2 Samuel 18:2. A third part under Ittai, the Philistine general who had faithfully followed the fortunes of the king.
2 Samuel 18:6. The wood of Ephraim lay beyond Jordan, and was not in the lot of Ephraim; but was called so, either because Jephthah defeated the Ephraimites there, Judges 12., or on some other account. Rabbi Abulensis says, there was a precipice in this wood over which the routed mass of the rebels were driven.
2 Samuel 18:11. And a girdle. This would have been a great mark of military honour; for Jonathan gave his girdle to David. 1 Samuel 18:4. Military rewards have been common to all nations.
2 Samuel 18:13. Thou thyself wouldst have set thyself against me. This is bold talk of a soldier to the general in chief. The man knew that human nature is apt to lay all blame on others. Joab himself was dismissed for the deed, having exceeded his powers in piercing Absalom.
2 Samuel 18:15. Ten young men, the body guard of the general. Joab was a great general in the field, brave in fight, and yet humane in blowing the retreat; but alas, he too often acted as a monarch, forgetting that he was only general in chief.
2 Samuel 18:17. A very great heap of stones. Such has been the practice of all ancient people. Our Saxon fathers have done it in all places, but they often raised round hills or banks of earth where stones were not at hand, to perpetuate the memorial of victories, which in so short a space of time have now no historic records.
What a scene of woes, what a storm, what billows of personal and family troubles burst on the head of David, and all in the space of eight or ten days! His friends having flocked to the royal standard while in Mahanaim, he was able on Absalom’s approach to muster an army strong enough to give the rebels battle in the open field; and his prudence corresponded with his force. He sent out his army in three divisions, so that the centre and its wings might act at once. Truly God never forsook his anointed in the day of trouble, nor will he ever forsake the afflicted or the persecuted who call upon his name.
He who inspired David’s army with courage, shed confusion on the rabble of Absalom’s numerous host. They had presumptuously crossed the Jordan, not to fight with David in the field, but to besiege him in the city. What then must be their panic, when they found themselves approached by a considerable and well appointed army. Apparently they waited not the first charge, but took shelter in the wood of Ephraim, a name ominous of their defeat. All command ceased, and the affair was a general carnage rather than a fight: for how could the guilty look vengeance in the face? Twenty thousand of the rebels fell, and perhaps twenty thousand more would have been destroyed at the fords, had not Joab, on Absalom’s death, humanely sounded the retreat.
The most signal punishment was however reserved for Absalom, the first of traitors, and the worst of sons. During life his hair had been his pride, and like Asahel’s swiftness, it now proved the cause of his death. The tresses strongly tied for the battle, caught, it is probable, a short branch of an oak; and his ass in the flight left him suspended, dying and accursed according to the law. David might indeed forgive, but God would not. The malediction overtaking him, he had neither the honour to fall by the sword, nor the fortune to fly from the field. How shocking, how execrable were the circumstances of his death! Thrice Joab pierced him on the tree, for thrice he had notoriously offended, and each of the guards gave him a farther wound. His sinful and pampered body they threw into a pit, and stoned him, though dead, as an Achan, an adulterer, and a presumptuous son. Deuteronomy 21. Yea, every soldier strove to add one stone to the heap, that it might be great, and teach posterity that to act against the best of fathers is to act against the Lord. Let all men, and particularly young men, learn, that there is a pursuing hand of justice for rebellion, for whoredom, and disobedience to parents; yea, a hand which often strikes ere the wicked are aware.
While the divine hand is uplifted against the wicked, we see it acting for the salvation of the righteous. David had wept and prayed in the bitterness of his soul, and could not fail to draw a close line of connection between his sufferings and his sins. God raised him up Hushai to confound the counsel of Ahithophel; he raised him up friends in Israel, and friends beyond the Jordan, and friends among the heathen. He clothed his arm with victory, and purged his kingdom of traitors. Above all, he brought him back to his rest in Zion, loaded with the warmest congratulations of a loyal people. Happy is the man, and happy are the people who have the Lord for their God. In all their personal and family troubles, prayers, tears, and prudent counsel, he shall lead them in the way they ought to go.
In the king’s lamentation over Absalom, we see the sublime of grief. He was principally pierced with the awful situation in which he died; the father therefore wished to have died for the son. Viewing the crimes of the youth, and crimes not followed by any known repentance, the sire was pierced anew. All his wounds opened and bled afresh, and it seemed as though the father would have died with anguish, because his son had died in his sins. Perhaps he attributed much of Absalom’s ruin to himself, in an excess of lenity and indulgence to a youth whose passions required restraint. The grief however of a parent must not overpower the judgment. He must never reproach the hand of providence, but learn to say of every man who has died a tragic death, He is gone to a judge who will do him no wrong.
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Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 18". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Lent