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Bible Commentaries
2 Samuel 17

Coke's Commentary on the Holy BibleCoke's Commentary

Verse 1

2 Samuel 17:1. Moreover, Ahithophel said unto Absalom Ahithophel, aware of the advantages of dispatch, advised an immediate pursuit of David, without suffering him to breathe from the fatigues that he had just gone through; and his advice well justifies the character given of him in the Scripture. It was in its several parts admirably fitted both to the inclinations and the interest of his pupil. He consigned him to his pleasures, ch. 2Sa 16:22 and took all the danger to himself; and at the same time he relieved his little remains of humanity from the necessity of imbruing his own hands in his father's blood. His incest was, for the present, personal guilt enough. That act of outrage would make Absalom's reconciliation with his father desperate; and whilst he indulged his evil appetite, Ahithophel, with a chosen band, would pursue and surprise David. Nothing could be more wordly-wise, or more hellishly wicked. It was indeed as the advice of an oracle, but very different from that dictated by the Spirit of God: and yet, horrid as it was, it pleased that vile son and his associates.

Verse 3

2 Samuel 17:3. The man whom thou seekest is as if all returned That is, David being destroyed, the main business is performed; he is, as it were, the life of the whole body, and when he is taken off, the rest will of course return and submit themselves. Houbigant renders this verse, and I will cause all the people to return unto thee, as a spouse returneth to her husband; and then all things shall be at peace with the people: in which he nearly follows the LXX.

Verse 6

2 Samuel 17:6. When Hushai was come to Absalom, &c.— Ahithophel proposed all imaginable advantage to the evil cause in which he was engaged, from expedition, upon the principle mentioned by Tacitus, that "nothing determines civil discords so happily as dispatch." Hushai, on the contrary, wholly laid himself out to protract and to delay: for delay would not only ward off David's present danger, but would also, as the same Tacitus observes, give ill men time to repent, and the good to unite. And it is certain, that in all contests of this kind, that remark of Livy will always hold good, that when men have time to think, there will never be wanting those who will be glad to gain the favour of the right side by adhering to the public good. These were the principles of Husai's advice; and his advice, as being much better suited to Absalom's cruelty as well as his vanity, and seemingly to the interest of his ambition as well as the safety of his followers, who cared to put nothing to the hazard of a small party, easily prevailed.

Verse 8

2 Samuel 17:8. They be chased in their minds, as a bear robbed of her whelps The curious have, in general, long since remarked the coarseness of the images used in the Eastern writings. I have met with instances of this kind, which may serve to illustrate some passages of Scripture more perfectly than I have yet seen. In particular, Hushai's comparing David and his men, in this place, to a bear robbed of her whelps, appears to us very odd; and it shocks our delicacy much more when we find it applied to the Majesty of heaven, Lamentations 3:10. This, however, is entirely owing to the difference of the taste of the Europeans, from that of the people of the Levant. We in England, when we compare a person to a bear, have something of a disagreeable fierceness, and awkward roughness in view; and therefore these paintings give us pain. But though we do, the Eastern nations do not, blend these ideas with those of strength and terribleness in displeasure: that, therefore, which appears an indecent comparison to us, was none to them: and, accordingly, this image still continues in use among those people. Maillet, in his 11th letter, informs us, that Saladine going one day from Cairo up to the castle he had built there, and causing his brother Sirocoe, who had accompanied him, to take a view of its works and buildings, said to him, "This castle, and all Egypt, will be one day the possession of your children." Sirocoe replying, that it was wrong to talk after that manner, since heaven had given him children to succeed to the crown, Saladine rejoined, "My children are born in Egypt, where men degenerate, and lose their spirit and bravery; but yours are born in the mountains of Circassia, of a man that possesses the fierceness of bears, and their courage." The event justified the prediction, the posterity of Saladine reigning but a few years in Egypt after the death of that great prince. Here the reader sees Sirocoe compared to bears by an Eastern prince, when an eulogium was intended, and not the least disrespectful hint designed. See Observations, p. 321 and Scheuehzer, tom. 5: p. 13.

Verse 9

2 Samuel 17:9. Behold, he is hid, &c.— See the note on 1 Samuel 26:5.

Verse 12

2 Samuel 17:12. We will light upon him, as the dew falleth on the ground This is very beautiful and expressive. The dew in Palestine, as in several other climates, falls fast and sudden, and is therefore no unapt emblem of an active expeditious soldiery. It was, perhaps, for this reason, that the Romans called their light-armed forces rorarii. The dew falls upon every spot of the earth; not a blade of grass escapes it. A numerous army resembles it in this respect; it is able to search every where.

Verse 13

2 Samuel 17:13. Then shall all Israel bring ropes to that city The meaning of this exaggerated threat, which Hushai seems to employ in conformity with the taste of a young and vain prince, appears to be, that they would come before that city into which David would betake himself, with those cranes or hooks which the ancients were wont to throw upon the battlements of walls, and with which, by the help of ropes fastened to them, they used to pull them down piecemeal into the rivers or trenches, filled with water, which encompassed them.

REFLECTIONS.—Absalom, in triumph, being entered into his father's deserted palace, (such changes do these sublunary kingdoms undergo,) consults next how to finish what seemed so happily begun. A council is summoned the same day, after the above-mentioned abomination was over; and David's ruin being resolved, the question is, how to accomplish it.

1. Ahithophel speaks according to his place, and with his wonted sagacity: and wiser and more wicked counsel could not be given. He is for an immediate pursuit, falling upon the fugitives, weary and dispirited, and making an easy conquest; he offers himself to be the leader, and asks only twelve thousand men to execute his design, nor doubts but with one stroke to put an end to the contest, by smiting the king and letting the people go, who would then peaceably submit to Absalom's government. Thus the man (so he calls him, neither king nor father) whom he sought, would be removed, and his throne established without a rival. The scheme is so feasible and desirable, that this bloody son is delighted with it, and, astonishing to tell! not one of the elders of Israel expresses his disapprobation, but they advise, according to Ahithophel's counsel, its immediate execution. Note; (1.) The best of kings, and best of fathers, may be unhappy enough to find rebellious subjects, and unnatural children. (2.) They who are once involved in sin, are driven deeper and deeper, till the most horrid crimes become necessary, as it were, to insure their own safety. (3.) Delays are dangerous in every cause, while expedition usually ensures success.

2. Before this advice is put in execution, Absalom moves to call for Hushai, and hear his opinion, or rather, have his concurrence in the matter; thus God, by the secret working of his providence, in the critical moment wards off the imminent danger, and, as it seems, inevitable ruin. Hushai appears, and Absalom bids him speak his opinion on Ahithophel's advice, which, with great appearance of argument and zeal for the cause, he gives; he opens with the admission of Ahithophel's wisdom; but though, in general, he must pay submission and deference to his sagacity, he at present is obliged to differ from him, and that on the following plausible reasons: David was not so easily to be smitten as Ahithophel seemed to suggest; he was well known to be a mighty man; and when, if not now, would he exert himself? Nor were his forces so few or despicable as were represented; they were a considerable body, and all men of approved valour, not to be daunted at danger, and much more inured to war than their raw undisciplined troops; and in their present situation, fired with resentment, nay, armed with despair, would fight like bears robbed of their whelps: nor was it at all probable that David would be surprized; provident against danger, he, with some chosen body acquainted with every cave and hold, was safe from surprize, and ready to sally out as from an ambush. Such an attack might make even Ahithophel's lion-like heart to fail, at least his small body of troops to flee, and the consequence of such a repulse might be fatal to the cause; for should it be noised that Absalom's forces were routed, the people would be dispirited and in danger of deserting him. His advice therefore is, to gather all the forces from Dan to Beersheba, and put himself at the head of them: with such an army, and under such a leader, nothing could be hazarded. If David and his men were in the field, thick as the drops of dew they would light upon him, and not a man could escape; or if he took refuge in a walled city, such a host would in an instant scale the walls, or even with ropes draw the battlements into the ditch, or the adjoining river, as easily as a log of wood. Thus Absalom's pride was flattered, and his success ensured, not without a secret reflection on Ahithophel's rashness; the advice easily took, God having infatuated their minds, and Absalom and his council gave it for Hushai, impolitic and improbable as his suggestions were. Note; (1.) They take counsel in vain who aim at the ruin of God's church and people. (2.) God has secret ways of diverting the fatal blows aimed by our spiritual enemies at our helpless souls.

Verse 17

2 Samuel 17:17. En-rogel Or, The fuller's fountain, a place near Jerusalem; so called, as we are told, because the fullers trod their cloth there with their feet; deriving the word rogel from רגל regel, which signifies a foot.

Verse 19

2 Samuel 17:19. And spread ground corn thereon See the note on 2 Samuel 17:28.

Verse 20

2 Samuel 17:20. They be gone over the brook of water They passed away quickly. Houbigant. According to Josephus and the Vulgate, the meaning is, that they just drank a little water and hasted forward. Note; (1.) The weakest instruments in God's hand can answer the greatest purposes. (2.) A lie, though told to serve a good cause, ceases not therefore to be a bad thing.

Verse 23

2 Samuel 17:23. When Ahithophel saw, &c.— Ahithophel had too much penetration and experience not to see what must be the consequence of Absalom's imprudence in preferring Hushai's advice to his own. Piqued therefore with furious jealousy, and not doubting that David would soon be victorious, and punish his perfidy, he determined to prevent that punishment, and therefore gat him to his home, and hanged himself. Some of the rabbis give the original ויחנק vaiiechanek another signification, translating it with the LXX, he was suffocated; imagining that Ahithophel, through the violence of his agitation and distress, was suffocated with extreme passion; but the more general opinion is, that he hanged himself with his own hands, as Judas did afterwards when he had betrayed his Divine Master. See Matthew 27:5. Lightfoot thinks, that David composed the 55th Psalm upon the occasion of Ahithophel's perfidy. Thus Ahithophel, when he had contrived, inspired, diffused, and propagated evil through an innumerable multitude, and loaded his soul with all the horrors of complicated guilt, treachery, rebellion, incest, parricide! hurried that soul to all the vengeance due to it from eternal justice: to prevent all possibility of reparation and repentance, he died in the act of self-murder. So perished the great Machiavel of that age, the very wisest of the very wise men of this world; whose God is their belly, whose glory is their shame, but whose end is destruction! See C.G. Schwartz, in Thesauro Novo, Theol. Philol. tom. 1: p. 676.

Verses 28-29

2 Samuel 17:28-29. Brought beds, and basons, &c.— Dr. Russell tells us, "that burgle is very commonly used among the Christians of Aleppo;" and in a note he informs us, "that this burgle is wheat boiled, then bruised by a mill, so as to take the husk off, then dried and kept for use." The usual way of dressing it, is, either by boiling it like rice into a pilaw, or making it into balls, with meat and spice, and either fried or boiled. These balls are called cubby. Rauwolf and Ockley speak of the like preparation, under the name of sawik; but the former mentions it as prepared from barley, and the other from barley and rice, as well as wheat. Mr. Jones, in his account of the diet of the Moors of West Barbary, makes mention of the flour of parched barley; which, he says, is the chief provision they make for travelling; and that some of them use it for their diet at home as well as in journeying. He adds, "What is most used by travellers is zumeet, tumeet, or flour of parched barley for limereece. These are not Arabian, but Shilha names; so that I believe it is of longer standing than the Mahometans in that part of Africk. They are all three made of parched barley-flour, which they carry in a leathern satchel. Zumeet, is the flour mixed with honey, butter, and spice; tumeet, is the same flour done up with oil: and limereece is only mixed with water, and so drank. This quenches thirst much better than water alone, satisfies a hungry appetite, and cools and refreshes tired and weary spirits, overcoming those ill effects which a hot sun and fatiguing journey might well occasion." He says also, that among the mountaineers of Susa this is used for their diet at home, as well as when they are on a journey. May not one or other of these sorts of food be meant in Scripture by what we render parched corn? Russell and Ockley speak of the sawik or burgle as dried, and Jones expressly calls the chief provision which the Moors of West Barbary used in travel-ling, the flour of parched barley. Jones's account may teach us the propriety of what is added at the close of the list of provisions sent by the nobles on the other side Jordan to king David: they brought beds, &c.—barley and flour, and parched corn, &c.—for they said the people is hungry, and weary, and thirsty in the wilderness. Which of all these things was designed to quench their thirst? Jones says, that the flour of parched barley mixed with water, is thought to quench thirst better than water alone, to satisfy hunger, and to cool and refresh tired and wearied spirits: it might therefore be sent to David with a view to relieve the people, as thirsty and tired, as well as hungry. But if this Jewish parched corn is to be understood of the flour of parched barley, it does not follow that burgle, sawik, or boiled wheat dried, was unknown among them; and I have been ready to think, that this mode in the management of corn will give light to a remarkable passage in the history of David; I mean the concealment of the two spies in a well, whose mouth was covered with corn, 2 Samuel 17:19. The exposing of corn in this manner must have been common in Judea, else it would rather have given suspicion than safety. But for what purpose ground corn (for so we translate it) should be laid out in the open air, if we suppose it was meal, cannot easily be imagined. Bishop Patrick supposes that it was corn newly threshed out, which the woman pretended to dry, though no such thing is practised among us in a much moister country; and the word, in Pro 27:22 is used to signify corn beaten in a very different manner. Sanctius and Mariana have observed, that the word there expresses barley with the husk taken off; pearl or French barley as we call it. The accounts above given of the burgle and sawik, remove the difficulty; and it should seem from this passage, that the preparation of corn after this manner is as ancient as the time of David at least. To this may be added, that quantities of the sawik are prepared at once, in order to be laid up in store; whereas corn there is usually ground into meal in small parcels, the people of those countries baking every day, and grinding their corn as they want it: what is more, D'Arvieux, who speaks of this prepared corn under the name of bourgoul, expressly mentions its being dried in the sun, after having spoken of their preparing a whole year's provision of it at once. See the Observations, p. 146, &c. Note; (1.) We often meet with greater kindness from strangers than from our own relations. (2.) The best use we can make of our affluence, is the employment of it in the support of the suffering cause of the Son of David.

Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 17". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/2-samuel-17.html. 1801-1803.
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