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Bible Commentaries
2 Samuel 19

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries



Following such a serious rebellion as that of Absalom, David’s kingdom could not avoid a significant period of strife and confusion. David himself was part of the problem, because in this chapter, it appears that he made stupid and even sinful decisions. If it had not been for the heroic action of Joab, David might indeed have lost his kingdom to some other usurper. Our first paragraph here tells of Joab’s truthful, but even rude and disrespectful, rebuke of his cousin, King David.

Verses 1-7


“It was told Joab, “Behold, the king is weeping and mourning for Absalom.” So the victory that day was turned into mourning for all the people; for the people heard that day, “The king is grieving for his son.” And the people stole into the city that day as people steal in who are ashamed when they flee in battle. The king covered his face, and the king cried with a loud voice, “O my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son”! Then Joab came into the house to the king and said, “You have today covered with shame the faces of all your servants,, who have this day saved your life, and the lives of your sons and your daughters, and the lives of your wives and your concubines, because you love those who hate you and hate those who love you. For you have made it clear today that commanders and servants are nothing to you; for today I perceive that if Absalom were alive and all of us were dead, then you would be pleased. Now therefore arise, go out and speak kindly to your servants; for I swear by the Lord, if you do not go, not a man will stay with you this night; and this will be worse for you than all the evil that has come upon you from your youth until now.” Then the king arose and took his seat in the gate. And the people were all told, “Behold, the king is sitting in the gate”; and all the people came before the king.”

“The victory that day was turned into mourning for all the people” Valiant solders who had risked their lives for the life and honor of their king were entitled to be appreciated and applauded for their deeds. But when they returned to Mahanaim, they found that their king was bawling out loud like a baby and with his head covered. The natural understanding of that by the returning troops was the implication that the king was sorely displeased with them. Therefore, they stole into the city as if ashamed of themselves. However, they should have been ashamed of their king.

“O my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son” There can be no doubt whatever that David’s grief here was sinful, contrary to the will of God and detrimental to every interest pertaining to the king. Did not God Himself warn Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul, seeing I have rejected him from being king over Israel?” (1 Samuel 16:1); and when the sons of Aaron the High Priest were slain for their disobedience of God’s law, Moses, the great Lawgiver, commanded Aaron: “Do not let the hair of your heads hang loose, and do not rend your clothes, lest you die, but your brethren may bewail them (Leviticus 10:6). David’s ostentatious wailing for Absalom was a direct violation of God’s law.

We could not understand this at all, “Did we not find in the Psalms composed by David at this time that he was suffering extreme and even excessive self-reproach and mental anguish over his past sins.”(F1) In spite of this, however, “It was clearly David’s duty to master his feelings,”(F2) and to get on with the business of honoring the men who, at the risk of their lives, had saved the king’s life and his kingdom also.

“In this passionate and sinful sorrow on account of Absalom, David not only forgot altogether what it was his duty to do,… but he even allowed himself to be carried away into making some very inconsiderate and unjust promises and decisions.”(F3)

The fact is that David’s earthly life at this juncture reads almost like an anthology of evil, again revealing the infinite grace and mercy of the Lord that such an individual is justly hailed as “a man after God’s own heart.” And how may we understand this as a just designation? WITH ALL HIS SINS, DAVID WAS STILL THE BEST REPRESENTATIVE OF HUMANITY THAT GOD COULD HAVE CHOSEN AS A TYPE OF THE SON OF GOD. The wretched wickedness of Adam’s rebellious race appears dramatically in this.

“The king covered his face” “Veils worn by mourning widows are a modernization of this old custom. The implication is that one desires to be alone when grieving. For the same reason, at funerals, members of the family are seated in a separate room.”(F4)

“Your servants… this day have saved your life, the lives of your sons and your daughters… your wives and your concubines” These words of Joab were true even in a far greater degree than is stated here. “If Absalom had won, the massacre would not have stopped with killing the people Joab mentioned here. No! The officers of David’s court, the commanding officers of his army, all of the mighty men who surrounded him, including, of course, Joab and Abishai, - all would have been mercilessly and brutally murdered.(F5) One may wonder if Joab’s perfect knowledge of such facts did not steel his hand when he thrust the darts into the heart of Absalom.

“You love those who hate you and hate those who love you” “Joab was evidently angry and spoke harshly to the king.”(F6) The whole tenor of Joab’s rebuke of David was totally lacking of any respect for the king, and some have called it rude. However, the situation was desperate and called for drastic action. It is no credit to David that he was apparently deeply offended by Joab’s rebuke, despite the fact that he recognized the justice of it and promptly mended his behavior.

“Not a man will stay with you this night” As the supreme commander of David’s military, Joab could himself easily have engineered such a desertion. Joab’s duty was to warn David of his conduct which was so freighted with all kinds of evil consequences; “But he did so in such a heartless and lordly manner that the king was deeply hurt by it.”(F7) It is by no means impossible to suppose that Joab himself might have been tempted to lead an insurrection against David, in case David had not consented at once to change his sinful attitude.

“Behold, the king is sitting in the gate” “David recognized the wisdom of Joab’s words and took his seat at the gate of Mahanaim to watch his victorious troops file by. In this manner they were assured of the king’s recognition, gratitude and approval.”(F8)

Verses 8-10


“Now Israel had fled every man to his own home. And all the people were at strife throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, “The king delivered us from the hand of our enemies, and saved us from the hand of the Philistines; and now he has fled out of the land from Absalom. But Absalom whom we anointed over us, is dead in battle. Now therefore why do you say nothing about bringing the king back?”

This is a glimpse of the distressing uncertainty that settled over Israel after the death of Absalom. It was indeed a time of grief and perplexity. They had buried forty thousand of their fellow-countrymen, and their romance with Absalom had ended in that great pile of stones in the forest of Ephraim. Suddenly, some of them remembered the great blessing of David’s deliverance of the people from the hands of their enemies, especially the hated Philistines. Anarchy and chaos threatened the ruin of the whole nation; and a spontaneous cry for the restoration of David to his throne suddenly was heard in Israel.

David was aware of this movement to bring him back which developed in Israel, that is, in the ten northern tribes; but Judah, David’s own tribe, had not indicated any similar willingness to restore David. The reason for this reluctance in Judah is plain. Judah was the seat of Absalom’s rebellion. However, David moved at once to procure the approval and cooperation of Judah.

“Absalom whom we anointed over us” Only here in the Bible is the anointing of Absalom mentioned; but there can be no doubt of their having done it. This very probably took place in Hebron, one of Judah’s cities. Also, Ahithophel was from Gilo a neighboring city of Hebron. It is clear enough that Judah was the leader in the rebellion.


Still smarting under the well-deserved rebuke of Joab, David decided to remove him as supreme commander of the army, and, as one of the inducements offered to Judah for their rejoining David’s cause, he promised that the incompetent traitor-general Amasa would be appointed supreme commander in Joab’s place. There is no device by which that decision could have been justified. With all his faults, Joab was loyal to David, and Amasa was David’s enemy. Besides that, Amasa was incompetent. Although he commanded forty thousand men, he had just been defeated by one-tenth of that number under Joab. In this situation, David came very near to demonstrating that the old man had “lost his marbles.”

Verses 11-15

“And King David sent this message to Zadok and Abiathar the priests, “Say to the elders of Judah, `Why should you be the last to bring the king back to his house, when the word of all Israel has come to the king? You are my kinsmen, you are my bone and my flesh; why then should you be the last to bring back the king’?. And say to Amasa, `Are you not my bone and my flesh? God do so to me and more also, if you are not commander of my army henceforth in the place of Joab.’“ And he swayed the heart of Judah as one man; so that they sent word to the king, “Return, both you and all your servants.” So the king came back to the Jordan; and Judah came to Gilgal to meet him and to bring the king over the Jordan.”

“Say to Amasa, Are you not my bone and my flesh” “This was an amazing reason, seeing that it was also shared by Joab.”(F9) As a matter of fact, Amasa’s father was not even an Israelite. Thus Joab was more closely akin to David than was Amasa, but at this point David had not returned completely to normal senses.

Willis pointed out that David’s reasons for this maneuver were: (1) to provide an inducement to Judah; (2) to punish Joab for killing Absalom; and (3) to punish him for his stern rebuke.(F10) We consider these reasons absolutely inadequate as grounds for appointing a known incompetent traitor as his supreme general. Besides that, Judah needed no inducement whatever.

“It was not only unwise but unjust to give to the traitor general of the rebels a promise with an oath that he should be commander-in-chief instead of Joab.… However Joab might have offended David by killing Absalom and by the offensive manner in which he reproved the king for his giving way to his grief, David should have suppressed his anger in the circumstances and should not have rendered evil for evil, especially as he was extending pardon to his sworn enemy Amasa for a far greater crime and swearing with an oath to reward him magnificently by making him commander-in-chief.”(F11)

We might add that this action by David sealed the doom of Amasa, because there was no way that Joab would have let him live to supplant him.

“And he swayed the heart of all the men of Judah as one man” Some scholars have misunderstood this completely. “The subject of this sentence is David, not Amasa.”(F12) “It was not Amasa, but David, who made all the members of the tribe of Judah unanimous in his recall… David was fight in this policy; because following the solemn anointing of Absalom as king (2 Samuel 19:10), it was necessary for him to wait until some equally public and national act authorized his resumption of the royal power.”(F13)

Verses 16-23


“And Shimei the son of Gera, the Bejaminite, from Bahurim, made haste to come down with the men of Judah to meet King David; and with him were a thousand men from Benjamin. And Ziba the servant of the house of Saul, with his fifteen sons and his twenty servants, rushed down to the Jordan before the king. And they crossed the ford to bring over the king’s household, and to do his pleasure. And Shimei the son of Gera fell down before the king, as he was about to cross the Jordan, and said to the king, “Let not my lord hold me guilty nor remember how your servant did wrong on the day my lord left Jerusalem; let not the king bear it in mind. For your servant knows that I have sinned; therefore, behold, I have come this day, the first of all the house of Joseph, to come down to meet my lord the king.” Abishai the son of Zeruiah answered, “Shall not Shimei be put to death for because he cursed the Lord’s anointed”? But King David said, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah, that you should this be day as an adversary to me? Shall any one be put to death in Israel this day? For do not I know that I am this day king over Israel”? And the king said to Shimei, “You shall not die.” And the king gave him his oath.”

“Shimei the son of Gera… and Ziba with his fifteen sons and twenty servants” “The fact that Shimei was attended by a thousand men of Benjamin is proof that he was a man of great influence and that he had exerted himself to enlist his tribesmen in the support of David. His coming was therefore of importance to David. Likewise Ziba also virtually represented the entire house of Saul; and his presence was also important.”(F14) The motives of both Shimei and Ziba were clearly selfish and their actions hypocritical, but David was correct in receiving all actions toward reconciliation, because it was a day of rejoicing and not a day of bloodshed. The victory had been won by Joab and his men, and the healing of all wounds properly received the priority to which it was entitled.

“They crossed the ford to bring over the king’s household” We do not know exactly how Ziba and his men aided the king’s household, whether by physically carrying them over the Jordan fords or by bringing boats, but that was a valuable service indeed. Ziba, of course, knew that David would learn of Ziba’s unscrupulous lie against Mephibosheth; and his activity here was designed to ameliorate the king’s response to it. “The Jerusalem Bible states that, `Ziba and his men worked manfully ferrying the king’s family across.’“(F15)

“I have come this day, the first of all the house of Joseph, to come down to meet my lord the king” The house of Joseph is here used as in Amos 5:6 for the Ten Northern Tribes. The hatred and jealousy between Judah and the northern Israel existed long before the formal division of the Chosen People in the times following the death of Solomon into the separate kingdoms of Judah and Israel. In fact, the rebellion of Absalom was probably fueled by the fierce jealousy of Judah over the influence of the northern tribes with David.

Shimei was a weak and selfish hypocrite; and there is no doubt that, “His reviling the king expressed his real thoughts.”(F16)

“Shall not Shimei be put to death for this, because he cursed the Lord’s anointed?” It was an extremely serious crime either to kill or to curse the Lord’s anointed as indicated in 1 Samuel 24:6; 1 Samuel 24:10; 1 Samuel 26:9. If David had allowed Abishai to kill Shimei, which he undoubtedly wanted to do, he could easily have precipitated a battle with great slaughter. Some scholars have suggested that Shimei’s thousand men were actually a contingent of soldiers over whom Shimei was the chiliarch. Abishai is another example of how satanic temptations are able to reach any of us through our loved ones and associates.

“What have I to do with you… that you should this day be an adversary to me” “The last clause here is in the Hebrew literally, `that ye be to me for a satan.’“ Thus, in this particular, David fulfilled his role as a typical forerunner of the Christ who said to one of his close associates, “Get thee behind me Satan” (Matthew 16:23).

“You shall not die. And the king gave him his oath” Willis pointed out that, “As long as David lived, he kept his oath not to put Shimei to death, but near the end of his reign he instructed Solomon to take vengeance on Shimei “(1 Kings 2:8-9; 1 Kings 2:36-46).(F17) “We can hardly acquit David of breaking his oath.”(F18)

Verses 24-30


“And Mephibosheth the son of Saul came down to meet the king; he had neither dressed his feet nor trimmed his beard, nor washed his clothes, from the day the king departed until the day he came back in safety. And when he came from Jerusalem to meet the king, the king said to him, “Why did you not go with me, Mephibosheth”? He answered, “My lord, O king, my servant deceived me; for your servant said to him, `Saddle an ass for me, that I may ride upon it and go with the king.’ For your servant is lame. He has slandered your servant to my lord the king. But my lord the king is like the angel of God; do therefore what seems good to you. For all my father’s house were but men doomed to death before my lord the king; but you set your servant among those who eat at your table. What further right have I to cry to the king. And the king said to him, `Why speak any more of your affairs? I have decided: you and Ziba shall divide the land.’ And Mephibosheth said to the king, `Oh, let him take it all, since my lord the king has come safely home.’“

“And Mephibosheth the son of Saul” Of course, Mephibosheth was the son of Jonathan and the grandson of Saul, but the use of the term “son” in the Bible is very flexible: (1) It may mean simply descendant of (Matthew 1:1); (2) grandson as here; (3) Levirate son; (4) adopted son (Luke 3:23); (5) actual son; (6) son by creation (Luke 3:38); (7) a possessor of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:14); (8) merely a follower of as in Acts 13:10; or (9) son-in-law (Luke 3:23).

“He had neither dressed his feet, nor trimmed his beard, nor washed his clothes” Here was the only proof David needed that Mephibosheth was telling the truth. His personal appearance indicated quite plainly that he had been in mourning ever since David left Jerusalem. “There is no ground for Winer’s statement that it is now impossible to determine whether or not Mephibosheth was innocent. That Mephibosheth had indeed been calumniated by Ziba was placed beyond any doubt by Mephibosheth’s remaining in mourning throughout the period of David’s absence.”(F19)

This confronted David with a real dilemma. He had already given “all of Saul’s property” to Mephibosheth; and then he had given all of it to Ziba. He decided to divide the property between them. It may be that David did not have the courage to reverse his decision completely; and, as the property was very extensive, he simply decided to divide it equally.

Payne pointed out that this decision to divide the property, “Is reminiscent of the proverbial judgment of Solomon in 1 Kings 3:16-28; and Mephibosheth’s response is not unlike the reply of the harlot (who was the real mother of the child).”(F20)

“Let him take the whole” “These words, spoken in the usual exaggeration of Eastern courtesy, were never intended to be taken literally.”(F21) The king’s decision to divide the property stood as it had been spoken.

Verses 31-40


“Now Barzillai the Gileadite had come down from Rogelim; and he went on with the king to the Jordan, to escort him over the Jordan. Barzillai was a very aged man, eighty years old; and he had provided the king with food while he had stayed at Mahanaim; for he was a very wealthy man. And the king said to Barzillai, “Come over with me, and I will provide for you in Jerusalem.” But Barzillai said to the king, “How many years have I still to live, that I should go up with the king to Jerusalem? I am this day eighty years old; can I discern what is pleasant and what is not? Can your servant taste what he eats or what he drinks? Can I still listen to the voice of singing men and singing women ? Why then should your servant be an added burden to my lord the king? Your servant will go a little way over the Jordan with the king. Why should the king recompense me with such a reward? Pray let your servant return, that I may die in my own city, near the grave of my father and my mother. But here is your servant Chimham; let him go over with my lord the king; and do for him whatever seems good to you.” And the king answered, “Chimham shall go over with me, and I will do for him whatever seems good to you; and all that you desire of me I will do for you.” Then all the people went over the Jordan, and the king went over; and the king kissed Barzillai and blessed him, and he returned to his own home. The king went on to Gilgal, and Chimham went on with him; all the people of Judah, and also half the people of Israel, brought the king on his way.”

“This invitation of David for Barzillai to spend the rest of his life at David’s court in Jerusalem naturally included his family, so that David’s offer was far greater than appears at first sight.”(F22) This was appropriate on David’s part, because, without the support of a very wealthy person in Mahanaim, David and his followers would have been greatly handicapped and hindered.

Barzillai’s declining to accept David’s offer was due to his age, which Barzillai emphasized with a series of questions, each of which implied a negative. To summarize their meaning: Barzillai, at age eighty, was practically at the end of his life; the infirmities of age such as loss or impairment of hearing, eyesight, the sense of taste, etc., made it impossible for him really to enjoy all of the joys and pleasures that would have been available to him in the house of the king. For those reasons, Barzillai requested that the king would allow him to return to his own city where he anticipated that he would soon be buried by the side of his father and mother.

“But here is your servant Chimham; let him go over with my lord the king; and do for him whatever seems good to you” Josephus tells us that Chimham was Barzillai’s son,(F23) which is supported by the inference in 1 Kings 2:7. David not only honored this request but he told Barzillai that he would do for Chimham. “Whatever seems good to you (Barzaillai), and also that anything Barzillai might desire, David would do for him (2 Samuel 19:38).

After this, David kissed Barzillai and blessed him, and Barzillai returned.

“All the people of Judah, and also half the people of Israel” These are ominous words, indicating the fundamental separation of the two Israels, Judah and Joseph. It did not begin here. It existed in the times of Joshua, during the times of the Judges, and was prominent in the period of David’s rise to the throne. It reached all the way back to the rivalry between Leah and Rachel, the wives of Jacob, and to the partiality of Jacob toward Joseph. The seat of their mutual hatred lay in the polygamous marriages of Jacob and in his unwise partiality to the children of Rachel. The sinful idolatry of Laban, Jacob’s father-in-law, was also a contributing factor.

Verses 41-43


“Then all the men of Israel came to the king, and said to the king, “Why have our brethren the men of Judah stolen you away, and brought the king and his household over the Jordan, and all David’s men with him”? All the men of Judah answered the men of Israel, “Because the king is near of kin to us. Why then are you angry over this matter? Have we eaten at all at the king’s expense? Or has he given us any girl”? And the men of Israel answered the men of Judah, “We have ten shares in the king, and in David also we have more than you. Why then did you despise us? Were we not the first to speak of bringing back our king”? But the words of the men of Judah were fiercer than the words of the men of Israel.”

David’s return to Jerusalem was marked by the quarreling factions of Northern and Southern Israel, each being jealous of the king’s favor. There was something in that situation which is reminiscent of the quarrels initiated by the tribe of Joseph, first against Gideon, and later against Jephthah, the latter erupting in a bitter civil war that destroyed forty-two thousand of the tribe of Joseph (Judges 8:1-3; Judges 12:1-6).

This tribal jealousy and bitterness marred what otherwise would have been a happy ending to the rebellion. “A great catastrophe like Absalom’s rebellion could not end without leaving profound effects.”(F24) Here we see one of those effects. The long standing mistrust between Ephraim and Judah, North Israel and South Israel, again broke into the open; and the fierce words that followed eventually issued in the divided kingdom. That the origin of their mutual animosity reached all the way back to Jacob, as we suggested above, is confirmed by the words of the LXX. “The Septuagint (LXX) has, `And I also am the firstborn rather than thou’; that is, compared to Israel (which included the tribe of Reuben the first-born), Judah is a late and inferior addition to the community.”(F25) As Keil wrote, “The division did not come with the divided kingdom, which only confirmed a permanent distinction,”(F26) going all the way back to Leah and Rachel.

These last three verses of the chapter bring home to us the seriousness of the situation. When brethren hate each other, terrible things can happen. “Only half the Northern Israelites had welcomed David back to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 19:40). This indicates that, “David’s appeal to the men of his own tribe (2 Samuel 19:11-14) and their response (2 Samuel 19:15) had caused no little offense to the rest of the nation. Of course, Sheba was not slow to take advantage of that and to initiate another rebellion.”(F27) “The reason for the sacred author’s inclusion of this account of the quarrel just here was its relation to the rebellion of Sheba to which it gave rise.”(F28)

“We have ten shares in the king… more than you… we were the first to speak of bringing back our king” This argument of the northern faction was true; and they might have added that the rebellion itself had centered in Judah. “No settlement of the dispute was recorded; and seeds were sown for much trouble to come.”(F29)

“The words of the men of Judah were fiercer than the words of the men of Israel” This is the final sentence of the chapter, “This suggests that the men of Judah got the better of the argument, but only annoyed the Northerners the more thereby. At any rate, it was in this situation that Sheba saw his opportunity.”(F30)

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 19". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/2-samuel-19.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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