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Absalom's Rebellion and David's Flight - 2 Samuel 15-16:14
After this restoration to favour, Absalom soon began to aspire to the throne, setting up a princely court, and endeavouring to turn the hearts of the people towards himself, by addressing in a friendly manner any who came to seek redress from the king in matters in dispute, and by saying things adapted to throw suspicion upon his father's rule (2 Samuel 15:1-6). When he had succeeded in this, he asked permission from the king to take a journey to Hebron, under the pretence of wanting to fulfil a vow which he had made during his banishment; and when once there, he soon proceeded with his rebellious intentions (2 Samuel 15:7-12). As soon as David heard of it, he determined to fly from Jerusalem, and crossed the Kidron with his faithful adherents. Having sent the priests with the ark of the covenant back to the city, he went up to the Mount of Olives, amidst the loud lamentations of the people. Hushai, who came to meet him, he sent to the city, to frustrate the counsel of Ahithophel, who was one of the conspirators, and to send information to him of what was going forward (vv. 13-37). When he reached the top, Ziba, Mephibosheth's servant, came to meet him with provisions and succour (2 Samuel 16:1-4) whilst Shimei, a relation of the house of Saul, followed him with curses and stones (2 Samuel 16:5-14).
With this rebellion the calamities which Nathan had predicted to David on account of his sin with Bathsheba began to burst upon him in all their fulness. The success of the rebellion itself may be accounted for, from the fact that the consciousness of his own fault not only made David weak towards his sons, but produced a want of firmness in his resolutions; whilst the imperfections and defects in the internal administration of the kingdom, when the time of the brilliant victories was past, became more and more perceptible to the people, and furnished occasion for dissatisfaction with his government, which Absalom was skilful enough to bend to his own purposes. During the time that this rebellion was in progress, David poured out his lamentations to the Lord (in Psalms 41:1-13 and 55) as to the faithlessness of his most confidential councillors, and prayed for the judgment of retribution upon the conduct of this wicked band. After it had broken out, he uttered his longings to return to the sanctuary at Jerusalem, and his firm confidence that he should be delivered out of his distresses and reinstated in his kingdom, first of all in Psalms 3:1-8 and Psalms 63:1-11 during his flight in the desert of Judah, and in Psalms 61:1-8 and Psalms 62:1-12 during his stay in the land to the east of the Jordan.
2 Samuel 15:1-3
Absalom seeks to secure the people's favour. - 2 Samuel 15:1. Soon afterwards (this seems to be the meaning of כּן מאחרי as distinguished from כּן אהרי ; cf. 2 Samuel 3:28) Absalom set up a carriage (i.e., a state-carriage; cf. 1 Samuel 8:11) and horses, and fifty men as runners before him, i.e., to run before him when he drove out, and attract the attention of the people by a display of princely pomp, as Adonijah afterwards did (1 Kings 1:5). He then went early in the morning to the side of the road to the gate of the palace, and called out to every one who was about to go to the king “for judgment,” i.e., seek justice in connection with any matter in dispute, and asked him, “Of what city art thou?” and also, as we may see from the reply in 2 Samuel 15:3, inquired into his feelings towards the king, and then said, “Thy matters are good and right, but there is no hearer for thee with the king.” שׁמע signifies the judicial officer, who heard complainants and examined into their different causes, for the purpose of laying them before the king for settlement. Of course the king himself could not give a hearing to every complainant, and make a personal investigation of his cause; nor could his judges procure justice for every complainant, however justly they might act, though it is possible that they may not always have performed their duty conscientiously.
2 Samuel 15:4
Absalom also said, “Oh that I might be judge in the land, and every one who had a cause might come before me; I would procure him justice!” ישׂמני מי is a wish: “who might (i.e., oh that one might) appoint me judge,” an analogous expression to יתּן ot מי (vid., Gesenius, §136, 1, and Ewald, §329, c.). עלי placed before יבא for the sake of emphasis, may be explained from the fact that a judge sat, so that the person who stood before him rose above him (comp. Exodus 18:13 with Genesis 18:8). הצדּיק , to speak justly, or help to justice.
2 Samuel 15:5
And when any one came near to him to prostrate himself before him, he took him by the hand and kissed him. It was by conduct of this kind that Agamemnon is said to have secured the command of the Grecian army (Euripid. Iphig. Aul. v. 337ff.).
2 Samuel 15:6
Thus Absalom stole the heart of the men of Israel. גּנּב לב does not mean to deceive or cheat, like לב גּנּב in the Kal in Genesis 31:20, but to steal the heart, i.e., to bring a person over to his side secretly and by stratagem.
Absalom's rebellion. - 2 Samuel 15:7, 2 Samuel 15:8. After the lapse of forty (?) years Absalom said to the king, “Pray I will go (i.e., pray allow me to go) and perform a vow in Hebron which I vowed to the Lord during my stay at Geshur” ( 2 Samuel 15:8). The number forty is altogether unsuitable, as it cannot possibly be understood either as relating to the age of Absalom or to the year of David's reign: for Absalom was born at Hebron after David had begun to reign, and David only reigned forty years and a half in all, and Absalom's rebellion certainly did not take place in the last few weeks of his reign. It is quite as inappropriate to assume, as the terminus a quo of the forty years, either the commencement of Saul's reign, as several of the Rabbins have done, as well as the author of the marginal note in Cod. 380 of De Rossi ( שאול למלכות ), or the anointing of David at Bethlehem, as Luther (in the marginal note) and Lightfoot do; for the word “after” evidently refers to some event in the life of Absalom, to which allusion has previously been made, namely, either to the time of his reconciliation with David (2 Samuel 14:33), or (what is not so probable) to the period of his return from Geshur to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 14:23). Consequently the reading adopted by the Syriac, Arabic, and Vulgate, also by Theodoret and others, viz., “ four years,” must certainly be the correct one, and not “forty days,” which we find in Codd. 70 and 96 in Kennicott, since forty days would be far too short a time for maturing the rebellion. It is true, that with the reading ארבּע we should expect, as a rule, the plural שׁנים . At the same time, the numbers from two to ten are sometimes construed with a singular noun (e.g., 2 Kings 22:1; cf. Gesenius, §120, 2). The pretended vow was, that if Jehovah would bring him back to Jerusalem, he would serve Jehovah. את־יהוה עבד , “to do a service to Jehovah,” can only mean to offer a sacrifice, which is the explanation given by Josephus. The Chethib ישׁיב is not the infinitive, but the imperfect Hiphil: si reduxerit, reduxerit me , which is employed in an unusual manner instead of the inf. absol., for the sake of emphasis. The Keri ישׁוּב would have to be taken as an adverb “again;” but this is quite unnecessary.
The king consented, and Absalom went to Hebron. Absalom had selected this city, probably assigning as the reason that he was born there, but really because his father David had been made king there, and also possibly because there may have been many persons there who had been displeased by the removal of the court to Jerusalem.
When Absalom went to Hebron, he sent spies into all the tribes of Israel to say, “When ye hear the sound of the trumpet, say, Absalom has become king in Hebron.” We must suppose the sending the spies to have been contemporaneous with the removal of Absalom to Hebron, so that ויּשׁלח is used quite regularly, and there is no reason for translating it as a pluperfect. The messengers sent out are called “spies,” because they were first of all to ascertain the feelings of the people in the different tribes, and were only to execute their commission in places where they could reckon upon support. The conspiracy had hitherto been kept very secret, as we may see from the statement in 2 Samuel 15:11: “With Absalom there had gone two hundred men out of Jerusalem, invited (to the sacrificial festival), and going in their simplicity, who knew nothing at all of the affair.” ( כּל־דּבר לא : nothing at all.)
Moreover, Absalom sent for Ahithophel, David's councillor, to come from his own town Giloh, when he offered the sacrifices. The unusual construction of את ישׁלח with מעירו may be explained from the pregnant character of the expression: he sent and bade come, i.e., he summoned Ahithophel out of his city. Giloh, Ahithophel's home, was upon the mountains of Judah, to the south or south-west of Hebron (see at Joshua 15:51). Ahithophel had no doubt been previously initiated into Absalom's plans, and had probably gone to his native city, merely that he might come to him with the greater ease; since his general place of abode, as king's councillor, must have been in Jerusalem. “And the conspiracy became strong; for the people multiplied continually with Absalom” (the latter is a circumstantial clause). These words give a condensed summary of the result of the enterprise.
David's flight from Jerusalem. - 2 Samuel 15:13, 2 Samuel 15:14. When this intelligence reached David, “The heart of the men of Israel is after Absalom” ( אהר היה , as in 2 Samuel 2:10, to be attached to a person as king; see at 1 Samuel 12:14), he said to his servants that were with him in Jerusalem, “Arise, let us flee, for there will be no escape for us from Absalom! Make speed to depart, lest he overtake us suddenly, and drive the calamity (the judgment threatened in 2 Samuel 12:10-11) over us, and smite the city with the edge of the sword.” David was perhaps afraid that Jerusalem might fall into Absalom's power through treachery, and therefore resolved to fly as speedily as possible, not only in order to prevent a terrible massacre, but also to give his own faithful adherents time to assemble.
As his servants declared themselves ready to follow him, the king went out of the city with all his family in his train ( lit. at his feet, as in Judges 4:10, Judges 4:15, etc.), but left ten concubines behind to keep the palace.
When outside the city the king and all the people in his suite (i.e., the royal family and their servants) halted at “the house of the distance.” המּרחק is probably a proper name given to a house in the neighbourhood of the city and on the road to Jericho, which was called “the farthest house,” viz., from the city.
And all his servants, i.e., his state officers and attendants, went along by his side, and the whole body-guard (the Crethi and Plethi: see at 2 Samuel 8:18); and all the Gathites, namely the six hundred men who had come in his train from Gath, went along in front of the king. David directed the fugitives to all into rank, the servants going by his side, and the body-guard and the six hundred old companions in arms, who probably also formed a kind of body-guard, marching in front. The verb עבר (passed on) cannot be understood as signifying to file past on account of its connection with על־ידו (beside him, or by his side). The expression Gittim is strange, as we cannot possibly think of actual Gathites or Philistines from Gath. The apposition (the six hundred men, etc.) shows clearly enough that the six hundred old companions in arms are intended, the men who gathered round David on his flight from Saul and emigrated with him to Gath (1 Samuel 27:2-3), who afterwards lived with him in Ziklag (1 Samuel 27:8; 1 Samuel 29:2; 1 Samuel 30:1, 1 Samuel 30:9), and eventually followed him to Hebron and Jerusalem (2 Samuel 2:3; 2 Samuel 5:6). In all probability they formed a separate company of well-tried veterans or a kind of body-guard in Jerusalem, and were commonly known as Gathites.
(Note: The Septuagint also has πάντες οἱ Γεθαῖοι , and has generally rendered the Masoretic text correctly. But כּל־עבדיו has been translated incorrectly, or at all events in a manner likely to mislead, viz., πάντες οἱ παῖδες αὐτοῦ . But in the Septuagint text, as it has come down to us, another paraphrase has been interpolated into the literal translation, which Thenius would adopt as an emendation of the Hebrew text, notwithstanding the fact that the critical corruptness of the Alexandrian text must be obvious to every one.)
A military commander named Ittai, who had emigrated from Gath and come over to David not long before, also accompanied the king from the city. It is evident from 2 Samuel 18:2, where Ittai is said to have commanded a third part of the army sent against Absalom, and to have been placed on an equality with Joab and Abishai the most experienced generals, that Ittai was a Philistian general who had entered David's service. The reason for his going over to David is not known. According to 2 Samuel 15:22 of this chapter, Ittai did not come alone, but brought all his family with him ( taph : the little ones). The opinion expressed by Thenius, that he had come to Jerusalem as a hostage, is merely founded upon a false interpretation of the last two clauses of the verse before us. David said to Ittai, “Wherefore goest thou also with us? return and stay with the king; for thou art a stranger, and also emigrating to thy place.” There is no irony in the words “stay with the king,” as Thenius and Clericus suppose (viz., “with the man who behaves as if he were king”); nor is there an acknowledgment of Absalom as king, which certainly could never have emanated from David. The words contain nothing more than the simple though: Do you remain with whoever is or shall be king, since there is no necessity for you as a stranger to take sides at all. This is the explanation given by Seb. Schmidt: “It is not your place to decide this context as to who ought to be king; but you may remain quiet and see whom God shall appoint as king, and whether it be I or Absalom, you can serve the one that God shall choose.” This is the only way in which we can explain the reason assigned for the admonition, viz., “Thou art a stranger,” and not an Israelite. There is some difficulty connected with the following words (rendered in the Eng. version “and also an exile”). In the Septuagint and Vulgate they are rendered καὶ ὅτι μετώκησας σὺ ἐκ τοῦ τόπου σου , et egressus es de loco tuo (and thou hast gone out from thine own place); but in adopting this rendering the translators have not only passed over the גּם (also), but have taken למקומך for ממּקומך . Nevertheless Thenius proposes to bring the text into harmony with these versions for the purpose of bringing out the meaning, “and moreover thou art one carried away from his own home.” But this is decidedly a mistake; for David would never have made a Philistine - who had just before been carried away from his own home, or, as Thenius understands it, who had been brought to Jerusalem as a hostage - the commander of a third of his army. The meaning is rather the following: “And thou hast still no fatherland,” i.e., thou art still wandering about through the earth like an exile from his country: wherever thou findest a place, and art allowed to settle, there only canst thou dwell.
“Thy coming is yesterday (from yesterday), and should I disturb thee to-day to go with us, when I am going just where I go?” i.e., wherever my way may lie (I go I know not whither; Chald.: cf. 1 Samuel 23:13). The Chethib אנוּעך is a copyist's error. The thought requires the Hiphil אניעך ( Keri), as נוּע in the Kal has the intransitive meaning, to totter, sway about, or move hither and thither. “Return and take thy brethren back; grace and truth be with thee.” It is evidently more in accordance with the train of thought to separate עמּך from the previous clause and connect it with ואמת חסד , though this is opposed to the accents, than to adopt the adverbial interpretation, “take back thy brethren with thee in grace and truth,” as Maurer proposes. (For the thought itself, see Proverbs 3:3). The reference is to the grace and truth (faithfulness) of God, which David desired that Ittai should receive upon his way. In the Septuagint and Vulgate the passage is paraphrased thus: “Jehovah show thee grace and truth,” after 2 Samuel 2:6; but it by no means follows from this that עמּך ועשׂה והוה has fallen out of the Hebrew text.
But Ittai replied with a solemn oath, “Assuredly at the place where my lord the king shall be (stay), whether for death or life, there will thy servant be.” אם כּי means “only,” as in Genesis 40:14, Job 42:8; here, in a declaration on oath, it is equivalent to assuredly (vid., Ewald, §356, b.). The Chethib is therefore correct, and the erasure of אם in the Keri is a bad emendation. The כּי in the apodosis is either an emphatic declaration, yea, or like ὅτι merely introduces a distinct assertion.
After this assurance of his devotedness, David let Ittai do as he pleased. ועבר לך , “go and pass on.” עבר does not mean to pass by, but to go forward. Thus Ittai and his men and all his family that was with him went forward with the king. By “the little ones” ( taph ) we are to understand a man's whole family, as in many other instances (see at Exodus 12:37).
2 Samuel 15:22-23
The king crosses the Kidron, and sends the priests back with the ark to Jerusalem. - 2 Samuel 15:23. All the land (as in 1 Samuel 14:25) wept aloud when all the people went forward; and the king went over the brook Kidron, and all the people went over in the direction of ( lit. in the face of) the way to the desert. The brook Kidron is a winter torrent, i.e., a mountain torrent which only flows during the heavy rains of winter ( χείμαῤῥος τοῦ Κεδρών , John 18:1). It is on the eastern side of Jerusalem, between the city and the Mount of Olives, and derives its name from the appearance of the water when rendered muddy through the melting of the snow (cf. Job 6:16). In summer it is nothing more than a dry channel in the valley of Jehoshaphat (see Robinson, Pal. i. 396, and v. Raumer, Pal. p. 309, note 81). “The wilderness” ( midbar ) is the northern part of the desert of Judah, through which the road to Jericho and the Jordan lay.
2 Samuel 15:24
Zadok the priest and all the Levites (who were in Jerusalem) left the city with the fugitive king, bearing the ark of the covenant: “And they set down the ark of God, and Abiathar came up, till all the people had come completely over from the city.” ויּעל , ἀνέβη , ascendit (lxx, Vulg .), may probably be accounted for from the fact that Abiathar did not come to join the fugitives till the procession halted at the Mount of Olives; so that עלה , like ἀναβαίνειν , merely refers to his actually going up, and ויּעל affirms that Abiathar joined them until all the people from the city had arrived. The rendering proposed by Michaelis and Böttcher (“he offered sacrifices”) is precluded by the fact that עלה never means to sacrifice when written without עולה , or unless the context points distinctly to sacrifices, as in 2 Samuel 24:22; 1 Samuel 2:28. The ark of the covenant was put down, because those who went out with the king made a halt, to give the people who were still coming time to join the procession.
2 Samuel 15:25-26
Then the king said to Zadok, “Take back the ark of God into the city! If I find favour in the eyes of Jehovah, He will bring me back and let me see Him (i.e., himself: the reference is to God) and His dwelling (i.e., the ark of the covenant as the throne of the divine glory in the tent that had been set up for it). But if He thus say, I have not delight in thee; behold, here am I, let Him do to me as seemeth good to Him.” Thus David put his fate in believing confidence into the hand of the Lord, because he felt that it was the Lord who was chastising him for his sons through this rebellion.
2 Samuel 15:27-28
He also said still further to Zadok, “Thou seer! return into the city in peace.” אתּה הרואה , with ה interrog., does not yield any appropriate sense, as ה cannot stand for הלוא here, simply because it does not relate to a thing which the person addressed could not deny. Consequently the word must be pointed thus, הראה (with the article), and rendered as a vocative, as it has been by Jerome and Luther. ראה , seer, is equivalent to prophet. He applies this epithet to Zadok, as the high priest who received divine revelations by means of the Urim. The meaning is, Thou Zadok art equal to a prophet; therefore thy proper place is in Jerusalem (O. v. Gerlach). Zadok was to stand as it were upon the watch there with Abiathar, and the sons of both to observe the events that occurred, and send him word through their sons into the plain of the Jordan. “Behold, I will tarry by the ferries of the desert, till a word comes from you to show me,” sc., what has taken place, or how the things shape themselves in Jerusalem. Instead of בּעברות , the earlier translators as well as the Masoretes adopted the reading בּערבות , “in the steppes of the desert.” The allusion in this case would be to the steppes of Jericho (2 Kings 25:5). But Böttcher has very properly defended the Chethib on the strength of 2 Samuel 17:16, where the Keri has ערבות again, though עברות is the true reading (cf. 2 Samuel 19:19). The “ferries of the desert” are the places where the Jordan could be crossed, the fords of the Jordan (Joshua 2:7; Judges 3:28).
2 Samuel 15:29
Zadok and Abiathar then returned to the city with the ark of God.
Ahithophel and Hushai. - 2 Samuel 15:30, 2 Samuel 15:31. When David was going by the height of the olive-trees, i.e., the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went, with his head covered, and barefooted, as a sign of grief and mourning (see Esther 6:12; Ezekiel 24:17), and with the people who accompanied him also mourning, he received intelligence that Ahithophel (see at 2 Samuel 15:12) was with Absalom, and among the conspirators. הגּיד ודוד gives no sense; for David cannot be the subject, because the next clause, “and David said,” etc., contains most distinctly an expression of David's on receiving some information. Thenius would therefore alter הגּיד into the Hophal הגּד , whilst Ewald (§131, a) would change it into הגּיד , an unusual form of the Hophal, “David was informed,” according to the construction of the Hiphil with the accusative. But although this construction of the Hiphil is placed beyond all doubt by Job 31:37; Job 26:4, and Ezekiel 43:10, the Hiphil is construed as a rule, as the Hophal always is, with ל of the person who receives information. Consequently דּוד must be altered into לדוד , and הגּיד taken as impersonal, “they announced to David.” Upon receipt of this intelligence David prayed to the Lord, that He would “turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness,” make it appear as folly, i.e., frustrate it, - a prayer which God answered (vid., 2 Samuel 17:1.).
On David's arrival at the height where people were accustomed to worship, i.e., upon the top of the Mount of Olives, the Archite Hushai came to meet him with his clothes rent and earth upon his head, that is to say, in the deepest mourning (see 1 Samuel 4:12). It is evident from the words וגו אשׁר־ישׁתּחוה that there was a place of worship upon the top of the Mount of Olives, probably a bamah , such as continued to exist in different places throughout the land, even after the building of the temple. According to 2 Samuel 15:37; 2 Samuel 16:16, and 1 Chronicles 27:33, Hushai was רעה , a friend of David, i.e., one of his privy councillors. הארכּי (the Archite), if we may judge from Joshua 16:2, was the name of a family whose possessions were upon the southern boundary of the tribe of Ephraim, between Bethel and Ataroth. Hushai was probably a very old man, as David said to him (2 Samuel 15:33, 2 Samuel 15:34), “If thou goest with me, thou wilt be a burden to me. But if thou returnest to the city and offerest Absalom thy services, thou canst bring for me the counsel of Ahithophel to nought. If thou sayest to Absalom, I will be thy servant, O king; servant of thy father (i.e., as regards this) I was that of old, but now I am thy servant.” The ו before אני introduces the apodosis both times (vid., Ewald, §348, a.).
David then commissioned him to communicate to the priests Zadok and Abiathar all that he should hear of the king's house, and send word to him through their sons.
So Hushai went into the city when Absalom came to Jerusalem. The w| before the second clause, followed by the imperfect יבוא , indicates contemporaneous occurrence (vid., Ewald, §346, b.).
The Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 15". Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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