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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
2 Samuel 17

 

 

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 1-14

Hushai The Archite Counters The Advice Of Ahithophel (2 Samuel 17:1-14).

We are now to learn the wisdom of David, and of YHWH (2 Samuel 17:14), in sending Hushai the Archite to combat and counter the wisdom of Ahithophel. Ahithophel’s advice might be almost parallel to that of the oracle of God, but YHWH’s wisdom was seen to be even greater, with the result that He overturned the counsel of Ahithophel.

Ahithophel’s advice was that he himself should immediately gather a fairly small but effective army of men of his own choice, under his own command, which would outnumber David’s present forces, and would go out immediately and pursue David before he could get himself organised, with a view to seizing his person. By seizing and killing David himself they could ensure that there could be no come back, and the result would be that there would be peace in the land. Something of Ahithophel’s bitterness of soul comes out in this. Why otherwise should he have wanted to be personally involved?

He was aware, knowing David, that while this was certainly not guaranteed to work (David’s forces might be outnumbered but they were composed of exceedingly skilful warriors who would fight to the last man) it was in fact Absalom’s only real chance of success. He knew that once David, who would certainly have allies to call on, as well as loyal Israelites, had had time to organise a counter-movement, all hope of success would be gone. It was thus,, in his undoubtedly correct view, important to strike while the iron was hot.

Those who were listening to him thought that his plan was admirable. On the other hand they also saw it as a little mundane, and it did in fact fall short on a number of points:

· It failed to take into account Absalom’s inherent (and justified) fear of the effectiveness of David and his men if trapped in a tight corner.

· It failed to take into account their fear of the reaction that could result if David’s men were to gain an initial success, something that always had to be taken into account as a possibility.

· It failed to bring any glory to Absalom.

· It failed to have in it the splendid concept of the gathering of all the armies of Israel.

· It failed to give the listeners a vivid picture of overwhelming success that would bring glory to the participants as they trampled over the enemy.

Hushai’s advice, on the other hand, took all these things into account and that was why Hushai succeeded in his bid to defeat the advice of Ahithophel. It was because he knew how to play on men’s fears, and on their hunger for glory. Note also his clever use of pronouns. Following the gathering of Israel ‘to you’ and his commitment of Absalom to go in his own person (‘you’), he switches to ‘we’ so that Absalom will know that he Hushai, and all Israel, will be with him. Furthermore it will be noted that he ensured by his advice that Absalom would be out in the forests with his men, where he could be killed, whereas David’s wiser military heads would keep David away from the field of battle on the grounds that he was not expendable. Conclusion, Absalom was expendable.

What Hushai failed, of course, to point out was that his advice would make Absalom himself very vulnerable, while the huge army that he was advising would find it very tough going in the thick forests of Transjordan, especially when they would be in combat with men who knew how to use such forests to their own advantage. For in such circumstances it was not numbers but skill that mattered, and David’s men had fought in forests for years. As Ahithophel foresaw it was vital to get at them immediately, before they were prepared.

Analysis.

a Moreover Ahithophel said to Absalom, “Let me now choose out twelve thousand men, and I will arise and pursue after David this night, and I will come upon him while he is weary and weak-handed, and will make him afraid, and all the people who are with him will flee, and I will smite the king only, and I will bring back all the people to you. The man whom you seek is as if all returned. So all the people will be in peace” And the saying pleased Absalom well, and all the elders of Israel (2 Samuel 17:1-4).

b Then Absalom said, “Call now Hushai the Archite also, and let us hear in the same way what he says.” And when Hushai was come to Absalom, Absalom spoke to him, saying, “Ahithophel has spoken after this manner. Shall we do after his saying? If not, you speak.” And Hushai said to Absalom, “The counsel that Ahithophel has given this time is not good” (2 Samuel 17:5-7).

c Hushai said moreover, “You know your father and his men, that they are mighty men, and they are chafed in their minds, as a bear robbed of her whelps in the countryside, and your father is a man of war, and will not lodge with the people.” “Behold, he is hid now in some pit, or in some other place, and it will come about that when some of them are fallen at the first, that whoever hears it will say, ‘There is a slaughter among the people who follow Absalom’ ” (2 Samuel 17:8-9).

d “And even he who is valiant, whose heart is as the heart of a lion, will utterly melt, for all Israel knows that your father is a mighty man, and those who are with him are valiant men” (2 Samuel 17:10).

e “But I counsel that all Israel be gathered together to you, from Dan even to Beer-sheba, as the sand that is by the sea for multitude, and that you go to battle in your own person” (2 Samuel 17:11).

d “So shall we come on him in some place where he shall be found, and we will light upon him as the dew falls on the ground, and of him and of all the men who are with him we will not leave so much as one” (2 Samuel 17:12).

c “Moreover, if he has entered into a city, then shall all Israel bring ropes to that city, and we will draw it into the river, until there be not one small stone found there” (2 Samuel 17:13).

b “And Absalom and all the men of Israel said, “The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel” (2 Samuel 17:14 a).

a For YHWH had ordained to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, to the intent that YHWH might bring evil on Absalom” (2 Samuel 17:14 b).

Note that in ‘a’ we have the good counsel of Ahithophel, and in the parallel we learn that YHWH had ordained to defeat it. In ‘b’ Hushai rejects the counsel of Ahithophel as ‘not good’ and in the parallel they consider Hushai’s advice better. In ‘c’ Hushai pictures David under Ahithophel’s plan as hidden in a hole and not lodging with the people, and his men as like animals at bay, and thus dangerous to attack, and in the parallel he pictures David under his plan as possibly being in a city, and therefore the ease with which they would be able to take him. In ‘d’ he stresses the toughness of the opposition if they follow Ahithophel’s plan, and in the parallel how easily they will defeat them if they follow his plan. Central in ‘e’ is his desire to gather all Israel together and for Absalom to personally lead them into battle at the head of a mighty army, a glorious prospect indeed!

2 Samuel 17:1-3

Moreover Ahithophel said to Absalom, “Let me now choose out twelve thousand men, and I will arise and pursue after David this night, and I will come upon him while he is weary and weak-handed, and will make him afraid, and all the people who are with him will flee, and I will smite the king only, and I will bring back all the people to you. The man whom you seek is as if all returned. So all the people will be in peace.’

Having given his advice in respect of the concubines of David Ahithophel then advised further (‘moreover’) that what was important was to set off after David as soon as possible (‘this night’). There can be little doubt that this was in fact Absalom’s best option. David was at present on the run with his loyal bodyguard and would unquestionably be disheartened and in some disarray because of the baggage train that he would have had to take with him for the benefit of his household. It is, of course, true that Absalom’s men may not have succeeded in making his redoubtable bodyguard actually flee, but they might well have outmanned and crushed them, and certainly their only chance was to act prior to David inevitably gathering further loyal forces (as both Ahithophel and Hushai recognised). But as Hushai had quickly spotted, one problem of it was that there was no glory in it for Absalom. All the credit would go to Ahithophel. Furthermore he knew that at the same time there would be a doubt at the back of Absalom’s mind, was a lingering fear of what David and his men might be able to accomplish if the force sent against him was not large enough. Absalom knew his father, and his famed skill in warfare.

2 Samuel 17:4

And the saying pleased Absalom well, and all the elders of Israel.

In general, however, the scheme met with approval from Absalom and Israel’s leadership. It sounded like a sound plan, even if it was a bit lacking in sparkle. And yet it was clearly not totally convincing to them because Absalom then sent for Hushai to ask for his view.

2 Samuel 17:5

Then Absalom said, “Call now Hushai the Archite also, and let us hear in the same way what he says.”

The fact that Absalom then decided to hear what Hushai the Archite had to say demonstrated quite clearly that his approval to Ahithophel’s plan was not whole hearted, and that he certainly did not see Ahithophel as infallible. Something was causing Absalom to drew back from it in his heart. It may well have been because he was so aware of his father’s reputation and the efficiency of those who were with him.

2 Samuel 17:6

And when Hushai was come to Absalom, Absalom spoke to him, saying, “Ahithophel has spoken after this manner. Shall we do after his saying? If not, you speak.” ’

When Hushai came on the scene Absalom outlined to him Ahithophel’s plan. And his question then was, did he approve, or did he have something better to offer?

2 Samuel 17:7

And Hushai said to Absalom, “The counsel that Ahithophel has given this time is not good.”

Hushai recognised at once that in the plan that Absalom had outlined lay David’s real danger. He was undoubtedly at present in a tight corner, waiting at the fords of the Jordan for news, hampered by the baggage wagons, and accompanied by a force, which while it was seasoned and effective, could easily be hugely outnumbered. If Ahithophel moved quickly enough with the right men he might well succeed.

So he shook his wise, grey head and looked solemn. Then looking Absalom in the eye he declared gravely, “The counsel that Ahithophel has given this time is not good.” But inside, his heart must have been beating nineteen to the dozen as he spoke the words, for he was aware that Ahithophel was perfectly right, and that in what he had said lay any hope of success for Absalom. The only question was, could he convince them otherwise.

2 Samuel 17:8

Hushai said moreover, “You know your father and his men, that they are mighty men, and they are chafed in their minds, as a bear robbed of her whelps in the countryside, and your father is a man of war, and will not lodge with the people.”

Then he did his best to justify what he had said by playing on Absalom’s fears. As Absalom knew, his father and his men were seasoned warriors, and were at present chafing like bears whose cubs had been taken from them. They would be itching for a fight. Furthermore Absalom must remember that as an experienced soldier David would not be lodging among civilians, but would be lurking with his men in some hideaway where he would be difficult to reach.

2 Samuel 17:9

Behold, he is hid now in some pit, or in some other place, and it will come about that when some of them are fallen at the first, that whoever hears it will say, ‘There is a slaughter among the people who follow Absalom.’ ”

So when Absalom’s men went after him he might well be hidden in a trench, or some such place, and from it might launch a surprise attack on some of Absalom’s men, causing a number of deaths. This might then turn into a rumour which would spread around declaring that there was wholesale slaughter among the people who followed Absalom. That was something that could prove disastrous to the success of the revolution for all knew of the reputation of David and his men.

2 Samuel 17:10

And even he who is valiant, whose heart is as the heart of a lion, will utterly melt, for all Israel knows that your father is a mighty man, and those who are with him are valiant men.”

The result would be that even the most valiant, even those with hearts of lions, would melt with fear, because they were fully aware of the calibre of David and his mighty men. Hushai was playing the fear card as hard as he was worth, knowing full well that there must be some trepidation in Absalom’s heart when he considered previous exploits of his father and the expertise of his mighty men whose names were famed throughout Judah and Israel.

2 Samuel 17:11

But I counsel that all Israel be gathered together to you, from Dan even to Beer-sheba, as the sand that is by the sea for multitude, and that you go to battle in your own person.”

Hisahi’s solution, therefore, was to wait until the all the armies of Israel could be gathered ‘to YOU’, and then they could attack in invincible numbers. What he must therefore do was gather all Israel to him, and then, himself leading a huge army, go forward in person into battle with David’s forces. This magnificent picture of Absalom leading his huge army in triumph was enough to stir anyone’s blood, especially someone as vain as Absalom.

2 Samuel 17:12

So shall we come on him in some place where he shall be found, and we will light upon him as the dew falls on the ground, and of him and of all the men who are with him we will not leave so much as one.”

And as a result how simple the situation has suddenly all become. Instead of David lurking in a trench unable to be found and waiting to surprise them, he is now to be found with ease, and instead of the danger of facing his mighty men, Absalom’s men will fall on David like the dew on the ground. Indeed the whole of David’s mighty men who are with him will simply vanish before them, with not one left remaining. And all because they had listened to Hushai.

2 Samuel 17:13

Moreover, if he has entered into a city, then shall all Israel bring ropes to that city, and we will draw it into the river, until there be not one small stone found there.”

And what if David hides in a city? Simple. ‘We’ simply bring ropes and tear down its walls, dragging them into the river until there is no stone left standing. Surely it was obvious which was the best option.

2 Samuel 17:14 a

“And Absalom and all the men of Israel said, “The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel.”

Certainly Absalom and his men thought so. We can see why the inexperienced Absalom, and his equally inexperienced followers, were by now hanging on to Hushai’s every word. The difficult task that they had been so apprehensive of had suddenly all become so simple. How could they even have considered anything else? And they looked at each other, and nodded, and declared that “The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel.” It had been a masterpiece of invention and psychology.

2 Samuel 17:14 b

‘For YHWH had ordained to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, to the intent that YHWH might bring evil on Absalom.”

And now we learn the secret of Hushai’s success. It was because ‘YHWH had ordained to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel.’ And why? “To the intent that YHWH might bring evil on Absalom.” Thus behind the scene YHWH was seen to be at work ensuring Absalom’s defeat. When David came out of the situation successfully, all would know that it was YHWH Who had accomplished it.

So even YHWH’s clear chastisement of David was under His control, in such a way that David would come out of it having learned a bitter lesson, but still intact. That is why the Christian can rejoice in the face of testing, because he knows that God is in control and will not let it get out of hand (James 1:2-12; Romans 5:1-5; Matthew 5:12).

But why should YHWH wish to bring such evil events on Absalom? It was because:

1). Absalom was seeking to kill YHWH’s Anointed (in total contrast with David’s earlier attitude towards Saul). In this he was rebelling against the will of YHWH.

2). Absalom was seeking to undermine the Kingdom of God that David had set up, imperfect though it might be (something that David had never sought to do with Saul).

3). Absalom’s activities had been in the direct face of YHWH’s commands, so that he was guilty of the same sins as those of which he accused his brother and his father, arrogance, infidelity, and sexual deviation. And all resulting from the counsel of his trusted adviser, Ahithophel.


Verses 15-23

Hushai Sends David A Message Telling Him To Flee Over The Jordan While He May, In Case Absalom Changes His Mind And Follows The Wise Counsel Of Ahithophel (2 Samuel 17:15-23).

The incident that follows, as Hushai raced to get a message through to David, is clear evidence that the information in this account was obtained from an eyewitness, for while it undoubtedly adds to the human interest, there is no reason at all for it to be invented. It adds nothing to the essentials of the account. What it does, however, bring out is the extent of the loyalty still commanded by David among the common folk. It indicated that he had not been totally deserted.

Analysis.

a Then Hushai said to Zadok and to Abiathar the priests, “Thus and thus did Ahithophel counsel Absalom and the elders of Israel, and thus and thus have I counselled” (2 Samuel 17:15).

b Now therefore send quickly, and tell David, saying, “Do not lodge this night at the fords of the wilderness, but by all means pass over, lest the king be swallowed up, and all the people who are with him” (2 Samuel 17:16).

c Now Jonathan and Ahimaaz were staying by En-rogel; and a maid-servant used to go and tell them, and they went and told king David, for they might not be seen to come into the city. But a lad saw them, and told Absalom, and they went both of them away quickly, and came to the house of a man in Bahurim, who had a well in his court; and they went down there (2 Samuel 17:17-18).

d And the woman took and spread the covering over the well’s mouth, and strewed bruised grain on it, and nothing was observable (2 Samuel 17:19).

e And Absalom’s servants came to the woman to the house, and they said, “Where are Ahimaaz and Jonathan?” And the woman said to them, “They are gone over the brook of water” (2 Samuel 17:20 a).

d And when they had sought and could not find them, they returned to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 17:20 b).

c And it came about, after they were departed, that they came up out of the well, and went and told king David; and they said to David, “Arise all of you, and pass quickly over the water, for thus has Ahithophel counselled against you” (2 Samuel 17:21).

b Then David arose, and all the people who were with him, and they passed over the Jordan. By the time of morning light there lacked not one of them who was not gone over the Jordan (2 Samuel 17:22).

a And when Ahithophel saw that his counsel was not followed, he saddled his ass, and arose, and got himself home, to his city, and set his house in order, and hung himself, and he died, and was buried in the sepulchre of his father (2 Samuel 17:23).

Note that in ‘a’ Hushai describes Ahithophel’s advice, and in the parallel we learn that when Ahithophel saw that that advice had not been followed he hung himself. In ‘b’ the message is for David to pass immediately over the Jordan, and in the parallel he does so. In ‘c’ Jonathan and Ahimaaz hide down a well, and in the parallel they come out from their hiding place in the well. In ‘d’ the well could not be found, and in the parallel the two men could not be found. Centrally in ‘e’ Absalom’s servants failed because they were misdirected by a mere woman who was loyal to David. So much for his resources.

2 Samuel 17:15

Then Hushai said to Zadok and to Abiathar the priests, “Thus and thus did Ahithophel counsel Absalom and the elders of Israel, and thus and thus have I counselled.” ’

Having left the presence of Absalom Hushai hurried to Abiathar and Zadok, his contacts in Jerusalem, and explained to them both what Ahithophel had advised, and what he had advised.

2 Samuel 17:16

Now therefore send quickly, and tell David, saying, “Do not lodge this night at the fords of the wilderness, but by all means pass over, lest the king be swallowed up, and all the people who are with him.” ’

The he urged them to send an urgent message to David directing him not to stop with his people at the fords of Jordan, but to pass over them as quickly as possible by any means that they could in case Ahithophel’s advice was followed and they be trapped there, and all of them be swallowed up.

2 Samuel 17:17

Now Jonathan and Ahimaaz were staying by En-rogel; and a maid-servant used to go and tell them, and they went and told king David, for they might not be seen to come into the city.’

This message was immediately taken by a maid servant, who had apparently constantly acted as a go-between, to Jonathan and Ahimaaz, who were staying by the spring of En-rogel at the south east corner of Jerusalem (see Joshua 15:7). This was lest they arouse suspicion by being observed sneaking in and out of the city in the direction which David might be assumed to have taken. Two messengers were necessary so as to ensure that at least one got through.

2 Samuel 17:18

But a lad saw them, and told Absalom, and they went both of them away quickly, and came to the house of a man in Bahurim, who had a well in his court; and they went down there.’

But all their precautions proved to be in vain, for a young lad spotted them and reported the fact back to Absalom. We can gather from the fact that he did this that Jonathan and Ahimaaz were already suspect, and that enquiries had already been made as to their whereabouts. Meanwhile the two men had hurried off with their message and had reached Bahurim just outside Jerusalem on the way to the fords of Jordan. It is clear that at that stage they suspected that they were being pursued and knew that they must find somewhere to hide. At Bahurim they knew of a man who was loyal to David and sought his help. This man had a well in his courtyard which could be covered up so that there was no obvious trace of it, and that was where the two hunted men took shelter.

2 Samuel 17:19

And the woman took and spread the covering over the well’s mouth, and strewed bruised grain on it, and nothing was observable.’

The woman of the house then put the covering on the well and strewed bruised grain (peeled barley - compare Proverbs 27:22) on it, the same kind of grain that was strewn around that area of the courtyard, with the result that nothing was visible. (Again the woman was the man for the job. Absalom’s pride would undoubtedly have been deeply injured at the thought of being outmanoeuvred by women (compare Judges 9:54), but in the Scriptures women are often YHWH’s means of deliverance and the point here is precisely in order to bring out that YHWH was outmanoeuvring Absalom by the means of ‘weak’ women. As ever He was using the weak things of the world to confound the mighty - 1 Corinthians 1:27).

2 Samuel 17:20

And Absalom’s servants came to the woman to the house, and they said, “Where are Ahimaaz and Jonathan?” And the woman said to them, “They are gone over the brook of water.” And when they had sought and could not find them, they returned to Jerusalem.’

When Absalom’s servants arrived at Bahurim they no doubt learned (by using their own methods) which house Jonathan and Ahimaaz had entered, and then they approached the woman of the house and asked her where the two men were. (Her husband had probably made himself scarce. Women were less vulnerable than men in such circumstances). She replied convincingly that they had gone over the nearby water-brook or ‘stream of water’. Accepting her word they searched diligently for the two men in the area that she had described, but on not finding them could only assume that they had escaped, and consequently returned to Jerusalem to report.

2 Samuel 17:21

And it came about, after they were departed, that they came up out of the well, and went and told king David; and they said to David, “Arise all of you, and pass quickly over the water, for thus has Ahithophel counselled against you.” ’

As soon as the two messengers were sure that Absalom’s men had gone, they came out of the well and hurried off with their message to King David. And once in his presence they told him that they must all arise and quickly cross the water (harder than it sounds when you have a load of baggage wagons), explaining the advice that Ahithophel had given to Absalom. For no one could be sure in the end whose advice Absalom might follow. He might after all have been suspicious of Hushai and have been deceiving him about his intentions.

2 Samuel 17:22

Then David arose, and all the people who were with him, and they passed over the Jordan. By the time of morning light there lacked not one of them who was not gone over the Jordan.’

So David and all who were with him worked hurriedly and urgently through the night so that by dawn all had crossed over. Had Ahithophel and his men in fact arrived that night it might well have been the end for many of them, hindered as David’s men were by having to protect the members of David’s household. But once over the fords, the fords themselves could be guarded by much smaller groups of mighty men, while the remainder could hopefully make their escape into the forests. They had therefore now at least been given a chance.

2 Samuel 17:23

And when Ahithophel saw that his counsel was not followed, he saddled his ass, and arose, and got himself home to his city, and set his house in order, and hung himself, and he died, and was buried in the sepulchre of his father.’

No one was more aware of this than Ahithophel, and observing that his shrewd advice had been ignored because of the subtlety of Hushai (and the hand of YHWH), and recognising with anguish what would now be the inevitable end of the rebellion, and what his own fate would consequently be, he saddled his ass and returned to his own city. His part in the rebellion was over, and his aim was to settle his affairs and then hang himself in the hope that this might prevent retribution on his family when the rebellion now inevitably failed. Note how the fact of his end is brought out in a sevenfold way emphasising its divine inevitability (seven is the number of divine perfection). ‘He saddled his ass -- arose -- got himself home to his city -- set his house in order - hung himself -- died -- and was buried.’ Such is the inevitable end of all who set themselves against the will of God.

There is, as will be observed, a remarkable parallel between this man who betrayed David, God’s Anointed one, and then as a consequence went away and committed suicide by hanging, and the one who would later betray our Lord Jesus Christ, the great Son of David, God’s greater Anointed One, who would also similarly commit suicide by hanging (Matthew 27:3-5), the first because he knew that he would face the judgment of David, the second because he knew that he would face the judgment of the risen Lord Himself.


Verse 24

The Two Opposing Armies Prepare For Battle (17:24-18:4a).

Just as Absalom had come to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 16:15), so David came to Mahanaim. Mahanaim had been the royal city of Ish-bosheth. Now it would welcome David. It would seem clear that Transjordan had not sided with Absalom. Absalom consequently crossed the Jordan at the head of his army (just as Hushai had advised) ready to meet David whose men, however, would not allow him to expose himself at the head of his army. So the battle was set, but here it was David who was receiving assistance from all around, including from Ammon. The rebellion had not taken hold in Transjordan.

Analysis.

a Then David came to Mahanaim. And Absalom passed over the Jordan, he and all the men of Israel with him (2 Samuel 17:24).

b And Absalom set Amasa over the host instead of Joab. Now Amasa was the son of a man, whose name was Ithra the Israelite, who went in to Abigal the daughter of Nahash, sister to Zeruiah, Joab’s mother (2 Samuel 17:25).

c And Israel and Absalom encamped in the land of Gilead (2 Samuel 17:26).

d And it came about when David was come to Mahanaim, that Shobi the son of Nahash of Rabbah of the children of Ammon, and Machir the son of Ammiel of Lodebar, and Barzillai the Gileadite of Rogelim, brought beds, and basins, and earthen vessels, and wheat, and barley, and meal, and parched grain, and beans, and lentils, and parched pulse, and honey, and butter, and sheep, and cheese of the herd, for David, and for the people who were with him, to eat, for they said, “The people are hungry, and weary, and thirsty, in the wilderness” (2 Samuel 17:27).

c And David numbered the people who were with him, and set captains of thousands and captains of hundreds over them (2 Samuel 18:1).

b And David sent forth the people, a third part 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 (2 Samuel 18:2 a).

a And the king said to the people, “I will surely go forth with you myself also.” But the people said, “You shall 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 you are worth ten thousand of us, therefore now it is better that you be ready to succour us out of the city.” And the king said to them, “What seems best to you I will do” (2 Samuel 18:2-4 a).

Note that in ‘a’ Absalom is at the head of his men and will venture into battle (as advised by Hushai), while in the parallel when David attempts to go forth with his people they will not allow him to do so. We already observe the difference between the war experience of the two opposing sides. In ‘b’ the leadership of the rebels is defined, and in the parallel the leadership of David’s forces is. In ‘c’ the rebels gather themselves together in their camp, and in the parallel David musters his own forces. Central in ‘d’ is the fact that help is flocking to David at Mahanaim from every quarter.

2 Samuel 17:24

Then David came to Mahanaim. And Absalom passed over the Jordan, he and all the men of Israel with him.’

Here the description of large events is described succintly. David and his party arrived in Mahanaim where his household could be protected, to which help was flooding in, and from which his own army could now issue forth, organised and without having to worry about guarding the wagons. Mahanaim was a fortified city to the east of the Jordan, and was not far not far from the ford of the Jabbok (see 2 Samuel 2:8). It had been a refuge for Ishbosheth from the Philistines. It would now be a refuge for David from his son. Meanwhile Absalom, at the head of his army, crossed the Jordan in readiness to do battle, with the aim of doing it personally as advised by Hushai. The fact that Absalom was personally in charge is further emphasised by the parallel in the chiasmus. It was in complete contrast to David. In a civil war this factor could be important, for the whole purpose of the war was the death of the opposing royal claimant. That was why Hushai had fooled Absalom into taking a risk that he should not have taken.

2 Samuel 17:25

And Absalom set Amasa over the host instead of Joab. Now Amasa was the son of a man, whose name was Ithra the Israelite, who went in to Abigal the daughter of Nahash, sister to Zeruiah, Joab’s mother.’

Meanwhile the host of Israel (in so far as it had followed Absalom) was placed under a new commander who had necessarily replaced Joab, who had continued his support for David. His name was Amasa. The description of his genealogy indicates some of the complications that genealogies could produce in ancient societies. We should note first of all that he is stated to have been the son of Yithra ‘the Israelite’. This unusual designation of someone as ‘the Israelite’ is so rare from our viewpoint (we would normally expect the appellation connected with an Israelite to indicate a tribal or regional derivation, e.g. the Ephraimite, the Jezreelite), that it demands a special explanation, and the most probable explanation is that it was seen as conferring an honoured recognition on one who was not by normal appellation an Israelite. In 1 Chronicles 2:17 he is in fact called Yether the Ishmaelite. Thus ‘the Israelite’ may have been a title arising from Absalom’s aim (or the aim of someone earlier) to please and honour Amasa by officially re-designating his father as a true-born ‘Israelite’, (which he might well have been to a certain extent, even though an Ishmaelite, if his earlier forebears had been adopted sufficiently long before into Israel, just as the mixed multitude of Exodus 12:38 were adopted as Israelites at Sinai). In fact, of course, many who were naturalised Israelites also bore an appellation (like Ishmaelite) that suggested that they were otherwise. It is, for example, probable that the forebears of Uriah the Hittite had become naturalised Israelites, and we could cite many other examples. So rather than seeing this as a copying error (which is so often all too easily assumed) we should probably see it as an indication of the way in which a special honour could be conferred. A man could in fact be both an Ishmaelite (by derivation) and an Israelite (by adoption). Calling him ‘the Israelite’ might therefore have been seen as conferring on him special distinction. After all the overall term ‘the Israelites’ or ‘all Israel’ did undoubtedly include a miscellany of people from many backgrounds.

Then we note that ‘he went in to Abigal.’ The wording may suggest forcible entry and indicate the kind of case described in Deuteronomy 22:28-29, in which case he might have been discreetly adopted, as an Ishmaelite, into the family into which he then married, thus becoming ‘the Israelite’. (On the other hand, ‘went in to’ does indicate normal sexual intercourse in 1 Chronicles 2:21; 1 Chronicles 7:23, so that this might be reading in something that is not there). Abigal is then described as the daughter of Nahash. She is probably called Abigail in 1 Chronicles 2:17, where she appears to be the daughter of Jesse. Which then is correct? The answer is that both might be correct. Her true father may have been Nahash, and her father by adoption (when he married her widowed mother) Jesse. The same may also have been true of Zeruiah. (The fact that Nahash of Rabbah in 2 Samuel 17:27 has to be distinguished by the addition of ‘of Rabbah’ serves as corroboration of the fact that the mention of a Nahash here is correct). It is a reminder that the derivations of women were not seen as having the same importance as those of men. We do not know the name of David’s mother, and Zeruiah and/or Abigail may well have been his adopted half-sisters. Further speculation is groundless and unnecessary as it can lead nowhere, being merely surmise. But it does serve to demonstrate that we should be wary before we start talking about ‘errors’ when the problem might simply be our lack of knowledge.

2 Samuel 17:26

And Israel and Absalom encamped in the land of Gilead.’

Having crossed the Jordan, Israel and Absalom encamped in ‘the land of Gilead’. The placing of Absalom’s name after Israel may have been in order to underline the fact that Absalom was with the Israelite army, just as Hushai (and therefore YHWH) had ‘advised’. Thus YHWH’s purpose was seen as going forward to its destined end.

The designation ‘Gilead’ was used in so many ways that it was a term of wide meaning. It could often be seen as covering a large part, or even the whole, of Israelite Transjordan. Here, however, the intention was probably to indicate a smaller region in the north, within relative striking distance of Mahanaim.

2 Samuel 17:27

And it came about when David was come to Mahanaim, that Shobi the son of Nahash of Rabbah of the children of Ammon, and Machir the son of Ammiel of Lodebar, and Barzillai the Gileadite of Rogelim, brought beds, and basins, and earthen vessels, and wheat, and barley, and meal, and parched grain, and beans, and lentils, and parched pulse, and honey, and butter, and sheep, and cheese of the herd, for David, and for the people who were with him, to eat, for they said, “The people are hungry, and weary, and thirsty, in the wilderness.”

Meanwhile David’s cause was prospering. His support included that of the royal family of Ammon, and some of the wealthiest Israelites in Transjordan. Their support would undoubtedly include men whom they would put at David’s disposal. Thus Shobi, the son of Nahash of Rabbah, the capital of Ammon, brought provisions for him, almost certainly on behalf of the royal family of Ammon, while Machir, a clan leader from Lo-debar and firm Saulide (he had protected Mephibosheth), and Barzillai, another influential Israelite from Gilead, brought provisions from their respective areas. The impression intended to be given is that the whole of Transjordan were flocking to David’s side, and were expressing it in practical ways. To a certain extent David was now reaping his reward for the mercy that he had shown to the house of Saul, while Shobi may well have been made vassal king by David in the place of Hanun (2 Samuel 12:26-31)

2 Samuel 18:1

And David numbered the people who were with him, and set captains of thousands and captains of hundreds over them.’

This was the point at which David numbered and marshalled his forces, which were now seemingly considerably larger, no doubt supplemented by men from Transjordan, and loyal subjects flocking over the Jordan. Dividing them into units of ‘thousands’ and ‘hundreds’, he would set over them experienced commanders and sub-commanders who would prepare them for the battle ahead. These would all be officers experienced in fighting under all conditions. He was no longer on the run, and was now ready to fight back. The situation foreseen both by Ahithophel and Hushai had come to fruition.

2 Samuel 18:2

And David sent forth the people, a third part 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 to the people, “I will surely go forth with you myself also.” ’

His forces were then divided up into three main sections, each commanded by an experienced general (something which Absalom could not match). The first was Joab, the second Abishai his brother, both of whom were totally committed to David and had been with him since his wilderness days, and the third was the noble Ittai the Gittite, the Philistine mercenary leader who had earlier committed himself to David (2 Samuel 15:19-22). It was a fearsome combination.

2 Samuel 18:3

But the people said, “You shall 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 you are worth ten thousand of us, therefore now it is better that you be ready to succour us out of the city.” ’

And crucially ‘the people’ would not allow David to risk his life in the fighting. In view of the fact that it was a civil war the preservation of his life was rightly seen as paramount. It was for him that they were fighting. Once he was dead there would be no point in continuing the fight, for it was not nation fighting nation, but one single nation warring over the kingship. Furthermore they knew that if David was not with them they would be able to fight a normal battle, knowing that if they had to flee they would not necessarily be relentlessly sought out by those who knew that David was with them and had to be found at any cost. It would thus relieve the intensity of the battle on all fronts. And that brings out the folly of Absalom in personally leading Israel (on Hushai’s, and YHWH’s, ‘advice’). He was making himself the target at which all efforts would be aimed, and on which the intensest focus would be directed, simply because once he was dead the rebellion would be at an end.

Besides, as they further pointed out, they wanted David to be in the city so that he could direct any necessary operations in support of any section of his forces that might seem to require it. They had full confidence in his overall generalship, and knew that he could be depended on to make the right decisions. Absalom might still have the advantage in numbers, but he was clearly going to be outmanoeuvred on all flanks by David and his experienced generals.

2 Samuel 18:4 a

‘And the king said to them, “What seems best to you I will do.”

Acknowledging his people’s love and concern, David bowed to their will. In accordance with their wish he would take his stance behind the battle area, ready to intervene if and where necessary.


 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 17:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/2-samuel-17.html. 2013.

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