In the case of both Saul and David, the case could be made that both were attractive in appearance, but it was not their physical appearance that drew the people to them, but rather their leadership. A grave injustice is done to the people of Israel in Absalom’s day when they are treated as creatures of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, who are bombarded with images of beauty on a daily basis and asked to follow the leadership (in various areas of concern) of those that are thought of as “the beautiful people”. Absalom’s culture was not one of mass media. Indeed, one can imagine that Absalom would have been unknown, by appearance, to the majority of the people over which he desired to rule.
With that said, there must have been something far more substantial to Absalom’s position and to his claims that would enable him to win the allegiance of so many within Israel. An appeal to their history, set against the possibilities of sharing in either the blessing or cursing of their God, and presented within the context of Israel’s great story of redemption from Egyptian bondage---if Absalom could successfully make the desired exile and exodus connections in the hearts and minds of the people---would have a powerful effect within the nation. An additional benefit is that this would enable a revolution that could consist of very little bloodshed, with their God acting on behalf of them and their new leader, just as He had done against Egypt and Pharaoh.
Moving forward then to David’s response to Absalom’s proclamation as king at Hebron, it is interesting to look at it in the light which has been created for it by Absalom, while also looking at it from the perspective of the God that had anointed David as king over His people. Immediately after learning that the people were siding with Absalom, it is said that “a messenger came to David and reported, ‘The men of Israel are loyal to Absalom!” (2 Samuel 15:13) What is David’s response to this news? Does he assert that he is king? Does he attempt to derail the coup that is taking place? Not at all. Rather, “David said to all his servants who were with him in Jerusalem, ‘Come on! Let’s escape! Otherwise no one will be delivered from Absalom!’” (15:14a) This would play nicely into the narrative that Absalom is attempting to both build upon and create. His father, when challenged, flees.
This would be a clear sign to Absalom’s supporters that the protective and supporting hand of Israel’s God had been removed from David and was being transferred to Absalom, though he, unlike Saul and David (and every other previous leader of Israel since Moses) had not been anointed to the position of king. Absalom could point to this response and make the point that exile was coming to David. This would have been poetic justice for Absalom, in that it was he who was previously forced to flee from Jerusalem. At the same time though, it should not be forgotten that his flight was not altogether unfortunate, as his being able to tell a story which included fleeing must have been quite important in his gaining influence and favor with the people.
David is clearly fearful. Perhaps he too feels that rule is being stripped from him, as the Bathsheba incident would certainly have never been far from his mind. Indeed, if Saul had been rejected as king for not following out the Creator God’s orders and executing all of the Amalekites (along with their animals), then should David be surprised if he ultimately comes to be rejected as king because of his oppressive and high-handed actions against Uriah? Yes, the prophet Nathan had informed David that God had forgiven him and that he would not die as a result of what he had done, but nothing had been said about his own kingship in that incident. He had received the promise that the Lord God of Israel would build him a dynastic house (7:11), but that was before he had Uriah murdered. Besides, Absalom was his very own son, so the Creator God could very well be faithful to His promise in that regard by showing favor to Absalom and removing David as king.