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Bible Commentaries

Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary

2 Samuel 18

Verses 1-8

Second Samuel - Chapter 18

Battle Plans, vs. 1-8

When time came for the ultimate decision in battle, who should be king of Israel, David was in much better condition than when he fled from Jerusalem. The length of time involved in between could have been a few weeks to several months. The Scriptures give no clear indication, but it was sufficient for the loyal subjects of David to rally to him. Whereas he left Jerusalem with a few hundred men he could now muster thousands, as indicated by verse one. There had also been time sufficient to organize the forces under captains. There were three contingents in the army, the first under Joab the supreme captain of the host, another under Abishai captain of the mighty men, and the third under Ittai captain of the Gittites. All these men were extremely loyal and faithful to David.

David proposed to go himself to battle with them, but his men would not allow it. They knew he was the one for whom Absalom’s forces would seek, to slay him. If they could dispose of David there would be no further cause for his men to fight, and Absalom would be in line for the throne as the oldest surviving son. So the people concluded that the king was of more worth in the cause than ten thousand men. He should remain in the city and send them aid as needed.

David agreed to abide by the wishes of the people. He stood beside the gate to exhort and review the troops as they went forth to the battle. He gave express command to the three chief captains that they should deal gently with Absalom for his sake. After all that unworthy son had done to his father David was still willing to show him mercy. He did not want him to die, likely because he knew Absalom’s heart was not right with God. David surely fulfills the beatitude of the Lord, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy" (Matthew 5:7). All the men heard David give command concerning Absalom to the captains, a significant point in the sequel.

The battle site was the wood, or the forest; of Ephraim. There has been some speculation concerning this place. Back in chapter 2 Samuel 17:26 it is clearly stated that Absalom brought the army of Israel across the Jordan into the land of Gilead and set up camp there. It has been conjectured that the contest between the Israelite army and the army of David may have consisted of a number of skirmished to and fro across the Jordan valley and river, so that the final battle may have occurred on the west side in the tribe of Ephraim, hence the name of the forest. Others with seemingly more logic have suggested that the wood of Ephraim was the site of the battle between the Ephraimites and the men of Jephthah, in Gilead, in the days of the judges (Judges 12:1-7).

The army of Israel under Amasa and Absalom could not withstand the superbly trained men of David, and they soon fell before them. Twenty thousand lost their lives as the battle raged through the forest and over the country side. It is stated that more were lost in the wilds of the forest than died in actual battle.

Verses 9-18

Absalom Slain, vs. 9-18

It was the fate of Absalom, by the decree of the Lord, that he met the men of David as he attempted flight from the battle in which his men had been so disastrously defeated. His steed was a mule, the royal mount of the times, which was probably also excited by the turmoil of the battle and carried his rider under the low handing boughs of an oak tree. Traditionally it has been said that Absalom was snared in the tree by the long, flowing tresses of his beautiful hair, but this is not what the Scriptures say. It is possible this is what happened, but the statement is that his head was caught in the tree, indicating that it was lodged in the forks of the limbs, as the mule continued on its way.

One of Job’s men saw Absalom dangling from the tree and reported it to his captain. From what followed it is apparent that Joab never intended to comply with the request of David that Absalom be unharmed. He chided the soldier because he had not slain Absalom when he found him. Joab said he would have rewarded the man with ten shekels of silver and a money girdle to keep it in had he slain Absalom. This would have gratified Joab much, for he would have thus been rid of Absalom and the death would have been chargeable to another.

The soldier was shrewder and wiser than Joab gave him credit for. He replied that there was no way he would have lifted his hand against Absalom, for he had heard the admonition of the king to the three captains. He knew the king would have found out who had slain his son and have demanded the life of his slayer. In such case Joab would have stood silently aside and let him be executed for it. The man knew his commander well.

Joab knew the soldier had called his hand and would not pursue the conversation. Instead he took three darts himself, found Absalom, and cast them into his heart while he hanged in the tree. He then left his ten armourbearers to administer the final coup de grace. And thus Absalom died. Such a sad end to one who might have used his many talents to great advantage had they been utilized in the will of the Lord! How many there must be who still live a life of no lasting value who might have done great things for the Lord had they sought Him (Note Philippians 3:18­-19).

Joab knew the battle, and the war, was over. He sounded the trumpet to call his men in, lest in pursuing the men of Israel further, unnecessarily, they might be provoked to seek another leader and continue the rebellion. The body of Absalom was thrown into a pit in the forest and covered with a great heap of stones, while the survivors of his men stole wearily away to return to their homes.

Absalom had erected himself a monument in the king’s dale, near Jerusalem, because he had no surviving sons to carry on his name. Absalom had had three sons and a daughter (2 Samuel 14:27), but only his daughter Tamar survived him. Nothing is known of the deaths of his sons. It is interesting that Tamar, his daughter, became the mother of a Queen, Maachah, the wife of Rehoboam, Solomon’s sons and successor. Maachah’s son, Abijah, succeeded his father as king of Judah and possessed much of the charisma of his great grandfather, Absalom (2 Chronicles 13:1 ff).

Verses 19-33

David’s Fourth Payment for His Sin, vs. 19-33

Now that the battle was won and Absalom’s rebellion defeated, the news must be conveyed to the king. Many of the people were concerned, it seems, for the king’s feeling in the matter. Joab must use diplomacy in delivering to him word of Absalom’s death. Ahimaaz seems to have been especially concerned about how it would be taken by the king, and seems to have had a plan for softening the shock. He proposed to run and tell the king how the Lord had avenged him of his enemies. But Joab did not want him to be conveyor of the message. Ahimaaz was a close friend of David, and Joab may have feared what he might tell David. He first told Ahimaaz he could carry tidings another day, then when he persisted in running Joab frankly told him he should not do so because the king’s son was dead.

Joab chose Cushi to convey the news, with the rather general instruction to tell the king "what thou hast seen." So Cushi bowed before Joab and was off and running. Still Ahimaaz pleaded to be allowed to run to David also. Joab again objected, saying that he had no news to convey, since Cushi had preceded him. When Ahimaaz still insisted on running, Joab yielded and told him to run. Ahimaaz was a noted runner. He left the road and ran across the plain, outrunning Cushi and arriving shortly before him. This is the evident object of his desire to run with the news.

The concern of David and his anxiety for Absalom is apparent. He had taken a seat between the inner and outer gates of the city, underneath the wall, where he could hear the reports of the porter who passed on to him the observations of the watchmen on the wall. Presently the watchman reported the approach of a lone runner. David surmised that being alone he was bringing news, and was not a fugitive from the battle. In a moment the watchman was relaying the message that another runner had appeared alone, and David made the same observation concerning this one. By this time the watchman had recognized the front runner as Ahimaaz. David observed that he was a good man and would be bringing good tidings.

Ahimaaz came before the king and fell on his face, in respect for his royalty and perhaps in exhaustion as well. His report was, "All is well," followed with his benediction on the Lord for having delivered up the men who had lifted hands against the king. He told nothing of Absalom, so the anxious king inquired of his welfare. At this point the plan of Ahimaaz was put in motion. Although Ahimaaz certainly knew Absalom was dead (see verse 20), he answered with a prepared story to emotionally prepare David to hear the worst. He said that as he was leaving there was a tumult in the camp, the reason for which he did not know. This seems to have been calculated to cause the king to expect the worst, which he would shortly hear from the mouth of Cushi.

Cushi came into the king’s presence also proclaiming victory for David’s men by the hand of the Lord. David asked him, "Is the young man Absalom safe?" Cushi then dropped the terrible news on David like a bombshell, that all the enemies of the king should be as that young man was. David realized then that Absalom had been slain. He went into a kind of shock, and immediately went up to his chamber over the wall. As he went up he uttered one of the most woeful and pathetic lamentations that must ever have come from the lips of man. With bitter sobs, He cried, "O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God ! had died for thee, O Absalom, my sqn, my son!"

So David made the fourth payment for his sins. He was deeply grieved, for he knew that his improper example before his sons contributed to their hatred of him and their emulation of his error. Worst of all, no doubt, was David’s sure knowledge that Absalom had never repented and trusted the Lord to shepherd him as he had done. He wished that he might have died for his son, knowing that he probably should have died that Absalom might have known the terror of violating the will of God and transgression of His commandments.

Lessons to be gleaned.- 1) A truly forgiving person will be ready to forgive of everything; 2) God’s judgment eventually falls, though it may not be as promptly as one might wish; 3) a hero may be a coward when he attempts to let his transgression be charged against another; 4) Absalom illustrates the terrible fall of one who exalts himself loftily in his

pride; 5) though one may not seem to have a message, there is a word to carry for all who will run; 6) one who is truly loved will be spared as much heartache by his friend as possible; 7) the deepest grief comes to those whose sin brings irrevocable tragedy.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Blessed Hope Foundation and the Baptist Training Center.
Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 18". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/2-samuel-18.html. 1985.