8. The Civil War and Absalom’s Death
1. The battle in the forest of Ephraim (2 Samuel 18:1-8)
2. The death of Absalom (2 Samuel 18:9-18)
3. The tidings of his death and David’s grief (2 Samuel 18:19-33)
And now everything is ready for the battle and the victory. The army of David consisted of three divisions, Joab, Abishai and the faithful Ittai had the command. David was ready to go forth with his warriors, but the people refused to let him go. What a testimony they gave concerning him! “Thou art worth ten thousand of us. But of Him, who according to the flesh is the Son of David, we say, “He alone is worthy.” The king then stood by the gate of Mahanaim to see the departure of his troops. As his generals Joab, Abishai and Ittai left him he gave them the message, “Deal gently with the young man, even with Absalom.” The battle took place in a wild jungle forest, most likely with many steep rocks and gulches. Absalom lost 20,000 men “and the forest (on account of rocks and gulches) devoured more people that day than the sword devoured.”
Absalom fled, but his flight was arrested when his head caught in the bough of an oak, as Josephus states, entangled by his hair. “And he was taken up between the heaven and the earth and the mule that was under him went away.” The first one who saw him would not smite him, not for a thousand shekels of silver, for he had heard the king’s request. Then Joab, unscrupulous Joab, whose scheme had brought Absalom back into the presence of the king, took three darts (literally “staves”) and thrust them through the heart of Absalom while he was yet alive. Most likely the unfortunate rebel son was unconscious through the impact with the tree. The armour bearers made a complete end of him. Joab’s deed was unjustifiable in view of the king’s command to deal gently with Absalom. Absalom’s body was cast into a pit and covered with a very great heap of stones, a criminal’s monument. He had looked for a more honorable death, for he had reared a pillar in his lifetime, which he called after his own name, “for he said, I have no son to keep my name in remembrance.” Those who claim that the books of Samuel are a patchwork of a number of writers who made use of different sources, refer us to 2 Samuel 14:27 and point out the discrepancy. But why should there be? Absalom may have put up this monument before he had any sons, or he may have lost his two sons.
And then comes the record of how the tidings were carried to David. The watchman announces that he recognizeth in the swift runner Ahimaaz the son of Zadok. “And the King said, He is a good man, and cometh with good tidings.” All is well--is his message, while the anxious father-heart but paying little attention to the victory won, inquired for the young man Absalom. Cushi the second runner makes his appearance and he carries the tidings of Absalom’s death, which he transmits to David in a tender and cautious manner. And then that grief. How pathetic! The weeping King, crying out over and over again: “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!”
“The conduct of David in reference to his profligate son, is certainly extraordinary, but is not occasioned by weakness of character, which would be inconsistent with the judicial severity with which he banished him from his presence during five years. The shameful and sinful conduct of Absalom may be viewed in two aspects: it exhibits, on the one hand, the operation of the curse which David’s sin brought upon his house (2 Samuel 12:10), and the influence of the iniquity of the fathers, which is visited upon the children (Exodus 20:5); it exhibits, on the other hand, Absalom’s own degeneracy and profligacy, which fit him to be the bearer of the family-curse. It was not in the latter, but in the former aspect, that David regarded the conduct of Absalom, for his own guilt is so grievous in his eyes, that, in comparison with it, he deems Absalom’s wickedness to be inconsiderable. Hence arises the deep and boundless compassion with which he surveys his reprobate son. David’s treatment of Shimei may be regarded in the same light; his consciousness of his own great guilt causes him to overlook the guilt of that criminal.” (J.H. Kurtz, Sacred History.)
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Gaebelein, Arno Clemens. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 18". "Gaebelein's Annotated Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Lent