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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
2 Samuel 16

 

 

Introduction

David’s Great Sins And Their Consequences (11:1-20:26).

We now come to a crucially significant aspect of David’s reign which explains the dark side of that reign. Up to this point all has been pictured as success, and YHWH has been portrayed as with David in all that he has done (even though some of it came after this incident). But from this point on in the narrative we are faced with another aspect of David’s life, and it does not make pleasant reading, for it deals with a period of complacency in David’s life which resulted in heinous sins, and the great problems that then resulted from them. We are not to gather from this that YHWH ceased to bless David. Indeed some of the incidents previously described undoubtedly occurred after what happened here (e.g. his being granted a palace of cedar), and it is made clear in the narrative that YHWH is still active on David’s behalf (2 Samuel 17:14). But there is a deliberate attempt in the following narratives to draw out how David did fail, and the consequences of that failure for at least some of what followed in the latter part of his reign. And what is even more significant is that the narratives appear to have come from records maintained under the authority of David himself (2 Samuel 9 onwards have reasonably been seen as being selections from ‘The Court History Of David’).

This in itself is unusual in that reigning monarchs usually tended to ensure that all indications of failure in their reign were omitted from their records, or at least were altered in order to take the sting out of them. It is therefore an indication of David’s genuineness of heart before God, and of the writer’s intention of writing only to the glory of God, that they did not do the same.

Some have seen chapter 11 onwards as intended to explain how it was that Solomon came to the succession. That is certainly a very important aspect of these chapters, and was possibly in the writer’s mind. But had that been their sole main purpose much that was derogatory to David could have been omitted. So we must certainly add the fact that the writer was equally concerned to bring out how what followed was the result of David’s own weakness and failure as revealed in his adultery with Bathsheba and his cold-blooded murder of Uriah the Hittite. Together with the description of the consequences to the realm of David’s arrogant numbering of Israel (chapter 24), it was intended to bring out that even David was flawed. It was a deliberate reminder that we are to look forward to the coming of the righteous everlasting King of the everlasting kingdom (2 Samuel 7:13; 2 Samuel 7:16; 1 Samuel 2:10; Genesis 49:8-12; Psalms 2:7-12; Numbers 24:17-19; Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 11:1-4) who would be even greater than David.

In some ways David’s life story is very similar to that of Saul, for we saw how Saul’s story began with his success during his rise to power (1 Samuel 10-11), continued with success, even when accompanied by failings (1 Samuel 13-14), and culminated with a description of his success over all his enemies, because YHWH was with him (1 Samuel 14 47-48). This was then followed by a description of Saul’s great sin, and his resulting downfall (1 Samuel 15 on). What follows indicates that there was something similar in the pattern of David’s life. He too began with great success (1 Samuel 17-18), continued with success even when accompanied by failings, and was triumphant over all his enemies (3-10), only to find himself involved in sins so dire that it is almost beyond belief. For what now follows is a story of flagrant disobedience in respect of God’s Law, and despicable betrayal of those who trusted him, and both on a huge scale, although it must be admitted that they were in fact totally ‘out of character’ with the David usually portrayed to us. It is a reminder that such failure can happen even in those who seem most above it.

There are, of course, a number of differences between Saul and David which explain why Saul finished up in the shame of rejection, while David moved on from his sin to greater things. The first difference is that Saul’s sins were comprised of blatant disobedience to YHWH’s direct commands which had been made on him as YHWH’s Anointed, and were in fact in character in that they arose from his casual attitude towards crucial religious requirements concerning which he felt he could compromise (even though he was actually scrupulous concerning more minor ritual), while David’s sins, for all their enormity, were not a result of disobedience to YHWH’s direct commands given to him as YHWH’s Anointed, but were the consequence of failing in his general responsibility and (temporarily) in his response to God’s Law during a period of spiritual declension.

The second difference was that Saul sought to brush his failures off, and did not treat them seriously enough to fling himself down before YHWH crying for forgiveness, while David knew how to repent, and did precisely that. When David was faced with having failed and grieved YHWH he was distraught, and came directly to YHWH in humble repentance, seeking forgiveness (see Psalms 51).

This section could also equally be headed ‘The Consequences of Forgiven Sin’, for it reveals that even though David was forgiven, the consequences of his sins for others went on and on. Thus it commences with David committing adultery and murder (2 Samuel 11), something which results in YHWH indicating what punishment will follow (2 Samuel 12:10-14), and goes on to describe how that punishment actually came about (chapters 13-20). And yet that punishment is not simply to be seen as the arbitrary result of God carrying out His prophecy, for the sins of David’s sons are clearly to be seen as directly resulting from David’s progeny voluntarily following their father’s own example of sexual misbehaviour and betrayal. David was thus to learn through bitter experience that what we sow we reap, and we undoubtedly see the outworking of that process in the following chapters. And it all arose because David had become complacent and arrogant, and had slumped into a state of spiritual lethargy, thereby ceasing to fulfil his spiritual responsibilities towards YHWH This was brought out by the fact that, unlike the old David, he preferred to linger in Jerusalem in a state of boredom and spiritual emptiness rather than be out on the front line.

We must not be deceived. What David did with Bathsheba was not the momentary failure of a strongly tempted man. It was the direct result of his spiritual lethargy and growing royal arrogance. And the whole incident reveals what a sad condition he had fallen into, for it reveals the picture of a man who was saying to himself, ‘I am now the king. I can do what I like. Nothing can be withheld from me. I am master of all I survey.’ That indeed was why he was still in Jerusalem. It was because he no longer felt it necessary to fulfil his obligations towards YHWH and towards his people. That could now be left to others as he himself enjoyed a life of lazy indolence. After all, he no doubt argued to himself, he had earned it. But like Moses when he arrogantly and disobediently struck the rock in the Wilderness of Sin (Numbers 20:6-12), David too had become arrogant and disobedient, and like Moses would have to suffer the consequences of forgiven sin.

The Direct Consequences Resulting From David’s Sins (13:1-20:22).

Having confirmed YHWH’s acceptance of David as a forgiven sinner following on his great sins, an acceptance which was confirmed by YHWH’s naming of Solomon and by David’s victory over the Ammonites, the writer will now go into some depths to make clear what the consequences nevertheless were of David’s sins. For what David had done inevitably affected his sons, who were vividly aware of his sin while at the same time not sharing with him in his repentance. David’s sad period of arrogance bred in them a similar royal arrogance and an inevitable carelessness in respect of sexual matters and of violence towards others, which they began to see as a royal prerogative. ‘After all,’ they would say, ‘we are only behaving like our father did, and what other role model do we have? He is the only royal example that we know.’ Thus while David still had authority over his kingdom, he had lost his personal parental authority over his own sons because of his own bad example. It was one of the great disadvantages of polygamy that the children tended to receive their personal training from their mothers, and from servants, with their father being a distant father figure, so that what they learned from him was usually conveyed by his outward behaviour generally, something which was of crucial importance as an example to his children. (It is a reminder to all parents that they should keep in mind that what they are speaks far louder than what they say).

Sadly the next eight chapters in Samuel will deal with the direct consequences of David’s sins, and is an illustration of how the sins of the fathers can affect their offspring. The chapters cover a period of sexual misbehaviour and violence that will now plague the house of David, presented in the most vivid form:

· The sexual misbehaviour of David’s firstborn, Amnon, because of his royal arrogance, the ravishing of David’s beautiful daughter (2 Samuel 13:1-22).

· The subsequent death of Amnon at the hands of Absalom, David’s third son (2 Samuel 13:23-39).

· The subsequent estrangement of Absalom from his father (2 Samuel 14:1-20).

· Absalom’s partial restoration and his successful plotting against David with the intention of seizing the throne (2 Samuel 14:21 to 2 Samuel 15:6).

· Absalom’s rebellion against his father and his sexual misbehaviour with David’s concubines (2 Samuel 15:7 to 2 Samuel 16:23).

· The subsequent warfare that resulted finally in the death of Absalom at the hands of David’s servants, to the great grief of his father (2 Samuel 17:1 to 2 Samuel 18:33).

This will then be followed by:

· The re-establishing of David’s kingship and his mercy shown or rewards given to those who had behaved ill or well towards him (2 Samuel 19:1-39).

· The disenchantment of a part of Israel because they considered that David had favoured Judah during the restoration of the kingship, and the subsequent further rebellion which was in the end defeated (2 Samuel 19:40 to 2 Samuel 20:22).

But even with these consequences the overall picture given is one of YHWH’s faithfulness to David. Because he had truly repented He would see him through it all and bring him through triumphantly.

SECTION 9. The Course Of The Civil Wars Resulting From Absalom’s Rebellion (15:13-20:22).

Absalom’s rebellion blossomed and the result was that David had to flee from Jerusalem. But he was soon to discover that he was not without friends as first Ittai the Gittite affirmed his loyalty along with his Philistine mercenaries, then the priests brought the Ark of God which ‘supervised’ the departure from Jerusalem as an indication that God was with him, and this was followed by the arrival of Hushai the Archite, who would counter the wisdom of Ahithophel, and Ziba the servant of Mephibosheth who provided provisions for the journey. On the darker side he was cursed and wished good riddance by Shimei the Benjaminite, but took even that as a good omen because the curse was based on false premises.

Following on this the course of the war is described, and it is made clear that in every way YHWH was acting on David’s behalf and confounding all the efforts of Absalom, with the final result that Absalom himself was killed and his forces suffered a humiliating defeat. Unfortunately, as a result of subsequent events, this would lead on to a second rebellion among the many disaffected people in Israel, a rebellion which would finally be crushed by Joab.

Analysis Of The Section.

a Absalom raises rebellion against David and enlists the services of the wise Ahithophel (2 Samuel 15:13-31).

b The ancient Hushai the Archite comes to David and is called on to counter the wisdom of Ahithopel (2 Samuel 15:32-37).

c Ziba, the servant of Mephibosheth, meets David with provisions and traduces Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 16:1-4).

d David is cursed by Shimei as a man of blood and Abishai wishes to execute him (2 Samuel 16:5-14).

e Conflicting advice on how to ensure that David’s power will be broken among the people (2 Samuel 16:15 to 2 Samuel 17:14).

f Hushai warns David that he must flee over the Jordan to escape the people (2 Samuel 17:15-23).

g The opposing armies prepare for battle and David pleads for mercy for his son (2 Samuel 17:24 to 2 Samuel 18:5).

h The final battle (2 Samuel 18:6-17).

g David receives tidings of the course of the battle and mourns for Absalom (2 Samuel 18:18-33).

f Joab warns David of the consequences of his behaviour with regard to his people (2 Samuel 19:1-8 a)

e David calls for the restoration of his power among the people (2 Samuel 19:8-15).

d Shimei meets David and pleads for forgiveness while Abishai wishes to execute him (2 Samuel 19:16-23).

c Mephibosheth meets David and David learns of Ziba’s treachery (2 Samuel 19:24-30).

b The ancient Barzillai conducts David back over the Jordan (2 Samuel 19:31-40).

a Sheba raises a rebellion against David and is betrayed by the wise woman of Abel (2 Samuel 19:41 to 2 Samuel 20:22).

Note that in ‘a’ Absalom rebels against David and is assisted by a wise man, and in the parallel Sheba rebels against David and is betrayed by a wise woman. In ‘b’ the ancient Hushai the Archite comes to David’s support, and in the parallel the ancient Barzillai conducts David back across the Jordan. In ‘c’ Ziba, the servant of Mephibosheth traduces his master while bringing provisions to David in order to obtain favour, and in the parallel Mephibosheth exposes his servant’s villainy. In ‘d’ Shimei curses David and is threatened by Abishai, and in the parallel he begs forgiveness and is threatened by Abishai. In ‘e’ Absalom receives advice on how he can break the power of David, and in the parallel David calls on Judah to restore his power. In ‘f’ Hushai warns David to flee over the Jordan to escape the people, and in the parallel Joab warns David of the consequences of disaffecting his people. In ‘g’ the armies prepare for battle, and in the parallel David receives tidings about the result of the battle. Centrally in ‘h’ the final battle is described.


Verses 1-4

The Arrival Of Ziba, Servant Of Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 16:1-4).

We must recognise that at the precise time when Ziba, the servant of Mephibosheth, arrived with his provisions, David was not thinking straightly. Had he been he would have realised that the likelihood that Mephibosheth really thought that Absalom would establish him on the throne was nil. All knew that Absalom would not have gone to all the trouble that he had gone to in order to see someone else put on the throne. Rather he was himself claiming the throne as a son of David. Nor would it have been likely that Mephibosheth would seriously have expected that Israel would agree to a total cripple like himself taking the throne. They had never considered it before, even immediately after Ishbosheth’s death, why should they then consider it now, especially when they had available Absalom the darling of the people? And this was especially so as all knew that any king at this time would need to be a capable warrior.

But it is being made clear to us by this that Absalom’s rebellion had shaken David’s confidence to such an extent that he just did not know what to believe. He was beginning to feel that he could believe anything about anyone. Thus when Ziba told him that that was what Mephibosheth had said he actually appears to have believed it, with the result that he assured Ziba that from now on all that pertained to the traitor Mephibosheth would be his. Ziba obsequiously expressed his gratitude, but he above all must have known that if Mephibosheth survived he would have an account to give. Possibly he hoped that Mephibosheth would be slaughtered during the civil war, or by Absalom because he saw him as a threat. Then he would be in the clear. But it was undoubtedly the most unlikely of arguments. It only succeeded because David’s mind was in a whirl, and also on other things. (He did have rather a lot to think about).

Analysis.

a And when David was a little past the top of the ascent, behold, Ziba the servant of Mephibosheth met him, with a couple of (or ‘a string of’) asses saddled, and on them two hundred loaves of bread, and a hundred clusters of raisins, and a hundred of summer fruits, and a bottle of wine (2 Samuel 16:1).

b And the king said to Ziba, “What is your intention concerning these?” And Ziba said, “The asses are for the king’s household to ride on, and the bread and summer fruit for the young men to eat, and the wine is so that such as are faint in the wilderness may drink.” (2 Samuel 16:2).

c And the king said, “And where is your master’s son?” And Ziba said to the king, “See, he remains at Jerusalem; for he said, ‘Today will the house of Israel restore me the kingdom of my father.’ ” (2 Samuel 16:3).

b Then the king said to Ziba, “Look, all that pertains to Mephibosheth is yours” (2 Samuel 16:4 a).

a And Ziba said, “I do obeisance. Let me find favour in your sight, my lord, O king” (2 Samuel 16:4 b).

Note that in ‘a’ Ziba meets David with asses and provisions and in the parallel he makes obeisance to David. In ‘b’ David learns that the provisions are a gift for him and in the parallel he gives Ziba all that pertains to Mephibosheth. Central in ‘c’ is the charge that Mephibosheth has behaved treacherously.

2 Samuel 16:1

And when David was a little past the top of the ascent, behold, Ziba the servant of Mephibosheth met him, with a team of (or ‘a string of’) asses saddled, and on them two hundred loaves of bread, and a hundred clusters of raisins, and a hundred of summer fruits, and a skin of wine.’

As David’s caravan including his household continued forward down the other side of the Mount of Olives, they were met by Ziba, the servant of Mephibosheth who had brought a team of asses laden with provisions suitable for wilderness travelling. These included bread, raisins and figs together with some wine (compare 1 Samuel 30:11-12).

“A team of asses.” This would normally indicate two, but here, considering their purpose, possibly indicates a string of asses tied together. The verbal stem signifies ‘tied or yoked together’.

2 Samuel 16:2

And the king said to Ziba, “What is your intention concerning these?” And Ziba said, “The asses are for the king’s household to ride on, and the bread and summer fruit for the young men to eat, and the wine is so that such as are faint in the wilderness may drink.” ’

While David’s party would hardly have been suffering from a scarcity of food at this initial stage of the flight, (they had just left a well stocked palace), it would be the thought behind the gift that moved David’s heart most. It came at a time when he was glad to have friends. But what puzzled him was the absence of Mephibosheth.

2 Samuel 16:3

And the king said, “And where is your master’s son?” And Ziba said to the king, “Look, he remains at Jerusalem; for he said, ‘Today will the house of Israel restore me the kingdom of my father.’ ” ’

So he asked Ziba where his master was. Ziba’s reply was that Mephibosheth had remained in Jerusalem on the grounds that he was expecting that Israel would now set him on the throne of his father. After all, as the son of Jonathan, Mephibosheth was theoretically the heir apparent to Saul.

At any other time David would undoubtedly have been deeply suspicious at such a claim, but at a time like this, when he was being betrayed by his own son, and his head was in a whirl with grief, nothing surprised him, and he appears to have taken Ziba’s words literally. He should in fact have realised that:

1). It was not really likely that Mephibosheth had any such expectation, both because Israel had never considered him before, even on the death of Ishbosheth, and because David should have known that Mephibosheth could hardly really have believed that Absalom intended to hand over the throne. He would in fact have known that Mephibosheth had no popular support, nor saw himself as having any.

2). If he had been rebelling Mephibosheth would hardly have allowed Ziba to come away and declare his intentions to David in this way, nor would Ziba, if he was leaving surreptitiously, have dared to leave his family behind at Mephibosheth’s mercy. The appearance of Ziba alone should have wreaked with suspicion. If what he said was true it would mean that he had deserted Mephibosheth leaving behind him all those whom he held dear to suffer under Mephibosheth’s wrath.

2 Samuel 16:4

Then the king said to Ziba, “Look, all that pertains to Mephibosheth is yours.” And Ziba said, “I do obeisance. Let me find favour in your sight, my lord, O king.” ’

But the king was not at this time himself, for he already felt himself to be a man betrayed by his own flesh and blood, and a man in that state sees betrayers everywhere. That explains why he was seemingly able to believe anything, and was grateful for any proof of friendship shown by anyone. He therefore believed Ziba’s words and granted to him all that he had previously put at Mephibosheth’s disposal. Understandably Ziba then made obeisance to David and expressed gratitude for his favour.

Ziba coming in this way loaded with provisions was especially welcome because just as the presence of the Ark of God (suitably covered) had confirmed to him that he had YHWH with Him, and that YHWH knew all that was happening, so did the coming of Ziba with earthly sustenance confirm to him that YHWH would provide food for him and his men in the wilderness.

Ziba did not, however, himself go with David. He returned back to his sons and presumably to Mephibosheth, no doubt making some excuse to him for his absence (2 Samuel 19:17). He was playing both sides off against each other. By remaining with Mephibosheth he was ensuring that he was safe if Absalom succeeded, but meanwhile he had secured his future if David triumphed. When he knew, in fact, that David was returning in triumph he again forsook Mephibosheth and with his sons went, along with Shimei and a thousand Benjaminites, to welcome David back. He was so successful in this that it is clear that in the end David was not sure who was his friend, Ziba or Mephibosheth (he had after all just been betrayed by his own son. How could he be sure of Mephibosheth?), with the result that he shared their property between them.

There is an interesting irony in the fact that having just sent Hushai to deceive Absalom, David was now in his turn totally deceived by Ziba. Perhaps there is intended to be a warning here of the fact that what we do to others will be done to us. Furthermore by his deceit Ziba sought to turn David against Mephibosheth, a Saulide who was in fact loyal to him, while this will immediately be followed by the description of a further Saulide (Shimei) who was certainly not loyal to him. The whole affair was a hotch potch of deceit, betrayal and hatred typical of a civil war, a time when no one could be trusted as they all manoeuvred to ensure their own positions.


Verses 5-14

David Is Cursed By A Member Of The House Of Saul (2 Samuel 16:5-14).

We will have noted that up to this point each person who had approached David had been evidence to him that YHWH was with him:

· The coming of the Ark and its setting up on the mount had been evidence that YHWH was watching over their departure.

· The coming of Hushai had been evidence that YHWH had heard David’s prayer concerning Ahithophel.

· The coming of Ziba had been evidence that YHWH would continue to provide for David and his people in the wilderness.

· But now he would be met by a Saulide who would curse him to his face, and yet instead of punishing him David would take it as evidence that YHWH would turn the curse to his good, for he had already recognised that what was happening to him was in fact due to YHWH’s chastening because he had become so complacent and sinful, and it was now his hope that because it was now he who was being wronged YHWH would act on his behalf and against the one who was doing the wrong.

It is one of the signs of the true man of God that when tribulation comes on him he recognises it as being from the hand of the Lord to do him good, and that was what was happening to David. David had been asleep spiritually, but now he was once more wide awake, recognising the hand of God in all that was happening.

Analysis.

a And when king David came to Bahurim, behold, there came out from there a man of the family of the house of Saul, whose name was Shimei, the son of Gera (2 Samuel 16:5).

b He came out, and cursed still as he came. And he cast stones at David, and at all the servants of king David, and all the people and all the mighty men were on his right hand and on his left (2 Samuel 16:6).

c And this is what Shimei said when he cursed, “Begone, begone, you man of blood, and base fellow, YHWH has returned on you all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose stead you have reigned, and YHWH has delivered the kingdom into the hand of Absalom your son, and, behold, you are taken in your own mischief, because you are a man of blood” (2 Samuel 16:7-8).

d Then Abishai the son of Zeruiah said to the king, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over, I pray you, and take off his head” (2 Samuel 16:9).

e And the king said, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah?” (2 Samuel 16:10 a).

d Because he curses, and because YHWH has said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who then shall say, ‘Why have you done so?’ ”

c And David said to Abishai, and to all his servants, “Consider the fact that my son, who came forth from my bowels, seeks my life, how much more may this Benjaminite now do it? Let him alone, and let him curse, for YHWH has bidden him. It may be that YHWH will look on the wrong done to me, and that YHWH will requite me good for his cursing of me this day” (2 Samuel 16:11-12).

b So David and his men went by the way, and Shimei went along on the hill-side over against him, and cursed as he went, and threw stones at him, and cast dust (2 Samuel 16:13).

a And the king, and all the people who were with him, became weary, and he refreshed himself there (2 Samuel 16:14).

Note that in ‘a’ David comes to Bahurim, and in the parallel he refreshes himself there. In ‘b’ Shimei curses David and throws stones at him and his men, and in the parallel he does the same. In ‘c’ he is being cursed by a Saulide as a man of blood, and the Saulide rejoices over the fact that YHWH has delivered the kingdom into the hands of his son, and in the parallel David declares that in view of the fact that his own son seeks his life, it is hardly surprising that ‘this Benjaminite’ does the same. In ‘d’ Abishai asks why ‘this dead dog’ should be allowed to curse the king, and in the parallel David declares that it is because YHWH has told him curse him. Central in ‘e’ David distinguishes himself from the bloodlust of ‘the sons of Zeruiah’.

2 Samuel 16:5

And when king David came to Bahurim, behold, there came out from there a man of the family of the house of Saul, whose name was Shimei, the son of Gera. He came out, and cursed still as he came.’

Bahurim was the place to which Paltiel had come weeping when his wife Michal was taken from him by Ishbosheth and returned to David, the place at which Abner had curtly commanded him to go back to his home (2 Samuel 3:15-16). It was also the place where the spies who would leave Jerusalem would also hide (2 Samuel 17:18). It was just beyond the Mount of Olives on the way to the wilderness. That there were many in Israel, especially among the Benjaminites, who also resented David comes out in this incident. In some ways Shimei must have been a very brave man, for he alone of all of them expressed their feelings about David to him personally, and that in the face of David’s bodyguard. As a member of the house of Saul and therefore in some way related to Saul he had come out in order to express the bitterness of the house of Saul against David, and he did it by cursing him. David must have thought, ‘first Mephibosheth and now this man’. It was a reminder to him that although YHWH had raised him up over the house of Saul, he himself had failed too. The sight of the man standing on the hillside was a reminder of his own failure to obey YHWH. It is probable that Shimei was on a ridge overlooking the road where he felt himself safe from David’s men.

2 Samuel 16:6

And he cast stones at David, and at all the servants of king David, and all the people and all the mighty men were on his right hand and on his left.’

The man then began to hurl stones towards the royal party. They were symbolic rather than intended to cause harm, a symbolic indication that David was dirt, and was not wanted in Israel. Indeed as David was surrounded on all sides by his most valiant warriors, they were unlikely to reach him. But the very fact that the man did it under those circumstances demonstrated how deeply he felt, for he had little protection against the swords of David’s men if they did try to reach him.

2 Samuel 16:7-8

And this is what Shimei said when he cursed, “Begone, begone, you man of blood, and base fellow, YHWH has returned on you all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose stead you have reigned; and YHWH has delivered the kingdom into the hand of Absalom your son, and, behold, you are taken in your own mischief, because you are a man of blood.”

The words of his curse are now described for us. It was a call on David to be gone because he was a man of blood and a base fellow. This was one heart that he had certainly not won. His view was that David had come to the throne of Israel by trampling over the blood of the Saulides. They had given their lives for Israel, and then David had taken advantage of it in order to seize the throne, trampling them out of the way. It was, of course a caricature of what had happened, for David had gone out of his way not to harm the house of Saul, but to a member of the family grief stricken at what had happened to his family it did not seem that way. All he had seen was that Saul and his three eldest sons had died gloriously, shedding their blood on Mount Gilboa, that his fourth son Ishbosheth had been cruelly murdered in his own bed, and that Abner his cousin had been assassinated at Hebron. And that was the way in which ‘this man’ had become king. Well, now ‘he’ was himself learning what it was like, for it was clear that even his own son had no longer been able to stand his ways and had rebelled against him, and had taken over his kingdom (Absalom’s propagandists had done a good job). And it was furthermore clearly YHWH Himself Who had done it to him because of his sinful behaviour and especially because of his bloodthirsy and murderous methods. To Shimei, looking in from the outside and not knowing the true facts, David was a bloodthirsty tyrant who was getting what he deserved. It is often the lot of God’s servants to be misunderstood.

2 Samuel 16:9

Then Abishai the son of Zeruiah said to the king, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over, I pray you, and take off his head.” ’

Shimei’s words understandably angered David’s men. To curse the king was treason. And Abishai, David’s nephew and one of his generals, turned to David and said, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over, I pray you, and take off his head.” To a man of Abishai’s experience climbing up to a ridge would have caused him little difficulty. What he did not realise was that he was in fact by this exemplifying the very attitude which had given David his bad reputation, and indeed that he was himself one of the two men (along with Joab) who were mostly responsible for that bad reputation (2 Samuel 3:39).

The description ‘dead dog’ was a regular indication of someone who was powerless, unimportant and incapable of doing any harm (2 Samuel 9:8; 1 Samuel 24:14). Dogs were seen as a nuisance and a scourge as they hovered around the edges of cities, but a dead dog had ceased even to be that. It no longer counted as it lay there in the dust until someone dragged away its carcase and cast it into the waste pit. And that would be David’s whole point, that Shimei was harmless and was to be pitied. He was just barking. He was not worthy of notice.

2 Samuel 16:10

And the king said, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? Because he curses, and because YHWH has said to him, ‘Curse David’? Who then shall say, ‘Why have you done so?’ ” ’

David then turned to Abishai and declared that he wanted nothing to do with the bloodthirsty attitudes of ‘you sons of Zeruiah’ (compare 2 Samuel 3:39). He did not look kindly on the ways of the sons of Zeruiah who were only too ready to remove the opposition by killing them. And he pointed out that all that the man was doing was cursing because he thought that YHWH had told him to curse David. Who were they to question his reasons? Did he not, a least in his own eyes, have some justification? David was clearly not concerned about a curse that was not justified because the one who cursed had got his facts wrong. He was more concerned not to kill men for little adequate reason. It is a reminder here that although David could slaughter men in battle with the best of them, and could carry out any measures that were seen as necessary without cringing, he was not into killing helpless people just because they displeased him. Essentially he was a humane man.

“What have I to do with you.” Literally ‘what is there to you and to me?’ For this phrase compare 1 Kings 17:18; John 2:4; and see Joshua 22:24; Luke 9:52-56.

2 Samuel 16:11-12

And David said to Abishai, and to all his servants, “Consider the fact that my son, who came forth from my bowels, seeks my life, how much more may this Benjaminite now do it? Let him alone, and let him curse, for YHWH has bidden him. It may be that YHWH will look on the wrong done to me (or ‘on my iniquity’), and that YHWH will requite me good for his cursing of me this day.” ’

Then David revealed something of the grief that was tearing at his own soul, for he called on Abishai to consider what his own true born son was doing to him. Forgetting the ties of blood he was intent on seeking his life because he had been offended, and in order to further his own advantage. At least this man Shimei was demonstrating his loyalty to his own family. How much more right he had than Absalom to curse David, for he was a Benjaminite of the house of Saul. So let him be left alone, and let him curse. It was obvious that YHWH had bidden him to do it.

David was acknowledging by this the fact that it was coming home to him that he himself had displeased YHWH. But in view of the fact that the main charge was not true (even though it may have appeared to be true to a Saulide who had only heard rumours) it could not hurt him. Indeed his hope was that YHWH would look on the wrong accusations which resulted from a false view of the facts, and would, rather than cursing David, return good to him as a result of the cursing that he was receiving. In other words that He would give him blessing for cursing because the cursing had been unfair.

Alternately we may see David as recognising his own sin (‘it may be that YHWH will look on my iniquity’) and praying that as YHWH did look at his sin He might have pity because David was also being blamed and cursed for what he had not done, and as a result might ‘do good’ towards him, as a result of the fact that David was seen to have ‘paid sufficient price’ for his great sin.

2 Samuel 16:13

So David and his men went by the way, and Shimei went along on the hill-side over against him, and cursed as he went, and threw stones at him, and cast dust.’

So leaving Shimei to his own devices David and his men went on their way, while Shimei walked along on a ridge above them, cursing David, throwing stones, and casting dust. In this way all the pent up anger of years was being revealed, and there would have been many others who felt similarly. That Shimei was in fact a wealthy man and a man of influence among the Benjaminites able to do considerable harm comes out later in that he was able to bring ‘a thousand’ Benjaminites to David. See 2 Samuel 19:16-23; 1 Kings 2:8-9; 1 Kings 2:36-46. He was thus a man who had to be regarded and watched.

2 Samuel 16:14

And the king, and all the people who were with him, became weary (or ‘came to ‘Ayephim’) , and he refreshed himself there.’

The hurried flight from Jerusalem with all the organisation and rushing around that it had involved had clearly taken its toll on them, and the king’s group therefore decided to take a rest break once they had passed Bahurim (or we may translate once ‘they came to ‘Ayephim’). They now felt safer and were beginning to feel the strain of the flight and were already weary. The fact that they did so indicated that David was keenly aware of Absalom’s movements and knew that as yet there was no danger. (Messengers were no doubt constantly arriving from loyal supporters). And there they refreshed themselves before proceeding on towards the fords of the Jordan.


Verses 15-23

Absalom Arrives In Jerusalem And Indicates To Israel His Complete Break From David By Making Love To His Concubines In The Eyes Of All Israel (On The Advice Of Ahithophel) (2 Samuel 16:15-23).

Meanwhile Absalom and his revolutionary forces, together with Ahithophel, arrived in Jerusalem, where they were immediately met by Hushai the Archite, advancing towards Absalom crying, ‘Long live the king. Long live the king’ (he just forgot to mention which king). The emphasis throughout the passage on the presence and advice of Ahithophel (verses 15, 20, 21, 23) demonstrates what a great danger he was seen to be, but the reader and listener know that that is precisely the reason that Hushai was there, to combat the wisdom of Ahithophel. YHWH was thus already seen to be at work on upsetting Absalom’s plans on behalf of His servant David. It was further proof that YHWH was with him.

Analysis.

a And Absalom, and all the people, the men of Israel, came to Jerusalem, and Ahithophel with him (2 Samuel 16:15).

b And it came about that, when Hushai the Archite, David’s friend, was come to Absalom, Hushai said to Absalom, “Long live the king, Long live the king” (2 Samuel 16:16).

c And Absalom said to Hushai, “Is this your kindness to your friend? Why did you not go out with your friend?” (2 Samuel 16:16-17).

d And Hushai said to Absalom, “No, but whom YHWH, and this people, and all the men of Israel have chosen, his will I be, and with him will I abide.” And again, “Whom should I serve? Should I not serve in the presence of his son? As I have served in your father’s presence, so will I be in your presence” (2 Samuel 16:18-19).

c Then Absalom said to Ahithophel, “Give your counsel as to what we shall do.” And Ahithophel said to Absalom, “Go in to your father’s concubines, whom he has left to keep the house, and all Israel will hear that you art abhorred of your father. Then will the hands of all who are with you be strong” (2 Samuel 16:20-21).

b So they spread Absalom a tent on the top of the house, and Absalom went in to his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel (2 Samuel 16:22).

a And the counsel of Ahithophel, which he gave in those days, was as if a man enquired at the oracle of God, so was all the counsel of Ahithophel both with David and with Absalom (2 Samuel 16:23).

Note that in ‘a’ Absalom arrives with all his forces, ‘and Ahithophel with him’, and in the parallel it is Ahithophel who is seen to be the wisdom behind the throne. In ‘b’ Hushai meets Absalom and hails him with the coronation cry, ‘long live the king’, and in the parallel Absalom asserts his intention to live long as king by going in to his father’s concubines, an act proclaiming his own kingship. In ‘c’ Absalom asks Hushai, the Friend of David, concerning his position, and in the parallel he asks Ahithophel what he should do about his present situation. The two ‘wise men’ are thus seen to be in juxtaposition with each other. Central in ‘d’ is Hushai’s ambiguous assertion that he will continue to serve whoever is the true king chosen by YHWH and all the people of Israel.

2 Samuel 16:15

And Absalom, and all the people, the men of Israel, came to Jerusalem, and Ahithophel with him.’

The arrival in Jerusalem of Absalom, along with all the people, and with Ahithophel is now described. Absalom and Ahithophel together intend to see off David, Absalom because of what had happened to his sister at the hands of David’s firstborn, which David had done nothing about, and which had been an insult to his royal grandfather, the king of Geshur, and Ahithophel because of the distress that David had brought on his family by his behaviour with Bathsheba his granddaughter. It was a powerful combination, and both arose from David’s original sin with Bathsheba.

2 Samuel 16:16

And it came about that, when Hushai the Archite, David’s friend, was come to Absalom, Hushai said to Absalom, “Long live the king, Long live the king.”

For a moment, as we see them together, our hearts are filled with dread for the Anointed of YHWH, but then suddenly we observe advancing to meet Absalom YHWH’s answer to Ahithophel. For onto the scene comes ‘David’s Friend’ (his official title) crying out ‘Long live the king, long live the king’. This cry was a regular cry recognised as offering official recognition of the king spoken of, but Hushai failed to declare precisely which king he meant.

2 Samuel 16:17

And Absalom said to Hushai, “Is this your kindness to your friend? Why did you not go out with your friend?” ’

Absalom, the traitor, (and thus readily able to appreciate traitors), then made a joke at Hushai’s expense, for Hushai bore the official title of ‘the King’s Friend’, and he jocularly asked, ‘Is this how you behave towards your ‘friend’? Why did you not go off with your ‘friend’ into the wilderness?’ But it was clearly not a pressing question as is indicated by the ease with which he will accept Hushai as an adviser. He would not have done that if he had thought that there was a possibility that his heart was otherwise disposed. He rather saw him as ‘a chancer’ like himself. We must remember that this was in a day when king’s were often deposed by rivals, with retainers then on the whole generally changing sides to acknowledge the rival. They often had little option if they did not want to die, or lose all their possessions.

2 Samuel 16:18

And Hushai said to Absalom, “No, but whom YHWH, and this people, and all the men of Israel have chosen, his will I be, and with him will I abide.” ’

As befitted a wise man Hushai turned the conversation in a serious direction, by pointing out that his responsibility was to serve whoever YHWH, and the people who are standing around, and all Israel, have chosen. It was to him that he would be loyal, and it was with him that he would reside. Absalom, buoyant as a result of his success, naturally saw himself as intended by the description. Was it not proved by his presence unhindered in Jerusalem? But had he been more discerning he might have stopped and considered the fact that David was the chosen of YHWH. For David was YHWH’s Anointed, and had been chosen by all Israel, and he was still alive.

2 Samuel 16:19

And again, “Whom should I serve? Should I not serve in the presence of his son? As I have served in your father’s presence, so will I be in your presence.”

Hushai then pledged his loyalty to the reigning representative of the house of David in the terms that David had suggested. As he had served the in the presence of the father so would he serve in the presence of the son. He would serve whoever was regnant in Jerusalem. It will be noted that he had not refuted his loyalty to David. He had rather carefully aligned himself with the practical situation. But it was apparently sufficient to satisfy Absalom. Ahithophel apparently kept his own counsel (or it may be that he was not even present).

2 Samuel 16:20

Then Absalom said to Ahithophel, “Give your counsel as to what we shall do.” ’

Having settled in Jerusalem Absalom then called on Ahithophel as leader of his advisers (the verb, and therefore the ‘your’, is plural) to advise him as to his next step. What should he do now?

2 Samuel 16:21

And Ahithophel said to Absalom, “Go in to your father’s concubines, whom he has left to keep the house, and all Israel will hear that you art abhorred of your father. Then will the hands of all who are with you be strong.” ’

Ahithophel, who was aware that all Israel would be watching, unsure as to which side they should support, then informed Absalom that he must make it apparent to all Israel that there could be no reconciliation between him and his father. It had to be made clear to them immediately that Absalom was totally committed in his determination to oust David. And he knew that the one way in which this could be done would be by Absalom appropriating for himself the royal harem and making love to David’s concubine wives. That would be an indication that he had taken over all that pertained to David, and would be an insult that David would be unable to forgive. It was the final statement as to who was now the permanent king.

We can compare with this how in a similar, but more minor, situation Abner had taken one of the dead Saul’s concubines, something which had resulted in Abner splitting up with Ishbosheth, because Ishbosheth recognised in Abner’s action a studied insult, and probably the commencement of a claim to the throne (2 Samuel 3:6-9), and with how Adonijah will later be executed for attempting something similar, precisely because (whatever Adonijah’s intention) Solomon recognised in it an act intended to secure the kingship (1 Kings 2:13-25). Like Ahithophel, Solomon knew how the people would see it.

However, we must also recognise in this the fulfilment of the words of YHWH through Nathan the prophet, when he had declared to David after his sin with Bathsheba and the subsequent murder of Uriah, that ‘I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbour, and he will lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun’ (2 Samuel 12:11-12). David was thus to be seen as reaping the consequences of his grave sins. We should observe how YHWH’s severe chastening is going hand in hand with the revelations of His mercy. He will not spare David his chastening, but He will see him safely through it.

2 Samuel 16:22

So they spread Absalom a tent on the top of the house, and Absalom went in to his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel.’

So in response to the advice of Ahithophel a tent was spread on the roof of the palace, and there ‘Absalom went in to his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel.’ Now there could be no doubt in the eyes of any that the breach between Absalom and David was permanent. The shame that he had brought on David could only be expunged by Absalom’s death.

Thus the man who had instigated rebellion as a result of Amnon’s breaking of the Law of YHWH by revealing the nakedness of his sister (Leviticus 20:17), now himself broke the Law of YHWH with a number of woman by revealing the nakedness of his father’s wives (Leviticus 20:11). It made apparent the fact that his concern had never been with the breach of the Law of YHWH, but had rather been with the dishonour brought to the house of Geshur, and with the fact that Tamar was his beloved sister. He was thus no better than his brother in the eyes of YHWH.

2 Samuel 16:23

And the counsel of Ahithophel, which he gave in those days, was as if a man enquired at the oracle of God, so was all the counsel of Ahithophel both with David and with Absalom.’

A sarcastic comment is then added to the effect that Ahithophel’s counsel was seen as being the equivalent of enquiring at the oracle of God to both David and Absalom. This was, of course, a gross exaggeration. It was simply expressing how greatly revered his wisdom was by men, if not by God. The truth is, however, that no one, and certainly not David, would actually have really considered his counsel to be the equivalent of God’s direct counsel, while Absalom will certainly immediately demonstrate that he did not see it in that way by later following the contrary advice of Hushai (which is why some sarcasm must be detected).

That in fact underlines the point. Ahithophel’s counsel was only treated like this by those who forbore seeking YHWH’s direct counsel, something in which David himself had been decidedly lacking in recent days, and something in which Absalom was continually lacking, otherwise he would not have sought to kill YHWH’s anointed. Ahithophel was thus their unsatisfactory substitute for YHWH, a substitute who even counselled direct disobedience of the Law of YHWH, and yet in the end was but a tool of YHWH. If anything could bring home that Absalom was not the chosen of YHWH (2 Samuel 16:18), it was this willingness to rely totally, but imperfectly, on Ahithophel.

We should also note the irony of these verses. All men saw Ahithophel as being ‘almost as wise as God’. But in fact the discerning reader or hearer sees Ahithophel as having just counselled the breaking of the Law of God (2 Samuel 16:21), and as having unwittingly ensured the fulfilment of the dictate of God about David’s punishment (2 Samuel 12:11). Ahithophel is thus seen to be both disobedient to the covenant, and at the same time as the unwitting tool of YHWH. He was only a man after all (compare 2 Samuel 17:14 b).

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 16:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/2-samuel-16.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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