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THE BATTLE IN THE WOOD OF EPHRAIM, AND DEATH OF ABSALOM, 2 Samuel 18:1-33.
1. Numbered the people Josephus says he found them to be about four thousand. Others have inferred, from 2 Samuel 18:3, that they were ten thousand. Many had probably rallied to his standard at Mahanaim.
THE COUNSEL OF AHITHOPHEL DEFEATED BY HUSHAI, 2 Samuel 18:1-14.
Most vividly graphic is this sketch of what Kitto calls “the first cabinet council to which history admits us.” It would be difficult to find in the same space a more perfect word picture. After his most shameful incest in the sight of all Israel, Absalom returns for further counsel, and finds his great adviser full of deep-laid plans for future action. He would have the prince continue his lewd pleasures at Jerusalem, whilst himself, at the head of a strong force, would pursue the fugitive David, steal upon him in the still darkness of the night, paralyze his heart and hands with fear, scatter his defenders, and smite him whom alone it was necessary to smite in order to crush all opposition. Absalom and all his cabinet are highly pleased, and we fancy the graphic language and great influence of the wise counsellor make them almost feel that the desired result is already as good as reached. But Hushai is called in to give also his opinion, and what we have already learned of the weight of Ahithophel’s counsel only serves to prepare us for a fuller appreciation of the superior skill and captivating eloquence of Hushai. He adroitly acknowledges the excellence of Ahithophel’s advice, but thinks it ill-timed, and then, with winged words, depicts the chafed monarch, furious as the wild bear robbed of her whelps, cunning and crafty as years of dangerous warfare could make him, not to be taken by surprise, nor so easily smitten as Ahithophel had presumed. He counsels delay, until Absalom himself, with overwhelming numbers, shall he able to cover his enemies as with the dews of night, or to drag down the walls of the city in which they might entrench themselves. And so totally did his speech defeat the counsel of Ahithophel that Absalom and all his council adopted his opinions.
2. Under the hand Under the direction and generalship.
Ittai Now rewarded for his loyalty with an important office. See on 2 Samuel 15:21.
3. Better that thou succour us out of the city Better for thee to remain here at Mahanaim, with a strong force with thee, and thus be able to come forth with reinforcements to our help in case of need.
5. Gently for my sake with the young man Josephus says that he was afraid some mischief might befall himself if Absalom were slain. But it was David’s deep affection for the beautiful youth, which, notwithstanding all his errors, still yearned for him. The tenderness of the father exceeded the justice of the king.
6. Against Israel Alas! It was Israel against Israel. But it had come to pass that strong prejudices were manifest between the people of Israel and the men of Judah.
The wood of Ephraim A forest evidently not far from Mahanaim, and probably near the Jordan, but its exact locality and the origin of its name are now unknown. Grotius conjectured that it took its name from the great slaughter of the Ephraimites recorded Judges 12:1-6; and the Jews have a tradition that Joshua, who was an Ephraimite, permitted the people of his tribe to pasture their flocks in this forest. Keil argues that it was on the west of the Jordan in the tribe-land of Ephraim, which, according to Joshua 17:15, abounded in wood. But as David was at Mahanaim, and Absalom in Gilead, (2 Samuel 17:20,) this battle doubtless took place on the east of the Jordan.
7. Twenty thousand Surely the multitude that followed Absalom must have been like the sand of the sea. 2 Samuel 17:11.
8. Scattered For they could not march en masse through the tangled forests.
The wood devoured more people… than the sword This forest was probably full of deep gorges and pits, into which, in their haste, multitudes were thrown and perished; others were lost; and some, perhaps, as the Chaldee, Syriac, and Arabic versions suggest, destroyed by wild beasts. Tristram, who passed through this region in 1864, writes: “We rose to the higher ground, and cantered through a noble forest of oaks. Perhaps we were in the woods of Mahanaim. Somewhere a little to the east of us was fought the battle with the rebellious Absalom, and by such an oak as these was he caught. In picturing the broken lines, and a rout through such an open forest, how we realized the statement: ‘The battle was there scattered over the face of all the country, and the wood devoured more people that day than the sword devoured.’ As I rode under a grand old oak tree, I, too, lost my hat and turban, which were caught by a bough.”
9. Absalom met the servants of David And probably darted rapidly one side through the forest to avoid them, when he met with the accident which exposed him helpless to his enemy.
His head caught hold of the oak Probably entangled by his hair, (compare 2 Samuel 14:26,) and so Josephus affirms.
10. Saw Absalom hanged Suspended by his head, hair, and arms, and probably struggling to disentangle himself. He must have suffered serious injury to his person and almost perished by this mishap before the darts of Joab pierced him, for so the statement in 2 Samuel 18:14, that he was yet alive, seems to imply.
11. Go to battle in thine own person Literally, thy presence going into the battle. Unlike Ahithophel, who counselled him to stay at Jerusalem, (2 Samuel 18:3,) Hushai advises him to go himself to the war.
12. As the dew falleth Covering all things, so that nothing on the ground escapes its touch.
13. Falsehood against mine own life Rather, against his life, that is, Absalom’s life, for such is the reading of the Hebrew text, ( בנפשׁו ,) and only the Masoretic pointing favours the English version. To work falsehood against his life means to slay him secretly, and keep it unknown by whose hand he fell. The whole verse should be thus translated: But if I had wrought falsehood againt his life, and everything (word) is not hidden from the king, even thou wouldst have set thyself in opposition.
14. I may not tarry I have no time to lose in thus talking with thee, and am not thus careful to obey the king in this matter. Absalom’s life, says Clarke, “was quadruply forfeited to the law. (1) In having murdered his brother Amnon; (2) In having excited an insurrection in the state; (3) In having taken up arms against his own father, (Deuteronomy 21:18; Deuteronomy 21:21;) (4) In having lain with his father’s concubines. Leviticus 18:29. Long ago he should have died by the hand of justice.” But we cannot, with Clarke and others, denounce this act of Joab as a cowardly murder, base and disloyal. True, he disobeyed the king, but he felt it a duty to disobey. He was too much of a warrior and statesman to think that the rebellion could be successfully subdued without the death of Absalom, and he afterwards vindicated himself before David with a severity of rebuke which the king dared not gainsay or resist. 2 Samuel 19:1-8.
Yet alive Compare note on 2 Samuel 18:10.
15. Ten young men These armour-bearers of Josh, of course, accompanied their chieftain when he went to smite Absalom, and after he had pierced him with his fatal darts they also wantonly abused his lifeless body, and afterwards cast him into the pit. 2 Samuel 18:17.
16. Blew the trumpet The signal for the people to come together: the death of Absalom virtually ending the rebellion.
17. Heap of stones upon him As in the case of Achan and the king of Ai. Joshua 7:26; Joshua 8:29.
18. A pillar A monumental column inscribed with his own name.
King’s dale Supposed by some to be the lower part of the Kidron valley, near the pool of Siloam. See at Genesis 14:17.
No son The three sons mentioned (2 Samuel 14:27) seem to have died in childhood, and their names were never registered.
Called unto this day, Absalom’s place That is, at the time of the writer the pillar was yet standing and its history known. There still stands in the Kidron valley a monument bearing this name. It is an isolated block hewn out of the rocky ledge, twenty-four feet square and forty in height. Most travellers have decided, with Robinson, that its style of architecture shows the work of a later age than that of Absalom; but some are inclined to identify it with the ancient pillar.
19. Then said Ahimaaz This son of the high priest had already performed valuable service as messenger for the king, (2 Samuel 15:36; 2 Samuel 17:21,) and thereby he had gained the confidence and esteem of David. 2 Samuel 18:27. He was also swift of foot, and had a burning desire to be first in bearing the tidings of this victory to Mahanaim.
20. The woman said Like Rahab, she deceived them. Compare Joshua 2:4-5.
The brook of water The wady or stream that ran just below Bahurim.
21. Cushi Supposed by some to have been an Ethiopian slave in the service of Joab.
What thou hast seen He was probably among those ten young men (2 Samuel 18:15) that smote Absalom.
22. Wherefore wilt thou run According to Josephus, Joab opposed Ahimaaz in his desire to bear the tidings to the king, because he had always before borne good news, and now he knew that it would greatly offend and afflict David to inform him of the death of his son.
My son An address of affectionate tenderness. Compare Joshua 7:19.
Thou hast no tidings ready No good tidings, such as thou art wont to bear and receive a reward for. Furst renders: And the tidings are not profitable unto thee; that is, will not obtain for thee a reward. Perhaps his greatest desire in bearing the tidings was to obtain a reward.
23. Ran by the way of the plain He seems to have understood the routes better than Cushi, and also to have been a swifter runner. What plain is here intended is not clear. If the Jordan valley is meant, then the wood of Ephraim must have been somewhere near the river. See note on 2 Samuel 18:6.
24. Sat between the two gates The city of Mahanaim seems to have been enclosed by a double wall, and its main entrance guarded by two gates, an outer and an inner one, between which was a sort of court.
The roof over the gate unto the wall The top of one of the towers of the outer gate. The outer gate of fortified cities was usually surmounted by a tower, in which chambers were often built. The top was a suitable station for a watchman. Such towers were also built into the city walls at various places.
25. If he be alone, there is tidings For if many had been running together it would have indicated a flight.
26. The porter The gate keeper.
27. Methinketh Rather, as the margin, I see the running of the foremost, etc. The swift-footed Ahimaaz was well known for his fleetness.
He is a good man One of the most valuable and cheering of all the tidings David ever received was borne by this messenger, (comp. 2 Samuel 15:31; 2Sa 15:34 ; 2 Samuel 17:14-17,) and this fact made Ahimaaz to be loved by him.
28. All is well שׁלום , Peace. Equivalent to Hail!
Blessed be the Lord Observe the indirect way in which the tidings are announced.
29. The king’s servant Cushi, who was now close by.
I saw a great tumult, but I knew not what it was He knew the king’s son was dead, for Joab had told him, (2 Samuel 18:20;) but knowing the tenderness of David for Absalom, he would not be the herald of sad news to him. Josephus states that Ahimaaz obtained leave of Joab to run to David by assuring him that he would relate only the victory of his army, and not the death of Absalom.
33. The chamber over the gate An apartment in the upper part of the tower of one of the gates.
O my son Absalom This lamentation is the most touchingly pathetic of all David’s elegies, and it sprung from the deepest depths of his heart. One hardly knows which most to wonder at, the excessive tenderness of the father, or the pitiable weakness of the king.
In the life and death of Absalom we have a picture of the fast young man. At an early period of his life a bitter hatred towards his brother soon ends in impious fratricide, and a soul thus passionate and rash can easily find its way to the crimes of an incendiary. 2 Samuel 14:30. Excessively vain, he loves to display his beauty, and have his praises spoken of in Israel; and this path of vainglory leads him rapidly on to an ostentatious prodigality that affects regal pomp and splendour, (2 Samuel 15:1,) and even erects a pillar to perpetuate his name. For a youth thus reckless and headstrong it was no difficult matter to plot treason, (even against a father’s throne,) seduce the people, betray the innocent, and commit the most shameful incest. Such abandoned characters are sure to meet with a miserable end.
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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 18". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26