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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

2 Samuel 18

Verse 5

2 Samuel 18:5. Deal gently for my sake with the young man, &c.— The king yielded to the affectionate entreaties of the people, that he should not hazard his life in the battle; and, no doubt, he did it with less reluctance, upon a reflection that he must otherwise go against his own subjects, and draw his sword against a rebel son, whom he could not think of but with too much tenderness, in spite of all his crimes: and as a proof of this, he here gives the kindest charge concerning him to all his captains. He begs them to deal gently with that young man; as if all his faults were more those of his youth than of his nature: but at the same time that his people could not but discern in these words the excess of his weakness for that profligate son, they could not but observe also in them a calm presage and assurance of their success against their enemies.

Verse 6

2 Samuel 18:6. And the battle was in the wood of Ephraim It is supposed that this wood, which was in Gilead, not far from Maanaim, took its name either from the victory which Gideon gained over Oreb and Zeeb, kings of the Midianites, by the assistance of the Ephraimites, Jdg 7:25 or from the great daughter of the Ephraimites here by Jephthah, Judges 12:5-7.12.6. The expression in the eighth verse, the wood devoured more people that day than the sword devoured, signifies that more perished in the wood than in the field of battle: their flight, as Josephus well expresses it, was more fatal to them than the combat.

Verse 9

2 Samuel 18:9. The mule went under the thick boughs of a great oak, &c.— Several commentators suppose, that Absalom was suspended by the long hair of his head; while others, imagining that he had a helmet on, think that his neck was so wedged in between the boughs, that he was not able to disengage himself. It is not easy to believe that he could have lived long in such a posture; and Joab, we are told in the 14th verse, found him yet alive, which would lead one rather to think that he was suspended by his hair.

Verse 14

2 Samuel 18:14. And he took three darts, &c.— Joab's killing Absalom was a direct, deliberate, cowardly murder, and a treasonable murder too against the express orders of the king, and in open defiance and contempt of him.

Verse 17

2 Samuel 18:17. They took Absalom—and laid a very great heap of stones upon him Bishop Patrick here observes, that thus he was, after a sort, stoned, as the law ordered a rebellious son should be. Adricomius, in his description of the Holy Land, says, that this heap remained to his days; and that all travellers, as they went by it, were wont to throw a stone to add to the heap, in detestation of his rebellion against his father. Thus this eastern custom seems commonly understood: but if that be true which Egmont and Heyman tell us, that all the Mohammedans who go in pilgrimage to Mount Sinai, never fail to visit the place where there is the print of a camel's foot on the rock, supposed to be that of Mohammed's, on which account they, by way of respect, bring with them a stone, which has occasioned a great heap of stones near that spot, it is evident that these heaps are considered by the eastern people merely as monuments to keep up the memory of certain events, whether good or bad; and that the adding a stone to them by every one who approaches them, is in truth only intended to prevent the dissipation of these uncemented materials. The first raising of this heap of stones over Absalom was, in like manner, intended merely as a memorial of this battle, and of the place in which he lay buried; and by no means as a kind of executing the law relating to rebellious sons upon him, like the hanging of people in effigy; as we may conclude from their being wont then, as well as now, to have heaps of stones for the preserving of agreeable things in remembrance, as well as facts that deserved detestation; which plainly appears from Gen 46:34 and Joshua 3:6. See the Observations, p. 443.

Verse 18

2 Samuel 18:18. Now Absalom in his life time had—reared—a pillar The sacred writer mentions this particular, not only to shew the vanity of Absalom, but, we may reasonably conclude, still further to shew the vanity of human life in general. Absalom having lost his sons, (ch. 2 Samuel 14:27.) and being desirous to perpetuate his memory, had erected a pillar, which, no doubt, he designed as a mausoleum or burying-place, and which we may reasonably conclude was equally magnificent with the ambition of him who reared it. But see how short-sighted are mortals! This same Absalom, so far from being buried in this proud monument which he had erected, was killed and buried like a traitor, thrown into a pit, and a great heap of stones laid upon him. The king's dale (mentioned also in Genesis 14:17.) was near Jerusalem; and to this day there is a monument shewn to travellers, called Absalom's pillar; but it is evidently of modern structure. In the time of Josephus, it was nothing more than a single marble pillar. See Doughty, Analect. p. 1. Exerc. 96:

REFLECTIONS.—We have here Absalom among the fugitives, no longer exulting in confidence of success, but seeking by flight to escape the devouring sword. Divine vengeance, however, suffereth him not to live; for, though David's servants, whom he met, offered not to molest him, and his swift beast would quickly carry him out of danger; yet,

1. He is arrested in his flight by the thick boughs of an oak, under which he furiously drove; and his flying locks caught hold of the branches, whilst his mule, on full speed, left him thus hanging. Note; (1.) They who fly from God's arm only rush into the toil. (2.) If his hair was his halter, we see that what was his pride proved at last his shame. (3.) Let disobedient children look to this rebellious son, and tremble at God's vengeance.

2. Joab is informed of the accident, and chides the messenger for not immediately dispatching Absalom; but the man pleads the king's commandment, which, for a thousand shekels, he would not transgress. Joab does not controvert the man's assertion, but, in haste to be gone, inquires the place, and takes his attendants with him; there, beholding the fair mark exposed, with three darts he strikes him through his heart, as he was yet alive, though hung; and, to make sure work, his ten attendants pierce him with many a mortal wound, and leave him dead on the spot. Note; Many find fault with others for not doing that, for which, had they done it, they would have been the first to condemn them.

3. The arch-rebel being dispatched, a retreat is sounded, as the rest would return to their allegiance; and enough of blood had been spilt, so that there needed no prisoners to be executed. Note; In rebellion, severity must be tempered with clemency; every subject that bleeds is a loss to the state itself.

4. Absalom's body is cast into a pit, and covered with a heap of stones, disgraced even in the dust; and thus terminates his aspiring course in the deepest ignominy. Alas! he had erected near Jerusalem a noble sepulchral monument to perpetuate his memory! Note; (1.) To be solicitous about a tomb for our bodies, while we are living in neglect of our souls, is the height of folly. (2.) To perpetuate the remembrance of a great wicked name, is only to perpetuate infamy. (3.) Of all characters, a disobedient child is among the most abhorred.

Verse 33

2 Samuel 18:33. O my son Absalom! &c.— There certainly cannot be produced from any writer a more striking instance of the true pathetic than the present. See Dr. Lowth's 22nd Praelection. It is, however, extremely difficult to reconcile this degree of sorrow with David's usual piety and resignation. The king's command to spare Absalom, was indeed an extraordinary instance of mercy, exceeded only by HIM, who, dying, prayed for his murderers; yet it is to be accounted for from his fatherly fondness. But there is something astonishing in this excess of grief for such a reprobate; and I confess, it is to me, says Dr. Delaney, utterly unaccountable, from any other principle than the sad and shocking reflection of his having died with all his sins upon his head, and gone down quick to perdition. The affection of parents is, doubtless, extremely strong. The sins, nay the ingratitude of children cannot root it from their hearts; and they who fear God, are then most reasonably inconsolable, when their children are engaged in a course of sin, and they see them die in a state of condemnation.

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 18". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/2-samuel-18.html. 1801-1803.