Absalom tries to sow seeds of discontent without actually challenging his father’s authority. Absalom focuses on trying to find people throughout the kingdom who are discontent with something, anything, but nothing in particular. The only unifying factor that Absalom is looking for is people who are discontent and feel like they have not received justice in the kingdom or have not received their fair share.
Absalom did not say he wanted to be king, but he dressed the part of a king and always appeared in public with an escort of fifty men who served as a body guard, entourage and traffic police for Absalom’s chariot. Samuel had warned of this kind of flamboyant, self-serving behavior if Israel received the king they asked for. Samuel had said:
“This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots.” – 1 Samuel 8:11
The chariot pulled by horses was a clear image of royalty. In ancient cultures from the Mesopotamians to the Hittites down to Egypt royalty and import public figures would have runners alongside and in front of their chariots. It was considered an honor to run by the wheels of the king’s chariot. Absalom’s brother would later do the same thing as he tried to usurp the throne from his brother Solomon:
“Now Adonijah, whose mother was Haggith, put himself forward and said, ‘I will be king.’ So he got chariots and horses ready, with fifty men to run ahead of him.”
– 1 Kings 1:5
Absalom’s appeal for justice for the people was the main responsibility of the king in this ancient world. King Hammurai writes:
“When Marduk commissioned me to guide the people aright, to direct the land, I established law and justice in the language of the land, thereby promoting the welfare of the people.” (Details here and here)
It is written that King Ur-Mammu of Ur brought “equity in the land” and “banished malediction, violence and strife.” (here)
So, Absalom is clearly trying to establish the impression that David has not treated people fairly or judged situations justly. And, if you are Bathsheba or Tamar or someone from Saul’s royal family who lost their claim to royalty, then there may be some truth to this accusation. Yet, even if Absalom’s claims may have a grain of truth to them, his motivation is clearly not sincerely for the people’s best interest. Absalom is playing the political game of public manipulation for his own self-interests.
Absalom is creating or developing two illusions:
1) David is unjust,
2) Absalom is a worthy, capable royal leader
And, Absalom will be successful in his development of these two illusions as he turns the kingdom against David and towards himself.