Son of King David and his wife Maacah (2 Sm 3:3). The name is also spelled Abishalom (1 Kgs 15:2,10). Absalom was a handsome young prince who was noted for his long, full hair (2 Sm 14:25-26). He had a beautiful sister, Tamar, who was raped by their half brother, Amnon. After dishonoring Tamar, Amnon refused to marry her (2 Sm 13:1-20).
Absalom took his dejected sister into his own house, expecting his father David to punish Amnon for his incestuous act. After two years of suppressed rage and hatred, Absalom plotted his own revenge. He gave a feast for King David and his princes at his country estate. Although David did not attend, Amnon did and was murdered by Absalom’s servants after Absalom got him drunk. Then, afraid of King David’s anger, Absalom fled across the Jordan River to King Talmai of Geshur, his mother’s father (2 Sm 13:21-39).
After three years in exile, Absalom was called back to Jerusalem through the efforts of David’s general, Joab, and a wise woman from Tekoa. After two years he was back in full favor with the king (2 Sm 14), and in that position he began to maneuver himself toward the throne. He put on an impressive public relations campaign, in the process undermining confidence in his father the king (2 Sm 15:1-6).
Eventually Absalom plotted a rebellion against David, gathering supporters in Hebron from all over Israel. After Ahithophel, one of David’s wisest counselors, joined Absalom, he announced his own kingship. By the time news of Absalom’s conspiracy reached him, David was unable to do anything but flee from Jerusalem (2 Sm 15; Ps 3).
Absalom arrived in Jerusalem without a struggle, and Ahithophel asked permission to attack David immediately with 12,000 troops. But Hushai, David’s secret agent in Absalom’s court, advised Absalom instead to take the time to mobilize the entire nation against David. He also used flattery, suggesting that Absalom himself should lead the attack. Absalom preferred Hushai’s advice, and Ahithophel out of desperation committed suicide. Meanwhile, Hushai sent word of Absalom’s plans to David by two priests, Zadok and Abiathar. With this information, David crossed the Jordan and camped at Mahanaim (2 Sm 16,17).
Absalom led his forces across the Jordan to do battle in the forest of Ephraim. David’s loyal forces were under the able generalship of Joab, Abishai, and Ittai the Gittite, who routed Absalom’s forces. Absalom himself fled on a mule, but his long hair got caught in the branches of an oak tree, and he was left dangling helplessly. Joab, leading his men in pursuit, came upon Absalom and killed him. Joab’s men threw the body in a pit and piled stones on it (2 Sm 18:1-18). Absalom’s death stunned David, who had given explicit orders to keep Absalom from harm. David moaned: "O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!" (2 Sm 18:33). In his excessive grief, David took no notice that a serious rebellion had been crushed until Joab reminded him that David’s followers had risked their lives for him (2 Sm 19:1-8).