Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, May 28th, 2024
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
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Bible Commentaries
2 Samuel 18

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

And David numbered the people that were with him, and set captains of thousands and captains of hundreds over them.

David numbered the people that were with him. The hardy mountaineers of Gilead came in great numbers at the call of their chieftains; so that, although without money to pay any troops, David soon found himself at the head of a considerable army. The number of his soldiers is not stated in the sacred history. Josephus says they amounted to about 4,000 ('Antiquities,' b. 7:, ch. 10:, sec. 1). A pitched battle was now inevitable. But so much depending on the life of the king, he was not allowed to take the field in person, and therefore divided his forces into three detachments under Joab, Abishai, and Ittai, the commander of the foreign guards.

Verses 2-4

And David sent forth a third part of the people under the hand of Joab, and a third part under the hand of Abishai the son of Zeruiah, Joab's brother, and a third part under the hand of Ittai the Gittite. And the king said unto the people, I will surely go forth with you myself also.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 5

And the king commanded Joab and Abishai and Ittai, saying, Deal gently for my sake with the young man, even with Absalom. And all the people heard when the king gave all the captains charge concerning Absalom.

Deal gently for my sake with the young man, even with Absalom. This affecting charge, which the king gave to his generals, proceeded not only from his overweening affection for his children, but from his consciousness that this rebellion was the chastisement of his own crimes, Absalom being merely an instrument in the hand of retributive Providence; and also from his piety, lest the unhappy prince should die with his sins unrepented of.

Verse 6

So the people went out into the field against Israel: and the battle was in the wood of Ephraim;

The battle was in the wood of Ephraim, [ ya`ar (H3293), a forest, or dense growth of trees]. Its name was derived, according to some, from the slaughter of the Ephraimites by Jephthah (Judges 12:1-15); according to others, from the connection of blood with the trans-Jordanic Manasseh.

Verse 7

Where the people of Israel were slain before the servants of David, and there was there a great slaughter that day of twenty thousand men.

The people of Israel were slain. This designation, together with the immense slaughter mentioned later, shows the large extent to which the people were enlisted in this unhappy civil contest. The army of Absalom would be, as in all Eastern wars, an immense heterogeneous mass of people; and the first shock, the spilt blood of a few, generally decides the fate of the day.

Verse 8

For the battle was there scattered over the face of all the country: and the wood devoured more people that day than the sword devoured.

The wood devoured more people ... than the sword. The thick forest of oaks and terebinths, by obstructing the flight, greatly aided the victors in the pursuit, and was the occasion of more being slain in the rout than in the battle. This view is supported by Josephus: 'David's men were conquerors, as being superior in military strength and skill; so they pursued the rebels, as they fled away through the forests and valleys; some they took prisoners, and they killed many, more in the flight than on the field, because there fell about 20,000 that day' ('Antiquities,' b. 7:, ch. 10:, sec. 2).

Verse 9

And Absalom met the servants of David. And Absalom rode upon a mule, and the mule went under the thick boughs of a great oak, and his head caught hold of the oak, and he was taken up between the heaven and the earth; and the mule that was under him went away.

Absalom met the servants of David - or was overtaken.

And his head caught hold of the oak, [ wayechªzaq (H2388) ro'show (H7218) baa'eelaah (H424)] - and his head caught fast in the terebinth (probably Quercus AEgilops, Valonia oak, for which Gilead and Bashan were famous). 'It is necessary to be continually on one's guard against the branches of trees; and when the hair is worn in large locks floating down the back, as was the case with a young man of the party to which I belonged, any thick boughs interposing in the path might easily dislodge a rider from his seat, and catch hold of his flowing hair' (Hartley). It appears, however, that the sacred historian points not so much to the hair, which would be covered by his helmet, as to the head of Absalom, which, being caught while running between two branches, was enclosed so firmly that he could not disengage himself from the hold, nor running between two branches, was enclosed so firmly that he could not disengage himself from the hold, nor make use of his hands.

The mule that was under him went away. The Orientals, not having saddles like us, do not sit so firmly on the beasts they ride. Absalom, quitting his hold of the bridle, apparently to release himself when caught in the oak, the mule escaped. And there was no armour-bearer near him, as in the closing scene of Saul. He had stolen the hearts of Israel, and none of them had a heart to sympathize with and defend him.

Verse 10

And a certain man saw it, and told Joab, and said, Behold, I saw Absalom hanged in an oak.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 11

And Joab said unto the man that told him, And, behold, thou sawest him, and why didst thou not smite him there to the ground? and I would have given thee ten shekels of silver, and a girdle.

I would have given thee ten shekels of silver and a girdle - i:e., would have raised him from the ranks to the status of a commissioned officer. Besides a sum of money, a girdle, curiously and richly done, was among the ancient Hebrews a mark of honour, and sometimes bestowed as a reward of military merit. This soldier, however, who may be taken as a fair sample of David's faithful subjects, had so great a respect for the king's will, that no prospect of reward would have tempted him to lay violent hands on Absalom. But Joab's stern sense of public duty, which satisfied him that there could be neither safety to the king, nor peace to the kingdom, nor security to him and other loyal subjects, so long as that turbulent prince lived, overcame his sensibilities, and looking upon the charge given to the generals as more befitting a parent than a prince, he ventured to disobey it.

Verses 12-13

And the man said unto Joab, Though I should receive a thousand shekels of silver in mine hand, yet would I not put forth mine hand against the king's son: for in our hearing the king charged thee and Abishai and Ittai, saying, Beware that none touch the young man Absalom. No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 14

Then said Joab, I may not tarry thus with thee. And he took three darts in his hand, and thrust them through the heart of Absalom, while he was yet alive in the midst of the oak.

He took three darts, [ shªbaaTiym (H7626)] - small rods with iron points; lances.

And thrust them through the heart of Absalom. The deed, partially done by Joab, was completed by his body-guard. Being a violation of the expressed wish, as well as of all the fond paternal feelings of David, it must have been deeply offensive to the king, nor was it ever forgotten (1 Kings 2:5); and yet there is the strongest reason for believing that Joab, in doing it, was actuated by a sincere regard to the interests of David, both as a man and a monarch.

Verse 15

And ten young men that bare Joab's armour compassed about and smote Absalom, and slew him.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 16

And Joab blew the trumpet, and the people returned from pursuing after Israel: for Joab held back the people.

Joab blew the trumpet, and ... held back the people. Knowing that, by the death of the usurper, there was no occasion for further bloodshed, he put an end to the pursuit, and thereby evinced the temperate policy of his conduct. However harsh and unfeeling to the king Joab may appear, there can be no doubt that he acted the part of a wise statesman in regarding the peace and welfare of the kingdom more than his master's private inclinations, which were opposed to strict justice as well as his own interests. Absalom deserved to die, by the divine law (Deuteronomy 21:18; Deuteronomy 21:21), as well as being an enemy to his king and country; and no time was more fitting than when he met that death in open battle.

Verse 17

And they took Absalom, and cast him into a great pit in the wood, and laid a very great heap of stones upon him: and all Israel fled every one to his tent.

They took Absalom, and cast him into a great pit ... and laid a very great heap of stones. The people of the East indicate their detestation of the memory of an infamous person by throwing stones at the place where he is buried. The heap is increased by the gradual accumulation of stones which passers-by add to it. Absalom would, of course, be stripped of his armour, although nothing is said of it in the sacred narrative. The following appeared a few years ago in all the continental journals, from which it was transferred to the pages of the English newspapers; and it is here submitted to the reader to be received for what it is worth:-`A strange discovery has just been made by Major Pappazolu, of Bucharest-the sword which belonged to Absalom: the blade has on one side the following words traced in Hebrew characters: "Present from Gessur to Absalom, son of David; Jeho, Jeho." On the same side is engraved the image of the hexagonal seal of David, and on the other some characters, the meaning of which has not been explained. On the corresponding place to those of the Hebrew characters, and on the opposite side of the blade, are those words engraved in gold - "Titus excepit ex Hierosolyma." This sword had a handle in gold, representing at the upper part a warrior's head, covered, with a helmet, and joined by a chain to a dragon's head, which formed the hilt. The old monk, possessor of this weapon, procured it from a Janissary, into whose hands it fell during the disturbances at Constantinople in 1807. In a moment of distress he sold the handle and the scabbard, which was, he says, made of serpent's skin, and mounted in gold. The ancient origin of the blade is proved by a manufacturer's mark in Semitic characters.'

Verse 18

Now Absalom in his lifetime had taken and reared up for himself a pillar, which is in the king's dale: for he said, I have no son to keep my name in remembrance: and he called the pillar after his own name: and it is called unto this day, Absalom's place.

Absalom in his life-time had ... reared up for himself a pillar, [ matsebet (H4678), in the first clause, and yad (H3027), hand, in the latter] - (see the notes at 1 Samuel 15:12.)

In the king's dale (cf. Genesis 14:17) - i:e., the valley of Jehoshaphat. This pillar was made of marble, according to Josephus ('Antiquities,' b. 7:, ch. 10:, sec. 3).

For he said, I have no son to keep my name in remembrance. It is elsewhere said that Absalom had three sons, and a daughter of great beauty, called Tamar (2 Samuel 14:27); but this pillar was in all likelihood raised previously to the appearance of this family; because Josephus expressly asserts that it was erected with the view of keeping alive his memory, even if he should have no children ('Antiquities,' b. 7:, ch. 10:, sec. 3). In the valley of Jehoshaphat, on the east of Jerusalem, is a tomb or cenotaph, said to be this "pillar" or monument: it Isaiah 24:0 feet square, dome-topped, and reaches 40 feet in height. This may occupy the spot, but cannot itself be the work of Absalom, as it evidently bears the style of a later architecture. It is substantially Doric, with an Ionin volute, and has been supposed to have been built about the time of the Maccabees (see Hardy's 'Notices of the Holy Land,' p. 137; Olin's 'Travels,' 2:, p. 145.) Some, however, maintain (Bonar's 'Land of Promise,' p. 132) that this is the very monument which Absalom constructed for himself, and that the architectural orders exhibited on it, and the other adjoining tombs, some Ionic, others Doric, were in a rude form found in Syria and Phoenicia, as well as in Egypt, long before they were imported into Greece, where they were carried to a high pitch of perfection.

Verse 19

Then said Ahimaaz the son of Zadok, Let me now run, and bear the king tidings, how that the LORD hath avenged him of his enemies.

Then said Ahimaaz ... Let me now run and bear the king tidings. The reasons of Joab's declining to accept Ahimaaz's offer to bear intelligence of the victory to David, and afterward letting him go along with another, are variously stated by commentators; but they are of no importance; and yet the alacrity of the messengers, as well as the eager excitement of the expectants, is graphically described.

Verse 20

And Joab said unto him, Thou shalt not bear tidings this day, but thou shalt bear tidings another day: but this day thou shalt bear no tidings, because the king's son is dead.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 21

Then said Joab to Cushi, Go tell the king what thou hast seen. And Cushi bowed himself unto Joab, and ran.

Then said Joab to Cushi, [ la-Kuwshiy (H3569)] - to the Ethiopian. Perhaps the ground of this soldier's selection for a mission so painful for any courtier to discharge, was that of his being a foreigner, and personally unknown to the king.

Verse 22

Then said Ahimaaz the son of Zadok yet again to Joab, But howsoever, let me, I pray thee, also run after Cushi. And Joab said, Wherefore wilt thou run, my son, seeing that thou hast no tidings ready?

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 23

But howsoever, said he, let me run. And he said unto him, Run. Then Ahimaaz ran by the way of the plain, and overran Cushi.

By the way of the plain - or 'ciccar,' circle. This word is only used elsewhere in connection with the valley of the Jordan. It is possible that there may have been a place or region so called on the table-lands of Gilead, as the Septuagint seems to indicate. Or Mahanaim may have been so situated, with regard to the battlefield, as to be more easily accessible by a descent to the plain of the Jordan than over the hills themselves. Or the word may signify (as Ewald explains) a manner of quick running (Stanley, 'Sinai and Palestine,' p. 323).

Verse 24

And David sat between the two gates: and the watchman went up to the roof over the gate unto the wall, and lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold a man running alone.

David sat between the two gates - i:e., in the tower-house on the wall that overhung the gate of Mahanaim; near it was a watch-tower, on which a sentinel was posted, as in times of war, to notify every occurrence.

Verses 25-26

And the watchman cried, and told the king. And the king said, If he be alone, there is tidings in his mouth. And he came apace, and drew near. No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 27

And the watchman said, Me thinketh the running of the foremost is like the running of Ahimaaz the son of Zadok. And the king said, He is a good man, and cometh with good tidings.

The running of the foremost is like the running of Ahimaaz - known probably by a waddling rolling of his person in running.

Verse 28

And Ahimaaz called, and said unto the king, All is well. And he fell down to the earth upon his face before the king, and said, Blessed be the LORD thy God, which hath delivered up the men that lifted up their hand against my lord the king.

All is well, [ shaalowm (H7965), peace] - the usual salutation among the Hebrews (Psalms 122:8). The delicacy of Ahimaaz's communication was made up by the unmistakeable plainness of Cushi's.

Verses 29-32

And the king said, Is the young man Absalom safe? And Ahimaaz answered, When Joab sent the king's servant, and me thy servant, I saw a great tumult, but I knew not what it was.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 33

And the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept: and as he went, thus he said, O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!

The king ... went up to the chamber over the gate [ `al (H5921) `aliyat (H5944)]. 'To most houses of respectable size or public importance there is a smaller one annexed, which sometimes rises one storey higher than the house; at other times it consists of one room or two rooms only and a terrace; while others that are built, as they frequently are, over the porch or gateway, have, if we except the ground floor, which they have not, all the conveniences that belong to the house properly so called. It is a sequestered part of the building, to which a person can retire for meditation and undisturbed solitude' (Dr. Shaw's 'Travels:' see further the note at 2 Kings 4:10). The death of Absalom was a heavy trial, and it is impossible not to sympathize with the outburst of feeling by which David showed that all thoughts of the victory he had won as a king were completely sunk in the painful loss he had sustained as a father. The extraordinary ardour and strength of his affection for this worthless son breaks out in the redundancy and vehemence of his mournful ejaculations.

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 18". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/2-samuel-18.html. 1871-8.
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