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Monday, May 20th, 2024
the Week of Proper 2 / Ordinary 7
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Bible Commentaries
2 Samuel 15

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries



Promptly upon his being restored to favor by the king, Absalom initiated his campaign to seize the throne. It is hard to understand why David did not understand what Absalom was doing and terminate it, but he seems never to have been suspicious of Absalom’s activities until his rebellious son had himself anointed king in Hebron.

Verses 1-6


“After this Absalom got himself a chariot and horses, and fifty men to run before him. And Absalom used to rise early and stand beside the way of the gate; and when any man had a suit to come before the king for judgment, Absalom would call to him, and say, “From what city are you”? And when he said, “Your servant is of such and such a tribe of Israel,” Absalom would say to him, “See, your claims are good and right; but there is no man deputed by the king to hear you.” Absalom said moreover, “Oh that I were judge in the land! Then every man with a suit or cause might come to me, and I would give him justice.” And whenever a man came near to do obeisance to him, he would put out his hand, and take hold of him, and kiss him. This Absalom did to all of Israel who came to the king for judgment; so Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel.”

“A chariot and horses, and fifty men to run before him” This ostentation by Absalom should have alerted David to his son’s intentions. Throughout history, the first step of any man seeking to usurp power was to procure a bodyguard. Herodotus tells us how Pisistratus seized control of Athens by means of that very procedure.(F1) It was unusual for Israelites to ride in chariots drawn by horses, and the practice was frowned upon by God’s prophets. Samuel had warned Israel that their king which they demanded would, “Take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be horsemen, and to run before his chariots” (1 Samuel 9:11). “Absalom probably learned this kind of display from his grandfather the pagan king of Geshur, at whose court he had resided during the three years of his exile.”(F2)

By these bold actions, which were no doubt popular in Israel, Absalom was making a bid to become king eventually and to be received as the heir-apparent to David. “Fifty footmen running before him (in rich liveries we may suppose), thus giving notice of his approach, would highly gratify his pride and the people’s foolish fancy.”(F3)

However, Absalom had no intention of waiting until his father’s death in order to succeed him. “David had not taken any steps to designate a successor, and a rule of succession had not been established for the monarchy. The death of Saul and Jonathan had set a precedent against hereditary rule.”(F4)

“Oh that I were judge in the land” “He who himself should have been judged to death for murder had the impudence to aim at being the judge of others.”(F5) The arrogant conceit of this charlatan was not contained within any boundaries whatever.

“Then every man… might come to me, and I would give him justice” “How much Absalom really cared for the rights of others may be seen in his arrogant and crooked dealings with Joab (2 Samuel 14:28-33).”(F6)

“Whenever a man came to do obeisance… he took hold of him… and kissed him” This was Absalom’s way of feigning an “equality” with the people; he interrupted their intentions to bow down before him by embracing and kissing them. No doubt this type of flattery won him many adherents to his cause.

“It is a mistake to suppose that David altogether neglected his judicial duties. We have just noted that the woman from Tekoa easily found access to the king’s ears; and, besides that, the reason Absalom had to arise early is that it was an early hour when the king heard the suits brought before him. Note also that it was the plaintiffs who were on their way to the king’s tribunal whom Absalom accosted, and whom he made to believe that he would have decided in their favor regardless of the merits of the various cases.”(F7) Absalom’s conduct in this underhanded attack against his father was founded upon unscrupulous falsehood, deceit and hatred. Nevertheless, due to David’s sins and the sorrows brought upon him by God’s punishments, it must be considered very likely that to some degree David indeed had lost some of the concern and efficiency which once marked his efforts before the evil times fell upon him.

“Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel” His methods were the same as that of any demagogue; he promised everyone whom he met that he would give them what they wanted if only he were in authority. He pretended that he was interested in justice for every one. “He showed interest in the private lives of the people and made a pretence of protecting the poor and the lowly, insinuating that the government was incompetent and that if he were in power everything would be different.”(F8) All of this, of course, was as phony as similar pretensions by current seekers of political office, but the people were deceived by it, reminding us of the words of Voltaire who declared that, “The public is a ass”!

Verses 7-12


“And at the end of four years Absalom said to the king, “Pray let me go and pay my vow, which I have vowed to the Lord, in Hebron. For your servant vowed a vow while I dwelt at Geshur in Aram, saying, `If the Lord will indeed bring me back to Jerusalem, then I will offer worship to the Lord.’“ Then the king said to him, “Go in peace.” So he arose and went to Hebron. But Absalom sent secret messengers throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, “As soon as you hear the sound of the trumpet, then say, `Absalom is king at Hebron’!” With Absalom went two hundred men from Jerusalem who were invited guests, and they went in their simplicity, and knew nothing. And while Absalom was offering the sacrifices, he sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David’s counselor, from the city Giloh. And the conspiracy grew strong, and the people with Absalom kept increasing.”

“At the end of four years” The KJV and other ancient versions have “forty years” here instead of “four”; but the RSV is doubtless correct here in following the Syriac and certain texts of the LXX.(F9) This indicates that it took Absalom four years from the time he was reconciled with David to launch his attempted coup de etat.

“In Hebron” The reason for Absalom’s choice of Hebron as the place to launch his rebellion might have been complex. He was born in Hebron and might have had many friends there. Young wrote that, “Hebron still bore a grudge against David because he had moved the seat of his government to Jerusalem. Also, the allied clans of the Negev, through whose good offices David first mounted the throne, were jealous of the northern tribes who had become the dominant partner in the united kingdom, and whose power had made them very influential with the king.”(F10)

“Absalom sent secret messengers throughout all the tribes of Israel” “It is evident that much more elaborate preparations had been made for this effort of Absalom to seize the throne than appears on the surface of this concise narrative.”(F11)

“With Absalom went two hundred men from Jerusalem” These were invited guests, probably the most influential and powerful men in Jerusalem; but they were not co-conspirators with Absalom. Although ignorant of Absalom’s plans, they would have been supposed by the citizens of Hebron to be Absalom’s partisans. Furthermore, if they had, in any manner, objected to Absalom’s having himself proclaimed as king, they would have, at once, become his hostages. This was a clever maneuver indeed.

“He sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David’s counselor, from his city Giloh” Ahithophel was a very wise man, and if Absalom had possessed enough intelligence to follow his counsel, he might easily have triumphed over David.

“From his city Giloh” Some have supposed this place was south or southwest of Hebron, but Willis identified it with, “The modern Khirbert Jala approximately five miles northwest of Hebron.”(F12) It is very significant that Ahithophel was available at the nearby city of Giloh when Absalom called for him, instead of being in the city of Jerusalem where he belonged as a confidential advisor of King David. From this Keil very logically concluded that, “Ahithophel had been previously initiated into Absalom’s plans and had gone to his native city, merely that he might go to Absalom with greater ease.”(F13) It appears from this that Ahithophel himself might have been one of the principal architects of the rebellion. The reason usually assigned and which we mentioned earlier, is that Ahithophel was the grandfather of Bathsheba and that he hated David for David’s treatment of her and for his murder of her husband Uriah. Of course, there could have been some truth in this.

However, Ahithophel was far too wise a man to have joined the conspiracy unless he had been quite sure of its success; and, no doubt, it would have been a success if his advice had been followed. But he knew that if David was given time to gather his forces the coup would fail; and when he saw that Absalom rejected his advice, he promptly committed suicide.

But if the coup had been successful, did not Ahithophel foresee that Bathsheba and her son Solomon, Ahithophel’s great-grandson, would have been killed? “Even if Bathsheba had been spared (through Ahithophel’s influence), there is no way that Absalom would have refrained from murdering Solomon.”(F14) From these considerations we still find it very difficult to imagine why Ahithophel consented to aid Absalom.


To this writer, it seems that the above unrelated text from Revelation is an appropriate designation of the popularity that came to Absalom, as related in 2 Samuel 15:13 below.

Verses 13-18

“And a messenger came to David, saying, “The hearts of the men of Israel have gone after Absalom.” Then David said to all his servants who were with him at Jerusalem, “Arise, and let us flee; or else there will be no escape for us from Absalom; go in haste, lest he overtake us quickly, and bring down evil upon us, and smite the city with the edge of the sword.” And the king’s servants said to the king, “Behold, your servants are ready to do whatever my lord the king decides.” So the king went forth, and all his household after him. And the king left ten concubines to keep the house. And the king went forth, and all the people after him; and they halted at the last house. And all his servants passed by him; and all the Cherethites, and all the Pelethites, and all the six hundred Gittites who had followed him from Gath, passed on before the king.”

“Lest he… smite the city with the edge of the sword” Some have criticized David’s forsaking Jerusalem; but, in all probability, it was precisely that maneuver that saved his life and his throne. If Absalom had promptly surrounded Jerusalem, David would have been trapped and eventually defeated; but in the open country Absalom had nothing that could stand against David and his men of war. “The fact that David’s loyal followers did not question his decision to leave Jerusalem indicates that his decision was not based upon cowardice but upon the cold calculations of an experienced military specialist.”(F15)

Besides that, David loved Jerusalem and did not wish to see it subjected to the horrors of a siege. Also, Caird suggested that, “David must have been afraid of treachery from within Jerusalem.”(F16) In the terrible sorrows of this rebellion, David’s character as “a man after God’s own heart” is once more manifest, especially in the beautiful, heart-moving Psalms which he wrote during these hours of shame and grief.

“The six hundred Gittites” Some have questioned the identity of these; but Keil stated that, “It is dear enough that these are the six hundred old companions in arms of David who gathered around him during the days of his flight from Saul, who emigrated with him to Gath, and later to Ziklag.”(F17) These were the skilled soldiers who were capable of defeating an army ten times their size. “Such seasoned troops would find Absalom’s levies an easy prey.”(F18) As a matter of fact, when it finally came down to fighting, Absalom lost tens of thousands of his troops.

“Passed on before the king” “This refers to their crossing the brook Kidron east of Jerusalem.”(F19)

Verses 19-23


“Then the king said to Ittai the Gittite, “Why do you also go with us? Go back and stay with the king; for you are a foreigner, and also an exile from your home. You came only yesterday, and shall I today make you wander about with us, seeing I go I know not where? Go back and take your brethren with you; and may the Lord show steadfast love and faithfulness to you.” But Ittai answered the king, “As the Lord lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king shall be, whether for death or for life, there also will your servant be.” And David said to Ittai, “Go then, pass on.” So Ittai the Gittite passed, with all his men, and with all his little ones who were with him. And all the country wept aloud as all the people passed by, and the king crossed the brook Kidron, and all the people passed on toward the wilderness.”

The picture that emerges here is that of David standing by the Brook Kidron, taking with him all of the city of Jerusalem who wished to accompany him. “David compelled none. Those whose hearts were with Absalom, to Absalom let them go, and so shall their doom be. They will soon have enough of him. Christ enlists none but volunteers.”(F20)

Apparently, David was surprised by the arrival of Ittai and his company who had come to Jerusalem only recently. That group should not be confused with the Gittites mentioned a moment earlier. Those first mentioned were the faithful six hundred veterans of many of David’s victories; but Ittai’s group included women, children and brethren of Ittai. It also included some powerful soldiers. Ittai himself was evidently a very powerful and skilled general, because David placed him in command of a third of the army that defeated Absalom and his forces (2 Samuel 18:2).

Verses 24-29


“Abiathar came up, and lo, Zadok came also, with all the Levites, bearing the ark of the covenant of God; and they set down the ark of God, until the people had all passed out of the city. Then the king said to Zadok, “Carry the ark of God back into the city. If I find favor in the eyes of the Lord, he will bring me back and let me see both it and his habitation; but if he says, `I have no pleasure in you,’ behold, here I am; let him do to me what seems good to him.” The king also said to Zadok the priest, “Look, go back to the city in peace, you and Abiathar with your two sons, Ahimaaz your son, and Jonathan the son of Abiathar. See, I will wait at the fords of the wilderness, until word comes from you to inform me.” So Zadok and Abiathar carried the ark of God back to Jerusalem; and they remained there.”

David appears here as the giant of faith which he was. How he had grown spiritually! He relied upon the power and lovingkindness of God as totally distinct from such a talisman as the ark of the covenant, important as that ark was. Furthermore, David courageously faced the truth that it might indeed be God’s will to punish him with death for the terrible sins which had marred his life; but David would willingly submit to that, if it should be God’s will. “Let him do to me what seems good to him.” His whole attitude here was one of submission to God; he would fearlessly trust the outcome of Absalom’s rebellion to the Lord. Let God’s will be done.

“I will wait at the fords… until word comes from you to inform me” There was also an excellent practical reason why David sent the ark and its priestly and Levitical attendants back to Jerusalem. David would require accurate and confidential information on Absalom’s movements and other developments of the rebellion; and he promptly arranged to procure such information via the sons of the two priests mentioned here.

“May the Lord show steadfast love and faithfulness to you” This is an unwelcome change from the text as given in ASV, KJV and NIV; and Willis noted, “The last line of 2 Samuel 15:20 should read, `Mercy and truth be with thee,’ as in KJV, ASV, and NIV.”(F21)

“And Abiathar came up, and lo, Zadok came also, with all the Levites bearing the ark of the covenant of God” We are pleased indeed that the RSV has retained these words, thus effectively checkmating the old critical dictum advanced in the last century to the effect that, “The Levites are unknown to the Books of Samuel, so obviously (this mention of Levites) is a late insertion.”(F22) Such opinions, of course, are unacceptable. The Levites are mentioned in both Samuels, here and in 1 Samuel 6:15. Parallel accounts also which are found in Kings and Chronicles indicate most emphatically that the Levites during the reign of David fulfilled their usual purpose regarding the ark of the covenant; and there is no good reason for supposing that they were not involved here.

Verses 30-31


“But David went up the ascent of the mount of Olives, weeping as he went, barefoot, and with his head covered; and all the people who were with him covered their heads, and they went up, weeping as they went. And it was told David, `Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom.’ And David said, `O Lord, I pray thee turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness.’“

This account of David’s leaving the city of Jerusalem, barefoot and with his head covered, weeping as he went was called by Tatum, “One of the saddest passages in the Bible.”(F23)

“Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom” This was a terrible blow indeed to David, as indicated by David’s pouring out his heartbreak in one of the Psalms written on this occasion. He responded to the sad news with a prayer.

“O Lord turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness” God answered his prayer at once. Hushai agreed to return to Jerusalem to keep David informed of things he might hear there concerning Absalom’s strategy,”(F24) and also to frustrate, if possible, the counsel of Ahithophel.

Verses 32-37


“When David came to the summit, where God is worshipped, behold, Hushai the Archite came to meet with him with his coat rent and earth upon his head. David said to him, “If you go with me, you will be a burden to me. But if you return to the city, and say to Absalom, `I will be your servant, O king; as I have been your father’s servant in time past, so now I will be your servant,’ then you will defeat for me the counsel of Ahithophel. Are not Zadok and Abiathar the priests with you there? So whatever you hear from the king’s house, tell it to Zadok and Abiathar the priests. Behold, their two sons are with them there, Ahimaaz, Zadok’s son, and Jonathan, Abiathar’s son; and by them you shall send to me everything you hear.” So Hushai, David’s friend, came into the city, just as Absalom was entering Jerusalem.”

“When David came to the summit where God was worshipped” The words `where God was worshipped,’ refer to the fact that David and his company paused there to worship God, despite the fact of their lives all being in the most serious jeopardy. DeHoff said, “David was in danger of his life, but he stopped on Mount Olivet for prayer,”(F25) a prayer, incidentally, which was answered by the events in this paragraph almost instantaneously. Yes, God was with David even in the manifold sorrows of this dreadful experience.


“The rebellion of Absalom and the humiliating flight of David brought out all the better parts of the king’s character and set him once more before us as a man after God’s own heart; and this part of his life is richly illustrated by the Psalms which he wrote during the pressure of this great affliction. Psalms 41 shows how poignant was his anguish over Ahithophel’s treachery.”(F26)

“Psalms 3 and Psalms 4 were David’s morning and evening songs `when he fled from Absalom his son.’ David’s grief at the loss of his privileges of worship in Jerusalem. In Psalms 27, we have the contrast between Jehovah’s abiding goodness and the inconstancy of man; and Psalms 61 and Psalms 62 were probably written at Mahanaim when David’s anguish of mind had been assuaged.”(F27) In our commentary on the Psalms, we have explored many such thoughts as these.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 15". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/2-samuel-15.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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