d-2 Did Absalom Need 40 Years or 4 Years to Overthrow King David?
2 Samuel 15:7
KJV: And it came to pass after forty years, that Absalom said unto the king, I pray thee, let me go and pay my vow, which I have vowed unto the Lord, in Hebron.
NIV: At the end of four years, Absalom said to the king, “Let me go to Hebron to fulfill a vow I made to the Lord.”
The Hebrew text says forty, as the KJV has it, but the NIV (and other modern versions) render four that appears in the ancient Septuagint and Syriac versions, and Josephus makes it to be four. Modern translators assume the Hebrew text has a copyist error here since context speaks of Absalom having just won over the hearts of the men of Israel as he seeks to overthrow David as king. It would be impossible for Absalom to have spent forty literal years in this matter since it took place at least a few years before David concluded his reign, and the total time that he reigned is said to be forty years in 2 Samuel 5:4.
Now use of the number four is improper since it's based on the notion of error in the Hebrew text. Scribes copying & transmitting the Masoretic Text were conscientious in the extreme with regard to accuracy, and the difference in the appearance of the numbers 40 & 4 is much too obvious to attribute the number 40 to copyist error.
To understand this matter we must realize that the number 40 in scripture relates to radical transitions in history, like the 40 days Christ walked the earth in supernatural bodily form after the Resurrection, the 40 days of rain in the great flood, forty years that doing of evil by Israel led to God delivering the nation unto the Philistines (Judges 13:1), and the 40 years that Eli the priest had judged Israel when he died upon hearing of defeat of Israel by the Philistines, with consequent loss of the glory of God upon loss of the ark of God (1 Samuel 4:18-22). Indeed, the monarchy in Israel began with king Saul who ruled 40 years, followed by the far better 40-year rule of David who was normally a man after God's own heart, followed by the 40-year rule of Solomon who, by God's power, brought temporary great wisdom & peace and God's temple to Israel (see Judaism and Numbers, Rabbi G. Dennis MyJewishLearning.com for the Hebrew perspective on this matter). It appears God ordained literal 40-year or 40-day periods associated with radical change in the lives of His people to provide a striking indicator that His scriptural Word reflects His will in all matters of greatest importance in our lives, no matter how we view these events.
once we view the term forty years in
2 Sam.15:7 as another indication of radical transition, we see that
the number is authentic. A radical transition begins as verse 15:6
reveals that Absalom has just finished stealing the hearts of men of
Israel through his political chicanery, in order to set himself up as
king in David's place. The literal time required for Absalom to
conclude his scheme during David's reign would be on the order of a few years, but there's
no real basis to assume that the four years of
other textual sources is correct. The forty-year figure properly
indicates a radical temporary transition in the monarchy. It would relate indirectly to the years since a lawful God- ordained monarchy began with God's call to Saul in his 40-year reign. It would relate directly to David's lawful 40-year reign as interrupted temporarily by an unlawful one of Absalom. In 2 Sam.15:7, after 40 years, or the end of 40 years, would be a unique figurative expression marking a time after, an early end of, the lawful reign of David that God ordained to last 40 years, but ended early due to unrighteous behavior of David (noted below), resulting in a temporary unlawful end of David's lawful literal 40-year reign; the 40-year figure actually tells us David's literal reign won't end until his time is complete. David saw his reign as over, however long the interruption might be, and he very hurriedly
abandoned the throne at Jerusalem, and left the city.
There is a reason why this 40-year figure related to Absalom is the only figurative use of 40 in scripture, the numbers normally being literal ones reflecting God's ordained will. While there were a few other cases of unlawful reigns in the Old Testament, this one seems to be chosen to represent matters in which unlawful major events result by God's permissive will, rather than His ordained will, which would be a response to improper behavior in the life of a man God chose for special honors. David was chosen by God to be the forerunner of the Son of David who will rule the world from David's throne during the Millennial Kingdom, but David exhibited some evil behavior totally unfitting for the forerunner of the ultimate King. Earlier he committed adultery with Bathsheba and arranged the murder of her husband. Then he did not punish his son Amnon who raped his own sister Tamar, a matter later avenged by Absalom who killed Amnon, and eventually stole David's throne temporarily. Absalom was killed in battle to cause David great sorrow of heart, for David knew that his own sin was the real cause of Absalom's death.
What the forty years of 2 Sam.15:7 signify is a modification of a pattern on the end of a king's reign, which normally occurred at his death, as seen in various cases, like the 1 Kings 2:10,11 account of the end of David's reign specified as 40 years at the time of his death, with the death indicated by the terminology slept with his fathers. This pattern appears regarding the 40-year reign of Solomon in 1 Kings 11:42,43, and the 22-year reign of Jeroboam, the king of Israel after division of the nation into two parts. Each subsequent king in 1 Kings slept with his fathers in death (e.g. Rehoboam in 1 Kgs.14:31, Baasha in 1 Kgs.16:6, Asa in 1 Kgs.15:24, etc). David's life & reign are far from over at the time of the incident with Absalom, so the usual pattern identifying the literal end of a king's reign is broken by use of a figurative expression.
The unusual way of expressing this matter regarding Absalom's overthrow of David may have an additional relationship to the reign of the Son of David in the sense of patterns. Jesus Christ will continue and establish the legitimacy of the throne of David forever (Isa.9:7, Lk.1:32,33 & Mt.19:28). He was born as the king of the Jews (Mt.2:2), and should have been received as the lawful universal king at His First Advent, for He is God in the flesh, but was betrayed by His own disciple Judas and rejected by his own chosen people in the flesh. This betrayal and rejection were foretold by rejection of David from the throne in the betrayal by his own son and rejection by his own people in the flesh. Christ's reign was interrupted temporarily, but will be established forever at the start of the Millennium. David's reign was temporarily interrupted, but, due to its forerunner status, can't be ended by Absalom, anymore than the Millennial reign of Christ the Son of David can be ended. The forty-year figure in 2 Samuel seems meant to convey this truth since David's reign isn't over at this point, so forty years is part of the process of inspiration by Holy-Spirit dictation unknown to the human writer of the text.
From the standpoint of the human writer of 2 Samuel, the forty years would simply reflect his knowledge that David's very important lawful reign had not really ended, and a figurative expression would avoid a suggestion that it had ended, while also recognizing the temporary end. That is, the 40-year figure indicates David's lawful reign will continue to its end, despite an appearance that it had ended prematurely. Indeed, common use of the literal number forty in the Hebrew text would sooner or later invoke a figurative sense when this proved expedient in recognizing some radical historical change of a unique nature that was inconsistent with the usual pattern. This matter would be reserved for application to the figurative forerunner of the future reign of Christ, a reign greater than all others, and it would be one of various aspects of veiled Christology, the primary aspect of the uniqueness of the Masoretic Text. The Word of God in the Old Testament is filled with unique, sometimes mysterious, truths providing a foundation on which to build His great plan for His people, while His New Testament Word is the open revelation of the full depth & structure of God's truth.