International Standard Version
1David mustered his forces and appointed officers in charge of regiments and companies. 2Dividing his forces into three groups, he set Joab as commander of one third of his army, Zeruiah's son Abishai, Joab's brother, as commander of another third, and Ittai from Gath as commander of another third. The king informed the army, "I'm going out to battle with you, too." 3"No way!" his army responded. "If we have to retreat from the battle, Absalom's men won't care about us. Even if half of us die, they won't care about us. But you are worth 10,000 of us. The best thing you can do for us is to remain in the city." 4So David responded, "I'll do what you think best." Then he stood alongside the city gate as the army went out in battle array by hundreds and thousands. 5As they were going out, the king ordered Joab, Abishai, and Ittai, "Treat young Absalom gently for my sake." Everyone heard what the king had ordered his commanders about Absalom.
6David's army left for the battlefield to fight Absalom and his Israeli followers, and they also fought in the Ephraim forest, 7where David's army of servants defeated the Israelis. Many died that day—20,000 men. 8The battle spread throughout the entire countryside, and the forest claimed more casualties that day than did the sword fighting.
9Absalom happened to run into David's soldiers. While Absalom was trying to get away on his mule, it ran under the thick branches of a giant oak tree, and Absalom's head got caught in the tree! As his mule ran out from under him, Absalom was left hanging above the ground. 10When one of the soldiers saw what had happened, he told Joab, "I saw Absalom stuck in an oak tree!" 11Joab asked the man who was reporting to him, "What! You saw him? Why didn't you kill him right then and there? I would've given you ten pieces of silver and a warrior's sash!" 12But the soldier replied to Joab, "I wouldn't have touched the king's son even if you dropped 1,000 pieces of silver right into my hands, because we heard the king command you, Abishai, and Ittai, 'Watch how you treat the young man Absalom!' 13If I had taken his life, the king would have uncovered everything about it, and you would never have protected me!" 14"There's no reason to wait for you!" Joab retorted. Then he took three spears in his hand and stabbed Absalom in the heart while he was still alive, dangling from the branches of the oak tree. 15Ten young men who served as Joab's personal assistants then surrounded Absalom, striking him repeatedly and killing him.
16At this, Joab sounded his battle trumpet and his troops stopped pursuing the other Israelis. 17Meanwhile, Joab's army grabbed Absalom's body, tossed it into a large pit in the forest, and filled it up with a huge pile of rocks. Then the Israelis ran away back to their homes. 18While Absalom had been living, he had erected a pillar as a monument to himself in King's Valley because he had been telling himself, "I don't have a son to carry on my family name." So he named the pillar after himself—it's called Absalom's Monument even today.
19Zadok's son Ahimaaz told Joab, "Let me run over to King David and take him the news. I'll mention that the LORD has delivered him from his enemies." 20But Joab answered Ahimaaz, "You're not the man to deliver news today. Do it any other time, but not today, because the king's son is dead." 21So Joab ordered a man from Ethiopia, "Go tell the king what you've seen." So the Ethiopian saluted Joab and then ran to tell David. 22"Please," Zadok's son Ahimaaz continued, "No matter what happens, let me follow the Ethiopian!" Joab asked him, "Why this request to run, my son? There's no reward in it for you." 23"No matter what, I'm running," Ahimaaz replied. So Joab told Ahimaaz, "Run!" And Ahimaaz ran, taking the Jordan Valley road, passing the Ethiopian.
24Meanwhile, David was sitting between the inner and outer gates of the city. The watchman was up on the roof of the gateway near the walls, looking around, and there was a man running by himself! 25So the watchman called out his news to the king. The king responded, "If he's alone, he's bringing some news to report." As the man continued to draw near and approach the palace, 26the watchman observed another man running. So he called out to the gatekeeper, "There's another man running by himself!" The king replied, "He's also bringing some news to report!" 27Then the watchman observed, "It looks to me that the runner out in front is running like Zadok's son Ahimaaz!" The king replied, "This is a good man bearing good news!"
28"Everything's fine!" Ahimaaz announced to the king. He bowed low with his face to the ground before the king and said, "Praise be to the LORD your God! He has handed over the men who rebelled against your majesty the king." 29"Are things fine with respect to the young man Absalom?" the king asked. Ahimaaz answered, "I saw a lot of confusion about the time Joab was getting ready to send the king's courier and me, your servant, but I'm not sure what was going on." 30The king replied, "Stand here at attention and wait." So he stepped to the side and stood there waiting.
31Just then the Ethiopian arrived. He reported, "Good news, your majesty the king! The LORD has delivered you from the control of everyone who rebelled against you!" 32The king asked the Ethiopian, "Is the young man safe?" The Ethiopian answered, "May the enemies of your majesty the king—including everyone who rebels and tries to harm you—become like that young man—."
33 Deeply shaken, the king went up to the chamber overlooking the city gate, weeping bitterly and crying out as he went along, "My son Absalom! My son! My son Absalom! I wish I had died instead of you, Absalom my son, my son!"