Before it was Jerusalem, it was Jebus and had not been conquered in three hundred years. The previous occupants said “You will not get in here; even the blind and the lame can ward you off.” It was built on cliffs with high walls. It was a safe and strategic place to be when Absalom rebelled. Why would David leave?

Did he not want bloodshed in the city?

  • If so, were there enough of Absalom's people within the gates to defeat David?

Where was David's army?

  • Was there a standing army?
  • If so, had it aligned with Absalom?

It appears that David left with his six hundred veterans of Saul's pursuit. Later Absalom attacked with twelve thousand men, and was routed. How could six hundred men do this? Did they recruit twelve thousand once they left Jerusalem?

2 Answers 2


David was no fool - as well as an effective general he was a wise and able political ruler. In ancient times as well as today, politics involves the unstated "social contract" between the government and the people - the people give loyalty and some powers/.freedoms to the government and the government protects the people. That is, the government of any people is only such while the people give it legitimacy.

Therefore, in 2 Sam 15:14,

And David said to all his servants that were with him at Jerusalem, Arise, and let us flee; for we shall not else escape from Absalom: make speed to depart, lest he overtake us suddenly, and bring evil on us, and smite the city with the edge of the sword.

There are several reasons why David immediately decided to leave.

1. Legitimacy

David instantly recognized that to stay and defend the city against a rebellious population led by his son and heir apparent immediately means that the king is fighting against the people that are supposed to give the king legitimacy! That is, if the king is fighting the people he is supposed to protect and govern, he is obviously not their king!

2. Jerusalem

The ancient name of Jerusalem means, "place of peace". In the NT, one of the spellings is Ἱεροσόλυμα (Hierosoluma), meaning, priestly peace, or, peace of the priests; sometimes more loosely render "holy peace" or even more loosely, "holy city". David did not wish to desecrate his beloved city of peace with terrible bloodshed and endanger the fete of the sanctuary and and its staff.

3. Self Preservation

While David's army and personal body guard were supremely loyal (2 Sam 15:15 - The king’s servants replied, “Whatever our lord the king decides, we are your servants.”), and he could have ably defended the city from attack, the siege would eventually take it toll and most inside the city would eventually perish. Escaping the city would permit some time to plan the next phase. In any case, there would have been no significant supplies (in the city) for an extended siege.

4. Impoverishment

David must have also realized that an extended civil war would impoverish the nation and the people. In the event, there was a brief battle that resolved the problem quickly.

5. Absalom's Inexperience and Vanity

Despite his love for his eldest handsome son, David was till aware of Absalom's limitations - he was extremely vane, completely inexperienced in government, politics and battle leadership. David must have known this and knew that with Absalom as king, he would not last long. This is evidenced by David deliberately sending Hushai the Arkite back to Jerusalem to "frustrate" the advice of Ahithophel (2 Sam 15:32-37).

Vindication of Decision to Vacate

All this turned out to be correct - it was Absalom's vanity and inexperience that actually was his undoing. He foolishly took the loaded (trapped) advice of Hushai the Arkite over the much wiser advice of Ahithophel. [Hushai's advice was designed to appeal to Absalom's vanity.] The results were catastrophic - "the forest devoured more people than the sword" (2 Sam 18:8) precisely because Absalom's over-bloated army was unwieldy, untrained and totally inexperienced; it lacked any credible leadership. Even Ahithophel had foreseen this and committed suicide earlier (2 Sam 17:23).

In the end, David's evasive action resulted in only 20,000 deaths (2 Sam 18:7). I am sure that if he had stayed and defended Jerusalem, the deaths would have been more than 10 times as great.

Lastly, the ultimate vindication of David's decision to vacate Jerusalem came when, a few days later, he was welcomed back as their beloved king by all the people.

  • Thanks Dottard. That helped.
    – Randy
    Jul 22, 2020 at 4:46

The conspiracy threat was serious. Absalom was popular among the tribes and they had anointed Absalom:

2 Samuel 19:10 and Absalom, whom we anointed to rule over us, has died in battle.

There are two possible scenarios, flee or defending in Jerusalem. With hindsight, we see the outcomes of fleeing are way better than staying and defending Jerusalem as pointed out in Dottard's answer. The rebellion was finished in a matters of days instead of months, even years. By hindsight, we know that David had made a wise choice to flee.

From the vertical perspective, what is the reason for David to flee?

2 Samuel 12

9 You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’

11“This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. 12You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’ ”

This was fulfilled in 2 Samuel 16

20 Absalom said to Ahithophel, “Give us your advice. What should we do?”

21 Ahithophel answered, “Sleep with your father’s concubines whom he left to take care of the palace. Then all Israel will hear that you have made yourself obnoxious to your father, and the hands of everyone with you will be more resolute.” 22So they pitched a tent for Absalom on the roof, and he slept with his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel.

So, the horizontal reason is that it saves lives and resources to flee Jerusalem and fight in the forest to avoid siege warfare. The vertical reason is that David was to be punished for his sin against Uriah, a royal solider and husband.

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