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Absalom Wins For Himself The Loyalty Of The People (2 Samuel 15:1-10.15.6 ).
Absalom had by now probably caught on to the fact that if he waited for David to die the throne would be given to someone else. and that would explain why he began to plan a coup. Initially his activity would only appear to be that of a rather vain king’s son, but gradually it built up into something more insidious as he began to convince the people that ‘if only he was in power’ all would get justice. And yet even that might have been looked on by David with some amusement as he saw it as being with the intention of building up support for when David died. He had overlooked the traits that indicated that when Absalom wanted anything, he was willing to do anything to obtain it.
At first sight all appears to go well for Absalom. Judah and Israel will be won over, Ahithophel the Wise will join him in Hebron in order that together they might commence the rebellion, and David will have to flee from Jerusalem for his life, leaving the way wide open for Absalom into the capital. It is all part of YHWH’s chastening of David for his great sins. But it will be made clear that YHWH has not rejected David, and that because David’s heart is still right towards him. Though he will chastise him severely (2 Samuel 7:14) he will then enable him to retain the kingship, and the remainder of the account will indicate how it is YHWH Who will be instrumental in defeating and humiliating Absalom, and thwarting all his plans.
· It is YHWH Who, when David learns that Ahithophel is aligned against him and prays for help, sends him Hushai the Archite who will confound the wisdom of Ahithophel (2 Samuel 15:31).
· It is YHWH who causes Absalom to prefer the counsel of Hushai to that of Ahithophel, even though Ahithophel’s counsel is almost like that of God (2 Samuel 16:23; 2 Samuel 17:14).
· It is YHWH who sends to David assurance of His goodwill, not only through the coming of Hushai, but also through the determined loyalty of Ittai the Gittite, through the Ark of God supervising his departure from Jerusalem, and through provisions being brought to him by Ziba the Saulide (2 Samuel 15:19 to 2 Samuel 16:4).
· Even the forest itself fights against Absalom and Israel (2 Samuel 18:8), and it is the forest which will take Absalom captive and make him ready for the slaughter (2 Samuel 18:9).
So Absalom’s defeat will finally be due to YHWH. On the other hand Absalom is also depicted as defeated by his vanity, as well as because he has rebelled against the anointed of YHWH. Thus:
· He listened to Hushai because whereas Ahithophel offered him sound wisdom, Hushai offered him great glory (2 Samuel 17:11).
· In striking contrast with David, he went into battle in person in order that the glory might be his ( 2Sa 17:26 ; 2 Samuel 18:3-10.18.4; 2 Samuel 18:9).
· He entered the forest riding on a royal mule, a factor which led to his downfall (2 Samuel 18:9).
· It was his flowing hair, of which he was so proud, that finally sealed his fate (2 Samuel 18:9-10.18.10).
So, as so often in history, it is God’s sovereign activity and man’s rebellion and folly which go hand in hand in order to accomplish God’s purposes, which was in this case the chastening of David because of his gross sins and complacency, and the destruction of those who rebelled against His Anointed.
Analysis of 2 Samuel 15:1-10.15.6 .
a And it came about after this, that Absalom prepared him a chariot and horses, and fifty men to run before him (2 Samuel 15:1).
b And Absalom rose up early, and stood beside the way of the gate, and it was so, that, when any man had a suit which should come to the king for judgment, then Absalom called to him, and said, “Of what city are you?” And he said, “Your servant is of one of the tribes of Israel”. And Absalom said to him, “See, your matters are good and right, but there is no man deputed of the king to hear you” (2 Samuel 15:2-10.15.3).
c Absalom said moreover, “Oh that I were made judge in the land, that every man who has any suit or cause might come to me, and I would do him justice!” (2 Samuel 15:4).
b And it was so, that, when any man came near to do him obeisance, he put forth his hand, and took hold of him, and kissed him. And in this manner did Absalom to all Israel who came to the king for judgment (2 Samuel 15:5-10.15.6 a).
a So Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel (2 Samuel 15:6 b).
Note that in ‘a’ Absalom puts on a show of splendour and in the parallel he steals the hearts of the men of Israel. In ‘b’ he seeks to subvert those who come for justice to Jerusalem, and in the parallel he seeks to win their heart’s response. Centrally in ‘c’ he declares what a good ruler he would be.
2 Samuel 15:1
‘ And it came about after this, that Absalom prepared him a chariot and horses, and fifty men to run before him.’
Absalom’s first move was to increase his reputation in the popular mind by travelling in a chariot and horses preceded by fifty runners. This display of pomp, common with many kings of the day, was intended to indicate to the people how important he was (compare 1 Kings 1:5-11.1.6; 1 Samuel 8:11). It underlined to them his supreme royal status. (Ordinary people are often impressed by great display).
2 Samuel 15:2
‘ And Absalom rose up early, and stood beside the way of the gate, and it was so, that, when any man had a suit which should come to the king for judgment, then Absalom called to him, and said, “Of what city are you?” And he said, “Your servant is of one of the tribes of Israel.” ’
But he went further. Every day he would go down to the city gate (which was where justice would normally be exercised) early in the morning and when anyone came by, who had come to see the king in order to seek justice, he would begin to chat with him and find out who he was and what his case was all about.
2 Samuel 15:3
‘ And Absalom said to him, “See, your matters are good and right, but there is no man deputed of the king to hear you.” ’
And once he knew the details he would point out to the man that his case was good and right, but that there did not appear to be anyone there, deputed by the king to hear it. Thus everyone got the impression that Absalom would certainly have ensured that their case was heard and that if only Absalom had heard their case they would have succeeded in their bid for justice.
We know in fact from the case of the wise woman of Tekoa that the court of David was open to such suppliants, but those who came (somewhat pensively because they were not sure what to expect, and knowing that justice was usually dispensed at the city gate) were no doubt soon persuaded that there was no opportunity of justice available because there was no one at the gate to dispense it, but that had Absalom been king it would have been very different. It is probable that in Jerusalem justice was not dispensed at the numerous gates of the city, but at a place appointed by the king. But the ordinary people visiting from other cities would not necessarily know that.
2 Samuel 15:4
‘ Absalom said moreover, “Oh that I were made judge in the land, that every man who has any suit or cause might come to me, and I would do him justice!” ’
Having given his assurance to each one who came that had he been ruler they would have succeeded in their case, Absalom would then proclaim for all within hearing to hear that if only he were king in the land every man would be able to come to him and would obtain justice, in other words would win his case.
2 Samuel 15:5
‘And it was so, that, when any man came near to do him obeisance, he put forth his hand, and took hold of him, and kissed him.’
And he not only assured each person that they would each obtain justice (as they saw it) from him, but when they approached him to do obeisance to him as the king’s son, he would wave it aside, put out his hand, take hold of them and kiss them as though they were his best friends.
2 Samuel 15:6
‘ And in this manner did Absalom to all Israel who came to the king for judgment. So Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel.’
This was the way in which Absalom behaved towards all in Israel who came to the king seeking justice. It was the way by which he ‘stole the hearts of all Israel’. Soon the word would get around which would convince the people of what a wonderful king Absalom would make. David was about to learn that if you invite a snake into your bed you should not be surprised if you are bitten.
Absalom Attempts A Coup (2 Samuel 15:7-10.15.11 ).
Once he felt that he had won over sufficient men of Israel and Judah to his side Absalom decided he would attempt a coup at Hebron. Hebron had been David’s previous capital city and was the capital city of Judah, and the inhabitants of Hebron may well have felt especially disaffected towards David because of his transfer of the status of capital city to Jerusalem. It may well be that at this time the Tabernacle was in Hebron, where a Tabernacle would have been set up by David when he was made king of Judah. If so, it would later be transferred to Gibeon (1 Kings 3:4), possibly as a result of what now happened. Being crowned at the Tabernacle (we are specifically informed that Absalom was anointed as king - 2 Samuel 19:10) would add to his legality in Israel’s eyes.
a And it came about at the end of forty years, that Absalom said to the king, “I pray you, let me go and pay my vow, which I have vowed to YHWH, in Hebron” (2 Samuel 15:7).
b “For your servant vowed a vow while I abode at Geshur in Syria, saying, ‘If YHWH shall indeed bring me again to Jerusalem, then I will serve YHWH” (2 Samuel 15:8).
c And the king said to him, “Go in peace.” So he arose, and went to Hebron (2 Samuel 15:9).
b But Absalom sent scouts throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, “As soon as you hear the sound of the trumpet, then you shall say, ‘Absalom is king in Hebron.’ ” (2 Samuel 15:10).
a And with Absalom went two hundred men out of Jerusalem, who were invited, and went in their simple innocence, and they knew nothing (2 Samuel 15:11).
Note that in ‘a’ Absalom wished to go to Hebron on a special occasion to pay his vow, and in the parallel he did so accompanied by two hundred men. In ‘b’ his pretence is that he is going to serve YHWH, and in the parallel his intended service of YHWH will turn out to be a very different one than David had thought. Centrally in ‘c’ David wishes him peace, and he goes off in order to rebel.
2 Samuel 15:7
‘ And it came about at the end of forty years, that Absalom said to the king, “I pray you, let me go and pay my vow, which I have vowed to YHWH, in Hebron.” ’
It is quite apparent from what follows that Absalom’s plotting continued, extending further and further through disaffected people until it had spread throughout large parts of Israel and Judah, especially in key cities, with the result that gradually he felt that his support had become wide enough for him to be able to act with a good chance of success. It is also apparent that one powerful group of such conspirators was in Hebron, a group which was sufficiently powerful to guarantee his acceptance there as king. Thus he appears to have had support in both Israel and Judah. This suggests that David’s popularity had, through the years, waned outside the capital away from the court. It may well be that once his military successes were behind him and the grateful country gradually began to accept its security as its right, it began to have greater expectations than David was fulfilling. It serves to bring out that David was perhaps not as good at local administration as he was at winning battles. Indeed much of his concentration would have been on the wider empire. As a consequence he had tended to overlook the need to keep his own people happy. All this must have been so for the rebellion to take hold so easily.
Hebron itself may also have become disillusioned because he had moved the centre of his government, and part of the emphasis on worship, away from that ancient sanctuary and from the Tabernacle, to Jerusalem with its sacred Tent containing the Ark. While Jerusalem was an equally ancient sanctuary with an ancient priesthood, it had until recently been a Canaanite sanctuary, and the enthusiasm of David had not necessarily been infectious outside the ranks of his own supporters.
“And it came about at the end of forty years.” The question that this raises is as to what the ‘end of forty years’ refers to. If we take the number literally then it produces a definite problem. There are a number of possibilities:
· Some have seen it as signifying forty years from the time when the kingship was first established and Saul was anointed king, but that is to ignore other evidence, for elsewhere we learn that Saul himself reigned for about forty years. He seemingly became king as a young man in the first stage of his life, and died alongside his adult sons who themselves had been warriors for many years. Furthermore Acts 13:21 would support such a period.
· Others see it as referring to forty years from David’s anointing, but it is difficult in that case to see why the writer should particularly have had that incident in mind without explaining the fact here.
· Many consider that the number four has been inaccurately copied as forty so that really we should read ‘four’ here. That would certainly be sufficient time for the rebellion to spread. But in our view emendation of the text in such a way without textual evidence must always be seen as the last resort (even granted that number symbols could easily be wrongly copied, or might even change in significance over centuries).
· The probability, therefore, is that we should rather see it as signifying, not a literal forty years, but the period from Absalom’s birth to the time when he attained maturity, sufficiently to rebel. Such a special event as coming to maturity would adequately explain why he took with him two hundred chosen men, who were totally unaware of what was really happening, in order to perform a vow, something which would surely have been suspicious had it not been on a very special occasion.
We can, for example, compare how in Genesis marriage consistently took place when someone was ‘forty years’ old, in other words was seen as mature enough for marriage (Genesis 25:20; Genesis 26:34). It is very unlikely that in either case they would literally have waited until they were forty years of age. But larger numbers were used in this general kind of way. See also Joshua 14:7, where Joshua said of himself that he was ‘forty years old’ when he was sent out as a spy into Canaan (which if taken literally would mean that he began the conquest when he was seventy eight years old), and compare the constant use of ‘forty years’ as indicating important periods in the books of Judges, Samuel and Kings, where it is unlikely that we should take them too literally (see Judges 3:11; Judges 5:31; Judges 8:28; Judges 13:1; 1 Samuel 4:18; 2 Samuel 2:10; 2 Samuel 5:4; 1 Kings 2:11; 1 Kings 11:42; 2 Kings 12:1). They may well in these cases signify ‘a generation’. This is not to say that the figure is ‘incorrect’. It is, in the terms of the time when it was written, fully correct. It was simply the Hebrew way of indicating a longish period which was complete in itself (compare the similar use of ‘forty days’), something not simply confined to the Hebrews. For we should remember that whereas we have been brought up to think numerically, the majority of ancients were innumerate and saw larger numbers as being used as adjectives in order to give an impression rather than as intended to be numerically accurate. This verse is thus probably saying that Absalom, having attained the age of maturity, wanted to go to Hebron to ‘pay his vow’. The age of maturity may actually have been twenty, the age at which he became eligible to fight for Israel (Numbers 1:3; etc), or twenty five, the age at which the Levite apprenticeship began (Numbers 8:24), or even thirty when the Levite (and presumably the priest) came to full maturity (Numbers 4:3; etc). Absalom was after all one of the king’s ‘priests’. This would also make sense as explaining why at this time he wished to fulfil his vow in order to be a true priest to YHWH, that is, to ‘serve YHWH’.
2 Samuel 15:8
“ For your servant vowed a vow while I abode at Geshur in Aram (Syria), saying, ‘If YHWH shall indeed bring me again to Jerusalem, then I will serve YHWH.”
Absalom then explained how when he was in Geshur he had made a solemn vow to YHWH that if He would restore him to his rightful position in Jerusalem, he would ‘serve Him’. The verb ‘to serve’ can have a general significance of obedience to YHWH (e.g. Deuteronomy 6:13) but it can also have the special significance of ‘serving’ in a levitical or priestly fashion (e.g. Numbers 3:7; Numbers 18:7). If the king’s sons were seen as ‘priests after the order of Melchizedek’, and as connected with the sanctuary as intercessory priests (see on 2 Samuel 8:18), this would make good sense. Others see it as signifying his intention to offer freewill sacrifices of thanksgiving. In the end, however, it was only really an excuse to go to Hebron without arousing suspicion.
2 Samuel 15:9
‘ And the king said to him, “Go in peace.” So he arose, and went to Hebron.’
Such a proposal that he should ‘serve YHWH’ would have gladdened the king’s heart for he would have wanted nothing more than that his sons properly fulfil their responsibilities towards YHWH. So totally unsuspectingly he bade him ‘go in peace’. This was a general farewell wish indicating a situation of wellbeing between the parties, but it gains special significance in this case because the reader and listener know that he is doing anything other than going in peace. And the consequence was that Absalom ‘went to Hebron’, to cause war.
2 Samuel 15:10
‘ But Absalom sent scouts throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, “As soon as you hear the sound of the trumpet, then you shall say, ‘Absalom is king in Hebron.’ ”
And it was from Hebron, where he was seemingly greeted as prospective king, (it is apparent that a number of negotiation must have been going on meanwhile), that he sent out messengers to selected groups with the news that when they heard the blowing of the ram’s horns then they were to declare that ‘Absalom is king in Hebron’. His coronation, when he would be anointed as king (2 Samuel 19:10), was evidently imminent. This stress on ‘in Hebron’ might suggest that there was general disaffection among many throughout the whole of Israel over David’s selection of a Canaanite stronghold as his capital city, something which Absalom was taking advantage of. Hebron at least was an ancient sanctuary of YHWH, and the home of the Tabernacle, and ancient traditions die hard. Many would not have been pleased with the change of emphasis to Jerusalem. Absalom was again playing the people for all he was worth.
2 Samuel 15:11
‘ And with Absalom went two hundred men out of Jerusalem, who were invited, and went in their simple innocence, and they knew nothing.’
Absalom took with him ‘two hundred men’ out of Jerusalem, men who were in simple innocence of what his motives were. Whether we take the two ‘hundreds’ as strictly numerical, or see it as indicating two family/clan or other groupings (Israelites and Geshurites?), such an invitation indicated that this was being seen as a very special occasion. And if it was so they were being taken in order to allay suspicions. They would, however, no doubt have been selected because they were known to be his ‘friends’.
David Learns Of The Rebellion And Flees Jerusalem While Absalom Enlists The Services of Ahithophel (2 Samuel 15:12-10.15.31 ).
Once messengers had gone out throughout Israel, and preparations had begun in Hebron for Absalom’s coronation (he was anointed by the people as king in Hebron - 2 Samuel 19:10), it was inevitable that David’s loyal supporters would bring him news of the fact, and on receiving that news David immediately determined to quit Jerusalem. He was aware of the unrest in the country and that being shut up in Jerusalem would have prevented him from gathering his own support around the country, and would also have cut him off from that support. It would also inevitably have brought destruction and desolation on Jerusalem itself. Thus he needed to find a safer haven in an area where he still had strong support, and from the intelligence that he had he clearly considered that to be in Transjordan. Furthermore the city that he had in mind, Mahanaim, was a recognised royal city in opposition to Hebron. (While David had reigned in Hebron, Ish-bosheth had reigned in Mahanaim). And they would be delighted to be recognised as such once more.
His immediate decision to leave Jerusalem and cross the Jordan into Transjordan meant that all those who were in Jerusalem also had to consider their own positions. The question was whether they should accompany David on his flight and subsequent fight back, or whether they should remain in Jerusalem and appear to be loyal to whoever ruled from Jerusalem. It would make David aware of who were truly his friends.
David was accompanied on his flight by the royal bodyguard, his loyal courtiers, his wives and concubines (apart from those left to tend his palace in Jerusalem), and many who also joined him as his loyal supporters. Absalom meanwhile hastily summoned Ahithophel to join him from his home city of Giloh, because he was aware that he needed his expert advice. The importance of Ahithophel, because of his wisdom, was clearly appreciated by both sides (2 Samuel 15:12; 2 Samuel 15:31). Both sides knew that his wise advice might turn the tide in favour of the one whom he supported, and his being summoned, and the description of his wisdom, forms an inclusio for this passage.
a And Absalom sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David’s counsellor, from his city, even from Giloh, while he was offering the sacrifices (2 Samuel 15:12 a).
b And the conspiracy was strong, for the people increased continually with Absalom. And there came a messenger to David, saying, “The hearts of the men of Israel are after Absalom” (2 Samuel 15:12-10.15.13).
c And David said to all his servants who were with him at Jerusalem, “Arise, and let us flee, for otherwise none of us will escape from Absalom. Make haste to depart, lest he overtake us quickly, and bring down evil on us, and smite the city with the edge of the sword” (2 Samuel 15:14).
d And the king’s servants said to the king, “Look, your servants are ready to do whatever my lord the king shall choose” (2 Samuel 15:15).
e And the king went forth, and all his household after him. And the king left ten women, who were concubines, to keep the house (2 Samuel 15:16).
f And the king went forth, and all the people after him, and they tarried in Beth-merhak (2 Samuel 15:17).
g And all his servants passed on beside him, and all the Cherethites, and all the Pelethites, and all the Gittites, six hundred men who came after him from Gath, passed on before the king (2 Samuel 15:18).
h Then the king said to Ittai the Gittite, “Why do you also go with us? Return, and abide with the king, for you are a foreigner, and also an exile. Return to your own place. Inasmuch as you came but yesterday, should I this day make you go up and down with us, seeing I go wherever I may? Return you, and take back your brothers. Mercy and truth be with you” (2 Samuel 15:19-10.15.20).
i And Ittai answered the king, and said, “As YHWH lives, and as my lord the king lives, surely in what place my lord the king shall be, whether for death or for life, even there also will your servant be” (2 Samuel 15:21).
h And David said to Ittai, “Go and pass over.” And Ittai the Gittite passed over, and all his men, and all the little ones who were with him (2 Samuel 15:22).
g And all the country wept with a loud voice, and all the people passed over. The king also himself passed over the brook Kidron, and all the people passed over, towards the way of the wilderness (2 Samuel 15:23).
f And, lo, Zadok also came, and all the Levites with him, bearing the ark of the covenant of God. And they set down the ark of God. And Abiathar went up, until all the people had done passing out of the city (2 Samuel 15:24).
e And the king said to Zadok, “Carry back the ark of God into the city. If I shall find favour in the eyes of YHWH, he will bring me again, and show me both it, and his habitation, but if he say thus, ‘I have no delight in you’, behold, here am I, let him do to me as seems good to him” (2 Samuel 15:25-10.15.26).
d The king said also to Zadok the priest, “Are you not a seer? Return into the city in peace, and your two sons with you, Ahimaaz your son, and Jonathan the son of Abiathar. See, I will tarry at the fords of the wilderness, until there come word from you to certify me” (2 Samuel 15:27-10.15.28).
c Zadok therefore and Abiathar carried the ark of God again to Jerusalem: and they abode there (2 Samuel 15:29).
b And David went up by the ascent of the mount of Olives, and wept as he went up, and he had his head covered, and went barefoot, and all the people who were with him covered every man his head, and they went up, weeping as they went up (2 Samuel 15:30).
a And one told David, saying, “Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom.” And David said, “O YHWH, I pray you, turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness” (2 Samuel 15:31).
Note that in ‘a’ Absalom sent for Ahithophel, and in the parallel David prayed that Ahithiophel’s advice might be seen by Absalom as foolishness. In ‘b’ all the people followed Absalom, and in the parallel all the people who followed David were weeping as they thought of what this was going to mean. In ‘c’ David and those who were with him in Jerusalem fled, and in the parallel, at David’s request, the Ark remained in Jerusalem and abode there. In ‘d’ all declared their willingness to do whatever David required, and in the parallel Zadok and his two sons were to return to Jerusalem before Absalom arrived there so as to attend to the Ark and act as seer in Jerusalem and also in order to keep David informed of what happened in Jerusalem. In ‘e’ David left his concubines to attend to his palace in Jerusalem and in the parallel he left Zadok, along with the Ark, to attend to YHWH’s habitation in Jerusalem. In ‘f’ David went forth and all the people after him, and tarried in Beth-merhak, and in the parallel Zadok and all the Levites came too him there bearing the Ark of God, along with Abiathar when all the people had finished passing out of the city. In ‘g’ all David’s courtiers and commanders passed on beside him, together with his bodyguard, and in the parallel all the people passed over, including the king himself. In ‘h’ David gives Ittai the Gittite and his ‘brothers’ permission to return because they are recently arrived foreigners and have no real duty owed to David, and in the parallel David gives Ittai permission to go over with him because he has declared his loyalty. Centrally in ‘i’ Ittai declares his loyalty to David ‘as YHWH lives’ demonstrating both his loyalty to YHWH and to David, thus symbolising the loyalty of all who were following David.
2 Samuel 15:12
‘ And Absalom sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David’s counsellor, from his city, even from Giloh, while he was offering the sacrifices. And the conspiracy was strong, for the people increased continually with Absalom.’
Even while Absalom was offering his sacrifices in Hebron in accordance with his proclaimed purpose for coming there, he sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David’s counsellor, to come from his home city Giloh to act as his adviser. Ahithophel's home city was in the mountains of Judah, to the south or south-west of Hebron (see Joshua 15:51). Meanwhile support for Absalom was growing as the news of his coup began to spread around. There is in this confirmation that there was general disillusionment about David’s kingship, possibly because in his period of complacency and arrogance, he had become too overbearing and inaccessible to the common people. He was no longer the David of Ziklag.
The importance of Ahithophel in this situation clearly cannot be overstated, as even David realised (2 Samuel 15:31). He was a man of genius such that his counsel was ‘as if a man had enquired at the oracle of God’ (2 Samuel 16:23), and it is in fact possible that had his advice been followed things might have turned out very differently (although not necessarily so, for while David might certainly have been at a disadvantage, there was no doubt that he was accompanied by an extremely efficient and militarily effective fighting force, and already had many friends gathering to him. He was never a man to be trifled with). But there is no doubt that following Ahithophel’s advice would certainly have given Absalom a better chance of succeeding. Indeed once Absalom refused his advice Ahithophel hung himself because he knew that with that refusal all hope of success had gone.
Ahithophel’s defection must be seen in the light of the fact that he was probably Bathsheba’s uncle. Bathsheba was the daughter of Eliam and Ahithophel had a son named Eliam who was one of David’s mighty men (2 Samuel 23:34). This would serve to explain the depth of his bitterness against David because of what he had done to his family, and his disaffection is emphasised by his being at Giloh at this time, either because he was no longer acting as counsellor, or because he was in on the conspiracy and had gone there in readiness for it. David was once more reaping what he had sown with Bathsheba.
2 Samuel 15:13
‘ And there came a messenger to David, saying, “The hearts of the men of Israel are after Absalom.” ’
Inevitably as the news of the growing tide in favour of Absalom spread around those who remained loyal to David sent messengers to David informing him of the revolt, and of the way in which people were flocking to Absalom’s banner.
2 Samuel 15:14
‘ And David said to all his servants who were with him at Jerusalem, “Arise, and let us flee, for otherwise none of us will escape from Absalom. Make haste to depart, lest he overtake us quickly, and bring down evil on us, and smite the city with the edge of the sword.” ’
On receipt of this news David recognised that his wisest course would be to leave Jerusalem, where he could have become entrapped by the arrival of Absalom’s forces, and move immediately into an area over the Jordan which had not been so affected by Absalom’s propaganda. From there he could then begin to organise his own counter measures. Transjordan was regularly the place of refuge for those who fled the central part of Israel, for the Transjordanians were, to some extent at least, a unit in themselves and historically their loyalty was not so tied in with the tribes on the western side of the Jordan. To quite a large extent they saw themselves as having their own agenda. And they would have been delighted at the thought that Mahanaim was being recognised once more as a royal city. David’s departure would also save Jerusalem from being taken before the defences could be properly and efficiently organised, something which would be accompanied by great slaughter, or alternatively from suffering the effects of a prolonged siege, with all the consequences that would then follow if the siege was successful. He could also not be sure quite how many in Jerusalem might be supporting Absalom.
2 Samuel 15:15
‘ And the king’s servants said to the king, “Look, your servants are ready to do whatever my lord the king shall choose.” ’
All his courtiers and commanders declared that they would acquiesce in whatever David decided was best. They clearly had full confidence in his ability to escape from the net that was drawing in around him, and were ready to trust his experience. He was after all the most outstanding general that Israel had ever had, and furthermore had under his command a fighting force which though small, was of massive experience and military efficiency.
2 Samuel 15:16
‘ And the king went forth, and all his household after him. And the king left ten women, who were concubines, to keep the house.’
So the king departed with all his household, including his wives and children and most of his concubines, and all the palace officers and servants, leaving behind a handful of concubines (‘ten’ often means ‘a number of’) to look after the needs of the palace. His hope was that Absalom would see no need to ill-treat his concubines. He should perhaps have foreseen what Ahithophel would advise Absalom to do, make use of the concubines for propaganda purposes by making love to them, but he seemingly either did not think of it, or did not consider that it mattered. There is no suggestion, however, that they were treated cruelly. Having to lie with ‘the king’ would simply have been seen as a reasonable part of their duties.
2 Samuel 15:17
‘ And the king went forth, and all the people after him, and they tarried in Beth-merhak.’
The king not only went forth with his household, but also with ‘all the people’, that means, of course, all his followers in Jerusalem, not stopping until they came to Beth-hermack (‘the house of the distances’) where they organised themselves and regrouped. Beth-hermack may have been the name given to the last house in the environs of greater Jerusalem which was seen as indicating its boundary. It would be the natural place to wait for all who wanted to join them in their flight as they arrived from different parts of the city and the countryside round about.
2 Samuel 15:18
‘ And all his servants passed on beside him, and all the Cherethites, and all the Pelethites, and all the Gittites, six hundred men who came after him from Gath, passed on before the king.’
David was not only accompanied by his own large household, but also by all his loyal courtiers and by his equally loyal bodyguard (‘his men’). This bodyguard included the highly effective Cherethites and Pelethites (see on 2 Samuel 8:18), possibly already under Benaiah’s command, who were both highly skilled and very experienced warriors. In view of the reference to ‘the six hundred’ (compare 1 Samuel 27:2 and often) ‘all the Gittites’ would appear simply to have been repeating the idea of the Cherethites and Pelethites (‘all the Cherethites and all the Pelethites, even all the Gittites’), called Gittites because they had been with David in Gath. These formed six military units. Whichever way we take the description they were not the kind of men you would wish to suddenly come up against in the mountains, something of which Absalom would be well aware. That was why he would choose the pathway of caution which guaranteed his downfall. Absalom may have had the numbers, but he knew perfectly well that David had the quality.
2 Samuel 15:19
‘ Then the king said to Ittai the Gittite, “Why do you also go with us? Return, and abide with the king, for you are a foreigner, and also an exile. Return to your own place.” ’
On top of David’s six hundred there was a mercenary force of Gittites under Ittai who were recent arrivals (the ‘six hundred’ might refer to them). David, however, did not see them as being under any obligation to stay with him in the circumstances. So when Ittai arrived in order to go with him he encouraged him to return and serve whoever was king in Jerusalem, pointing out that as a foreigner, and an exile from his own country, he only owed a duty to those who paid him. Alternately reference to ‘your own place’ may signify that the king in mind was Achish, the king of Gath, to whom he should return.
2 Samuel 15:20
“ Inasmuch as you came but yesterday, should I this day make you go up and down with us, seeing I go wherever I may? Return you, and take back your brothers. Mercy and truth be with you.”
After all Ittai had only come to Jerusalem recently (although ‘yesterday’ was probably not intended to be taken literally). How then could David expect him to share his flight down to the Jordan rift and then into Transjordan, going wherever he felt it necessary in order to avoid Absalom’s forces, not knowing what the outcome may be? He might even never have the means by which to pay them. So David suggested that he go back to Gath, and take with him his brother Philistines, and wished him ‘mercy and truth’.
2 Samuel 15:21
‘ And Ittai answered the king, and said, “As YHWH lives, and as my lord the king lives, surely in what place my lord the king shall be, whether for death or for life, even there also will your servant be.” ’
But Ittai was made of sterner stuff. He would having nothing of it. He knew enough about David to have summed him up, and he liked what he had seen. So he swore his loyalty to David on the life of YHWH (compare how Achish had done the same - 1 Samuel 29:6) and on the life of the king himself. He stressed that he was willing to follow David no matter whether such a path led to life or death, for he saw David as his true lord and king.
2 Samuel 15:22
‘ And David said to Ittai, “Go and pass over.” And Ittai the Gittite passed over, and all his men, and all the little ones who were with him.’
Acknowledging his bravery and loyalty David acquiesced in his position and told him to go forward and pass over along with the others. And so Ittai the Gittite passed over, along with all his mercenaries, and all their children who were with them. They added great strength to David’s arm. We can in fact see why Ahithophel was so eager for Absalom to catch David and his forces while they were still disjointed and unorganised. It was his only chance of defeating them. David certainly had with him ‘a hundred’ (and more) who would be quite capable of ‘putting ten thousand to flight’ (Leviticus 26:8).
2 Samuel 15:23
‘ And all the country wept with a loud voice, and all the people passed over. The king also himself passed over the brook Kidron, and all the people passed over, towards the way of the wilderness.’
Meanwhile the whole country was in mourning. We are not necessarily to see that they were weeping simply for David. They were indeed mainly weeping because civil war was coming and they did not like what they saw ahead. (To many it made little difference who was king as long as there was peace in the land). They knew that civil war was especially hard on everyone. Meanwhile all the people who were with David passed over the Wadi Kidron which was on the edge of Jerusalem towards the east before reaching the Mount of Olives. They were moving forward towards The Way of the Wilderness, the road which would lead them via Jericho into Transjordan. The Wadi Kidron was dry in summer but would flood with the winter rains.
2 Samuel 15:24
‘ And, lo, Zadok also came, and all the Levites with him, bearing the ark of the covenant of God. And they set down the ark of God. And Abiathar went up, until all the people had done passing out of the city.’
Along with all the others came Zadok and the Levites, bearing the Ark of the Covenant of God (suitably covered) which they had carried from the Tent in Jerusalem. And once there they took the Ark of God up a hillside and set it down where all the people could see it as they passed by as an indication that YHWH was with David. Meanwhile Abiathar the Priest had arrived later, possibly from the Tabernacle at Hebron, and he also went up on the hillside before the Ark in front of all the people. Thus all knew by this that YHWH was with David. And this continued until all the people who were likely to come had arrived and had finished passing out of the city.
2 Samuel 15:25-10.15.26
‘ And the king said to Zadok, “Carry back the ark of God into the city. If I shall find favour in the eyes of YHWH, he will bring me again, and show me both it, and his habitation, but if he say thus, ‘I have no delight in you’, behold, here am I, let him do to me as seems good to him.” ’
But David was not happy at the thought that the Ark of God should be required to join their wanderings. He had established it in a sacred Tent in Jerusalem, and in his view that was where it belonged. And he had no doubt that YHWH could help him from there. In his view to remove it would be an act of surrender and an indication that he was not expecting to return. So he informed Zadok that he should take it back to the city. As far as he was concerned all, including his own future, was in YHWH’s hands and YHWH would do whatever He would, no matter where His physical abode. Thus whether he himself was to find favour at YHWH’s hands did not depend on the whereabouts of the Ark, for YHWH was not limited and could work how and where He would. It simply depended on YHWH’s own will and purpose. And that was what mattered. If YHWH was intending to show favour to him then he would be brought safely back to the place where the Ark dwelt, but if YHWH was, on the other hand, now saying ‘I have no delight in you’, then he was willing to leave all in His hands. Let YHWH do to him what seemed good. Emergencies like this always brought out the best in David, and he was being reminded both of how dependent he was on YHWH, and how universal was His power.
2 Samuel 15:27
‘ The king said also to Zadok the priest, “Are you not a seer? Return into the city in peace, and your two sons with you, Ahimaaz your son, and Jonathan the son of Abiathar.” ’
David then pointed out to Zadok that he was a seer. He was thus one who could see farther than others, could even see into men’s hearts, and could act as David’s eyes in Jerusalem. That was why he and Abiathar should return there with his son and Abiathar’s son. It was clear that he was confident that Zadok and Abiathar would be safe in Jerusalem because they would be expected to be where the Ark of God was whoever ruled there. Their loyalty was to YHWH.
“Are you not a seer? Return into the city --” could equally be translated as, ‘You seer. Return to the city,’ but it makes little difference. The emphasis is on the fact that Zadok could ‘see’ beyond the ordinary. Whether this was because he and Abiathar could make use of the Urim in order to discern YHWH’s will, or because Zadok actually had special prophetic gifts, is not made clear to us. What mattered was that David’s expectation was that Zadok would be aware of all that was happening and yet, as long as he arrived back there before the coming of Absalom, would not be under suspicion because as a priest and prophet his place was with the Ark of God.
2 Samuel 15:28
“ See, I will tarry at the fords of the wilderness, until there come word from you to certify me.”
Meanwhile David would go on and tarry at the fords of the Jordan on the Way of the Wilderness until he had received certification as to what the true situation was from Zadok and Abiathar.
2 Samuel 15:29
‘ Zadok therefore and Abiathar carried the ark of God again to Jerusalem: and they abode there.’
Accordingly, in obedience to David’s wish, Zadok and Abiathar bore the Ark of God back to Jerusalem and continued their residence there. They were to be David’s eyes in Jerusalem.
2 Samuel 15:30
‘ And David went up by the ascent of the mount of Olives, and wept as he went up, and he had his head covered, and went barefoot, and all the people who were with him covered every man his head, and they went up, weeping as they went up.’
David and his attendants then went up over the Mount of Olives, and as he went he wept, had his hair covered, and went barefoot. These were all symbols of mourning and repentance before YHWH, and an indication of great distress (compare Esther 6:12; Ezekiel 24:17; Isaiah 20:2-23.20.3). David wanted YHWH to recognise that he recognised the sinfulness of his own heart and was aware that all this was a chastisement from YHWH because of his sins.
2 Samuel 15:31
‘ And one told David, saying, “Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom.” And David said, “O YHWH, I pray you, turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness.” ’
And as he went up the Mount someone came to him with the worst news that he had received up to this point. It was that his famed and wise counsellor Ahithophel had joined the rebellion on Absalom’s side, and was advising Absalom. Recognising what that could mean for the success of the rebellion David turned to the only One Whom he felt could help him in such a situation and prayed, “O YHWH, I pray you, turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness.” David knew how much depended on that prayer. He knew that Ahithophel’s advice could make all the difference between success and failure.
YHWH Answers David’s Prayer In The Person Of Hushai The Archite (2 Samuel 15:32-10.15.37 ).
Having prayed that YHWH would turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness in the eyes of Absalom, David made his way to the top of the Mount ‘where God was worshipped’ and there before his very eyes he saw the almost instant answer to his prayers in Hushai the Archite, his loyal and faithful counsellor who was known as ‘the King’s Friend’. Here if anywhere was the solution to his problem. For Hushai too had a reputation for wisdom, and if he was in the right place could hopefully counteract any counsel that Ahithophel gave. The appearance of Hushai at this very time would have been an encouraging sign to David that YHWH was still with him.
a And it came to about that, when David was come to the top of the ascent, where God was worshipped, behold, Hushai the Archite came to meet him with his coat torn, and earth on his head (2 Samuel 15:32).
b And David said to him, “If you pass on with me, then you will be a burden to me, but if you return to the city, and say to Absalom, ‘I will be your servant, O king. As I have been your father’s servant in time past, so will I now be your servant.’ Then will you defeat for me the counsel of Ahithophel” (2 Samuel 15:33-10.15.34).
c “And have you not there with you Zadok and Abiathar the priests?” (2 Samuel 15:35 a).
b “Therefore it shall be, that whatever thing you shall hear out of the king’s house, you will tell it to Zadok and Abiathar the priests. Behold, they have there with them their two sons, Ahimaaz, Zadok’s son, and Jonathan, Abiathar’s son, and by them you will send to me everything that you shall hear” (2 Samuel 15:35-10.15.36).
a So Hushai, David’s friend, came into the city, and Absalom came into Jerusalem (2 Samuel 15:37).
Note that in ‘a’ Hushai the Archite came out of the city to meet David, and in the parallel he returned to the city in time to meet Absalom. In ‘b’ he was to act to counter the wisdom of Ahithophel before Absalom, and in the parallel he was to act as the king’s eyes in the house of Absalom. Central in ‘c’ was the important fact of the presence of Zadok and Abiathar the priests in the city who would give him their support. So even before Absalom arrived in the city David had planted counter-conspirators to act on his behalf.
2 Samuel 15:32
‘ And it came to about that, when David was come to the top of the ascent, where God was worshipped, behold, Hushai the Archite came to meet him with his coat torn, and earth on his head.’
As David reached the top of the Mount of Olives ‘where God was worshipped’ he saw Hushai the Archite hurrying to meet him, bearing in his person all the signs of grief over what was happening. Both the tearing of the coat and the earth on the head expressed his deep emotion. Hushai the Archite was one of David’s counsellors and was known as David’s Friend which was probably the title resulting from his official position as his chief personal adviser. He was almost certainly old, a wise man seen as having the extra wisdom that came with age. His being an Archite probably linked him with the family whose possessions were on the southern boundary of the tribe of Ephraim, between Bethel and Ataroth as described in Joshua 16:2.
That God ‘was worshipped’ at the top of the Mount of Olives is a reminder that in David’s day there were still high places where YHWH was worshipped. As we have seen previously, once the one sanctuary at Shiloh had ceased there were a number of places where YHWH worship was carried on. It was fitting that at such a place he would receive the answer to his prayers in such a specific way.
2 Samuel 15:33-10.15.34
‘ And David said to him, “If you pass on with me, then you will be a burden to me, but if you return to the city, and say to Absalom, ‘I will be your servant, O king. As I have been your father’s servant in time past, so will I now be your servant.’ Then will you defeat for me the counsel of Ahithophel.” ’
Recognising in this an almost instant answer to his prayer concerning Ahithophel, David pointed out to Hushai that if he went with them he would only delay them because of his age, but if on the other hand he returned to the city and pretended to submit to Absalom he would hopefully be able to defeat the counsel of Ahithophel.
2 Samuel 15:35
“ And have you not there with you Zadok and Abiathar the priests? Therefore it shall be, that whatever thing you shall hear out of the king’s house, you will tell it to Zadok and Abiathar the priests.”
Furthermore he was not to think that he would be alone there. For Zadok and Abiathar the priests would also be with him in Jerusalem. Thus whatever he learned in Absalom’s palace he could pass on to them.
2 Samuel 15:36
“ Behold, they have there with them their two sons, Ahimaaz, Zadok’s son, and Jonathan, Abiathar’s son, and by them you will send to me everything that you shall hear.”
Then Zadok and Abiathar would be able to send to the king their two sons, Ahimaaz and Jonathan, with any information that was gleaned, assuming that it was considered of sufficient importance to pass on.
2 Samuel 15:37
‘ So Hushai, David’s friend, came into the city, and Absalom came into Jerusalem.’
So Hushai, David’s ‘Friend’ (his most prominent personal adviser), fell in with David’s suggestion and returned to the city, and he was only just in time, for with David’s fifth column now safely in position Absalom arrived soon afterwards in Jerusalem with his troops, unaware of the groundwork that David had laid. It was, of course, difficult for Absalom to know who could be trusted or who could not. That is one problem with a rebellion. How do you know which of those who have joined you are genuine rebels, and are ‘patriots’ who want to do their best for their country whoever is in charge, and which are actually spies and likely to be subversive? Even the most disaffected would have had to pretend to be loyal to David. Hushai then appeared no different from the others.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 15". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany