This Chapter concludes the history of Absalom's rebellion, and an awful conclusion, to the rebel it proved. David sendeth forth his armies; gives a charge to his officers to deal favourably with Absalom. Absalom is slain. Victory determines in favour of David; but the king mourneth for his son.
2 Samuel 18:1
(1) ¶ And David numbered the people that were with him, and set captains of thousands and captains of hundreds over them.
It is not said what numbers the whole army consisted of. In all probability, it could not be very many. But Jonathan had before learnt that there is no restraint on the LORD, to save by many or by few, 1 Samuel 14:6. Sweet thought to the believer amidst all his warfare!
(2) And David sent forth a third part of the people under the hand of Joab, and a third part under the hand of Abishai the son of Zeruiah, Joab's brother, and a third part under the hand of Ittai the Gittite. And the king said unto the people, I will surely go forth with you myself also. (3) But the people answered, Thou shalt not go forth: for if we flee away, they will not care for us; neither if half of us die, will they care for us: but now thou art worth ten thousand of us: therefore now it is better that thou succour us out of the city. (4) And the king said unto them, What seemeth you best I will do. And the king stood by the gate side, and all the people came out by hundreds and by thousands.
Every one perfectly well knew the personal courage of David; but beside the reasons here given on both sides for David staying at home, there was in David's breast, a secret cause to keep him back. How unnatural soever Absalom's conduct was towards his father, yet David's heart, as the sequel proved, loved this unnatural child too well to fight against him.
(5) And the king commanded Joab and Abishai and Ittai, saying, Deal gently for my sake with the young man, even with Absalom. And all the people heard when the king gave all the captains charge concerning Absalom.
Reader! pause over the perusal of this verse, and remark with me, the astonishing love of David to this most worthless child. Of all the base, ungrateful sons we read of in history, perhaps none, take it altogether, exceeds the character of Absalom. We find, very frequently, in the feelings of nature, parents unaccountably passing by the worth, and tenderness, and affection of many dear children, to bestow their partiality and favors on one the most undeserving. Certain it is, that Abraham preferred Ishmael to Isaac, in that he begged of the LORD that he might have the blessing. See Genesis 17:18. And Isaac evidently preferred Esau to Jacob, in that, contrary to the divine command, he would have conferred the blessing of the covenant upon him. See Genesis 27:4. There is no explaining this upon any other principle than that, in these matters as well as others, nature and grace are everlastingly opposite to each other. Thus in the case of David: his commanding his servants to deal gently with Absalom meant, no doubt, not to hurt his person. It should seem as if David had strong confidence of victory. No doubt his communion with the LORD was at this time most lively and fervent. But what an infatuation was David under, concerning this unnatural son. The sole cause of the war was on his account; and yet, in David's wish, he must he saved. Supposing he had been spared; did David hope that his clemency would reclaim him? And could David feel so little regard to the lives of his faithful subjects, as to sacrifice numbers to the saving such a son? But, Reader! while we look at David with wonder and astonishment, let us turn our thoughts to that stupendous contemplation, the love of our GOD and FATHER towards us, whose affection, after all our rebellion and baseness, as far exceeds the love of David to Absalom, as the heavens are higher than the earth. GOD our King and FATHER, in the dreadful war induced by our rebellion, usurpation, and hatred against him and his government, not only commands all his servants sent to subdue us to his government again, to deal gently for his everlasting love's sake; but that mercy shall be shown, and grace abundantly displayed, gives up his Son, his only begotten Son, to the accursed death of the cross! Hear O heavens, and be astonished O earth, for the LORD hath done it! And while we thus contemplate thine unequalled love, O thou most gracious and Almighty FATHER, in this unparalleled instance of it, let us no less admire and adore the matchless grace of our JESUS, who in the accomplishment of all this wonderful design, hath dealt, and still continues to deal most gently with us, in all the manifestations of his love. Yes! dearest LORD! on the very cross, thou pleadest for thine unnatural murderers, whose salvation thy death was then accomplishing!
(6) So the people went out into the field against Israel: and the battle was in the wood of Ephraim; (7) Where the people of Israel were slain before the servants of David, and there was there a great slaughter that day of twenty thousand men. (8) For the battle was there scattered over the face of all the country: and the wood devoured more people that day than the sword devoured.
Is not this a lively representation, (without straining the figure) in what is said of the wood devouring more than the sword, of the awful decision of that final war, when it is said, the wicked will call to the mountains, and to the rocks, to fall on them to hide them from the wrath of the Lamb. Revelation 6:16.
(9) ¶ And Absalom met the servants of David. And Absalom rode upon a mule, and the mule went under the thick boughs of a great oak, and his head caught hold of the oak, and he was taken up between the heaven and the earth; and the mule that was under him went away.
Every prelude to the death of Absalom is awful. His death is not after the common visitation of all men. He is first suspended, as it were, a spectacle between heaven and earth, unworthy of being in either. The simple boughs of a tree, shall begin the preparation of his awful death. A mule shall assist at his execution. Had the animal thrown him: had he broken his neck in the fall; or had a certain man at a venture, shot him through; these would have been among the common things of war. But no! His sin, his rebellion, his whole life, indeed, had been so flagicious, that his death must be marked with more than common infamy. The very beast on which he rides, shall leave him, as if delighted to be no longer burthened with such a sinner!
(10) And a certain man saw it, and told Joab, and said, Behold, I saw Absalom hanged in an oak. (11) And Joab said unto the man that told him, And, behold, thou sawest him, and why didst thou not smite him there to the ground? and I would have given thee ten shekels of silver, and a girdle. (12) And the man said unto Joab, Though I should receive a thousand shekels of silver in mine hand, yet would I not put forth mine hand against the king's son: for in our hearing the king charged thee and Abishai and Ittai, saying, Beware that none touch the young man Absalom. (13) Otherwise I should have wrought falsehood against mine own life: for there is no matter hid from the king, and thou thyself wouldest have set thyself against me. (14) Then said Joab, I may not tarry thus with thee. And he took three darts in his hand, and thrust them through the heart of Absalom, while he was yet alive in the midst of the oak. (15) And ten young men that bare Joab's armour compassed about and smote Absalom, and slew him.
Who this certain man was, is not said; but it serves to heighten the subject very much. Absalom shall not escape. The eye of the LORD is upon him. His time is come. Justice demands his blood. Oh! awful, awful day, when the measure of the sinner's iniquity is full!
(16) And Joab blew the trumpet, and the people returned from pursuing after Israel: for Joab held back the people. (17) And they took Absalom, and cast him into a great pit in the wood, and laid a very great heap of stones upon him: and all Israel fled everyone to his tent. (18) Now Absalom in his lifetime had taken and reared up for himself a pillar, which is in the king's dale: for he said, I have no son to keep my name in remembrance: and he called the pillar after his own name: and it is called unto this day, Absalom's place.
As Absalom's death was awful, so his burying was ignominious. The prophet Ezekiel gives a dreadful representation of the funeral of such men, such as this of Absalom; 2 Samuel 24:25 to the end. Observe, Reader! in what is here said of Absalom's pillar, the folly of monumental pillars to the ungodly. Alas! what an awful thing it is, for a lying stone to speak well of a man where he is not; and the man himself to be in torments where he is.
(19) ¶ Then said Ahimaaz the son of Zadok, Let me now run, and bear the king tidings, how that the LORD hath avenged him of his enemies. (20) And Joab said unto him, Thou shalt not bear tidings this day, but thou shalt bear tidings another day: but this day thou shalt bear no tidings, because the king's son is dead. (21) Then said Joab to Cushi, Go tell the king what thou hast seen. And Cushi bowed himself unto Joab, and ran. (22) Then said Ahimaaz the son of Zadok yet again to Joab, But howsoever, let me, I pray thee, also run after Cushi. And Joab said, Wherefore wilt thou run, my son, seeing that thou hast no tidings ready? (23) But howsoever, said he, let me run. And he said unto him, Run. Then Ahimaaz ran by the way of the plain, and overran Cushi.
The Prophet hath remarked how beautiful the feet of those are upon the mountains, who bring tidings of peace. Whether it be the swift footed Ahimaaz, or the slower-paced Cushi, yet the tidings themselves were good. But oh! Reader! how beautiful to you and to me, ought to be the tidings of salvation! And these, (do not forget) JESUS himself first really, and truly brought. How beautiful are his feet, to the eye of faith, seen on the cross! How beautiful when he comes in the word of his grace! How lovely, when leaping over the mountains, and skipping over the hills!
(24) And David sat between the two gates: and the watchman went up to the roof over the gate unto the wall, and lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold a man running alone. (25) And the watchman cried, and told the king. And the king said, If he be alone, there is tidings in his mouth. And he came apace, and drew near. (26) And the watchman saw another man running: and the watchman called unto the porter, and said, Behold another man running alone. And the king said, He also bringeth tidings. (27) And the watchman said, Me thinketh the running of the foremost is like the running of Ahimaaz the son of Zadok. And the king said, He is a good man, and cometh with good tidings. (28) And Ahimaaz called, and said unto the king, All is well. And he fell down to the earth upon his face before the king, and said, Blessed be the LORD thy God, which hath delivered up the men that lifted up their hand against my lord the king. (29) And the king said, Is the young man Absalom safe? And Ahimaaz answered, When Joab sent the king's servant, and me thy servant, I saw a great tumult, but I knew not what it was. (30) And the king said unto him, Turn aside, and stand here. And he turned aside, and stood still. (31) And, behold, Cushi came; and Cushi said, Tidings, my lord the king: for the LORD hath avenged thee this day of all them that rose up against thee. (32) And the king said unto Cushi, Is the young man Absalom safe? And Cushi answered, The enemies of my lord the king, and all that rise against thee to do thee hurt, be as that young man is. (33) And the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept: and as he went, thus he said, O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!
The subject ends just as might have been supposed, from the natural affections of David. No doubt it was in respect to the everlasting state of Absalom, that David felt so exceedingly. And yet, had it been put to the issue, though in the moment David wished he had died for him, yet when death came, David would have shrunk back. It was the unguarded, ill-advised expression of disappointed nature. It was base, as it related to GOD, in his own deliverance. It was base, as it referred to man, in the lives of his faithful subjects, whose sacrifice seemed to be nothing in David's eyes, so that Absalom had been spared. Reader! let us learn from it, how everlastingly opposite to grace, in all our views and desires nature is. And let us, therefrom, seek strength from the LORD, to be forever on our guard against its false teachings. The promise is, that the elder, which is nature, shall serve the younger, which is grace. Had David consulted this, we should not have witnessed those improper acclamations: would to GOD I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son! Had GOD taken him at his word, what would have been the consequence? Would he have gone to hell for him too! Alas! the sin and folly of so daring a wish! Reader! let you and I reverse the expression, and bless GOD that his dear Son hath died for us, and by his death secured our salvation!
READER! are you a parent, a father or a mother! And are you yourself a partaker of grace, while those of your household are graceless! If so, you will best be able to enter into a proper apprehension of David's feelings for his son. Oh! the unknown, the inexpressible agonies of the mind, in seeing those whom the LORD hath made near, and dear to us in the bonds of nature, totally void of union in the bonds of grace! Oh! did those pious parents, whom the LORD calls to the painful exercises of nature, in the breaches made by death, in their infant years, did they but recollect the accumulated aggravations of sorrow, which attend the deaths of graceless children, ripened in years, and ripened in iniquity; how would they learn to bless GOD, in those instances of preventing wisdom and mercy! Surely, Sirs! it is far, far better, and a far higher privilege also, to follow infants to their tomb, than have them remain longer with us, to be trained for everlasting misery! What a wound the very thought gives, as it enters the imagination!
But, Reader! what an aggravation to misery is it, when, as in the case of David, the LORD's hand is to be traced in the evils which grow up out of our house, from the children of our own bowels. When David looked round the walls of his dwelling, and beheld the vacancies there made by death, and marked them as divine chastisements, well might he exclaim, O Absalom! my son! my son!
And is there no relief for such a state? Is there no balm in Gilead: no physician there? Yes, blessed be GOD, there is both. Oh! precious, precious JESUS! where, but for thee, should balm be found: or what physician, but thyself, could heal such complicated diseases. Teach me then, dearest JESUS teach him that reads; teach every poor distressed, exercised soul that believes, to do as David did, after all this series of troubles. Teach our souls to look to thee. And when our Absaloms, our Amnons, and all our sorrows are multiplied, to look to JESUS, and say as David did; Although my house be not so with GOD ; yet hath he made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure. And this is all my salvation, and all my desire, though he make it not to grow.
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 18". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Lent