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Bible Commentaries
2 Samuel 18

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 1-5

The mustering of David’s troops 18:1-5

The writer referred to David no less than five times in this section as "the king," leaving no doubt as to who was the legitimate ruler and who was really in charge. Perhaps David instructed his three commanders to deal gently with Absalom, not only because he was his son, but because God had dealt gently with David for his sins.

"The truth was that David acted as a father but not as a king-as if he and Absalom had had some minor domestic quarrel which could be put right by an apology and a handshake. He failed to see Absalom as a traitor and a rebel, whose actions had caused a great deal of harm to the stability and welfare of the kingdom, to say nothing of the great loss of life in the civil war (2 Samuel 18:7). Yet every parent will feel a good deal of sympathy with David’s viewpoint." [Note: Payne, p. 245.]

Verses 1-18

The end of Absalom 18:1-18

"In the overall structure of 2 Samuel 15:1 to 2 Samuel 20:22, the story of Absalom’s death (2 Samuel 18:1-18) provides a counterpoise to that of Shimei’s curse (2 Samuel 16:5-14 . . .). Just as in the earlier narrative an adversary of David (Shimei) curses him (2 Samuel 16:5, 2 Samuel 16:7-8, 2 Samuel 16:13), so also here an adversary of David (Absalom) opposes him in battle (2 Samuel 18:6-8); just as in the earlier account David demands that Shimei be spared (2 Samuel 16:11), so also here David demands that Absalom be spared (2 Samuel 18:5; 2 Samuel 18:12); and just as in the earlier episode a son of Zeruiah (Abishai) is ready to kill Shimei (2 Samuel 16:9), so also here a son of Zeruiah (Joab, 2 Samuel 18:2) is ready to kill Absalom-and indeed wounds him, perhaps mortally (2 Samuel 18:14-15)." [Note: Youngblood, p. 1017.]

Verses 6-8

The battle between David’s and Absalom’s armies 18:6-8

The location of the forest of Ephraim is unknown, but it was probably in Gilead (cf. Judges 12:1-5). [Note: Cf. LaMoine DeVries, "The Forest of Ephraim," Biblical Illustrator 10:1 (1983):82-85.] As early as the Judges period, so many Ephraimites had settled in Gilead that the western Ephraimites called the Gileadites "fugitives of Ephraim" (Judges 12:4). [Note: George Adam Smith, The Historical Geography of the Holy Land, p. 335, n. 2.] How the forest devoured more of Absalom’s men than David’s soldiers did (2 Samuel 18:8) is not clear, but that it did suggests that Yahweh assisted David’s men by using the forest somehow to give him the victory.

Verses 9-18

Absalom’s death 18:9-18

"The mule was a royal mount; losing his mule [2 Samuel 18:9] Absalom has lost his kingdom." [Note: Conroy, p. 60.]

The text says Absalom’s head caught in an overhanging oak branch (2 Samuel 18:9). Josephus interpreted this, perhaps in view of 2 Samuel 14:26, as his hair got caught in the tree. [Note: Josephus, 7:10:2.]

"The great tree, inanimate though it is, has proved more than a match for the pride of Absalom." [Note: Baldwin, p. 270.]

"The reader who recalls 14,26 will almost certainly visualize Absalom’s hair in connection with the entanglement . . . and will easily draw a contrast between promise and pride on the one hand and humiliation and doom on the other." [Note: Conroy, p. 44, n. 4.]

The soldier who found Absalom wisely obeyed the orders of David. There are many evidences throughout the David saga that David had an excellent communications network. The soldier’s parenthetic comment, "There is nothing hidden from the king," (2 Samuel 18:13) is just one evidence of this (cf. 2 Samuel 14:20). Likewise there is nothing hidden from David’s greatest son, Jesus Christ, who knows all that happens under His authority.

Despite David’s instructions Joab wounded Absalom, probably mortally, on the spot (2 Samuel 18:14). Perhaps Joab feared David would have pardoned Absalom’s sin, thus giving him another opportunity to revolt. We must be careful to conduct our spiritual warfare according to our King’s instructions rather than taking matters into our own hands, as Joab did.

Absalom’s burial was in keeping with what the Mosaic Law prescribed for a rebellious son (Deuteronomy 21:20-21). God cut Absalom off because he rebelled against the Lord’s anointed, rather than blessing him because he was David’s eldest son. This was the third son that David had lost because of his sins against Bathsheba and Uriah. [Note: See my comment on 12:6.] Instead of having a line of kings succeed him, all Absalom left behind was a stone monument (stele) that he had erected to himself (2 Samuel 18:18). His three sons (2 Samuel 14:27) must have died prematurely (2 Samuel 18:18).

"It is possible, however, that one or more of his sons were unwilling (for whatever reason) to perpetuate their father’s memory." [Note: Youngblood, p. 1021.]

In the ancient world, a son normally erected a memorial to his father when his father died, if the father was famous. Moreover, people also expected him to imitate his father and thus become a living memorial to his name. [Note: Boyu Ockinga, "A Note on 2 Samuel 18:18," Biblische Notizen 31 (1986):32.] Absalom failed to receive either form of honor. Absalom lived like Eli’s sons and Saul, and he died as they did. [Note: For some interesting additional insights into Absalom gleaned from the text, see Roy Battenhouse, "The Tragedy of Absalom: A Literary Analysis," Christianity and Literature 31:3 (Spring 1982):53-57.] The King’s Valley (2 Samuel 18:18) was the Kidron Valley. The 52-foot-high tomb or pillar of Absalom that marks the spot today, just east of the temple area, is an early first century A.D. Hellenistic or Roman sepulcher. [Note: W. Harold Mare, The Archaeology of the Jerusalem Area, p. 195.] We should not confuse it with the memorial referred to in this text, though the present one may stand on the same spot as the older one.

Absalom’s attempt to usurp David’s throne proves again that disobedience to God’s covenant (i.e., the Mosaic Law) resulted in lack of fertility (blessing) in Israel. The enemies of the Lord’s Anointed will never succeed. Because of his sin, David had to flee Jerusalem, and he experienced much heartache. Because of his sins, Absalom died without honor. Nevertheless, in spite of David’s sin, God restored him to power because of God’s elective choice of him, and because of David’s heart for God.

God had promised to punish David for his disregard of the Mosaic Covenant and the Lord. Still, He did not say He would cut him off as He had cut Saul off (2 Samuel 12:10-12). The following chapters (2 Samuel 18:19 to 2 Samuel 19:43) record Yahweh’s restoration of His anointed after discipline.

David’s reaction to the news of Absalom’s death 18:19-19:8

Ahimaaz wanted to be the first to tell David the news of his victory since messengers often received a reward for bringing good news. Joab discouraged him, thinking he would also report that Absalom was dead. David would not have rewarded that news and might have slain its bearer (cf. ch. 1). Joab sent "the Cushite" (2 Samuel 18:21), possibly one of Joab’s attendants (cf. 2 Samuel 18:15), to tell David the bad news. Cushites came from the upper Nile region of Egypt (Nubia, modern Ethiopia). [Note: J. Daniel Hays, "The Cushites: A Black Nation in the Bible," Bibliotheca Sacra 153:612 (October-December 1996):396-409.] Joab may have selected this man because he was a foreigner, and he may have considered him more expendable than an Israelite.

David seems to have concluded that a single runner bore good news, because if the army had suffered a defeat many people would have been retreating to Mahanaim. Ahimaaz may have lied about not knowing Absalom’s fate (2 Samuel 18:29), or he may have been telling the truth. The Cushite then arrived with the news of Absalom’s death (2 Samuel 18:31-32).

"There is a clear rule of law which connects a leader’s conduct with his fate and the fate of his house. A degenerate leader, whether it is himself who has sinned or his sons, will ultimately be deposed (see the story of Samuel and his sons [?]) or come to a tragic end, just as Eli and his sons die on the same day, and so do Saul and his. This law holds true of David also; . . . just as in the stories of the death of Eli, Saul and their sons, in the story of Absalom there appears a runner who announces the evil tidings of his death in battle (2 Samuel 18:19-32); and before that, in the story of Amnon’s murder, a rumor comes to the king of the killing of all his sons, although it is found that only Amnon had been killed (2 Samuel 13:30-36). With this, the criticism of all four leaders described in the book of Samuel, together with their sons, reaches its conclusion." [Note: Moshe Garsiel, The First Book of Samuel: A Literary Study of Comparative Structures, Analogies, and Parallels, p. 106.]

"The description of Absalom’s demise resonates with allusions to Abraham’s binding of Isaac in Genesis 22. . . . Both Absalom and the ram are caught in a thicket (sobek/sebak). Whereas Abraham is commanded not to send forth his hand (’al tislah yadeka) unto the lad (2 Samuel 22:12), Joab’s soldier refuses to send forth his hand (lo’ ’eslah yadi) unto the son of the king (2 Samuel 18:12). And finally, Abraham offers up the ram in place of his son (tahat beno [2 Samuel 22:12]). It takes a while for David to help us perceive this analogy, but finally he makes it clear: ’would that I had died in place of you (tahteka), O Absalom, my son, my son.’" [Note: Ackerman, p. 50.]

David responded here similarly to the way he did when he heard of Saul’s death (ch. 1). Certainly David was correct to weep over Absalom’s death. However, Joab was also correct to warn David of the consequences of failing to thank his soldiers for saving his life and kingdom. David should have tempered his personal sorrow since Absalom had rebelled against the Lord’s anointed. Since David had slain Uriah with the sword, God punished David by slaying his son, the fruit of his fertility, with death by the sword, too (2 Samuel 12:9-10; cf. Galatians 6:7).

Joab’s execution of Absalom cost him his position, at least temporarily (2 Samuel 18:13). Nevertheless, his rebuke of the king (2 Samuel 18:5-7) was good, as well as needed. A true friend-and Joab was a true friend to David here-will be willing to take personal risks to confront a friend in love. A wise person, such as David, will accept strong advice from a friend who really cares.

David’s emotions were sometimes inappropriate, loving those whom he should have hated and hating those whom he should have loved (2 Samuel 18:6). Similarly Amnon had hated Tamar whom he should have loved (2 Samuel 13:15). These emotions were common to father and son, both of whom committed serious injustices. [Note: Stuart Lasine, "Melodrama as Parable: The Story of the Poor Man’s Ewe-Lamb and the Unmasking of David’s Topsy-Turvy Emotions," Hebrew Annual Review 8 (1984):117.]

"This final ’gate scene’ [2 Samuel 18:8] may call to mind the initial ’gate scene’ in 2 Samuel 15:2-6 which paved the way for the subsequent rebellion; thus they may form an inclusion." [Note: Anderson, p. 228. Cf. Youngblood, p. 1032.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 18". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/2-samuel-18.html. 2012.
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