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Bible Commentaries
2 Samuel 14

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries



This chapter and through 2 Samuel 19 relate the tragic account of Absalom’s rebellion against David, which ended in Joab’s killing the evil rebel as he hung by that gorgeous head of hair tangled in the branches of a tree. Following his murder of Amnon, Absalom had fled to Geshur where he remained three years, and King David would have done very well to let him rot in Geshur, but one of the weaknesses of the great king was his sentimental attachment to his children, whose sins he would not punish and whose lives he refused to discipline. Joab detected the longing in David’s heart for the return of Absalom and actually achieved it by the ruse described in this chapter.

Verses 1-3


“Now Joab the son of Zeruiah perceived that the king’s heart went out to Absalom. And Joab went to Tekoa, and fetched from there a wise woman, and said to her, “Pretend to be a mourner, and put on mourning garments; do not anoint yourself with oil, but behave like a woman who has been mourning many days for the dead; and go to the king, and speak to him.” So Joab put the words in her mouth.”

Joab’s motivation here was very likely personal. “Absalom had the best prospect of succeeding David to the throne; and Joab thought that this action on his part would be the best way to secure himself against the punishment which he deserved for the murder of Abner.”(F1) Joab’s procedure was similar to that of Nathan who brought before David an alleged court case, but which was actually a parable. A significant fact which emerges here is that any wronged person in the entire kingdom had the right to appeal to the king himself for judgment.

“The king’s heart went out to Absalom” The KJV reads, “The king’s heart went out toward Absalom,” but, “The proposition here does not really mean either TO or TOWARD, but AGAINST, and it is so rendered in 2 Samuel 14:13.”(F2) Furthermore, David’s refusal to see Absalom’s face for two whole years after his return to Jerusalem is very difficult to reconcile with the common translations of this verse.

“Joab sent to Tekoa” “Tekoa is the modern Khirbet Taqua about ten miles south of Jerusalem. Since Joab was reared near Tekoa, he probably knew the wise woman whom he asked to help him, at least by reputation.”(F3) Tekoa was famous as the residence of the great prophet Amos.

“Pretend to be a mourner” Adam Clarke believed that, “The principal facts in the wise woman’s story could have been real and that Joab found a person whose circumstances conformed to that which he wished to present.”(F4) Such opinions appear to be unacceptable because of Joab’s instructions to the woman that she should PRETEND to be a mourner. We believe that her entire story was a clever fabrication.

Verses 4-7


“When the woman of Tekoa came to the king, she fell on her face to the ground, and did obeisance, and said, “Help, O king.” And the king said to her, “What is your trouble”? She answered, “Alas, I am a widow; my husband is dead. And your handmaid had two sons, and they quarreled with one another in the field; there was no one to part them, and one struck the other and killed him. And now the whole family has risen against your handmaid, and they say, `Give up the man who struck his brother, that we may kill him for the life of his brother whom he slew’; and so they would destroy the heir also. Thus they would quench my coal which is left, and leave to my husband neither name nor remnant upon the face of the earth?”

“Now the whole family has risen against your handmaid” “This indicates that all the king’s sons and the whole court were against Absalom, and that the knowledge of this was what hindered David from yielding to his affection and recalling him.”(F5)

Verses 8-11


“Then the king said to the woman, `Go to your house, and I will give orders concerning you.’ And the woman of Tekoa said to the king, `On me be the guilt, my lord the king, and on my father’s house; let the king and his throne be guiltless.’ The king said, `If any one says anything to you, bring him to me, and he shall never touch you again.’ Then she said, `Pray let the king invoke the Lord your God, that the avenger of blood slay no more, and my son be not destroyed.’ He said, `As the Lord lives, not one hair of your son shall fall to the ground.’“

“On me be the guilt” This request of the woman recognized the guilt that rested upon any person avoiding the just punishment of murderers, but here, she stated her willingness to assume that guilt upon herself in order that it might not rest upon David and upon his throne. “The woman was here pleading for full forgiveness for the living son who had murdered his brother, which, of course, would be a violation of Levitical law. Anything less than full forgiveness would not help her plea for Absalom.”(F6)

“Pray let the king invoke the Lord your God” “The woman was not satisfied with David’s mere promise, she requested that he reinforce it with an oath, which he did.”(F7) “The reason for the woman’s demanding made up, before her application of the story to the case of Absalom.”(F8)

“That the avenger of blood slay no more” “The avenger of blood was the nearest of kin to the murdered man; and his duties are outlined in Numbers 35 and Deuteronomy 19.”(F9) The forgiveness of such a murderer was a violation of God’s commandment, a fact which the woman frankly admitted here in volunteering to accept the guilt upon herself.

Verses 12-17


“Then the woman said, “Pray let your handmaid speak a word to my lord the king.” He said, “Speak.” And the woman said, “Why have you planned such a thing against the people of God? For in giving this decision the king convicts himself, inasmuch as the king does not bring his banished one home again. We must all die, we are like water spilt to the ground; but God will not take away the life of him who devises means not to keep his banished one an outcast. Now I have come to say this to my lord the king because the people have made me afraid; and your handmaid thought, `I will speak to the king; it may be that the king will perform the request of his servant. For the king will hear, and deliver his servant from the hand of the man who would destroy me and my son together from the heritage of God.’ And your handmaid thought, `The word of my lord the king will set me at rest’; for my lord the king is like the angel of God to discern good and evil. The Lord your God be with you”!”

“Let your handmaid speak a word to my lord the king” David at this point had already decided the woman’s case and confirmed his decision with an oath; and it was therefore incumbent upon her to get the king’s permission to continue speaking to him. “Only at this point did she have David in just the right position to spring on him the personal application of her fictitious story.”(F10)

“Why then have you planned such a thing against the people of God” Cook’s paraphrase of this verse is: “If you have done right as regards my son, how is it that you harbor such a purpose of vengeance against Absalom as to keep him, one of God’s people, an outcast in a heathen country, far from the worship of the God of Israel? Upon your own showing, you are guilty of a great fault in not allowing Absalom to return.”(F11)

“The last half of 2 Samuel 14:14 here is obscure”;(F12) and there is no certainty that the RSV in this place is correct. The KJV reads, “God doth not respect any person”; and the alternative reading in the margin is that, “God does not take away life” (in the case of every sin that deserves death). David himself was a conspicuous example of that very truth.

“The king is like the angel of God to discern good and evil” David deserved this compliment, as proved a moment later when he discerned the hand of Joab in this woman’s appeal. “David’s ability as a judge were God-given and God-like; Absalom’s complaint (at a later time in 2 Samuel 15:4) was not leveled at David’s ability but at his lack of time.”(F13)

Verses 18-20


“Then the king answered the woman, `Do not hide from me anything I ask you.’ And the woman said, `Let my lord the king speak.’ The king said, `Is the hand of Joab with you in all this?’ The woman answered and said, `As surely as you live, my lord the king, one cannot turn to the right hand or to the left from anything that my lord the king has said. It was your servant Joab who bade me; it was he who put all these words in the mouth of your handmaid. In order to change the course of affairs, your servant Joab did this. But my lord has wisdom like the wisdom of the angel of God to know all things that are on the earth.’“

“Is the hand of Joab… in all this?” Willis suggested that David’s suspicion that Joab might have been behind this appeal might have been due to the fact that, “Joab probably had attempted to accomplish this in other ways on previous occasions.”(F14)

“My lord has wisdom… like that of the angel of God” The woman made effective use of flattery as she heaped compliment after compliment upon the king. This appeal was not only in line with what David actually wanted to do; but it was reinforced and enhanced by every possible device. No wonder that he granted it.

Verses 21-24


“Then the king said to Joab, “Behold, now I grant this; go, bring back the young man Absalom.” And Joab fell on his face to the ground, and did obeisance, and blessed the king, and said, “Today your servant knows that I have found favor in your sight, my lord the king, in that the king has granted the request of his servant.” So Joab arose and went to Geshur, and brought Absalom to Jerusalem. And the king said, “Let him dwell apart in his own house; he is not to come into my presence.” So Absalom dwelt apart in his own house, and did not come into the king’s presence.”

“And the king said to Joab… I grant this” It appears from this that Joab was present for this interview, and that the king at once transferred his attention from the woman to Joab, as Joab was the actual petitioner.

“I grant this” In this act, “David acted in the character of an Oriental despot rather than a constitutional king of Israel. His feelings as a father triumphed over his duty as a king, who, as the supreme magistrate over Israel, was bound to execute impartial justice on every murderer, according to the express commandment of God in Genesis 9:6; Numbers 35:30-31, and which David had utterly no power to dispense with (Deuteronomy 18:18; Joshua 1:8; and 1 Samuel 10:25).(F15) There is no doubt whatever that David’s consenting to bring Absalom back from exile was as stupid as it was sinful and contrary to God’s law. He paid in full the bitter price of this sinful indulgence of his affection for Absalom.

“He is not to come into my presence” This prohibition is hard to explain. It nullified the principal reason for David’s bringing Absalom back to Jerusalem. Cook explained it as due: “Possibly to Bathsheba’s influence, which may have been exerted to keep Absalom in disgrace for the sake of her son Solomon.”

Verses 25-27


“Now in all Israel there was no one so much to be praised for his beauty as Absalom; from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him. And when he cut the hair of his head (for at the end of every year he used to cut it; when it was heavy on him, he cut it), he weighed the hair of his head, two hundred shekels by the king’s weight. There were born to Absalom three sons, and one daughter whose name was Tamar; she was a beautiful woman.”

This little paragraph was apparently included here as preparatory to the account of Absalom’s death when that tremendous head of hair provided the opportunity for Joab to kill him!

As for the weight of that hair, scholars give different figures. Payne gave it as “Three and one half or four pounds”;(F16) Cook estimated it as, “About 6 pounds.”(F17) He also suggested that the figure of two hundred shekels should probably be read as “twenty shekels.” Caird gave the weight as “About three and one-half pounds”;(F18) and Josephus gave it as “five pounds.”(F19) From all this, it is perfectly evident that the scholars do not know what it weighed; and we can think of no better comment than that of R. P. Smith who said, “Undoubtedly Absalom’s hair was something extraordinary”!(F20) The reason for all the uncertainty arises from the lack of knowledge concerning the shekels mentioned here. Another possible explanation by Keil alleges that, “There is an error in the text.”(F21) We also found a suggestion that shekels were also used as units of monetary value, and that the 200 shekels might have indicated the price rather than the weight of Absalom’s hair.

“There were born to Absalom three sons and one daughter” Absalom later set up a pillar and stated that he had no sons (2 Samuel 18:18). This does not contradict what is written here, because, as Keil said, “All of Absalom’s sons died in infancy, so their names are not given here.”(F22)

“And one daughter whose name was Tamar” This might have been mentioned here as proof of Absalom’s love for his sister Tamar who had been violated by Amnon. The Septuagint (LXX) states that this Tamar became the wife of Solomon’s son King Rehoboam; but “Maachah is mentioned as the favorite wife of Rehoboam and the mother of Abijah in 1 Kings 15:2 and 2 Chronicles 11:20-22. Cook solved the problem by understanding Tamar’s daughter as Rehoboam’s wife(F23) and another solution supposes that Tamar was also called Maachah. The problem, to us, appears to have little importance.

Verses 28-33


“So Absalom dwelt two full years in Jerusalem, without coming into the king’s presence. Then Absalom sent for Joab, to send him to the king; but Joab would not come to him. And he sent a second time, but Joab would not come. Then he said to his servants, “See, Joab’s field is next to mine, and he has barley there; go and set it on fire.” So Absalom’s servants set the field on fire. Then Joab arose and went to Absalom at his house, and said to him, “Why have your servants set my field on fire”? Absalom answered Joab, “Behold, I sent word to you, `Come here, that I may send you to the king, to ask, “Why have I come from Geshur? It would be better for me to be there still.” Now therefore let me go into the presence of the king; and if there is guilt in me, let him kill me.’“ Then Joab went to the king and told him; and he summoned Absalom. So he came to the king, and bowed himself on his face to the ground before the king; and the king kissed Absalom.”

The two-year confinement in his own house had been very effective, because even Joab was afraid to call on Absalom, but it galled the impatient Absalom. As long as he was prohibited from seeing the king’s face, people would shun him, avoid him, and refuse to have anything to do with him. Absalom decided that he would rather die than to continue to live in that circumstance. He very properly concluded that the king would not have the guts to do his duty and execute him, as God had commanded. And, sure enough, the king restored him to his full position of trust and honor, as indicated by the king’s kissing him. This was a shameful act on David’s part!

As Matthew Henry noted:

“Three years in Geshur and two years in Jerusalem Absalom had been an exile from the presence of the king; yet his spirit was not humbled, his pride was not diminished. He was not grateful that his life had been spared, but only angry and frustrated that his honored place at court had not been restored. He pretended to love his father the king and to desire the privilege of again coming into his presence; but his pretensions were a base lie. He only wanted his honors restored in order to promote his campaign to replace his father as king of Israel.”(F24)

“If there is guilt in me, let him kill me” How could Absalom have believed that there was no guilt in himself? His cold-blooded premeditated murder of Amnon cried out to God for punishment, but Absalom admitted no crime, accepted no feeling of shame or guilt for himself and had the audacious arrogance to present himself to David as one worthy of his full confidence and trust. From the human aspect of it, David was a fool to have trusted him.

“And the king kissed Absalom” “It must have been a kiss of treachery on the part of Absalom. He never intended to keep the peace with his father.”(F25) This in another important particular in which David stands in the O.T. as a type of that Holy One, Jesus Christ himself, who was also betrayed by a kiss.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 14". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/2-samuel-14.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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