by the rebels overcame the Roman legions. Similarly the revolt of Absalom was initially victorious, but gradually succumbed.

Absalom’s demise came as he fled on an ass, but his thick, abundant hair, caught in the branches of an oak tree where he was held fast, made him easy prey for Joab. Hair in the Scriptures ­frequently represents religious devotion, as for example the uncut hair was an emblem of the Nazarite vows. Probably in the case of Absalom the symbol refers to Israel’s adherence to the formalities and “rudiments” of the Mosaic Law, while missing the point and purpose of the Law, which was to lead them to Christ.

Centuries earlier when Jacob was returning to Canaan, he obliged his party to fidelity to God at an oak tree in Shechem (Genesis 35:4). This was the same location Joshua used to affirm Israel’s loyalty to the Mosaic Law after he brought the Israelites into the promised land. “So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and set them a statute and an ordinance in Shechem. And Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God, and took a great stone, and set it up there under an oak” (Joshua 24:25,26). Thus the oak tree is associated with Israel’s attachment to the law. Probably Absalom’s entrapment in an oak tree symbolizes this attachment to the letter of the law, which blinded them to the weightier matters of the spirit of the law.

Their table of blessing, which was intended as a wonderful advantage, became to them “a snare, and a trap, and stumblingblock” (Ro­mans 11:9). It held them fast in their traditions, and proved their undoing. Rather than secure its blessing by receiving the divinely ­appointed leader the law predicted, they held fast the Mosaic ordinances while rejecting the “greater than Moses” who offered release from their burdens.

Absalom was a wonderfully handsome man, as his sibling sister Tamar was a lovely woman (2 Samuel 13:1). “In all Israel there was none to be so much praised as Absalom for his beauty: from the sole of his foot even to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him. And when he polled his head, (for it was at ­every year’s end that he polled it …), he weighed the hair of his head at two hundred shekels after the king’s weight” (2 Samuel 14:25,26). So the natural Israelites saw great beauty in the prospect urged by the rebels to restore the former independence and ancient glory of Israel. However, they had overlooked the true loveliness of spirit manifested in our Lord. According to their expectations, “he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2). They were instead unduly attracted to earthly charms of old national aspirations.

As King David triumphed over Absalom’s rebellion, so King Jesus triumphed over Israel’s rebellion. Christianity would flourish, but the Jewish leaders, as they feared, would lose “both our place and nation” (John 11:48). Jesus had warned his disciples that the few years of their ministry to Israel would scarce suffice before he and his power came against the nation who opposed the new king: “When they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come” (Matthew 10:23).


One of the men who assisted David’s cause was Barzillai, an elderly man of substance who lived in Gilead, east of the Jordan River. The account is found in 2 Samuel 19:31-40. Barzillai had given supplies and encouragement to David’s men, and as a reward David offered to bring him back to Jerusalem with the royal entourage where he would be fed and housed by the king. Barzillai appreciated the offer but urged that he was now very old and elected to live his few remaining years in his familiar heritage. He gave his age as “fourscore”—80 years old.

Probably Barzillai represents those of faith who assisted the new cause, but who did not themselves join the new King Jesus in all the benefits he offered because they belonged to the age past and its prospects, and had earthly hopes. Like Simeon in the temple, they appreciated the advent of the new king. But their reward will be in the earthly resurrection, and they will serve the new king not in Heavenly Jerusalem but in the kingdom on earth. Not receiving the atonement as body members of Christ, they did not relocate across the Jordan, passing from the Adamic condemnation to a new abode in Christ. They remained east of the Jordan, and will have a grand role to play as agents of the king in the earthly realm.

His age, 80, is consistent with this picture. Eight, the base of this number, is elsewhere associated with the Ancient Worthies, an earthly class who come into their reward during the Millennial Kingdom which follows the seven stages of the Church. Thus Micah 5:5 speaks of the saints as seven kings (the idiom is shepherds, rulers) and the ancient worthies as eight princes.

But though Barzillai deferred the honors of the king for himself—“How long have I to live, that I should go up with the king unto Jerusalem?” (2 Samuel 19:34)—he was solicitious for his younger associate Chimham. “But behold thy servant Chimham; let him go over with my lord the king; and do to him what shall seem good unto thee. And the king answered, Chimham shall go over with me, and I will do to him that which shall seem good unto thee: and whatsoever thou shalt require of me, that will I do for thee” (2 Samuel 19:37,38). So those who shared the faith of the Ancient Worthies, but lived beyond them into the opportunities of the Gospel age, were received with full favor by the new king.

“Chimham,” Strong’s #3643, is derived from #3642 which is translated “long,” as to long or pine for something. It is a fitting name for those of faith who longed for the appearance of the seed of blessing and the fruition of the promises fulfilled in him. “Barzillai,” Strong’s #1271, means “iron hearted,” suggesting the stout faithfulness of the ancient worthies.


Another player in this drama is a man named Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan, David’s dear friend and companion. For the sake of his affection for Jonathan, King David wished to show kindness to Mephibosheth. Just as in the pair discussed above, Barzillai and Chim­ham, probably Jonathan and Mephibosheth also represent, respectively, the ancient worthies and the members of Christ. (Respecting Jonathan as a figure of the ancient worthies, see this issue’s companion article “Saul, Jonathan, and David.”)

When Mephibosheth was five years of age he was dropped by his nurse and incurred a lasting lameness, but was nevertheless adopted in King David’s household and nourished at the king’s table (2 Samuel 4:4, 9:7). “As for Mephibosheth, said the king, he shall eat at my table, as one of the king’s sons” (2 Samuel 9:11). As the son of Jonathan, Mephibosheth represented those accepted by Christ out of a Jewish heritage, and the lameness of this young adherent probably represents the lameness of many of the early Jewish Christians whose attraction to the law limited their full mobility in the “liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free” (Galatians 5:1).

Mephibosheth is pointed out to David by Saul’s servant Ziba, who says he lived in Lodebar, from where David sent to fetch him (2 Samuel 9:4,5). Of Lodebar, Smith’s Bible Dictionary says “(without pasture), a place named with Mahanaim, Rogelim and other transjordanic towns (2 Samuel 17:27) and therefore no doubt on the east side of the Jordan.” Thus Mephibosheth, whose heritage was with Saul and Jonathan, came from the east of Jordan where Barzillai lived. They ­represent classes drawn from the same background.

Mephibosheth pledged his fealty to David (2 Samuel 9:6), which is consistent with him representing a class from the Jewish heritage which pledged its loyalty to Messiah, Jesus. However, as the narrative unfolds there is occasion for some concern about his fidelity to the king’s cause during the revolt of Absalom. Just so, many of the Christians drawn from a Jewish background may have had pulls of affection for the Jewish system revolting against Rome. These needed Christ’s words of warning, reminding them of Lot and Lot’s wife who had attachments to Sodom, as some of the Jews would have attachments to Jerusalem. “But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all. Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed … Remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17:29-32).

Ziba, the Servant

The charge against Mephibosheth came from Ziba, who had been a servant of Saul, and who continued in the service of the house of Mephibosheth. “All that dwelt in the house of Ziba were servants unto Mephibosheth” (2 Samuel 9:12). Probably Ziba represents Gentile believers who had held an inferior ­position to the Israelites as regards their spiritual privileges. Ziba was a good man and was loyal to David. But during the rebellion of Absalom he had occasion to wonder about the integrity of his master Mephibosheth.

During the rebellion Ziba had nourished David’s men. “Ziba the servant of Mephibosheth met him [David], with a couple of asses saddled, and upon them two hundred loaves of bread, and an hundred bunches of raisins, and an hundred of summer fruits, and a bottle of wine” (2 Samuel 16:1). These supplies represent the spiritual nourishment for David’s band, who represent spiritual Christians. They were for “the young men to eat; and the wine, that such as be faint in the wilderness may drink” (2 Samuel 16:2).

The bread and vine products are easy to identify with the memorial emblems, and the summer (harvest) fruits probably identify with the new doctrines of the gospel which then nourished the saints. Ziba evidently represents Gentile believers, fervent in support of their new king Jesus. Many of them first approached God through association with the hopes of Israel, even though at the time they held inferior privileges and rights, much as the Syrophen­ician woman who recognized she did not share the rights of the “children,” Israel (Mark 7:28).

So there was Ziba in the hour of need,  but where was Mephibosheth? “And the king said, And where is thy master’s son? And Ziba said unto the king, Behold, he abideth at Jerusalem: for he said, To day shall the house of Israel restore me the kingdom of my father” (2 Samuel 16:3). Probably this expresses the concern Gentile Christians had for some of their Jewish brethren—would they join the nationalists rebelling against Rome?

In response, “Then said the king to Ziba, Behold, thine are all that pertained unto Mephibosheth. And Ziba said, I humbly beseech thee that I may find grace in thy sight, my lord, O king” (2 Samuel 16:4). In other words, Ziba received the blessings assigned to Mephibosheth, just as the Gentiles received the blessings assigned by heritage to the Israelites.

However, the concerns about Mephibosheth proved exaggerated as David, and presumably Ziba, later recognized. When Mephi­bosheth met David in the aftermath, he had “neither dressed his feet, nor trimmed his beard, nor washed his clothes, from the day the king departed until the day he came again in peace” (2 Samuel 19:24)—a testimony that his sympathies were with David.

“And it came to pass, when he was come to Jerusalem to meet the king, that the king said unto him, Wherefore wentest not thou with me, Mephibosheth?” (verse 25). It was a reasonable question. Mephibosheth explained that Ziba had not spoken correctly about him, and though the intent of his reply is a little confusing, evidently his lameness prevented him from fully expressing his loyalty as he wished (verses 26, 27). He submitted himself to whatever judgment King David would render in the case. David had already given Ziba Mephibosheth’s heritage, but in light of these developments he modified his judgment, and said “thou and Ziba divide the land” (verse 29). Just so, the Jewish and Gentile brethren became joint-heirs of a rich inheritance in Christ. Ziba was no more merely a servant, and Mephibosheth did not lose his privileges.

Sheba, the Benjamite

When David returned with his brethren of the Tribe of Judah, representatives of ten other tribes asserted they had equal rights to the king as part of Israel and a contention grew up between the contingents. It resulted in a cleavage, with Sheba, of Benjamin (the tribe of former king Saul), rising to lead ten tribes in ­revolt. David recognized that this was potentially a greater threat to the kingdom than Absalom’s revolt had been (2 Samuel 19:41 to 20:22).

If Absalom’s revolt pictured the zealots’ revolt to establish the old Jewish state in 66-70 A.D., this second rebellion, to reestablish the old Benjamite authority, evidently represents a second effort to restore the Kingdom of Israel. This would fit the rebellion led by the false messiah Bar-Kochba.

This revolt was even stronger than the first. Nevertheless, it proved abortive with its collapse in 135 A.D., just 65 years after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Isaiah 7:8 contains a prophecy of a 65-year period in which “Eph­raim”—ancient head of the ten tribes—“shall … be broken, that it be not a people.” By 135 A.D. the former nation of Israel had been broken and scattered.

The name of this putative leader, “Sheba the son of Bichri” (2 Samuel 20:7), speaks of the heritage of Israel which led them to this time of decision and crisis. Sheba, Strong’s #7652, means “seven,” and by extension, as reflected in the related word Shaba, Strong’s #7650, an oath or covenant. “To seven oneself, i.e., swear (as if by repeating a declaration seven times):—adjure, charge (by an oath, with an oath) … take an oath.”

Bichri, Strong’s #1075, means youthful in the sense of a fresh birth. It is derived from Strong’s #1069, “to burst the womb, i.e., … bear or make early fruit … to give the birthright.” Thus “Sheba the son of Bichri” speaks of Israel, God’s covenant people, who at the first advent were ready to “come to birth,” if only they would, and receive the birthright promised so long ago to their fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

But the prophet Hosea predicted centuries earlier that at this moment of decision the matter would not go well for Israel. “The sorrows of a travailing woman shall come upon him: he is an unwise son; for he should not stay long in the place of the breaking forth of children (­Hosea 13:13).” The young nation would not cooperate with God’s program and the result would be a still born child. In further metaphors, “an east wind shall come, the wind of the LORD shall come up from the wilderness, and his spring shall become dry, and his fountain shall be dried up: he shall spoil the treasure of all pleasant vessels … she hath rebelled against her God: they shall fall by the sword: their infants shall be dashed in pieces” (verses 15,16).

David’s Conciliatory Posture

In the aftermath of Absalom’s revolt David took a conciliatory posture toward the military leader of the revolt. He was a man named Amasa. “And Absalom made Amasa captain of the host instead of Joab: which Amasa was a man’s son, whose name was Ithra an Israelite, that went in to Abigail the daughter of Nahash, sister to Zeruiah Joab’s mother” (2 Samuel 17:25). Many of the prominent players in the drama were intertwined in family relationships, just as all the Jewish players were interrelated in the Jewish age harvest, coming from the same “household” of Jewish faith.

David was eager for a healing to the breach in the nation and generously offered Amasa the chief position in his own forces. He urged Amasa to accept this wonderfully generous ­offer by appealing to his familial relationship. “Art thou not of my bone, and of my flesh?” (2 Samuel 19:13).

Similarly, those who survived the Jewish revolt climaxing in 70 A.D., if they were contrite, chastened by the experience and recognized the power of the new king (Matthew 26:64), could still embrace Christ and receive positions of honor and dignity in the high calling. Christ would still respect their heritage in the Law of Moses and make them instruments of praise if they would commit to his service.

Amasa complied: “And he bowed the heart of all the men of Judah, even as the heart of one man; so that they sent this word unto the king, Return thou, and all thy servants” (2 Samuel 19:14). However, Amasa subsequently wavered, and lost his privileges. He was given the opportunity of showing his loyalty by resisting the ensuing rebellion of Sheba but deferred to exercise prompt obedience and subsequently lost his life (2 Samuel 20:4-12).

The rebellion of Sheba came to an end at the town of Abel (2 Samuel 20:15). Is there a connection here to the retribution upon Israel for the “blood of Abel”—a figure of Christ—which cried “from the ground” for satisfaction? (Genesis 4:10; Hebrews 11:4; 12:24).

The lesson of Amasa, a leader in Israel, was reflected also in the more lowly Shimei, the Benjamite who had cursed David during Absalom’s rebellion. He was generously forgiven when David returned in triumph, but through subsequent infidelity he lost his life also (2 Samuel 16:5-13, 19:16-23; 1 Kings 2:38-46).

Hosea’s Lovely Prospects

But the mercy of the new king is unbounded. As Joseph forgave his brothers, so Christ will forgive Israel and the people will turn to him with full devotion. Gone will be the opportunity of heavenly glory, but they will yet be used by ­Jesus to spread the kingdom worldwide.

“O Israel, return unto the LORD thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity … say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously: so will we render the calves of our lips … for in thee the fatherless findeth mercy” (Hosea 14:1-3).

Then, God promises, “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him. I will be as the dew unto Israel: he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon. His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the ­olive tree, and his smell as Lebanon. They that dwell under his shadow shall return; they shall revive as the corn, and grow as the vine: the scent thereof shall be as the wine of Lebanon” (Hosea 14:4-7).