Temura 13 - 19
The Forty-Year Mystery
One of the most tragic chapters in Jewish history is the attempt of Avshalom to usurp the throne of his father, King David. The account of this rebellion which ended with the death of Avshalom is introduced with this passage:
And it came to pass at the end of forty years that Avshalom said to the king: I wish to go to Hebron to fulfill the vow I made to G-d. (Shmuel II 15:7)
What, asked Rabbi Yehoshua, is the meaning of the forty years mentioned in connection with Avshaloms rebellion? The answer which Rabbi Nehorai offers in his name is that exactly forty years had passed since the people had petitioned their leader, the Prophet Shmuel, to appoint a king to rule over them (Shmuel I 8:5). This was considered a rebellion against both Shmuel and G-d as was expressed by G-d in His words to Shmuel in the subsequent passages (ibid. 7-8). There is a hint here that the seeds of Avshaloms rebellion were already planted forty years earlier in the rebellion against the prophet-leader appointed by G-d.
By why did Avshalom wait till the end of forty years if he had such seditious ambitions?
Rashi, in his commentary in Mesechta Nazir (5a), notes that Avshalom was aware that his fathers reign was to last forty years. He mistakenly assumed, however, that these forty years began with the peoples request for a king. In fact, during the first three years following that rebellion it was Shmuel and Shaul who ruled, and therefore Davids forty-year reign would still continue for three more years. Avshaloms calculation was mistaken and his rebellion was doomed.
- Temura 14b