David, it would seem, could not muster such feelings towards Absalom. David was not this kind of father. Perhaps Absalom hoped he could be so? “When someone approached to bow before him” (2 Samuel 15:5a), he did not treat that person as his own father had rather disdainfully treated him, without acknowledging the righteous behavior of his son that had prompted the exile that had now been brought to something like exodus.
Rather, “Absalom would extend his hand and embrace him and kiss him” (15:5b), no doubt recounting the tale of his appearance before the king, the lack of the extension of a loving and compassionate hand, and the absence of a loving embrace. Without those things, the kiss could be positioned as little more than an insult---a customary and expected greeting that one might even offer to an enemy, if that enemy ever happened to reach the place of bowing.
“Absalom acted this way toward everyone in Israel who came to the king for justice” (15:6a). They were coming to the king for justice and Absalom made sure that they received so much more. He gave them himself. “In this way Absalom won the loyalty of the citizens of Israel” (15:6b). They were going over to the side of the son that had been exiled simply because he had attempted to defend his sister’s honor (within an honor and shame society) by punishing an evildoer.
Yes, Absalom was even willing to raise his hand against his own brother in the defense of righteousness and in response to shameful acts. In the eyes of the people, that was probably to his credit. Accordingly, he was going to be their Moses, who had been raised in the royal house of Egypt but was willing to take an Egyptian life if necessary. Just as Moses had killed for the sake of the honor of his countrymen and was forced to flee to the wilderness, so too had Absalom acted, at least it could be seen as such in the eyes of the people that were becomingly increasingly loyal to him.
It is possible that the people of Israel were coming to believe in his exile, Absalom had obviously met Israel’s God, and the people experienced the obvious result of his meeting of their God when they experienced his warmth, his handshake, his embrace, and his kiss. His return to Jerusalem was a mirror of Moses’ return to Egypt, and accordingly he was there to lead the people of the Creator God. To this end, for Absalom and his supporters, David had become the new Pharaoh---oppressing the people of God just as he had oppressed his very own son---and he was rightfully going to be removed from his place of authority.
As before, Absalom was patient. He had waited two years from the rape of his sister before acting on her behalf. He had spent three years living apart from his people, in Geshur. He had spent two years in Jerusalem, living apart from the face of the king. “After four years” of winning the loyalty of the people “Absalom said to the king, ‘Let me go and repay my vow that I made to the Lord while I was in Hebron. For I made this vow when I was living in Geshur in Aram: “If the Lord really does allow me to return to Jerusalem, I will serve the Lord”’” (15:7-8).
One cannot help but notice the similarities to Moses’ encounter with Pharaoh. Moses, upon his return to Egypt from a long time of exile (remembering that in the case of Absalom it has now been eleven years since Tamar was raped, which was the catalyst to all of these events), went to Pharaoh and spoke to him of letting Israel go into the wilderness to make a sacrifice to the Lord. How does David respond to a similar plea from Absalom? “The king replied to him, ‘Go in peace.’ So Absalom got up and went to Hebron” (15:9).
Can the Moses/Pharaoh analogy be here continued? Absolutely it can, as it was when Pharaoh’s power had been completely broken that he eventually gave the command for Israel to go up out of the land to sacrifice. Absalom, if he was indeed positioning himself as a new Moses and casting his father in the position of Pharaoh (and ruling the Creator God’s people unjustly), would use this to further his ongoing campaign to cement the validity of his own leadership in the eyes of the people.
He had been enduring his father’s disdainful treatment long enough. He had spent years gaining the hearts of the people. This has all been well-calculated. He had built his grassroots support and his coup was effectively rooted in the grand story of Israel’s flight from Egypt and their God’s conquering of those that had become enemies of the people of the Creator God. Yes, Absalom was attempting to lead his own exodus, and with his departure to Hebron, the place where his father had initially been crowned and ruled, that effort had now begun.