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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible

2 Samuel 14

Verses 1-33

David's concern for Absalom became known to Joab. Joab was a man not too concerned about truth and justice, but rather about the outward prosperity of the kingdom of Israel, for he knew that his own position depended on this. He considered that if Absalom could be brought back, the kingdom would have a better appearance of unity under David. But he did not know what danger he was inviting when he employed a wise woman to speak to David by means of a parabolic form of speech that was cunningly conceived.

He asks the woman to act before David as though she was a mourner, having mourned for a long time for a dead relative. He told her what to say, and she was the kind of woman who could play the part well. When he came to David she appeared to be in deep distress, prostrating herself before him and entreating his help. In response to his question she answered that she was a widow having had two sons, and that the two had fought together in the field where no-one was present to intervene, and one had struck the other fatally.

Of course Joab meant this to apply to the case of Absalom's killing of Ammon. But the cases were not parallel. First, David had more than two sons. Secondly, they did not fight together: one had deliberately planned to kill the other and did so in cold blood, the other being totally off guard.

She says her whole family was determined that her remaining son should be put to death and this would leave her alone and with no heir. David's family had not demanded death for Absalom: in fact three years had elapsed, and people generally would not be thinking any more about the matter. No doubt Absalom's fear had kept him away all this time, and also David's own conscience (not his relatives) told him that it would not be right to receive Absalom back as though he was not guilty Yet neither David nor anyone else was demanding that Absalom should die.

David wisely told the woman to return to her home and wait for David's consideration of her case (v.8). but the woman wanted an answer immediately. She knew she could not afford to have David enquire of others about her case. Therefore she tells him, in effect, that she and her father's house would accept the blame for anything that might result from David's making a decision immediately, and he and his throne would be guiltless (v.9). How well she know how to influence David's feelings! Yet he ought to have known well that he could not depend only upon the witness of one woman who was manifestly partial to her own cause. Still, he went half way on her behalf, telling her that anyone who pressed her with this matter she should bring to David, and he would see that she was not pressured again.

Having gained this much ground, being assured that David would protect her, she would not desist until she had his assurance as to her son also. She pleads with him, appealing to his regard for the Lord, his God, that he would not permit the avenger of blood to destroy her son. Of course it was Absalom she had in mind, but no-one was urging that he should be destroyed. However, David, without any inquiry as to the full truth of the case, made a decision and gave her his word, binding it with an oath by God's name, that her son would not be harmed.

Her hardest task of getting this committal from David had been accomplished. Now she respectfully asks his permission to speak a further word; and takes advantage of this to apply David's committal to his relationship with Absalom. She asks him why he had planned such a thing against the people of God. This was bold language, and not an accurate representation of the facts, for David was not planning to kill Absalom. But she implied that people might think so because David had not brought Absalom back again. She refers to Absalom as "his (David's) banished." She speaks of the king as being "faulty" because his own pronouncement as to her son was not carried out with his own Son. But David should have seen that her whole comparison was incorrect: the cases were by no means parallel.

She uses truth in her argument, for in verse 14 she says, "we shall surely die and become like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again." She is really asking, is there to be no recovery before the inevitable end of our lives in death? God does not take away a life, she says, but devises means by which His banished might not be expelled from Him. She seeks to express the truth of 2 Peter 3:9, that "God is not willing that any should perish," but she does not include with it "but that all should come to repentance." It is true also that God has, in the cross of Christ, devised a wonderful means of restoring banished, sinful souls. But even this does not apply to those who will not repent. This was the one fatal flaw in applying these things to Absalom. Even David knew perfectly well that Absalom had not shown any sign of repentance.

The wise woman continues to speak (in verses 15-17) as though she had accurately portrayed her own case, telling David that the people had made her afraid and this moved her to come to David, feeling she could possibly count on him to protect her and her son. Further than this, in verse17 she says she had told herself that she could have confidence in the word of the king to give her comfort in his discerning of good and evil. This was flattery in order to gain her point with David. She was really telling him that he was wise enough to discern that her argument was good, and to back this up she adds, "may the Lord your God be with you." She was the kind of woman who knew how to "wrap people around her finger."

Her persistence in transferring the whole matter to Absalom's case could not but raise David's suspicions that Joab was involved in this, for he knew that Joab wanted Absalom brought back to Jerusalem. In answer to his question about this, she now has to admit that the whole thing was planned by Joab, though she flatters David by telling him that he was as wise as an angel of God in his discerning of this.

But again David was not so wise in his acting before sober consideration of this matter before God. Wisdom would have discerned the serious discrepancies in Joab's illustration, and have left Absalom where he was until there was some evidence of repentance on his part. but David allowed his feelings for Absalom to take precedence, and told Joab to bring Absalom back to Jerusalem.

Joab was highly pleased that David had listened to his advice and even prostrated himself in thanksgiving before him (v.22). How mistaken he was in thinking that such action would consolidate the unity of the kingdom! Outwardly it might seem so, but Absalom's haughty pride was a grave danger to the kingdom, and Joab was totally blind to this. David however still had a very serious reserve, telling Joab to send Absalom to his own home, but refusing to see Absalom himself (v.24). How could he rightly express any fellowship with Absalom when the young man was still hardened in self-righteousness?

We are told now Absalom's attractive physical appearance, so outstanding that he drew the attention of all the people. "From the sole of his foot to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him." Physically this was true, but Absalom ought to have known that spiritually "from the sole of the feet even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but wounds and bruises and putrifying sores" (Isaiah 1:6). He was evidently proud of the growth of his hair also, for he let it grow for a year before cutting it. Long hair is a glory to a woman, but a shame to a man (1 Corinthians 11:14-15). It is intended to signify subjection, but this was only hypocrisy on Absalom's part. So proud was he of its luxuriant growth that he weighed his hair when he cut it! its weight was the equivalent of 5 ½ pounds! Philippians 3:19 speaks of such people as those "whose glory is in their shame." it is added also that Absalom had three sons and a beautiful daughter whom he named after his sister Tamar (v.27).

Two more years passed, which made five years in which David had been waiting for some sign of repentance on Absalom's part. Absalom knew perfectly well why his father did not want to see him, but he apparently counted on time healing the rupture without his acknowledging any wrong.

Finally Absalom took the initiative, sending for Joab to act as an intermediary. But Joab would not come. Twice he refused to come to Absalom. But Absalom was a determined young man, and his purposes would not be served until he was restored fully into the favor of the king -- at least outwardly before the people. He told his servants to set fire to a field of ripened barley belonging to Joab (v.30). This brought Joab to Absalom in protest, though we do not read of Absalom 's ever paying Joab for his loss.

Absalom however insists to Joab that he should be permitted to see David's face. He says it would be better for him to be still in Geshur if this is not to be allowed. But his attitude was still defiant and self-righteous. He makes not the slightest admission of wrong on his part, but says that if there was any iniquity in him, the king could execute him. The king, being informed by Joab of Absalom's demand, yielded to this pressure, though we may be sure it must have been with uneasy thoughts. Joab called for Absalom to come to David, and "the king kissed Absalom" (v.33). This is all that is said. There is no mention of any pleasant conversation between them. How different the case of the prodigal son when he returned in genuine repentance. His father "ran and fell on his neck and kissed him" (Luke 15:20). But David sought to show love while compromising righteousness. This could not possibly bring good results, as the following history proves.

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Bibliographical Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 14". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lmg/2-samuel-14.html. 1897-1910.