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Bible Commentaries
2 Samuel 16

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 1-4

The kindness of Ziba 16:1-4

"David now encounters Ziba (2 Samuel 16:1-4), the first of two men with links to the house of Saul (the other is Shimei [2 Samuel 16:5-14]). Although Ziba attempts to ingratiate himself to him and Shimei curses him, David treats each with courtesy. The brief account of the king’s kindness to Ziba (2 Samuel 16:1-4) has obvious connections with the narrative of his kindness to Mephibosheth (ch. 9) . . ." [Note: Youngblood, pp. 998-99.]

Ziba’s report of Mephibosheth’s reaction to the news that Absalom had rebelled seems to have been untrue (cf. 2 Samuel 19:24-28). Perhaps he believed Absalom would kill his master and then David would reward him. David accepted Ziba’s report too quickly without getting all the facts, perhaps because Ziba showed himself to be a friend of David by sustaining him in his flight. We sometimes accept a friend’s analysis of the motives of another person too quickly because we do not bother to get all the facts. Here David slipped because he too willingly accepted the complimentary words of a friend.

Verses 5-14

Shimei’s curse 16:5-14

This second descendant of Saul demonstrated a reaction to David that was the opposite of Ziba’s. Ziba had been ingratiating and submissive, but Shimei, a "reptile of the royal house of Saul," [Note: Alexander Whyte, Bible Characters, p. 297.] was insulting and defiant (cf. Genesis 12:3). The central focus of the chiasm in this section is Abishai’s desire for Shimei’s execution (2 Samuel 16:9; cf. 1 Samuel 17:46; 2 Samuel 4:7).

Bahurim evidently stood on the east side of Mt. Olivet but not far away from the Kidron Valley (cf. 2 Samuel 3:16; 2 Samuel 17:18). Shimei’s charge that David was a man of bloodshed (2 Samuel 16:8) was true; David had murdered Uriah. However, Shimei meant David was responsible for the murders of Abner and Ish-bosheth, which was not true. David appears to have felt his present distress might be God’s punishment for killing Uriah (2 Samuel 16:10-11). He hoped that by showing Shimei mercy God might be merciful to him (2 Samuel 16:12; cf. 2 Samuel 22:26). David’s attitude was entirely different from Abishai’s (2 Samuel 16:9; cf. 1 Samuel 26:8), and Abishai’s brother Joab’s, who often seized the initiative from God. "Sons of Zeruiah" was probably a disparaging form of address (cf. 1 Samuel 10:11; 1 Samuel 20:27).

"This is an interesting theological view, that coming from the hate-filled rantings of an apparent madman might be the voice of God to David. The willingness to listen to one’s critics and even to one’s enemies may be the only way to discover the truth of God. The natural tendency is to surround ourselves with friends who are often reluctant to tell us the things we need to know. This opens the possibility that we may do well at times to listen to people who wish us harm but tell us the truth. Here again we see David’s willingness to expose himself to God’s word for his life and to God’s judgment upon his life." [Note: Chafin, p. 338.]

Here, in contrast to the previous pericope, David succeeded. He did not let the criticism of a critic elicit an improper response from him. Rather, he listened for the voice of God in Shimei’s words (2 Samuel 16:10-11). Sometimes the complementary words of a friend (2 Samuel 16:1-4) are more difficult to handle than the curses of an enemy. David showed some growth here; previously he had reacted violently to the disdain of an enemy, namely, Nabal (cf. 1 Samuel 25:26; 1 Samuel 25:32-34). For David to control his temper was a greater victory than slaying Goliath (Proverbs 16:32). Times of stress bring out the best and the worst in people. This was true of David’s flight from Absalom as it had been true during his flight from Saul.

Verses 15-29

The counsel of Ahithophel and Hushai 16:15-17:29

This is the central unit of chapters 5-20, and its central focus is the judgment that Hushai’s advice was better than Ahithophel’s (2 Samuel 17:14). This advice is the pivot on which the fortunes of David turned in his dealings with Absalom.

Hushai was loyal to David primarily because David was the Lord’s anointed (2 Samuel 16:18). His words to Absalom implied that he was supporting the revolution, but everything that Hushai said could have been taken as supporting David, which he did. They are masterful double entendre. He was really serving David in the presence of his son Absalom (2 Samuel 16:19).

"Hushai has kept his integrity, Absalom has been blinded by his own egoism, and the reader is permitted to see one example of the outworking of God’s providence." [Note: Baldwin, p. 264.]

In the ancient East people regarded the public appropriation of a king’s concubines as an act that signaled the transfer of power to his successor. [Note: de Vaux, 1:116.] Here Absalom broke the Mosaic Law (Leviticus 18:7-8) to gain power. By following Ahithophel’s advice Absalom brought about one of the judgments God had predicted would come on David for his sin (2 Samuel 12:11-12). This act was also a great insult to David, and it jeopardized Absalom’s inheritance rights (cf. Reuben’s similar sin, Genesis 35:22; Genesis 49:3-4). The king was reaping what he had sown (Galatians 6:7). Absalom’s immorality may have taken place on the very roof where David had committed adultery (cf. 2 Samuel 11:2), though that is not certain.

"David had illicitly slept with a woman who was not his wife (cf. 2 Samuel 11:4), and now his son is counseled to follow in his father’s footsteps." [Note: Youngblood, p. 1007.]

In 2 Samuel 17:9 Hushai warned that if only a small group of Absalom’s men pursued David and David defeated them, the news would spread that Absalom had lost the battle. The people would then side with David. He proposed the ultimate flattery, namely, that Absalom himself should lead his troops into battle, which is what kings usually did (2 Samuel 16:11). Yahweh sought to bring calamity on Absalom (2 Samuel 16:14) because Absalom sought to overthrow the Lord’s anointed.

Enrogel (2 Samuel 16:17) lay just south of Zion near where the Hinnom and Kidron Valleys join. There are parallels between 2 Samuel 16:17-22 and the story of the spies at Jericho (Joshua 2). [Note: See Gunn, "Traditional Composition . . .," p. 224.] Ahithophel may have believed that Hushai’s advice would result in Absalom’s defeat and David’s ultimate return to Jerusalem, [Note: Gordon, p. 282.] or he may have committed suicide out of humiliation (2 Samuel 16:23).

"It seems more plausible to assume that he took his life at some later stage, perhaps after the battle in the Forest of Ephraim." [Note: Anderson, p. 216.]

"All the utterly real issues between people and people and between God and people that swirl throughout 2 Samuel 9-20, 1 Kings 1-2 also swirl about Jesus as he moves toward the cross. One must think that the Gospel writers were acutely aware of this when they depicted Jesus’ Maundy Thursday walk to the Mount of Olives in ways so graphically reminiscent of the ’passion’ of the first Meshiach in 2 Samuel 15:13-37. Even the detail of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, and his subsequent suicide, have no remote parallel anywhere in Scripture, with the remarkable exception of Ahithophel, who betrayed the Lord’s anointed and thus opened the door to suicidal despair (2 Samuel 17:23)." [Note: James A. Wharton, "A Plausible Tale: Story and Theology in 2 Samuel 9-20, 1 Kings 1-2," Interpretation 35:4 (October 1981):353.]

Mahanaim on the Jabbok River in Transjordan had been Ish-bosheth’s capital (2 Samuel 2:8). Probably David went there because the inhabitants favored him for his goodness to Mephibosheth, Saul’s grandson. Amasa was the son of Jithra (or Jether), an Ishmaelite (not Israelite; cf. 1 Chronicles 2:17), and the son of Joab’s cousin Abigail. Absalom’s army also camped in Transjordan in the Gilead hills, probably south of Mahanaim.

Those who helped David included Shobi (2sa16:27), the son of Nahash, who had been king of Ammon, and who was probably the brother of Hanun, the present Ammonite king who had humiliated David’s well-wishers (ch. 10). Ammon was presently subservient to Israel. David and Joab had subdued Ammon about 14 years earlier (2 Samuel 12:26-31). Machir had been the host of Mephibosheth before David assumed his support and moved him to Jerusalem from Lo-debar (2 Samuel 9:1-5). Barzillai was a wealthy supporter of David from Rogelim, a town farther to the north in Gilead. Shobi, Machir, and Barzillai demonstrate other characteristics of true friends: they initiated help for David and supplied him abundantly with his needs and wants.

If all Christians are God’s anointed (and we are, 1 John 2:27), even though former friends disappoint, forsake, and betray us, the Lord will preserve and protect us (cf. Hebrews 13:5-6). He will even raise us from the dead to keep His promises to us (cf. Hebrews 11:19). Our responsibility is simply to follow the Lord faithfully in spite of opposition, as we see David doing in this story.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 16". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/2-samuel-16.html. 2012.
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