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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary

2 Samuel 17

Verses 1-24

CRITICAL AND EXPOSITORY NOTES.

2 Samuel 17:1. “This night,” “The night following David’s flight and Absalom’s entrance into Jerusalem, as we may see very clearly from 2 Samuel 17:16.” (Keil)

2 Samuel 17:3. “Bring back.” “Ahithophel regards Absalom’s government as the only lawful one to which those fugitives must submit; their flight is in his eyes an act of insubordination, from which they are to be brought back.”—(Erdmann and others). “The man whom thou seekest,” etc. This is a very obscure phrase, but many expositors understand it to mean—“the removal of David is tantamount to the return of all the people to thee.”

2 Samuel 17:7. “At this time.” “His former advice was good (2 Samuel 16:21), but not this.”

2 Samuel 17:8. “Will not lodge,” etc. So that it would be impossible to surprise and slay him, as Ahithophel suggests.

2 Samuel 17:9 “Some of them be overthrown,” etc. Hushai suggests that David, from his hiding place will surprise and defeat Absalom’s followers. “It is likely that Absalom was not a man of courage, and Hushai, knowing this, adroitly magnified the terror of the prowess of David and his men.” (Biblical Commentary).

2 Samuel 17:11. “Thine own person.” Hushai insinuates that Ahithophel by his counsel had been indulging in an egotistical vaunting, Ahithophel had said, “I will arise; I will come upon him,” etc.; and he insinuates also that Ahithophel had been desirous of robbing Absalom of the glory of the victory over David, and of assuming it to himself. And thus Hushed practises on Absalom’s vain glory and self love. (Wordsworth).

2 Samuel 17:12. “As the dew.” “This figure, together with that of the sand, fitly sets forth the swift and quiet settling of the huge host upon the enemy. And with this accords perfectly the statement of the success of the attack.” (Erdmann).

2 Samuel 17:13. “Draw it into the river.” A bold hyperbole, designed to produce a momentary effect.

2 Samuel 17:14. “The Lord had appointed,” etc. “All that Hushai had said about the bravery and heroism of David and his followers was well founded. The deception lay in the assumption that all the people from Dan to Beersheba would crowd around Absalom as one man; whereas it might easily be foreseen that after the first excitement of the revolution was over, and greater calmness ensued, a large part of the nation and army would gather around David. But such a possibility as this never entered into the minds of Ahithophel and his supporters. It was in this that the Divine sentence was seen.” (Keil.)

2 Samuel 17:16. “The plains,” Rather, the fords or ferries. “Lest the king,” etc. Lit., les there be a swallowing up. “Either destruction to the king, it will fall upon him, or, if we supply the subject from the previous clause, that it (the transit) may not be swallowed up or cut off from the king.” (Keil.)

2 Samuel 17:17. “En-rogel” Or “Fuller’s fountain.” Many identify this with the modern fountain of Job, or Nehemiah, situated at the junction of the Valleys of Kedron and Hinnon, but Josephus describes the incident recorded in 1 Kings 1:9, as taking place in the royal garden, and Dr. Bonar identifies En-rogel with the present “Fountain of the Virgin,” the perennial source from which the pool of Siloam is supplied. Among other arguments in favour of this view he remarks that the fountain of Job is a well and not a spring, and that it is too far off from Jerusalem and from the road over Olivet to Jordan and too much in view of the city to meet the requirements of this chapter. Mr. Grove (Biblical Dictionary) adds to these considerations the fact that the fountain of the Virgin is still the great resort of the women of Jerusalem for washing and treading their clothes, and that Rogel is generally held to be derived from the Hebrew Ragel to tread. “Wench.” Hebrew, the maid servant, one belonging to the high priest’s household.

2 Samuel 17:18. “A well.” “A cistern, then empty. It seems to have been summer time.” (Wordsworth.)

2 Samuel 17:19. “The woman.” The man’s wife. “Ground corn.” Groats or peeled barley. The article before the noun indicates that she was occupied at the time with the grain. Josephus says she laid fleeces of wool over the men.

2 Samuel 17:21. “The water,” i.e., the Jordan. “The circumstances of that distressing flight, aggravated by the lone hour of midnight, and the roar of the numerous cataracts of the Jordan, are graphically depicted in Psalms 13, 43, which, although bearing the name of the sons of Korah, represent vividly and fully the feelings of the disconsolate but pious monarch.” (Jamieson.) “Mahanaim” (See on 2 Samuel 2:8.) “Probably a fortified city.” (Keil.)

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—2 Samuel 17:1-24

THE DEATH OF AHITHOPHEL

The account given here of Ahithophel is very brief, and is a record of only a few weeks of his life, yet it is enough to enable us to see what manner of man he was. He exhibits in a large degree three characteristics found in most godless men—in men who are not governed by a desire to please God—who are, in fact, so far as it is possible, a law unto themselves.

I. They are fickle men. If self-interest be the guiding principle of a man’s life, even his most intimate acquaintance can never be quite certain what his next step in life may be. For a man who makes his temporal well-being the pole-star of life will not be sure long together which is the road to it. What may seem expedient to-day may appear inexpedient to-morrow, and he will often be found giving up the pursuit of one prize to follow after another which looks more tempting. The downward road is not only broad, but it has many by-paths and windings, so that one never knows exactly where to find him who walks in it. Only the man who follows after righteousness—who takes God and his conscience for his guides, can be safely trusted in as unchangeable in the great purpose and direction of his life. Ahithophel had been implicitly trusted by David, and there had doubtless been a time when it would have seemed impossible to others and perhaps to himself that he should even be found among the king’s enemies. But circumstances had changed, and Ahithophel had changed his front with them.

II. They are proud men. This sin is, perhaps, at the root of all ungodliness, for it was the sin of the angels that kept not their first estate and “is,” says Thomas Adams, “the first thing that lives and the last that dies in us.” In some form or other it is a characteristic of all ungodly souls, leading them, as it did Ahithophel, to be mortified at any depreciation of themselves and their doings, and oftentimes hurrying them on to some desperate deed of wickedness. While their wishes are followed and their advice sought before all others, they are content and active, but as soon as they meet with a check they are driven by conflicting passions like a vessel struck by cross seas, and like it, shipwreck is often the end. Like every other form of ungodliness, pride is a foolish passion which recoils upon him who gives it the mastery over him. The counsel of Ahithophel had hitherto been as the oracle of God, first to David and then to Absalom, but a little reflection might have shown him that his present master was, like himself, governed by no sense of duty or motives of gratitude, and was not likely to be more true to him than he himself had been to David. It was then very unlikely that Absalom would give him unlimited control over the rebellion any longer than his supposed interest was served by it. This is the way of the world, and he who does not take it into account in the shaping of his life is as unwise a man as he who puts out to sea expecting no contrary winds. But it is only in the service of the world that pride can be gratified at all; there is no place for it in the service of God. Pride, then, in all cases, as in the one before us, “goeth before destruction “—the destruction of the proud man’s schemes and sometimes of himself.

III. They are cowardly men. What a despicable exodus from the world does Ahithophel make! He is afraid to face the consequences of his own actions. Probably the rebellion would never have gone to the length which it did if Ahithophel had not been associated with it, and now, at the most critical point he leaves it to the direction of others, because he foresees its defeat. How different is the attitude of a man who embarks in an enterprise from a godly motive! He knows that he is not responsible for its success or failure, but only for his own faithfulness unto the end, and as he has not undertaken the cause to promote his own ends or gratify personal ambition, his own fate is the last thing that he thinks about. This enables him to meet reverses with fortitude and to be defeated without being disgraced. But those who are prompted by Ahithophel’s motives find themselves in the day of adversity destitute of that sustaining principle without which there can be no true and lasting courage, and often close very ignominiously a career which was once influential and prosperous.

OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS

2 Samuel 17:5. It was not unwise in Absalom to seek the advice of another experienced counsellor also (Proverbs 24:6); his fault was that he did not know which advice to follow, and was misled by high sounding and flattering words. In choosing counsellors, and in judging of their counsel, lies great part of the wisdom of life.—Translator of Lange’s Commentary.

2 Samuel 17:23. What a mixture do we find here of wisdom and madness! Ahithophel will needs hang himself; there is madness: he will yet set his house in order; there is an act of wisdom. And could it be possible that he, who was so wise as to set his house in order, should be so mad as to hang himself? that he should be careful to order his house, who regarded not to order his impotent passions? that he should care for his house who cared not for either body or soul? How vain it is for a man to be wise, if he be not wise in God! How preposterous are the cares of idle worldlings, that prefer all other things to themselves, and, while they look at what they have in their coffers, forget what they have in their breasts!—Bp. Hall.

This is the first recorded case of deliberate suicide. Saul, already mortally wounded on the battle-field, fell upon his sword, but this is the earliest instance in history of premeditated self-murder. Perhaps there was a mingling of remorse with those other emotions of pride. He had left a master who loved and valued him, who, indeed, regarded him as his equal and guide, and he had transferred his services to one who, as he now discovered, had not the wisdom to appreciate his worth, but preferred the gaudy glitter of empty rhetoric to the substantial wisdom of unadorned speech. This contrast, thus forced upon him, might awaken his conscience to the value of the friendship which he had forfeited when he turned against David, until at length remorse and shame so overwhelmed him, that, like a deeper traitor, of whom he was only the feeble prototype, he could not endure life, and hurried himself into eternity. It never occurred to him to ask, “If I cannot face David, how shall I look upon Jehovah?”—Dr. Taylor.

Verses 25-29

CRITICAL AND EXPOSITORY NOTES.

2 Samuel 17:25. “An Israelite.” Rather, as in 1 Chronicles 2:17, an Ishmaelite. He was an illegitimate son. “From the description here given of Abigail as a daughter of Nahash and sister of Zeruiah, not of David, some of the earlier commentators have very justly concluded that Abigail and Zeruiah were only step-sisters of David, i.e., daughters of his mother by Nahash and not by Jesse.” (Keil). Otherwise we must either take Nahash as a woman’s name or as another name for David’s father.

2 Samuel 17:27. “Shobi.” “Possibly a son of Nahash, the deceased king of the Ammonites, and brother of Hanun, who was defeated by David (2 Samuel 10:1), and one of those to whom David had shown kindness when Rabbah was taken.” (Keil). “Maohir.” (See 2 Samuel 9:4.) “Rogelim.” Only mentioned here and in 2 Samuel 19:32, and otherwise unknown.

2 Samuel 17:28. “Basons.” Metal vessels for cooking.

2 Samuel 17:29. “Batter.” “Rather, curdled milk, which being mixed with the honey, forms a light and refreshing beverage.” (Song Song of Solomon 4:11). (Jamieson). “Cheese of kine.” “Slices of coagulated milk.” (Jamieson).

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—2 Samuel 17:25-29

DAVID AT MAHANAIM

I. That help is the most effectual which is most fitted to supply the present need. Although the seat of David’s distress at this time was in the mind rather than in the body, the goodwill of his friends in Gilead could have been expressed in no more acceptable manner at this moment than by giving to him and his followers food and the means of bodily rest. The events of the past day must have told greatly upon David’s body, and he, in common with the most ordinary man, must sometimes submit to be at the mercy of his animal organism. He was at this moment most likely incapable of appreciating anything of a spiritual nature so highly as this kindly provision for his material wants. That is the true and real sympathy which discerns the most pressing need of the present moment, and hastens to supply it to the best of its ability. For those wrung with the deepest anguish of soul cannot ignore the demands of the body, and solace to a wounded spirit sometimes enters by this channel. When Elijah, in bitterness of soul, lay down in the wilderness and prayed for death, the first step which God took to restore his spiritual strength was to provide food for his body (1 Kings 19:6-8). The goodwill, also, which is expressed by such a ministration, is a direct balm to a soul in sorrow.

II. Even self-love should prompt men to a generous treatment of those beneath them. The reversals of position which are continually taking place in human life ought to teach men wisdom in this matter. Human beings are continually changing places, the servant becomes the master, and he who rules to-day may soon be at the mercy of those whom he now commands. When David set the crown of Ammon upon his own head (2 Samuel 12:30) it did not seem likely that in a few years he would be a fugitive from his kingdom and indebted to the good offices of an Ammonite prince. But this had now come to pass, and any kindness which he then showed to those whom he conquered was now returned with interest, or, if he had upon that occasion been unduly harsh, the magnanimity of Nahash must have smitten him with remorse. If we would in adversity receive the favours of others without self-reproach we must beware lest in prosperity we forget the claims of those over whom for a time God has exalted us.

OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS

The same God that raised enmity to David from his own loins, procured him favour from foreigners: strangers shall relieve him, whom his own son persecutes: here is not a loss, but an exchange of love. Had Absalom been a son of Ammon, and Shobi a son of David, David had found no cause of complaint. If God takes with one hand, he gives with another; while that divine bounty serves us in good meat, though not in our dishes, we have good reason to be thankful. No sooner is David come to Mahanaim, than Barzillai, Machir, and Shobi, refresh him with provisions. Who ever saw any child of God left utterly destitute? Whosoever be the messenger of our aid, we know whence he comes: heaven shall want power, and earth means, before any of the household of faith shall want maintenance.—Bp. Hall.

The faithfulness of human love is not only the copy, but also the means and instrument of the Divine love, granted to those who bow humbly beneath God’s hand and wholly trust Him.—Lange’s Commentary.

David was received with kindness in the land of Gilead, on the east of Jordan, at a time when he was driven by his own son out of his own capital, Jerusalem, in his own tribe. The Jews rejected Christ, but the gospel was gladly received by Samaritans (Acts 8:4-6) and by the Gentiles (Acts 13:46-48; Acts 28:28).—Wordsworth.

It has been conjectured with much probability that as the first sleep of that evening was commemorated in the fourth Psalm, so in the third is expressed the feeling of David’s thankfulness at the final close of those twenty-four hours, of which every detail has been handed down, as if with the consciousness of their importance at the time. He had “laid him down in peace” that night and slept; for in that great defection of man “the Lord alone had caused him to dwell in safety.” The tradition of the Septuagint ascribes the 143rd Psalm to the time “when his son was pursuing him.” Some at least of its contents might well belong to that night (2 Samuel 17:2; 2 Samuel 17:8). There is another group of Psalms, the 41st, the 55th, the 69th, and the 109th, in which a long popular belief has seen an amplification of David’s bitter cry, “O Lord, turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness.” Many of the circumstances agree. The dreadful imprecations in these Psalms—unequalled for vehemence in any other part of the sacred writings—correspond with the passion of David’s own expressions. The greatness, too, of Ahithophel himself in the history is worthy of the importance ascribed to the object of those awful maledictions. That oracular wisdom which made his house a kind of shrine (2 Samuel 15:31) seems to move the spirit of the sacred writer with an involuntary admiration. Everywhere he is treated with a touch of awful reverence. When he dies, the interest of the plot ceases, and his death is given with an awful grandeur, quite unlike the mixture of the terrible and the contemptible which has sometimes gathered round the end of those whom the religious sentiment of mankind has placed under its ban. When “he hanged himself, and died” he was buried, not like an excommunicated outcast, but like a venerable Patriarch ‘in the sepulchre of his father.’ ”—Stanley.

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 17". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/2-samuel-17.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.