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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

2 Samuel 19

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.]

Verses 9-43

David’s return to Jerusalem 19:9-43

The only thing the people could do after Absalom had fallen was to return to their former king (2 Samuel 19:11-12). Absalom had found his strongest support among the people of Judah. David did not want the Judahites to conclude that by supporting Absalom they had become his enemies. David extended pardon to them and informed them that he still regarded them as his closest kin. This wise political move helped unite the nation again.

". . . David’s reference here [2 Samuel 19:12] is not to blood ties, though they may be present, but rather that mutual covenant commitments must be honored because the vows assume fidelity through thick and thin." [Note: Walter Brueggemann, "Of the Same Flesh and Bone (Genesis 2, 23 a)," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 32:4 (September 1970):536.]

David also forgave the Benjamites who had hoped for his downfall and had seen it as punishment for taking Saul’s place on the throne (2 Samuel 19:16-30). Shimei had actively opposed David, Ziba had misled him (apparently), and Mephibosheth had not supported him. Mephibosheth’s failure to trim his toenails and his beard and to wash his clothes, were an expression of his grief, and resulted in his remaining ceremonially unclean while David was in exile (cf. Exodus 19:10; Exodus 19:14). [Note: Cf. McCarter, II Samuel, pp. 417, 421.] By forgiving all of these Benjamites David again secured the support of this difficult tribe. Later, David urged Solomon to execute Shimei (1 Kings 2:8-9; cf. Genesis 12:3). A generation later, when the kingdom split in two, the tribe of Benjamin remained attached to Judah. Abishai had become an "adversary" (Heb. satan) to David in the sense that he opposed David’s purpose to pardon Shimei. [Note: See Peggy Day, "Abishai and satan in 2 Samuel 19:17-24," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 49:4 (October 1987):543-47.]

David may have divided the fields between Mephibosheth and Ziba to determine which of them was telling the truth or because he could not tell (2 Samuel 19:29). Solomon followed a similar procedure and threatened to divide a living baby to determine which of two mothers was telling the truth (1 Kings 3:24-25). Mephibosheth offered the entire estate to Ziba (2 Samuel 19:30). His action argued his innocence. [Note: David Damrosch, The Narrative Covenant: Transformations of Genre in the Growth of Biblical Literature, p. 247.]

Barzillai’s support (2 Samuel 19:31-39) undoubtedly represented that of others in Transjordan. By honoring him and his representative, Chimham, David cemented good relations with the tribes across the Jordan. Chimham may have been Barzillai’s son (cf. 1 Kings 2:7), a tradition that some manuscripts of the Septuagint preserved.

The other Israelites (2 Samuel 19:40-43) also rallied behind David again. The little "who loves the king most" contest they held with the Judahites illustrates their support. Thus almost the whole nation again united behind the Lord’s anointed. This was a blessing from God. The chiastic literary structure of chapters 15-20 identifies an undercurrent of deterioration in the general relations that David enjoyed with his subjects at this time. [Note: David M. Gunn, "From Jerusalem to the Jordan and Back: Symmetry in 2 Samuel XV-XX," Vetus Testamentum 30:1 (January 1980):109-13.]

This section is a remarkable testimony to the power of forgiveness (cf. Matthew 6:12; Matthew 6:14-15; Matthew 18:21-22; Luke 7:47; Luke 17:3). David had not really forgiven Absalom, and perhaps the consequences of his lack of forgiveness encouraged him to take a different approach with his subjects after Absalom’s death. We see in David’s dealings with Amasa (2 Samuel 19:11-15) that forgiveness wins over former enemies. We see in his dealings with Shimei (2 Samuel 19:16-23) that forgiveness gives time for people to change. We see in his treatment of Mephibosheth and Ziba (2 Samuel 19:24-30) that forgiveness placates irreconcilable adversaries. We see in his relations with Barzillai and Chimham (2 Samuel 19:31-39) that forgiveness causes blessing to overflow on others. We see in the section revealing the final reactions of the Israelites and the Judahites (2 Samuel 19:40-43) that forgiveness lays a strong foundation for the future.

"The recent victory may have been seen as indicative of Yahweh’s favor, but David still needed the people’s ’acclamation’ or invitation to be king once more." [Note: Anderson, p. 242.]

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 19". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/2-samuel-19.html. 2012.