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David’s Great Sins And Their Consequences (11:1-20:26).
We now come to a crucially significant aspect of David’s reign which explains the dark side of that reign. Up to this point all has been pictured as success, and YHWH has been portrayed as with David in all that he has done (even though some of it came after this incident). But from this point on in the narrative we are faced with another aspect of David’s life, and it does not make pleasant reading, for it deals with a period of complacency in David’s life which resulted in heinous sins, and the great problems that then resulted from them. We are not to gather from this that YHWH ceased to bless David. Indeed some of the incidents previously described undoubtedly occurred after what happened here (e.g. his being granted a palace of cedar), and it is made clear in the narrative that YHWH is still active on David’s behalf (2 Samuel 17:14). But there is a deliberate attempt in the following narratives to draw out how David did fail, and the consequences of that failure for at least some of what followed in the latter part of his reign. And what is even more significant is that the narratives appear to have come from records maintained under the authority of David himself (2 Samuel 9:0 onwards have reasonably been seen as being selections from ‘The Court History Of David’).
This in itself is unusual in that reigning monarchs usually tended to ensure that all indications of failure in their reign were omitted from their records, or at least were altered in order to take the sting out of them. It is therefore an indication of David’s genuineness of heart before God, and of the writer’s intention of writing only to the glory of God, that they did not do the same.
Some have seen chapter 11 onwards as intended to explain how it was that Solomon came to the succession. That is certainly a very important aspect of these chapters, and was possibly in the writer’s mind. But had that been their sole main purpose much that was derogatory to David could have been omitted. So we must certainly add the fact that the writer was equally concerned to bring out how what followed was the result of David’s own weakness and failure as revealed in his adultery with Bathsheba and his cold-blooded murder of Uriah the Hittite. Together with the description of the consequences to the realm of David’s arrogant numbering of Israel (chapter 24), it was intended to bring out that even David was flawed. It was a deliberate reminder that we are to look forward to the coming of the righteous everlasting King of the everlasting kingdom (2 Samuel 7:13; 2Sa 7:16 ; 1 Samuel 2:10; Genesis 49:8-12; Psalms 2:7-12; Numbers 24:17-19; Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 11:1-4) who would be even greater than David.
In some ways David’s life story is very similar to that of Saul, for we saw how Saul’s story began with his success during his rise to power (1 Samuel 10-11), continued with success, even when accompanied by failings (1 Samuel 13-14), and culminated with a description of his success over all his enemies, because YHWH was with him (1 Samuel 14:47-48). This was then followed by a description of Saul’s great sin, and his resulting downfall (1 Samuel 15:0 on). What follows indicates that there was something similar in the pattern of David’s life. He too began with great success (1 Samuel 17-18), continued with success even when accompanied by failings, and was triumphant over all his enemies (3-10), only to find himself involved in sins so dire that it is almost beyond belief. For what now follows is a story of flagrant disobedience in respect of God’s Law, and despicable betrayal of those who trusted him, and both on a huge scale, although it must be admitted that they were in fact totally ‘out of character’ with the David usually portrayed to us. It is a reminder that such failure can happen even in those who seem most above it.
There are, of course, a number of differences between Saul and David which explain why Saul finished up in the shame of rejection, while David moved on from his sin to greater things. The first difference is that Saul’s sins were comprised of blatant disobedience to YHWH’s direct commands which had been made on him as YHWH’s Anointed, and were in fact in character in that they arose from his casual attitude towards crucial religious requirements concerning which he felt he could compromise (even though he was actually scrupulous concerning more minor ritual), while David’s sins, for all their enormity, were not a result of disobedience to YHWH’s direct commands given to him as YHWH’s Anointed, but were the consequence of failing in his general responsibility and (temporarily) in his response to God’s Law during a period of spiritual declension.
The second difference was that Saul sought to brush his failures off, and did not treat them seriously enough to fling himself down before YHWH crying for forgiveness, while David knew how to repent, and did precisely that. When David was faced with having failed and grieved YHWH he was distraught, and came directly to YHWH in humble repentance, seeking forgiveness (see Psalms 51:0).
This section could also equally be headed ‘The Consequences of Forgiven Sin’, for it reveals that even though David was forgiven, the consequences of his sins for others went on and on. Thus it commences with David committing adultery and murder (2 Samuel 11:0), something which results in YHWH indicating what punishment will follow (2 Samuel 12:10-14), and goes on to describe how that punishment actually came about (chapters 13-20). And yet that punishment is not simply to be seen as the arbitrary result of God carrying out His prophecy, for the sins of David’s sons are clearly to be seen as directly resulting from David’s progeny voluntarily following their father’s own example of sexual misbehaviour and betrayal. David was thus to learn through bitter experience that what we sow we reap, and we undoubtedly see the outworking of that process in the following chapters. And it all arose because David had become complacent and arrogant, and had slumped into a state of spiritual lethargy, thereby ceasing to fulfil his spiritual responsibilities towards YHWH This was brought out by the fact that, unlike the old David, he preferred to linger in Jerusalem in a state of boredom and spiritual emptiness rather than be out on the front line.
We must not be deceived. What David did with Bathsheba was not the momentary failure of a strongly tempted man. It was the direct result of his spiritual lethargy and growing royal arrogance. And the whole incident reveals what a sad condition he had fallen into, for it reveals the picture of a man who was saying to himself, ‘I am now the king. I can do what I like. Nothing can be withheld from me. I am master of all I survey.’ That indeed was why he was still in Jerusalem. It was because he no longer felt it necessary to fulfil his obligations towards YHWH and towards his people. That could now be left to others as he himself enjoyed a life of lazy indolence. After all, he no doubt argued to himself, he had earned it. But like Moses when he arrogantly and disobediently struck the rock in the Wilderness of Sin (Numbers 20:6-12), David too had become arrogant and disobedient, and like Moses would have to suffer the consequences of forgiven sin.
The Direct Consequences Resulting From David’s Sins (13:1-20:22).
Having confirmed YHWH’s acceptance of David as a forgiven sinner following on his great sins, an acceptance which was confirmed by YHWH’s naming of Solomon and by David’s victory over the Ammonites, the writer will now go into some depths to make clear what the consequences nevertheless were of David’s sins. For what David had done inevitably affected his sons, who were vividly aware of his sin while at the same time not sharing with him in his repentance. David’s sad period of arrogance bred in them a similar royal arrogance and an inevitable carelessness in respect of sexual matters and of violence towards others, which they began to see as a royal prerogative. ‘After all,’ they would say, ‘we are only behaving like our father did, and what other role model do we have? He is the only royal example that we know.’ Thus while David still had authority over his kingdom, he had lost his personal parental authority over his own sons because of his own bad example. It was one of the great disadvantages of polygamy that the children tended to receive their personal training from their mothers, and from servants, with their father being a distant father figure, so that what they learned from him was usually conveyed by his outward behaviour generally, something which was of crucial importance as an example to his children. (It is a reminder to all parents that they should keep in mind that what they are speaks far louder than what they say).
Sadly the next eight chapters in Samuel will deal with the direct consequences of David’s sins, and is an illustration of how the sins of the fathers can affect their offspring. The chapters cover a period of sexual misbehaviour and violence that will now plague the house of David, presented in the most vivid form:
· The sexual misbehaviour of David’s firstborn, Amnon, because of his royal arrogance, the ravishing of David’s beautiful daughter (2 Samuel 13:1-22).
· The subsequent death of Amnon at the hands of Absalom, David’s third son (2 Samuel 13:23-39).
· The subsequent estrangement of Absalom from his father (2 Samuel 14:1-20).
· Absalom’s partial restoration and his successful plotting against David with the intention of seizing the throne (2 Samuel 14:21 to 2 Samuel 15:6).
· Absalom’s rebellion against his father and his sexual misbehaviour with David’s concubines (2 Samuel 15:7 to 2 Samuel 16:23).
· The subsequent warfare that resulted finally in the death of Absalom at the hands of David’s servants, to the great grief of his father (2 Samuel 17:1 to 2 Samuel 18:33).
This will then be followed by:
· The re-establishing of David’s kingship and his mercy shown or rewards given to those who had behaved ill or well towards him (2 Samuel 19:1-39).
· The disenchantment of a part of Israel because they considered that David had favoured Judah during the restoration of the kingship, and the subsequent further rebellion which was in the end defeated (2 Samuel 19:40 to 2 Samuel 20:22).
But even with these consequences the overall picture given is one of YHWH’s faithfulness to David. Because he had truly repented He would see him through it all and bring him through triumphantly.
SECTION 8. The Causes Of Absalom’s Rebellion Which Results In His Final Breach With David (13:1-15:9).
This section deals with the causes of Absalom’s disaffection, something which subsequently results in his rebellion against David and his final defeat and death. It commences with Amnon’s sexual misbehaviour in the raping of Absalom’s half-sister Tamar, followed by Absalom’s delayed response, a response which results in Amnon’s assassination. As a consequence of his action Absalom has to flee to his grandfather, the king of Geshur. Eventually due to the good offices of Joab Absalom is restored to Jerusalem but not to the king’s favour. Consequently he makes a successful attempt to gain popularity among the people, something which will eventually result in an attempted coup.
One of the main emphases of this particular section is the fact that everyone involved was acting under false pretences. It was an indication that David’s own false actions with regard to Bathsheba and Uriah were coming home to roost.
a The sexual misbehaviour of David’s heir apparent, Amnon, because of his royal arrogance, under the pretence of seeking comfort, something which results in his father’s great anger (2 Samuel 13:1-22).
b Absalom invites the king’s sons to the sheepshearing celebrations under false pretences (2 Samuel 13:23-27).
c Amnon’s subsequent death at the hands of Absalom, David’s third son, an act of treason against David which results in Absalom’s flight from Jerusalem to Geshur (2 Samuel 13:28-39).
d Joab arranges for Absalom’s restoration to Jerusalem through a wise woman who obtains an oath from David under false pretences (2 Samuel 14:1-21).
c Joab restores Absalom to Jerusalem but not into the king’s favour (2 Samuel 14:22-33).
b Absalom wins the favour of the people under false pretences (2 Samuel 15:1-6).
a The political misbehaviour of David’s heir apparent, Absalom, because of his royal arrogance, under the pretence of worshipping YHWH (2 Samuel 15:7-12).
Note that in ‘a’ Amnon is involved in sexual misbehaviour under false pretences, while in the parallel Absalom is involved in political misbehaviour under false pretences. In ‘b’ Absalom invites the king’s sons to his sheepshearing celebrations under false pretences, and in the parallel Absalom woos the people under false pretences. In ‘c’ Absalom has to flee from Israel to Geshur, and in the parallel he is brought back from Geshur. Centrally in ‘d’ Joab acts surreptitiously through a wise woman to invoke an oath from David under false pretences.
In Accordance With What He Sees To Be The King’s Desire, Joab Successfully (But Unwisely) Works To Bring About The Return Of Absalom Through a Wise Woman (2 Samuel 14:1-21 ).
As so often throughout David’s reign Joab, who otherwise was totally loyal, felt that he had in this instance a right to interfere in the affairs of David when he considered that it might be to his own benefit. He had done it in the case of Abner, when it had seemed that Abner might usurp his position as commander-in-chief, even though he had some justification in that case, in that he was exacting blood vengeance on behalf of his family (2 Samuel 3:27). He will later do it in the case of Amasa, another commander chosen by David, ostensibly because of his failure to carry out military orders, but no doubt also because he too had usurped his position as commander-in-chief (2 Samuel 19:13; 2 Samuel 20:10). He will later even do it by seeking to promote Adonijah’s claims to the throne as the eldest surviving son, over against Solomon, possibly because he knew that he was not popular with Solomon (see 1 Kings 2:5-6). Yet he was certainly steadfastly loyal to David in every other way, at least while David was still active, and he had shared with him his wilderness years. What he probably did have in mind was that as Absalom was the eldest son, and therefore heir presumptive, if he could put Absalom in his debt, then once Absalom succeeded to the throne after David’s death he would remember what he owed to Joab.
But his interference here, while possibly with the best of intentions because as David’s cousin he knew David’s thoughts better than most, would undoubtedly bring catastrophe on Israel. We should remember that by his actions Absalom had already rebelled against the throne once. It should therefore have been clear to all that he was not to be trusted. Yet Joab, by the use of deceit, persuaded David to let him return to Jerusalem against David’s own better judgment, thus eventually doing David great harm. The truth was that if Absalom was to return he should really have returned to enter a City of Refuge, where his case could be decided. Alternatively he should not have been allowed to return at all. What was not right on any account was to gloss over his sin in accordance with Joab’s suggestion through the wise woman. (It is ironic that the one whose only defence in the case of his killing of Abner was that he was obtaining blood vengeance, should in the case of Absalom take up a different position). So as a result of Joab’s interference David allowed himself to be jockeyed into the unacceptable position of allowing Absalom to return under safe conduct, while being unwilling to have dealings with him because of his sin, both factors which undoubtedly led to Absalom’s rebellion.
We must recognise that the only reason why Absalom should want to return from his honoured position in the court of the king of Geshur would be in order to establish his right to succeed to the throne of Israel, so that once he became aware of how David felt about him he would have recognised that his succession was unlikely to be approved by David. We can see why, in his view, this would leave him with only one alternative, an attempted coup. There was no way that Absalom would have been willing to live peacefully under Solomon’s rule, or even Adonijah’s. He would therefore have been best left in Geshur, which he would have been had it not been for Joab’s intrigues.
One important lesson, therefore, that comes out of this narrative is that we should be wary as to whose advice we listen to, especially if it conflicts with our own conscience, and even though it tends to be in line with our inclinations. In this case we have YHWH on the one hand secretly acting on David’s behalf and protecting him against the full consequences of his own sin, and on the other we have Joab secretly acting against David’s best interests, although not fully aware of it, because he primarily had in mind his own best interests.
a Now Joab the son of Zeruiah perceived that the king’s heart was against/toward Absalom (2 Samuel 14:1).
b And Joab sent to Tekoa, and fetched from there a wise woman, and said to her, “I pray you, feign yourself to be a mourner, and put on mourning apparel, I pray you, and do not anoint yourself with oil, but be as a woman who has for a long time mourned for the dead, and go in to the king, and speak on this manner to him.” So Joab put the words in her mouth (2 Samuel 14:2-3).
c And when the woman of Tekoa spoke to the king, she fell on her face to the ground, and did obeisance, and said, “Help, O king” (2 Samuel 14:4).
d And the king said to her, “What ails you?” And she answered, “Of a truth I am a widow, and my husband is dead. And your handmaid had two sons, and they two strove together in the field, and there was none to part them, but the one smote the other, and killed him. And, behold, the whole family is risen against your handmaid, and they say, ‘Deliver him who smote his brother, that we may kill him for the life of his brother whom he slew, and so destroy the heir also.’ Thus will they quench my coal which is left, and will leave to my husband neither name nor remainder upon the face of the earth” (2 Samuel 14:5-7).
e And the king said to the woman, “Go to your house, and I will give charge concerning you.” And the woman of Tekoa said to the king, “My lord, O king, the iniquity be on me, and on my father’s house, and the king and his throne be guiltless.” And the king said, “Whoever says anything to you, bring him to me, and he shall not touch you any more” (2 Samuel 14:8-11).
f Then she said, “I pray you, let the king remember YHWH your God, that the avenger of blood destroy not any more, lest they destroy my son.” And he said, “As YHWH lives, there shall not one hair of your son fall to the earth” (2 Samuel 14:11).
e Then the woman said, “Let your handmaid, I pray you, speak a word to my lord the king.” And he said, “Say on.” And the woman said, “Why then have you devised such a thing against the people of God? For in speaking this word the king is as one who is guilty, in that the king does not fetch home again his banished one. For we must necessarily die, and are as water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again, neither does God take away life, but devises means, so that he that is banished continue not as an outcast from him” (2 Samuel 14:12-14).
d “Now, therefore, seeing that I am come to speak this word to my lord the king, it is because the people have made me afraid, and your handmaid said, ‘I will now speak to the king, it may be that the king will perform the request of his servant. For the king will hear, to deliver his servant out of the hand of the man that would destroy me and my son together out of the inheritance of God” (2 Samuel 14:15-16).
c “Then your handmaid said, ‘Let, I pray you, the word of my lord the king be comfortable, for as an angel of God, so is my lord the king to discern good and bad, and YHWH your God be with you” (2 Samuel 14:17).
b Then the king answered and said to the woman, “Do not hide from me, I pray you, anything that I shall ask you.” And the woman said, “Let my lord the king now speak.” And the king said, “Is the hand of Joab with you in all this?” And the woman answered and said, “As your soul lives, my lord the king, none can turn to the right hand or to the left from anything that my lord the king has spoken, for your servant Joab, he bade me, and he put all these words in the mouth of your handmaid. To change the face of the matter has your servant Joab done this thing, and my lord is wise, according to the wisdom of an angel of God, to know all things that are in the earth” (2 Samuel 14:18-20).
a And the king said to Joab, “Behold now, I have done this thing. Go therefore, bring the young man Absalom back” (2 Samuel 14:21).
Note that in ‘a’ Joab perceives David’s attitude towards Absalom, and in the parallel David gives Joab permission to bring Absalom back. In ‘b’ Joab calls on the wise woman of Tekoa to go to David and puts words into her mouth, and in the parallel she admits that Joab sent her and that what she has spoken have been words put into her mouth by Joab. In ‘c’ she pleads to David for help, and in the parallel she is grateful for his ‘helpfulness’. In ‘d’ she tells the story of her son who has slain his brother and is in danger of blood vengeance, pleading his cause, and in the parallel she speaks of David as having given his assurance that he will deliver her son out of the hands of the avenger of blood. In ‘e’ she prays that the king might be guiltless in respect of his concession, and in the parallel she draws out that he is guilty because in giving the concession he has demonstrated his inconsistency. Centrally in ‘f’ the woman deals with the main issue, the setting aside of the right of blood vengeance.
2 Samuel 14:1
‘ Now Joab the son of Zeruiah perceived that the king’s heart was against (or ’toward’) Absalom.’
How we translate and interpret this verse will depend on our view of 2 Samuel 13:39. The ancient Aramaic translation preserved in the Targum, which probably dates back to before the time of Christ, translates as ‘and Joab the son of Zeruiah knew that the heart of the king was to go out against Absalom’ (the verb being read in from 2 Samuel 13:39. Apart from ‘perceived’ there is no verb in the Hebrew text). It will be observed that the Targum agrees with the way that we have translated 2 Samuel 13:39 (and incidentally disagrees with the Rabbinic ideas). Thus we have the alternatives of either seeing this as referring to David’s antagonism towards Absalom in view of what he had done, possibly including attempts to have him extradited, or as seeing it as referring to his yearning love for Absalom, a love which is certainly revealed later. But the latter does not sit well with David’s being unwilling to allow Absalom into his presence even when he had been allowed to return to Jerusalem. Indeed had he yearned for him so affectionately he could undoubtedly have arranged a reconciliation a good time before, instead of waiting for a few years.
So our view is that what the text means is that Joab perceived the anger and antagonism that was still in David’s heart towards Absalom because he had slain Amnon, with the result that Absalom was still under the threat of blood vengeance from David and his family, while aware that in his heart David still had genuine affection for Absalom. And that he acted on that basis for his own interests, seeing Absalom as a possible heir to the throne, but never dreaming that Absalom would openly rebel.
2 Samuel 14:2-3
‘ And Joab sent to Tekoa, and fetched from there a wise woman, and said to her, “I pray you, feign yourself to be a mourner, and put on mourning apparel, I pray you, and do not anoint yourself with oil, but be as a woman who has for a long time mourned for the dead, and go in to the king, and speak on this manner to him.” So Joab put the words in her mouth.’
In the course of carrying out his plan Joab sent for a wise woman from Tekoa. It is noteworthy that while David would have sent for a prophet, Joab sent for a secular wise woman. He was not concerned for YHWH’s will but for his own. Such women were seen as wise women because they were old and experienced and had gained a reputation for behaving and speaking wisely (compare 2 Samuel 20:16). The fact that Solomon was noted for ‘wisdom’ might point to the fact that David encouraged such people, something of which Joab would be well aware. Her being seen as a ‘wise woman’ was probably by popular opinion rather than there being at this time a class of ‘wise men and women’. They would follow later.
He called on the woman to pretend to be a mourner, one who was in long term mourning for the death of a long dead husband. Thus she was to wear recognised mourning clothes, and was not to anoint herself with oil, as most Israelite women would do on approaching the king. The aim was in order to move David’s tender heart in her favour (Joab knew his man).
Then he gave her the gist of what he wanted her to say. The fact that Joab ‘put words into her mouth’ is stressed twice (see also 2 Samuel 14:19). The woman was not necessarily therefore coming forward with the truth. She was putting forward Joab’s case.
2 Samuel 14:4
‘ And when the woman of Tekoa spoke to the king, she fell on her face to the ground, and did obeisance, and said, “Help, O king.” ’
We should note here that the wise woman appears to have had no difficulty in approaching the king with her request, which gives the lie to Absalom’s claim later on that David was not open to being approached by his people (2 Samuel 15:3-4). Such a right of approach to Israel’s leading figure had long been a principle of Yahwism (and in fact was practised by many other kings who, even when very cruel, paradoxically liked to be seen as the ‘father’ or ‘shepherd’ of their people). Consider for example Exodus 18:15-16; Judges 4:4-5; 1 Samuel 7:15-16.
When she approached she made the usual obeisance to the king, falling on her face before him. This was a requirement for all who approached the king. Joab had to act similarly (2 Samuel 14:22). (It would be the same for all who approached David when he was sitting in state, even though it is often not mentioned. The exception may have been the royal family, although even they would have had to make some act of deference). Then she made to the king a plea for his assistance, crying, ‘Give me your help, O king’.
2 Samuel 14:5-7
‘ And the king said to her, “What ails you?” And she answered, “Of a truth I am a widow, and my husband is dead. And your handmaid had two sons, and they two strove together in the field, and there was none to part them, but the one smote the other, and killed him. And, behold, the whole family is risen against your handmaid, and they say, ‘Deliver him who smote his brother, that we may kill him for the life of his brother whom he slew, and so destroy the heir also.’ Thus will they quench my coal which is left, and will leave to my husband neither name nor remainder upon the face of the earth.”
When the king asked her what her problem was she claimed that she was a widow with two sons, one of whom had accidentally killed the other in a fight. The result was that the whole family were demanding blood vengeance against the surviving son, reminding themselves at the same time that he was the heir to his father’s property. In other words their thoughts were more of taking over the dead man’s inheritance, than of really wanting justice. Justice and blood vengeance were simply the excuse. We can see how cleverly Joab’s words, put into the woman’s mouth, were designed to move the king’s sense of justice and fairplay.
And then the wise woman pointed out what this would mean for her. She would lose her one hope in life, the one thing that she lived for, the one desirable ‘burning coal’ that was left to her. His life would be snuffed out and quenched. And the further result would be that her husband’s name would not be preserved in Israel. Note that every new element that she introduced was describing what was seen in Israel as the most important things in life, indeed as every Israelite’s right; land inheritance, a son to support and care for his widowed mother, and the maintenance of a man’s name through his descendants. And they were all being threatened by greedy men who were making justice their excuse.
2 Samuel 14:8
‘ And the king said to the woman, “Go to your house, and I will give charge concerning you.”
The wise woman’s words had won David over to her side (as Joab had known they would) and so he informed her to be afraid no longer. He assured her that he himself would issue a royal decree that the son should not be harmed. The son would then be under royal protection and to harm him would then be a direct affront to the king. (It would be the equivalent of being in a City of Refuge). This decision was, in fact, to go against established precedent and the laws of the land, but possibly David had Cain in mind in making his decision, which was a case where YHWH Himself had set aside the recognised principle of blood vengeance (the setting aside of which was of course the point to be made later).
2 Samuel 14:9
‘ And the woman of Tekoa said to the king, “My lord, O king, the iniquity be on me, and on my father’s house, and the king and his throne be guiltless.” ’
The woman then nobly took on herself and her son all the guilt that might accrue from the decision, thereby acknowledging that she recognised that an ancient and sacred right was being set aside for her sake. This would impress the king with her clear intention of goodwill towards him, even if it was beyond her power to grant it. It would also remind the listener how serious the request was that she was making.
It is indicative of the authority that David felt that he now had, and even to some extent of his new royal arrogance, that he felt able to so override a longstanding principle of justice in such a case. It is apparent from this that he was becoming more and more despotic.
2 Samuel 14:10
‘ And the king said, “Whoever says anything to you, bring him to me, and he shall not touch you any more.” ’
The king then assured the woman that all that she had to do if her relatives caused trouble, was refer her adversaries to the king. If they had anything further to say she was to bring them to him. Then she could be sure that they would not touch her any more, (if they wanted to live).
2 Samuel 14:11
‘ Then she said, “I pray you, let the king remember YHWH your God, that the avenger of blood destroy not any more, lest they destroy my son.” And he said, “As YHWH lives, there shall not one hair of your son fall to the earth.” ’
Following up on this the woman now drew attention to and emphasised the main point, and that was that David was setting aside the right of blood vengeance. And apparently wanting him to realise what a serious thing that was to her, she called on David to recognise that he had made his promise in the presence of YHWH his God. Let him remember this in any action he took in the future.
Aware that the woman still appeared to be in need of assurance, David gave her what she sought, his solemn oath before YHWH that not one hair of her son’s head would fall to the earth (there is no doubt a poignancy in this phrase in the writer’s mind in that Absalom’s death would later be caused by his hair, which was one of his main features).
2 Samuel 14:12
‘ Then the woman said, “Let your handmaid, I pray you, speak a word to my lord the king.” And he said, “Say on.” ’
Acknowledging the king’s goodness the woman then asked if she could put a further request to the king for a boon. And David replied, ‘Say on.’
2 Samuel 14:13
‘ And the woman said, “Why then have you devised such a thing against the people of God? For in speaking this word the king is as one who is guilty, in that the king does not fetch home again his banished one.” ’
The woman then carefully put her new point as though it was a kind of aside, brought to her mind by what David has done for her ‘son’ (it was in order to make this new point appear as secondary that she shortly returned to speaking again about her own supposed case. She wanted to keep up the deception). She asked why, if he could make such a decision about setting aside blood vengeance in the case of a son of hers, he did not do the same in the case of his own banished son Absalom? Did he not realise that by being so obstinate he was actually harming the people of God who longed for Absalom’s presence once again among them? So while the king was not to be held guilty for what he has done for her ‘son’, he was definitely to be seen as ‘like one who is guilty’ for not fetching home his ‘banished one’. (Note how she carefully avoided actually describing him as guilty. He was merely ‘like one who is guilty’. He was after all the king).
2 Samuel 14:14
“ For we must necessarily die, and are as water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again, nor does God take away life, but devises means, so that he that is banished continue not as an outcast from him.”
She then pointed out that while we must all necessarily die, becoming like water spilled on the ground which is gone for ever, nevertheless God holds life as precious, and thus, rather than taking away people’s lives, devises means by which they may come once more into His presence, and no longer be banished outcasts (i.e. through offerings and sacrifices). The implication was that David should be God-like and devise means for bringing back his own banished outcast, Absalom, without seeking his life, because life is precious.
2 Samuel 14:15-16
“ Now, therefore, seeing that I am come to speak this word to my lord the king, it is because the people have made me afraid, and your handmaid said, ‘I will now speak to the king, it may be that the king will perform the request of his servant. For the king will hear, to deliver his servant out of the hand of the man that would destroy me and my son together out of the inheritance of God.’ ”
Recognising that her request might appear somewhat forward she then hastily pointed out that the reason that she had made the request was because when people had heard that she was approaching the king they had put pressure on her to bring up Absalom’s case, so much so that they had ‘made her afraid’. And that was why, confident that the king would hear her concerning her son, as he now graciously had, she had assured the people that perhaps he might also be willing to hear their request on Absalom’s behalf. The impression that she intended give was that she was very grateful indeed for what David had done for her, but that Absalom had won the hearts of the people as the king’s handsome son, and that it was due to their longing for his return that she had added this further request, a request which she hoped he would also hear.
2 Samuel 14:17
“ Then your handmaid said, ‘Let, I pray you, the word of my lord the king be comfortable, for as an angel of God, so is my lord the king to discern good and bad, and YHWH your God be with you.”
She then expressed her hope that David’s response would be ‘comfortable’, that is, comforting to his people, having in mind that they all saw him as like a messenger (angel) of God (compare 1 Samuel 29:9), one who discerned what was really good and really bad (or ‘discerning everything’, that is, everything that lay between two extremes). And she closed off with the prayer that YHWH his God would be with him, especially in his making the right decision.
2 Samuel 14:18
‘ Then the king answered and said to the woman, “Do not hide from me, I pray you, anything that I shall ask you.” And the woman said, “Let my lord the king now speak.” ’
The cleverness of the woman’s approach is evident. By her story she had persuaded the king to abrogate the principle of blood vengeance in the case of her dead husband’s son and heir, and she wanted him to think that her approaching the king had meanwhile been taken advantage of by his concerned people in order to persuade him to abrogate the principle of blood vengeance in the case of Absalom. That, of course, being only a secondary reason for her visit. But she was thereby ‘pulling his strings’ and making him feel guilty for behaving unjustly towards Absalom, in that he could show mercy towards the son and heir of another, but not to his own son and heir
David, however, was a very shrewd man, and he was beginning to recognise behind her approach the hand of another who had also seemingly been trying to persuade him to bring Absalom back. So he challenged her not to hide from him anything that he should ask of her, to which she basically agreed.
2 Samuel 14:19-20
‘ And the king said, “Is the hand of Joab with you in all this?” And the woman answered and said, “As your soul lives, my lord the king, none can turn to the right hand or to the left from anything that my lord the king has spoken, for your servant Joab, he bade me, and he put all these words in the mouth of your handmaid. To change the face of the matter has your servant Joab done this thing, and my lord is wise, according to the wisdom of an angel of God, to know all things that are in the earth.”
He then challenged her as to whether it was Joab who was behind her words. The woman was taken totally by surprise, for she had thought that she had duped David into accepting her account as true, and that all was going well. We may see it as very probable, therefore, that she suffered some trepidation, for to lie to the king was a serious offence. Thus she recognised that her best plan was to confess all, pinning the blame squarely on Joab. Perhaps by that means, she hoped, he would spare her life.
So she expressed her deep admiration at the way that the king knew everything that was going on, discerning even which way people turned, whether to left or right, and admitted that it was indeed ‘his servant Joab’ who had ordered her to approach the king and what was more had ‘put the very words into her mouth’ (it was thus his fault not hers). Then she went on to point out that Joab’s aim had been to ‘change the face of the matter’ (in other words alter the king’s mind), but that the king was ‘wise, according to the wisdom of an angel of God’, and clearly knew everything that was on earth. Even David was not immune to this kind of excessive flattery, the kind of flattery so often offered to kings in those days.
2 Samuel 14:21
‘ And the king said to Joab, “Behold now, I have done this thing. Go therefore, bring the young man Absalom back.” ’
The writer then loses interest in the woman and proceeds to what resulted from her intervention. It appears from what follows that David felt bound by the decision that he had made on oath, even though it had been obtained by false pretences, and therefore felt that he must act on it, for he now recognised that what he had promised the woman applied to Absalom, and him alone. The result was that ‘the king’ called Joab into his presence and informed him somewhat abruptly that he could go and bring Absalom back. He was clearly acknowledging by this that he felt that he had committed himself by his promise and oath to the woman and must therefore honour what he had promised, even though it was against his inclination. This is brought out by the fact that later he would not acknowledge Absalom or allow him into his presence. It indicated that he was not at all pleased about having been manipulated in this way.
It is this fact that he felt reluctantly bound by the decision that he had reached, even though he had been duped into it, that explains why he acted so against his inclinations in allowing Absalom back, and then would not acknowledge him when he did arrive. Joab had, in fact, served him a very bad turn, something which would rebound on him in the future. Note that he described his decision so obtained as ‘this thing’. So his instruction to Joab that because he (David) had ‘done this thing’ he (Joab) could go and bring Absalom back, must be seen as very reluctantly given. He was learning that kings should be very careful before they made oaths about something which set aside the Law, even when it appeared relatively unimportant. For a king was bound by his sworn word.
(We today would not feel bound by a promise obtained under false pretences, but things were seen differently in those days (compare Joshua 9:3-27). Once a promise was made by a king on oath it was seen as totally binding, and it would appear that David recognised that his oath related to what the woman had really wanted, which was to bring back Absalom and not execute on him blood vengeance, and that in fact that was the only thing that she had wanted This interpretation is the only real explanation of his behaviour in calling Absalom back but not acknowledging him. While it is true that Absalom had not slain his brother by accident, nevertheless he had seen himself as carrying out the just sentence of the Law on someone who had committed incest. Thus it was open to him to argue that as the king’s son with responsibilities for ensuring the carrying out the Law (2 Samuel 8:18), and as the grandson of the king of Geshur whose granddaughter had been humiliated, he was only doing his duty. Of course, what David mainly had against him was that he had slain his own firstborn in this way. Had it been anyone else he would have approved of Absalom’s action).
Joab Brings Absalom Back To Jerusalem, But, To Absalom’s Chagrin, Not Initially Into The King’s Favour (2 Samuel 14:22-33 ).
As a result of the scheming of Joab, and the folly of David in his dealings with the wise woman of Tekoa, Absalom was allowed to return to Jerusalem, inviolate. But he was unforgiven, and thus he was not restored to his former status as the acknowledged son of the king. This augured well for no one, for Absalom had the pride that came from descent from two royal families, and he found his position intolerable, and he had probably returned with the expectation of being reinstated as the heir apparent. It is in fact probably from this time that we are to date the growth of his hatred of his father, the hatred which resulted in his rebellion, and which was possibly stoked up even further by the fact that he may well now have been living in the same house as the shadow of what remained of his sister, Tamar, the royal princess of Geshur. Both he and his sister had genuine cause to be aggrieved. Had David dealt rightly with Amnon none of this, apart from the rape, would have happened, and Amnon’s execution might well have assisted Tamar in coping with her problem, dealing with her shame and putting her on the road to recovery. Much therefore lay at David’s door.
Finally Absalom could stand the situation no longer. It was not for this that he had returned from Geshur. His expectancy had been that he would be restored to his former position and be seen as in line for the throne. He would feel that David should not have summoned him back otherwise. And now he was rather being treated as a leper. So when Joab would not respond to his appeals for help he took drastic action, the kind of action that should have acted as a warning for the future, which eventually resulted in a reconciliation with the king, . But it is probable that he now suspected that the throne would not be his on David’s death,
a And Joab fell to the ground on his face, and did obeisance, and blessed the king, and Joab said, “Today your servant knows that I have found favour in your sight, my lord, O king, in that the king has performed the request of his servant” (2 Samuel 14:22).
b So Joab arose and went to Geshur, and brought Absalom to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 14:23).
c And the king said, “Let him turn to his own house, but let him not see my face.” So Absalom turned to his own house, and saw not the king’s face (2 Samuel 14:24).
d Now in all Israel there was none to be so much praised as Absalom for his beauty, from the sole of his foot even to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him (2 Samuel 14:25).
e And when he cut the hair of his head (now it was at every year’s end that he cut it, because it was heavy on him, therefore he cut it), he weighed the hair of his head at two hundred shekels, after the king’s weight (2 Samuel 14:26).
d And to Absalom there were born three sons, and one daughter, whose name was Tamar. She was a woman of a fair countenance (2 Samuel 14:27).
c And Absalom dwelt two full years in Jerusalem, and he did not see the king’s face (2 Samuel 14:28).
b Then Absalom sent for Joab, to send him to the king, but he would not come to him, and he sent again a second time, but he would not come. Therefore he said to his servants, “See, Joab’s field is near mine, and he has barley there. Go and set it on fire.” And Absalom’s servants set the field on fire. Then Joab arose, and came to Absalom to his house, and said to him, “Why have your servants set my field on fire?” And Absalom answered Joab, “Behold, I sent to you, saying, ‘Come here’, that I may send you to the king, to say, ‘Why am I come from Geshur? It were better for me to be there still. Now therefore let me see the king’s face, and if there be iniquity in me, let him kill me’ ” (2 Samuel 14:29-32).
a So Joab came to the king, and told him, and when he had called for Absalom, he came to the king, and bowed himself on his face to the ground before the king, and the king kissed Absalom (2 Samuel 14:33).
Note that in ‘a’ Joab fell to the ground and did obeisance, and was grateful for a benefit received from the king, and in the parallel Absalom bows himself on his face to the ground and receives the king’s favour. In ‘b’ Joab brings Absalom home from Geshur, and in the parallel Absalom wants to know from Joab what the point was of bringing him home from Geshur if he could not see the king’s face. In ‘c’ Absalom returned but was not allowed to see the king’s face, and in the parallel he dwelt in Jerusalem for two years but did not see the king’s face. In ‘d’ Absalom was without blemish in his appearance, and in the parallel he was fruitful and his daughter was fair to look upon. Central in ‘e’ was the length and weight of his hair, a sign of extreme manliness and comeliness, both attributes desirable in a king.
2 Samuel 14:22
‘ And Joab fell to the ground on his face, and did obeisance, and blessed the king, and Joab said, “Today your servant knows that I have found favour in your sight, my lord, O king, in that the king has performed the request of his servant.” ’
When Joab learned that David was fulfilling his oath to the wise woman as though he had made it to Joab himself (he also may have been feeling apprehensive of what repercussions might be forthcoming), he came into David’s presence and fell on his face to the ground and did obeisance, expressing his gratitude in great humility because he had ‘found favour in David’s sight’ sufficient for him to grant his request. He was probably also secretly relieved.
2 Samuel 14:23
‘ So Joab arose and went to Geshur, and brought Absalom to Jerusalem.’
Then following up on David’s permission he arose and went to Geshur and brought Absalom home to Jerusalem, presumably with great pomp. No doubt both Joab and Absalom were expecting Absalom’s full reinstatement. They would have felt that otherwise David should not have agreed to his coming. What both probably did not recognise was that David was only doing it because he felt himself bound by his oath made in the name of YHWH to the woman of Tekoa (4:11), whose ‘son’ had turned out to be Absalom, an oath that had been tricked out of him.
2 Samuel 14:24
‘ And the king said, “Let him turn to his own house, but let him not see my face.” So Absalom turned to his own house, and saw not the king’s face.’
The king was therefore obdurate. Absalom must turn for shelter to his own house. He was not to be allowed to see the king’s face. It may well be that David’s guilt feelings for not having done more than he had, had caused him to harden his own heart. He would have known that he should have done more about what Amnon had done, and his contacts with the king of Geshur would undoubtedly have emphasised the fact. But what he could not forget or forgive was that Absalom had raised his hand against a royal personage in the person of Amnon, without his permission. He had deeply offended the king. It is quite clear that David did not really want Absalom back in Jerusalem. Joab had thus served him a bad turn.
2 Samuel 14:25
‘ Now in all Israel there was none to be so much praised as Absalom for his beauty, from the sole of his foot even to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him.’
But to a king’s son, who was also famed for his looks and for his virility (as revealed by his hair) this situation was unbearable. For while David wanted nothing to do with him Absalom was the idol of all Israel. None was so much praised for his handsome face, and for his overall beauty in that there was no blemish on him anywhere.
2 Samuel 14:26
‘ And when he cut the hair of his head (now it was at every year’s end that he cut it, because it was heavy on him, therefore he cut it), he weighed the hair of his head at two hundred shekels, after the king’s weight.’
And his hair (which would eventually be the death of him) was a sight to behold. It grew so luxuriously that he had to have it cut once a year because it became too heavy for him (compare Ezekiel 5:1). And when he had cut it, it was found (by him) to weigh ‘200 shekels after the king’s weight’. We are not sure what a shekel weighed although it has been suggested that it may have been up to 13 grams, which would give 2:6 kilograms or 6 pounds. But the royal shekel may have been less. The weight would, of course, have included the extra weight caused by oils added to the hair over the year. This act of weighing the hair may have been connected with the practise of the giving of gold or silver to the poor based on the weight of the hair, a custom certainly practised later by the Arabs, and possibly familiar among the Geshurites. Such giving would have been typical of Absalom in his bid to find favour.
(Note that the weight given is as assessed by him. It is always possible that he and his servants actually overstated the real weight of his hair so as to make a more powerful impression on all who learned of it).
It would appear to have been normal for Israelite men to have shoulder length hair, and some fierce warriors appear to have let their hair hang loose (although not untidily) when they went into battle (see for example Judges 5:2 Hebrew text; Deuteronomy 32:42 Hebrew text). So the idea behind the mention of Absalom’s hair may have been with the purpose of indicating his manliness and soldier-like qualities, combined with his generosity. In other words he was overall to be seen as a splendid kind of man.
2 Samuel 14:27
‘ And to Absalom there were born three sons, and one daughter, whose name was Tamar. She was a woman of a fair countenance.’
Furthermore not only did he have luxurious hair but Absalom was also fruitful, and had three sons, three being seen as signifying completeness. Sadly it would appear that the sons died young, which is probably why their names are not given, and that would explain why he later raised a pillar because he had no sons to carry on his name (2 Samuel 18:18). Such infant deaths were by no means uncommon, and would not have been seen as diminishing his reputation for fruitfulness. Furthermore his daughter Tamar did survive and her beauty was seen as a credit to him, so that he received added praise through his daughter. Overall then he is depicted as a magnificent kind of person. However, such a description in Samuel regularly acts as a warning of someone outwardly suitable, but who may in the end turn out not to be suitable. Compare the descriptions of the magnificence of both Saul and Eliab (1 Samuel 9:2; 1 Samuel 16:6-7) neither of whom proved suitable in the end. For while man looks at the outward appearance, YHWH looks at the heart.
It would appear that Absalom named his daughter Tamar after his sister. However, in 2 Chronicles 11:21 a daughter of ‘Absalom’ is apparently called Maacah. (On the other hand 1 Kings 15:2 says that Maacah was the daughter of Abi-shalom). It may therefore be that there were two Absaloms, one of whom was better known as Abi-shalom. Alternatively Maacah (the name also of Absalom’s mother) may have been a second name given to Tamar on her marriage, (or at birth), linking her with the royal house of Geshur and with her royal grandmother. Giving a new name on marriage was a common practise in the Ancient Near East (compare Genesis 26:34 with Genesis 36:2), and having two names was not uncommon. A third alternative is that Maacah was a daughter born to Absalom in Geshur, who remained there with her grandparents and is thus not mentioned in this narrative.
2 Samuel 14:28
‘ And Absalom dwelt two full years in Jerusalem, and he did not see the king’s face.’
With all his beauty and ability Absalom was not acceptable to the king. The contrast is deliberate. Men saw his outward appearance, David saw his heart. Thus Absalom lived two full years in Jerusalem and never saw the king’s face. In other words for two years he was excluded from court, and from meeting the king. Such treatment began to gnaw at his heart, for in his view he was the heir-presumptive, and he knew himself to be a king’s son through both of his parents, and had learned to be treated as such. Better then to be in Geshur and be treated royally with honour, than to be spurned in Jerusalem, with seemingly no entry to the court and no hope of the succession. He became more and more bitter as the months went by.
2 Samuel 14:29
‘ Then Absalom sent for Joab, to send him to the king, but he would not come to him, and he sent again a second time, but he would not come.’
In the end he felt that enough was enough and he called for Joab with a view to asking him to intercede for him to the king. But to his chagrin he discovered that now even Joab would not come to him. Joab, following his usual tactic, had recognised that Absalom was not in full favour, and was therefore someone to be avoided. This would have annoyed Absalom even further. He was not used to being treated in this way.
2 Samuel 14:30
‘ Therefore he said to his servants, “See, Joab’s field is near mine, and he has barley there. Go and set it on fire.” And Absalom’s servants set the field on fire.’
However, ensuring that Joab came to see him was not too difficult. He did it by means of the strategy of getting his servants to set Joab’s fields on fire. It is possible that he tried to make it look accidental, for setting fire to someone else’s barley deliberately would have been seen as a serious offence. But Joab would probably not have been in any doubt about the situation. It was the kind of thing that he would have done himself.
But the writer’s purpose in giving this detail was in order to bring out that while Absalom was an outwardly splendid man, underneath he had a ruthless streak. It is already a warning of what is to follow. It demonstrated that if Absalom did not get his own way he was prepared to use violence in order to obtain it. To set alight a person’s barley was a major crime in which few would have indulged (compare the consequences to Samson’s family in Judges 15:4-6).
2 Samuel 14:31
‘ Then Joab arose, and came to Absalom to his house, and said to him, “Why have your servants set my field on fire?” ’
Meanwhile the strategy worked. It inevitably brought Joab to Absalom’s house in order to complain that Absalom’s servants had set his fields on fire and in order to discover the reason for it.
2 Samuel 14:32
‘ And Absalom answered Joab, “Behold, I sent to you, saying, ‘Come here’, that I may send you to the king, to say, ‘Why am I come from Geshur? It were better for me to be there still. Now therefore let me see the king’s face, and if there be iniquity in me, let him kill me.’ ”
Absalom admitted nothing, but simply pointed out that he had already called on Joab to visit him so that he could send him to the king to ask him, if he did not intend to allow him to see his face, what the point had been of bringing him from Geshur. In such circumstances he would have been far better off in Geshur where he was treated with all honour. Let Joab therefore tell the king that he was prepared to stand trial and take whatever sentence was passed, but that he could no longer stand being ostracised.
“If there be iniquity in me, let him kill me.” His words suggest that if he was arraigned he considered that he had a good defence. After all Amnon had committed incest with his sister, a princess of Geshur, and thus in accordance with the Law (and certainly by the laws of Geshur), had been doomed to die. He could have argued therefore that he had merely been carrying out the necessary sentence, acting as the king’s son and representative, as well as acting on behalf of the royal court of Geshur, to avenge their wrong. It was a case to which David would have little answer, for he should have dealt with Amnon himself. David did, of course, see it differently, but he would probably not want it to be argued out openly in court, even in one presided over by himself.
2 Samuel 14:33
‘ So Joab came to the king, and told him, and when he had called for Absalom, he came to the king, and bowed himself on his face to the ground before the king, and the king kissed Absalom.’
So when Joab came to David and informed him of the words of Absalom, David’s resistance seems to have crumbled, and he called for Absalom to come to him. And when Absalom came to him and bowed himself on his face to the ground before him, David received him with a royal kiss of reconciliation and forgiveness. It appeared that all was set fair for the future for both parties.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 14". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30