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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
2 Samuel 19

 

 

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 1-7

Joab Rebukes The King For Dwelling Overmuch On The Death of His Traitorous Son Rather Than On Showing His Gratitude To Those Who Had Won Him Back His Kingship And Warns Him Of The Consequences (2 Samuel 19:1-8 a).

David’s grief over the loss of his son was so great that it did in fact become an obsession, with the result that he began to behave very foolishly by ignoring the great victory won by his troops and shutting himself away from everyone in deep mourning, and this at the very time when they were expecting a victory celebration. His men had come back filled with elation at their triumph, only to discover that the king whom they had been fighting for could only shut himself away in grief over the richly deserved death of his treacherous son. The consequence was that those who had fought so hard for him were creeping around and filled with shame. In other words, as a leader of men he was failing those who looked up to him, and allowing his personal feelings to affect his behaviour towards those who relied on him. He was allowing his family relations to once again interfere with his duty. The worst side of David’s attitude towards his subordinates was coming out.

But fortunately for David he had a loyal supporter in Joab, who came to him and bluntly pointed out to him that he was giving the impression to his men that his traitorous son meant more to him than those who loved him and were loyal to him, and that if only his son had survived he would not have minded how many of his own men had died. Consequently, if he was not very careful, he would discover that they would desert him.

This brought David to his senses as he recognised the truth of Joab’s words and he consequently left his room of mourning and went and sat in the gate in order to make himself available to his men. The result was that when the news got around his people gladly gathered around him, delighted that he had overcome his grief.

Analysis.

a And it was told Joab, “See, the king weeps and mourns for Absalom” (2 Samuel 19:1).

b And the victory that day was turned into mourning to all the people, for the people heard say that day, “The king grieves for his son.” And the people entered the city by stealth that day, as people who are ashamed steal away when they flee in battle (2 Samuel 19:2-3).

c And the king covered his face, and the king cried with a loud voice, “O my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 19:4).

d And Joab came into the house to the king, and said, “You have this day shamed the faces of all your servants, who this day have saved your life, and the lives of your sons and of your daughters, and the lives of your wives, and the lives of your concubines, in that you love those who hate you, and hate those who love you” (2 Samuel 19:5).

c For you have declared this day, that princes and servants are nought to you. For this day I perceive, that if Absalom had lived, and all we had died this day, then it had pleased you well” (2 Samuel 19:6).

b “Now therefore arise, go forth, and speak comfortably to your servants, for I swear by YHWH, if you do not go forth, there will not tarry a man with you this night, and that will be worse to you than all the evil that has befallen you from your youth until now” (2 Samuel 19:7).

a Then the king arose, and sat in the gate. And they told all the people, saying, “Behold, the king is sitting in the gate,” and all the people came before the king (2 Samuel 19:8 a).

Note that in ‘a’ Joab was informed that David was weeping and mourning for Absalom, and in the parallel the people were informed that at last his weeping and mourning was over. In ‘b’ the people were creeping in and out of the city and behaving in a shamefaced way because of David’s attitude, and in the parallel Joab warned David that if he continued like he was doing they would creep away permanently, and then he would be worse off than he had ever been before. In ‘c’ the king could think of no one other than Absalom, and in the parallel Joab warned him that that was the impression that he was giving to his followers. Centrally in ‘d’ Joab made clear to David the impression that he had made on all who loved him that he cared more for his rebellious son than for them.

2 Samuel 19:1

And it was told Joab, “See, the king weeps and mourns for Absalom.” ’

Presumably it was one of David’s close personal servants who reported David’s mourning and weeping to Joab, because he knew that people were being negatively affected by it. He clearly felt that as his commander-in-chief Joab was the man to deal with the situation.

2 Samuel 19:2

And the victory that day was turned into mourning to all the people, for the people heard say that day, “The king grieves for his son.” ’

For David’s grieving had become common knowledge with the result that those who had naturally wanted to celebrate the great victory did not do so lest they upset the king. Instead they themselves began to feel one with his grief. It was adversely affecting the whole of the army who had fought so expertly for David.

2 Samuel 19:3

And the people entered the city by stealth that day, as people who are ashamed steal away when they flee in battle.’

This was so much so that they were creeping in and out of the city stealthily, not wanting to draw attention to themselves, in the way that they would have done had they themselves had to flee from the battle. They must have felt very discouraged.

2 Samuel 19:4

And the king covered his face, and the king cried with a loud voice, “O my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son!” ’

Meanwhile the king was oblivious of everything else as he mourned his son. He sat above the gate-house with his face covered, and he cried with a loud voice, “O my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son!” without any thought of how those who had fought for him, and especially those who had been wounded in the battle to save him from Absalom, might be feeling.

We have already had cause to see from the way that David had prayed about the child born to Bathsheba how emotional David could be. But it is quite clear that his love for Absalom was exceptionally deep. (Had it not been so he would probably have been aware much earlier of the danger that Absalom posed for his family).

2 Samuel 19:5-6

And Joab came into the house to the king, and said, “You have this day shamed the faces of all your servants, who this day have saved your life, and the lives of your sons and of your daughters, and the lives of your wives, and the lives of your concubines, in that you love those who hate you, and hate those who love you. For you have declared this day, that princes and servants are nought to you. For this day I perceive, that if Absalom had lived, and all we had died this day, then it had pleased you well.”

Loyal Joab rightly decided that it was time that he faced David up with what he was doing. So he went in to him and pointed out that all he was doing was covering with shame those who had so bravely fought for him. They had saved his life, and the lives of his sons and daughters who might well have perished in the reprisals as presenting threats to Absalom’s position. And he was failing to show his gratitude. It is actually doubtful whether the wives and concubines would have been executed, but they would certainly have been put in ward. Joab was, however trying to make the strongest case possible.

As a result of his continual grieving David was demonstrating his love for the son who had hated him, but it was at the cost of those who loved him. He was ignoring their contribution and treating them as though they did not matter. Indeed he was giving the impression that it would not have mattered to him how many of them had died as long as Absalom had lived. And this despite the fact that one of the things that had always endeared David to his men was his concern for their welfare.

This was not denying that he had a right to grieve over his son. It was bringing out the responsibilities of a king. Those who take leading positions are responsible to keep their emotions in check and to treat those who are loyal to them suitably, even when they themselves have suffered loss.

2 Samuel 19:7

Now therefore arise, go forth, and speak comfortably to your servants, for I swear by YHWH, if you do not go forth, there will not tarry a man with you this night, and that will be worse to you than all the evil that has befallen you from your youth until now.”

So now David was urged by Joab to get up from his condition of mourning and speak words of comfort to his servants. And he warned him that if he did not do so the men might well desert him and leave him to his own devices. The consequence was that things would then be worse for him than they had ever been during the days of his worst troubles with Saul, days which Joab also had good cause to remember.

2 Samuel 19:8 a

‘Then the king arose, and sat in the gate. And they told all the people, saying, “Behold, the king is sitting in the gate,” and all the people came before the king.’

Recognising the rightness and fairness of Joab’s diagnosis David arose and went to sit in the gate where the people passed by. And when the news spread around that he was there they all took advantage of it by passing through the gate so as to greet the king. It made them feel that things were back to normal again.


Verses 8-15

David Calls On Judah For The Restoration Of His Power Among The People (19:8b-15).

The rebellion over, discussion began to break out all over Israel about yielding allegiance to David and hoping for forgiveness. They recognised now that they had made a treacherous, foolish and ungrateful choice. David meanwhile was ready to respond to their desires, but he was cautious of acting unless Judah was also involved. It was after all they who had first rebelled, and it was they over whom he had been king for the longest period. Furthermore he probably recognised that anger over the removal of precedence from Hebron in favour of Jerusalem had been at least partly responsible for the rebellion. He did not therefore wish to exacerbate matters further, by allowing Israel to be the ones who welcomed him back alone. So he sent dependable messengers to negotiate with the elders of Judah in order to get matters settled.

Analysis.

a Now Israel had fled every man to his tent (2 Samuel 19:8 b).

b And all the people were arguing throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, “The king delivered us out of the hand of our enemies, and he saved us out of the hand of the Philistines, and now he is fled out of the land from Absalom” (2 Samuel 19:9).

c “And Absalom, whom we anointed over us, is dead in battle. Now therefore why do you not speak a word about bringing the king back?” (2 Samuel 19:10).

d And king David sent to Zadok and to Abiathar the priests, saying, “Speak to the elders of Judah, saying, ‘Why are you the last to bring the king back to his house? Seeing that the spoken word of all Israel is come to the king, to bring him to his house’ ” (2 Samuel 19:11).

c “You are my brothers, you are my bone and my flesh, why then are you the last to bring back the king?” (2 Samuel 19:12)

b “And say you to Amasa, ‘Are you not my bone and my flesh? God do so to me, and more also, if you be not captain of the host before me continually in the room of Joab. And he bowed the heart of all the men of Judah, even as one man, so that they sent to the king, saying, “Return you, and all your servants” (2 Samuel 19:13-14 a).

a So the king returned, and came to the Jordan (2 Samuel 19:14 b).

Note that in ‘a’ Israel fled to their tents, while in the parallel David returned to the Jordan on his way to his ‘tent’. In ‘b’ David had fled from the land because of Absalom and in the parallel Judah now called on him to return. In ‘c’ Israel are arguing their way to bringing back the king, and in the parallel David asks why Judah are the last to bring back the king. Centrally in ‘d’ David contacts the High Priests, calling on them to ask the elders of Judah why they are the last to bring back the king when Israel have already chosen to do so.

2 Samuel 19:8 b (e-Sword Note: For comments on 19:8a, see the commentary on 2 Samuel 19:7

‘Now Israel had fled every man to his tent.’

The rebellious Israelites had all returned to their homes after their defeat by David’s forces, and the question now was what they should do next.

2 Samuel 19:9-10

And all the people were arguing throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, “The king delivered us out of the hand of our enemies, and he saved us out of the hand of the Philistines, and now he is fled out of the land from Absalom. And Absalom, whom we anointed over us, is dead in battle. Now therefore why do you not speak a word about bringing the king back?”

As a result there was disputation and discussion taking place throughout Israel as to the next step. They were beginning to realise how foolish and ungrateful they had been, recognising only too late that it was because of David that they no longer feared the Philistines. And now as a result of their anointing Absalom as their king, and as a result of Absalom’s consequent rebellion, this saviour-king had fled from the land from Absalom. But now Absalom was dead and they were without a king, and all the king’s sons were with him in Mahanaim, while the Philistines were no doubt waiting across the border considering the position and wondering whether to act. Thus the people of Israel were beginning to point out to each other that they would be wise to call for the king to return to rule them, which according to 2 Samuel 19:11 they accordingly did.

2 Samuel 19:11

And king David sent to Zadok and to Abiathar the priests, saying, “Speak to the elders of Judah, saying, ‘Why are you the last to bring the king back to his house? Seeing that the spoken word of all Israel is come to the king, to bring him to his house.’ ”

David, however, was well aware that in returning to rule over Israel alone (notice the clear distinction between Israel and Judah even at this stage) he would be cutting himself off from Judah. After all, they had been the first to approve of him as their king, and they had also been the first to approve of the rebellion. But he wanted a united Israel-Judah. Thus he sent the two High Priests, Zadok and Abiathar, to parley with the elders of Judah, and to call on them to invite the king back as well. By that means he hoped (unavailingly) to avoid friction between the two parts of the nation. He pointed out that Israel had spoken the word which had invited him back. What then about Judah?

2 Samuel 19:12

You are my brothers, you are my bone and my flesh, why then are you the last to bring back the king?”

Indeed he pointed out to them that they were his own kinsfolk. Why then were they slower to call on the king to return? (But he no doubt also understood the fears of reprisal that might be at the back of their minds. Most kings in David’s position would have taken a heavy revenge).

2 Samuel 19:13-14 a

“And say you to Amasa, ‘Are you not my bone and my flesh? God do so to me, and more also, if you be not captain of the host before me continually in the room of Joab.” And he bowed the heart of all the men of Judah, even as one man, so that they sent to the king, saying, “Return you, and all your servants.”

So David offered them a sop, which was also a sign of his genuine forgiveness. Not only did he want them to invite him back, but he promised that he would actually put their own commander-in-chief Amasa, who was his own blood relative, over the army of ‘all Israel’. Thus they could be sure that there would be no reprisals. He was trying his best to give them an undeserved sense of security. It was an act of true forgiveness.

If this appointment of Amasa appears a little surprising we must recognise that it is probable that having found out the whole story of what had occurred during the battle he now recognised that Joab had been directly responsible for the death of Absalom. Thus in some ways this may well have been intended as a kind of punishment. On the other hand it was a convenient appointment in the circumstances, for Judah would undoubtedly have been unhappy for the army of occupation (as they would have seen it) to be under Joab, so while it might seem to have been very unfair to Joab who had always been faithful to him, we must remember that we do not know what he promised Joab in return. He was in fact made commander of David’s bodyguard as we discover from 2 Samuel 20:7.

David does certainly give the appearance of having constantly wrestled with his conscience about Joab, for while Joab had certainly been a loyal supporter of his from the earliest days, and was also David’s nephew (or half-nephew), there was no question about the fact that he had the bad habit of ‘doing his own thing’ in the face of what he knew that David wanted, for example in the killing of Abner (2 Samuel 3:26-27). Furthermore we must remember that Joab had also been responsible for the return of Absalom, and that through trickery (2 Samuel 14:1-21). Such actions were evidence of a hardness and ambition in Joab that David deplored (2 Samuel 3:39). It may also be that Joab’s co-operation with him in disposing of Uriah (2 Samuel 11:14-21) was something that weighed on his conscience, even though it had been in response to his own request (a conscience stricken man is not always logical). He appears to have overlooked the fact that it was Joab who had only just recently brought him to his senses about his grief over Absalom (2 Samuel 19:5-7), although we must not judge too quickly for we do not know what alternative position he offered Joab on top of his being commander of David’s bodyguard. Certainly the appointment of Amasa as commander-in-chief made a lot of political sense in the circumstance. It would make the rebels feel a lot more comfortable, and more willing to welcome David back.

2 Samuel 19:14 b

‘So the king returned, and came to the Jordan.’

Having sent off his messengers to Judah, and having been invited back by Israel, the king returned from Mahanaim to the east side of the River Jordan and awaited events. He did not want anyone to feel that he was about to launch an invasion.


Verses 15-23

Judah Respond In A Positive Fashion By Coming To Gilgal In Order To Bring The King Ceremoniously Over The Jordan, And With Them Comes Shimei, Along With A Contingent Of Benjaminites, Seeking Forgiveness, And Ziba With His Fifteen Lusty Sons And His Twenty Servants, No Doubt Hoping To Further Ingratiate Himself With The King Before The Full Truth Was Known (2 Samuel 19:15-23).

Judah responded promptly to David’s overtures and as a result came to Gilgal to meet the king. This promptness would prove to be very unfortunate for it would later be resented by the Israelites who suddenly found themselves pre-empted because they themselves had not moved quickly enough. While in the short term Judah’s response probably pleased David, it would bring out just how unhappy many in Israel were. We cannot thus hide from the fact that as a result of the complacent state that David had fallen into, he had not ruled his own people well. And even in this case he clearly failed to take into account what Israel’s attitude might be towards his behaviour. It is a reminder to all Christian leaders that they must ensure that they keep in touch with all parts of their flock, not just with their ‘favourites’.

Along with the men of Judah also came Shimei, the man who had cursed David when he was fleeing from Jerusalem (2 Samuel 16:5-13). Now he wanted to make his peace with David, and had brought along a whole unit of Benjaminites in order to swear fealty to David. It therefore behoved David to forgive him. To do otherwise would have been to offend the Benjaminites at a time when he could least afford it. Ziba also came along with his fifteen sons and twenty servants, almost a military unit in themselves. He too was seeking to maintain David’s goodwill, no doubt being aware that Mephibosheth would shortly be accusing him of disloyalty.

As is evident from the chiasmus of the section (see above) this coming of Shimei, followed by David’s meeting with Mephibosheth and his dealings with the ancient Barzilai to welcome his return, is in deliberate parallel (and in reverse order) to his meetings with the ancient Hushai, Ziba and Shimei when he was fleeing Jerusalem previously (2 Samuel 15:30 to 2 Samuel 16:14) The latter had indicated to David God’s complete (threefold) concern for him as he fled, the former would now demonstrate the threefold completeness of his welcome and the confirmation of God’s presence with him.

Analysis.

a And Judah came to Gilgal, to go to meet the king, to bring the king over the Jordan, and Shimei the son of Gera, the Benjamite, who was of Bahurim, made haste and came down with the men of Judah to meet king David (2 Samuel 19:15-16).

b And there were a thousand men of Benjamin with him, and Ziba the servant of the house of Saul, and his fifteen sons and his twenty servants with him, and they went through the Jordan in the presence of the king (2 Samuel 19:17).

c And there went over a ferry-boat to bring over the king’s household, and to do what he thought good. And Shimei the son of Gera fell down before the king, when he was come over the Jordan, and he said to the king, “Do not let my lord impute iniquity to me, nor do you remember what your servant did perversely the day that my lord the king went out of Jerusalem, that the king should take it to his heart (2 Samuel 19:18-19).

d “For your servant knows that I have sinned. Therefore, see, I am come this day the first of all the house of Joseph to go down to meet my lord the king” (2 Samuel 19:20).

c But Abishai the son of Zeruiah answered and said, “Shall not Shimei be put to death for this, because he cursed YHWH’s anointed?” (2 Samuel 19:21).

b And David said, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah, that you should this day be adversaries to me? Shall there any man be put to death this day in Israel? For do not I know that I am this day king over Israel?” (2 Samuel 19:22).

a And the king said to Shimei, “You shall not die.” And the king swore to him (2 Samuel 19:23).

Note that in ‘a’ Shimei comes to meet the king along with the people of Judah, and in the parallel David swears that Shimei will not be executed. In ‘b’ David is conducted over Jordan as the king and in the parallel he draws attention to the restoration of his kingship over Israel. In ‘c’ Shimei pleads for forgiveness for his sin in cursing David, and in the parallel Abishai calls for his execution for cursing YHWH’s anointed. Centrally in ‘d’ we have Shimei’s humble confession of his sin.

2 Samuel 19:15

And Judah came to Gilgal, to go to meet the king, to bring the king over the Jordan.’

In response to David’s overtures the men of Judah now came to Gilgal, on the west side of the Jordan rift valley, in order to meet the king and welcome him back. Gilgal had been the first stopping place when Joshua had originally come over the Jordan (Joshua 5:9-10), and it had probably at some stage been the site of the Tabernacle in the time of Saul (2 Samuel 13:7-15). It would therefore be seen as a sacred site.

2 Samuel 19:16

And Shimei the son of Gera, the Benjamite, who was of Bahurim, made haste and came down with the men of Judah to meet king David.’

And along with the men of Judah came Shimei, the Benjaminite and Saulide, who at Bahurim had cursed David when he was fleeing from Absalom (2 Samuel 16:5-13). He was now naturally fearful of what the king might do to him and had therefore come to throw himself on the king’s mercy. The alternative would have been for him to flee the country, but he was clearly a wealthy and influential man, and that was therefore the last thing that he would have wanted to have to do.

2 Samuel 19:17

And there were a thousand men of Benjamin with him, and Ziba the servant of the house of Saul, and his fifteen sons and his twenty servants with him, and they went through the Jordan in the presence of the king.’

Shimei’s power and influence comes out in that he had brought with him a whole military unit of Benjaminites. We have here in this separate action by the Benjaminites a sign of the distinction that there already was between Israel (the ten tribes) and Benjamin, (who would later side with Judah - 1 Kings 13:21). The coming of this military unit would, however, be a welcome assurance to David of the genuine submission of the tribe of Benjamin, and it was due to Shimei.

Also with Shimei came Ziba and his fifteen sons and twenty servants. He had by now possibly taken over control of the large lands that David had allotted to him (2 Samuel 16:4), and would thus also be an influential figure, to say nothing of having his own small military unit of sons and servants. The support of all these people would have been welcome to David at this time, and would be a demonstration to him that God was with him.

“And they went through the Jordan in the presence of the king.” This presumably signifies that they crossed the Jordan by means of a ford in order to accompany David over the Jordan in ceremonial fashion. They were putting on a great show in order to obtain his favour.

2 Samuel 19:18

And there went over a ferry-boat to bring over the king’s household, and to do what he thought good. And Shimei the son of Gera fell down before the king, when he was come over the Jordan.’

A large ferry-boat was also sent over in order to bring back the king’s household along with all their possessions. It was put wholly at the king’s disposal and left open to the king to use as he wished. And as soon as David had landed, Shimei, having accompanied the ferry by means of the ford, flung himself on his face before him and pleaded for mercy. He would know that his life hung by a hairsbreadth.

Alternately we could translate “when he (David) was about to cross over the Jordan,” which would signify that Shimei did this before David had entered the ferry.

2 Samuel 19:19

And he said to the king, “Do not let my lord impute iniquity to me, nor do you remember what your servant did perversely the day that my lord the king went out of Jerusalem, that the king should take it to his heart.’

Having humbled himself Shimei sought David’s forgiveness for cursing him on that previous occasion when he had been fleeing from Jerusalem. He expressed his hope that he had not taken it to heart. It was a desperate attempt on his part to remedy the disastrous position that he had landed himself in, as he must have realised.

2 Samuel 19:20

For your servant knows that I have sinned. Therefore, see, I am come this day the first of all the house of Joseph to go down to meet my lord the king.”

He humbly declared that he was aware of how deeply he had sinned, and that in order to indicate his repentance he had wanted to be the first of all the house of Joseph (i.e. Israel in contrast with Judah) to come down to meet the king. All it did prove, of course, was that he was trying everything that he knew in order to redeem the situation that he had brought on himself. His predicament is a reminder to us that we should always think carefully before we speak ill of someone, remembering among other things that it might one day rebound on us.

Reference to ‘the house of Joseph’ (compare Joshua 16:1; Joshua 16:4; Joshua 17:14; 1 Kings 11:28) indicated the whole of Israel, the two largest tribes standing for the whole (later Israel would regularly be called ‘Ephraim’ on the same grounds). It meant Israel as headed up by Ephraim and Manasseh (Joseph’s sons).

2 Samuel 19:21

But Abishai the son of Zeruiah answered and said, “Shall not Shimei be put to death for this, because he cursed YHWH’s anointed?” ’

At this stage Abishei, the son of David’s sister Zeruiah, intervened. He called for Shimei to be executed because he had cursed ‘YHWH’s Anointed’. He had asked a similar thing at the actual time of the curse (2 Samuel 16:9), and David had then explained why he had not intended to do it. Possibly Abishai had in mind what David had said on a previous occasion, ‘who can stretch forth his hand against YHWH’s Anointed and be guiltless?’ (1 Samuel 26:9). But David was not now about to change his mind about Shimei. He would have known that it could indeed have rebounded on him with the remaining Benjaminites. Shimei had undoubtedly been very shrewd.

2 Samuel 19:22

And David said, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah, that you should this day be adversaries to me? Shall there any man be put to death this day in Israel? For do I not know that I am this day king over Israel?” ’

Instead of heeding Abishai David rebuked him for opposing him on a day when mercy was called for, pointing out how unsimilar Abishai and Joab were to him in that to him this was not a day for executions and revenge, because it was the day when his kingship over all Israel had been confirmed by YHWH. God had shown mercy to him, and therefore he considered that he should imitate that mercy. We can compare Saul’s similar reaction in 1 Samuel 11:13.

2 Samuel 19:23

And the king said to Shimei, “You shall not die.” And the king swore to him.’

In consequence the king assured Shimei on oath that he would not die for what he had done. This was not a day for executions but for rejoicing. (He would later have cause to change his mind, probably because of subsequent attempts by Shimei to use his influence in order to undermine his kingship, but because of his oath he was then unable to do anything about it without any definite proof. He would, however, later advise Solomon that he should try to find some just reason to get rid of him, presumably because he saw him as representing a constant danger to the kingdom - 1 Kings 2:8-9).


Verses 24-30

David Discovers The Truth About Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 19:24-30).

When we remember how shocked David must have been after his betrayal by his own beloved son we can understand why he now found it difficult to trust anyone who might do him hurt and undermine his position. And he was aware that any descendant of Saul was certainly in a position to do that. Thus when he met up with Mephibosheth, who had not accompanied him on his flight, and who had been charged by Ziba as having designs on the throne, we can appreciate why he was wary. On the one hand Mephibosheth’s excuse, when he heard it, appeared to be genuine, but on the other Ziba’s arrival with provisions had gladdened his heart at a time when he needed it, and he had furthermore also given him wholehearted support on his return. Who then was telling the truth? The writer clearly plumps for Mephibosheth, but we can see why it was difficult for David to decide. So he took what appeared to be the politically wise course, divide and rule. In other words he divided up the large inheritance of Saul so that neither of the two ended up by being too powerful. That way they could both be more easily contained, and could yet still be content. And as Mephibosheth presumably continued to live at court and eat at the king’s table it really made little difference to him personally how much land he had.

Analysis.

a And Mephibosheth the son of Saul came down to meet the king, and he had neither dressed his feet, nor trimmed his beard, nor washed his clothes, from the day the king departed until the day he came home in peace (2 Samuel 19:24).

b And it came about, when he was come to Jerusalem to meet the king, that the king said to him, “Why did you not go with me, Mephibosheth?” And he answered, “My lord, O king, my servant deceived me, for your servant said, ‘I will saddle me an ass, that I may ride on it and go with the king,’ because your servant is lame. And he has slandered your servant to my lord the king, but my lord the king is as an angel of God. Do therefore what is good in your eyes” (2 Samuel 19:25-27).

c “For all my father’s house were but dead men before my lord the king, yet you set your servant among those who ate at your own table. What right therefore have I yet that I should cry any more to the king?” (2 Samuel 19:28).

b And the king said to him, “Why do you speak any more of your affairs? I say, You and Ziba divide the land” (2 Samuel 19:29).

a And Mephibosheth said to the king, “Yes, let him take all, forasmuch as my lord the king is come in peace to his own house” (2 Samuel 19:30).

In ‘a’ Mephibosheth went to meet the king and greeted him, and in the parallel he rejoices that he has come home in peace. In ‘b’ Mephibosheth goes into detail about his affairs, and in the parallel David calls on him not to speak further about his affairs. Centrally in ‘c’ Mephibosheth expresses his perpetual gratitude towards the king for his goodness to him and his house.

2 Samuel 19:24

And Mephibosheth the son of Saul came down to meet the king, and he had neither dressed his feet, nor trimmed his beard, nor washed his clothes, from the day the king departed until the day he came home in peace.’

Mephibosheth, heir of the house of Saul, also ‘came down’ to meet David. Since the day that David had departed from Jerusalem he had neither washed and dressed his feet, trimmed his beard, nor washed his clothes. This had been in order to indicate deep mourning (compare Ezekiel 24:17), and would have rendered him ritually unclean (Exodus 19:10; Exodus 19:14). It was a brave attitude to have taken up, for had Absalom discovered what he was about he might well have been executed. It revealed therefore that his distress was genuine.

“Until the day he came home in peace.” We are probably to understand from this that once he had learned that David had arrived back in peace he did all that was necessary in order to prepare himself for meeting the king. He would not come before the king in his unkempt condition.

Some, however, consider that he did come down to the Jordan in that condition in order that David might be aware of his deep distress. They then translate 2 Samuel 19:25 as ‘when Jerusalem (i.e. the people of Jerusalem) came to meet the king’.

2 Samuel 19:25

And it came about, when he came to Jerusalem (or ‘when Jerusalem came’) to meet the king, that the king said to him, “Why did you not go with me, Mephibosheth?” ’

On Mephibosheth’s arrival before the king, David questioned him as to why he had not accompanied him on his flight. Before passing judgment on him he wanted his testimony from his own mouth.

Depending on whether we translate as ‘when he came to Jerusalem to meet the king’ (compare 2 Samuel 10:14), or as ‘when Jerusalem (i.e. the people of Jerusalem) came to meet the king’ (both are possible), will depend whether we see Mephibosheth as meeting David at the Jordan or in Jerusalem. Ziba may well have sought to prevent him from coming to the Jordan, and with his lameness he was very much dependent of others. On the other hand the ‘came down’ of verse 24 might be seen as suggesting the descent to the Jordan. We do not, of course, know where Mephibosheth was living at this time. In his state of mourning he would not have wanted to be too near Absalom, and he may well not have wanted to depend on Ziba who had betrayed him. Thus he may have taken shelter with trustworthy friends on his own lands.

2 Samuel 19:26

And he answered, “My lord, O king, my servant deceived me, for your servant said, ‘I will saddle me an ass, that I may ride on it and go with the king,’ because your servant is lame.” ’

Mephibosheth then explained that he had in fact wanted to accompany the king, but that Ziba had deceived him. He had seemingly ordered him to saddle his ass for him to ride on, because being lame in both feet he could not walk. But it was apparent that Ziba had not only failed to do so but had also left without him, leaving him helpless to do anything. How Ziba had treated him once he had taken possession of the property (if Ziba did so immediately), we are not told. He had to some extent been at Ziba’s mercy, although he no doubt had his own servants who would have looked after his welfare (Ziba, however, may even have made that difficult). Knowing that Ziba had betrayed him he may well in fact have taken shelter with trustworthy friends. That may indeed have been part of the reason for Mephibosheth’s more physical expressions of regret.

On the other hand Ziba may have continued to act as his steward. He would not have wanted to make any great show of taking over the property while Absalom was still king, for it would have branded him as a traitor, and he would anyway probably have been unable to prove to anyone that David had given him the Saulide lands. Thus we cannot be sure what precisely the situation was. The writer simply does not tell us. The likelihood must be that he was ‘lying low’ and awaiting David’s return, while ensuring that the lands were maintained. Then he could claim his ‘rights’.

2 Samuel 19:27

And he has slandered your servant to my lord the king, but my lord the king is as an angel of God. Do therefore what is good in your eyes.”

Mephibosheth then explained that Ziba had simply been telling lies about him. He assured the king, however, that he was open for the king to do what he liked with him, for he knew that he was ‘as an angel of God’, knowing everything (compare 2 Samuel 14:17).

2 Samuel 19:28

For all my father’s house were but dead men before my lord the king, yet you set your servant among those who ate at your own table. What right therefore have I yet that I should cry any more to the king?”

He humbly acknowledged that David had previously treated him better than he deserved (in terms of the thinking of those days) for as the direct heir of Saul he could only have expected to be executed. Instead David had not only spared him, but had given him a place at the king’s table as one of the honoured in the land. So, he asked, what right then had he to plead for any further favours?

2 Samuel 19:29

And the king said to him, “Why do you speak any more of your affairs? I say, You and Ziba divide the land.” ’

David’s reply suggested that he accepted Mephibosheth’s version of events. “Why do you speak any more of your affairs?” probably meant, ‘you have said enough, I believe you.’ (Some, however, see it as a curt refusal to listen to any more because David felt guilty). But he obviously found himself in a dilemma. Ziba had unquestionably risked his own life by supporting David at a difficult time (for had Absalom found out what he had done he would have been executed), and he had also been one of the first to greet David’s return, giving him the full support of his household. Furthermore David was very much aware that he himself had given his word, allotting the lands of Saul to him. A king’s word could not easily be broken. On the other hand he now recognised that he had been unfair to Mephibosheth who appeared to be innocent, and that he had originally promised Saul’s lands to Mephibosheth. So he took the course of appeasement. His decision was that they would share the lands. Neither would then dare to express disagreement lest they lose what they had gained. And both would still be well provided for, for Saul’s lands must have been extensive. David’s hope appears to have been to keep them both ‘on side’ and reasonably satisfied.

2 Samuel 19:30

And Mephibosheth said to the king, “Yes, let him take all, forasmuch as my lord the king is come in peace to his own house.” ’

Mephibosheth’s reply was in fact a polite acceptance of the king’s decision, made in true oriental fashion. We can compare how Ephron the Hittite had replied to Abraham ‘I will give you the land, -- the land is worth 400 shekels of silver, what is that between me and you?’, when what he really meant was, ‘400 hundred shekels of silver is the price that I want for the land’ (Genesis 23:11; Genesis 23:15). What Mephibosheth was really saying was, ‘I accept your decision, for what do the lands mean in comparison with the return of the king in peace to his own palace?’

Mephibosheth certainly comes best out of the incident, but it is probably unfair to criticise David too much. He had after all been caught in a dilemma through no fault of his own, and was now trying to be fair to all. We may feel that he should have seen through Ziba’s deception from the start, but we need to remember that it happened at a time when he was still reeling from the treachery of his own son. At such times common sense is often lacking.


Verses 31-40

Barzillai, Who Had Provisioned David In Mahanaim, Is Rewarded By His Son Becoming A Member Of David’s Court (2 Samuel 19:31-40).

Accompanying David in order to escort him over the River Jordan was Barzillai the Gileadite, a wealthy Transjordanian Israelite who had loyally supported David and had played a large part in provisioning him and his men at Mahanaim (2 Samuel 17:27-28), and would almost certainly have provided a number of warriors. Now he had the privilege of escorting David safely back across the Jordan. David out of gratitude then asked him to come and take up his place at court, but Barzillai excused himself on the grounds of age and requested that David would rather take Chimham. Most commentators believe that Chimham was Barzillai’s son on the basis of 1 Kings 2:7. David therefore agreed to his suggestion and promised that he would take Chimham to court and deal with him in a way that was pleasing to Barzillai.

Analysis.

a And Barzillai the Gileadite came down from Rogelim, and he went over the Jordan with the king, to conduct him over the Jordan (2 Samuel 19:31).

b Now Barzillai was a very old man, even fourscore years old, and he had provided the king with sustenance while he lay at Mahanaim, for he was a very great man (2 Samuel 19:32).

c And the king said to Barzillai, “Come you over with me, and I will sustain you with me in Jerusalem” (2 Samuel 19:33).

d And Barzillai said to the king, “How many are the days of the years of my life, that I should go up with the king to Jerusalem? I am this day fourscore years old. Can I discern between good and bad? Can your servant taste what I eat or what I drink? Can I hear any more the voice of singing men and singing women? Why then should your servant be yet a burden to my lord the king?” (2 Samuel 19:34-35).

e “Your servant would but just go over the Jordan with the king, and why should the king recompense it to me with such a reward?” (2 Samuel 19:36).

d “Let your servant, I pray you, turn back again, that I may die in my own city, by the grave of my father and my mother. But see, your servant Chimham. Let him go over with my lord the king, and do to him what shall seem good to you” (2 Samuel 19:37).

c And the king answered, “Chimham shall go over with me, and I will do to him what will seem good to you, and whatever you shall require of me, that will I do for you” (2 Samuel 19:38).

b And all the people went over the Jordan, and the king went over, and the king kissed Barzillai, and blessed him, and he returned to his own place (2 Samuel 19:39).

a So the king went over to Gilgal, and Chimham went over with him, and all the people of Judah brought the king over, and also a portion of the people of Israel (2 Samuel 19:40).

Note that in ‘a’ Barzillai accompanied David over the Jordan, while in the parallel David ‘went over to Gilgal’, along with Chimham, Barzillai’s son. In ‘b’ we are told what David owed to Barzillai, and in the parallel we are told how he showed his gratitude to him. In ‘c’ he invited to Barzillai to take up a place in court, and in the parallel he promises that he will do it for his son instead. In ‘d’ Barzillai explains that he is an old man, and in the parallel he asks that he may be allowed to see out his days in his own city. Centrally in ‘e’ Barzillai humbly disclaims that he has done anything special.

2 Samuel 19:31

And Barzillai the Gileadite came down from Rogelim, and he went over the Jordan with the king, to conduct him over the Jordan.’

Barzillai the Gileadite, who lived at Rogelim in Gilead and had helped to provision David and his household and men while they were at Mahanaim, came down from his home to help escort David over the River Jordan. It was intended that the crossing should be a time of great ceremonial and celebration.

2 Samuel 19:32

Now Barzillai was a very old man, even fourscore years old, and he had provided the king with sustenance while he lay at Mahanaim, for he was a very great man.’

Barzillai was both a very great and wealthy man, and very old, for he was eighty years old, and he had helped to sustain David and his household, and his army.

2 Samuel 19:33

And the king said to Barzillai, “Come you over with me, and I will sustain you with me in Jerusalem.” ’

David thus wanted to reward Barzillai for his loyalty by taking him with him to Jerusalem and letting him enjoy luxurious sustenance at court as an honoured courtier. It was not strictly the food that was in question, however, for Barzillai no doubt lived as luxuriously at home. The point was rather that he might enjoy the honour of being at court.

2 Samuel 19:34-35

And Barzillai said to the king, “How many are the days of the years of my life, that I should go up with the king to Jerusalem? I am this day fourscore years old. Can I discern between good and bad? Can your servant taste what I eat or what I drink? Can I hear any more the voice of singing men and singing women? Why then should your servant be yet a burden to my lord the king?”

In reply Barzillai pointed out that at his advanced age he would not be able to enjoy the luxuries at court. He admitted that his taste buds were no longer active, and that his deafness would prevent him from enjoying music. Thus he would gain little benefit from it. All he would do was be a burden on the king. He was in fact tactfully laying the foundation for turning down the king’s offer without causing offence, recognising how easily such an act could count against him. In those days such an invitation from the king was not seen as being optional. Unless the grounds were extremely good the refusal of it would normally be seen as an insult, or even as an indication of possible rebellion. But he was hoping that his great age would make it clear that this was not the case with him.

2 Samuel 19:36

Your servant would but just go over the Jordan with the king, and why should the king recompense it to me with such a reward?”

He then pointed out how little he was doing to deserve such a reward. All he was doing was going over the River Jordan with the king as part of the ceremonies welcoming him back as king. That hardly justified such a great reward. He modestly ignored the huge contribution that he had made to the king’s welfare. As a loyal subject he felt that it had been his privilege to do it. We are reminded of Jesus’ words about the loyal servant who declared, ‘I have only done what it was my duty to do’ (Luke 17:10).

2 Samuel 19:37

Let your servant, I pray you, turn back again, that I may die in my own city, by the grave of my father and my mother. But see, your servant Chimham. Let him go over with my lord the king, and do to him what shall seem good to you.”

In view of all this Barzillai therefore requested that he might rather return home in order that he might die in his own city, where his father and mother were buried. Note the contrast with the death of Ahithophel. He too died in his own city, but by his own hand and in despair (2 Samuel 17:23). Such was the end of the one who opposed YHWH’s Anointed in contrast with the one expected by the one who was loyal to YHWH’s Anointed.

So Barzillai pleaded, ‘Let the king, therefore, be pleased rather to take his son Chimham to court, and treat him as he saw best’. While the account nowhere describes Chimham as his son it is deducible from 1 Kings 2:7 where Solomon was called on to allow the sons of Barzillai to eat at the king’s table, presumably in continuation of the privilege being bestowed at this point. The other son or sons presumably entered David’s court when they came of age, as the sons of a loyal father. David never forgot those who had demonstrated their loyalty to him.

2 Samuel 19:38

And the king answered, “Chimham shall go over with me, and I will do to him what will seem good to you, and whatever you shall require of me, that will I do for you.”

David recognised the good sense of what Barzillai was saying and agreed that instead of Barzillai himself he would take his son Chimham, and do for him what he had intended to do for Barzillai himself. What is more, he would do anything further that Barzillai requested of him, whether for his sons or for himself.

Note how David had this custom of desiring to return like for like. Thus here in reply to Barzillai’s ‘do to him what seems good to you’ he replied ‘I will do to him what seems good to YOU’. Compare also 2 Samuel 19:32-33 where his offer of sustenance to Barzillai (by which he meant an honoured place in court) was in return for the sustenance that he had himself had received from Barzillai.

2 Samuel 19:39

And all the people went over the Jordan, and the king went over, and the king kissed Barzillai, and blessed him, and he returned to his own place.’

The ceremony of the king’s crossing of the Jordan to receive back the kingship was then observed, and all the people who were with the king went over the Jordan, most no doubt by fording it, although the most important would be with David on the royal ferry-boat. And once they had reached the other side David bestowed on Barzillai a royal kiss, presumably on the cheek or forehead, and then gave him his blessing as a priest after the order of Melchizedek. And with that Barzillai returned to his own home well satisfied.

2 Samuel 19:40

So the king went over to Gilgal, and Chimham went over with him, and all the people of Judah brought the king over, and also a portion of the people of Israel.’

Meanwhile the king went over to Gilgal, which was where the men of Judah had gathered in order to receive David back as king (19:15), and Chimham went over with him as Barzillai had requested. Also involved in the ceremonial of the crossing were the men of Judah, and a portion of the men of Israel. These included the Benjaminites, and presumably any Israelites who had come together in order to assist David in his battles against Absalom. But it meant that the ‘mainland’ Israelites were not there in order to participate, which would shortly be the cause of more trouble.


Verse 41

Israel React Against What They See As The Favouritism Shown To Judah, and Judah’s Unwise Reply Results In A Further Rebellion (19:41-20:2).

The failure of David to treat Judah and Israel equally exacerbated the problems within his kingdom, and the consequence was that when the elders of Judah replied to the elders of Israel with harsh words, it resulted in open rebellion. But we cannot hide from the fact that this revealed the underlying currents that were at work in a ‘nation’ which had on the surface appeared to be so united. It revealed that it had simply been held together by the fear of the surrounding nations and its need for a strong king, but that once those nations had been subdued and had become vassals, and the strong king had become complacent and somewhat negligent, its unity had come under strain. It would have constantly required great wisdom and understanding to hold it together, and that was something that David in his backslidden had not displayed.

In order to understand something of this strain we must look back at history. The previous circumstances of history had unquestionably resulted in a definite division between ‘Judah’ to the south and ‘northern’ Israel, partly because Judah and Ephraim as the two largest and most powerful tribes were fierce rivals, partly as a result of geographical division, and partly as a result of the events of history. This situation had built up initially from the earliest days of the conquest when, after coming over the Jordan, Judah had gone southwards, absorbing much of Simeon within it (Judges 1:3-21; compare Joshua 15:20-62; Joshua 19:1-9), and had become lords of the south, while the remaining tribes had settled in the central highlands and the north, with the two major tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh holding large swathes of the central ground and influencing all the smaller tribes to the north. Dan had meanwhile been fragmented by Philistine pressure, and almost obliterated as far as their allotted land was concerned, resulting in a large proportion of the Danites moving northwards to Laish (Judges 18), and leaving the remainder crushed by the Philistines, while little Benjamin, still gradually recovering from its near obliteration (Judges 20-21), was simply caught in the middle. The situation had also become further complicated in that from all appearances a large number of Simeonites who had not wanted to become absorbed by Judah, and had become unhappy with Judah’s influence and domination over them, had migrated northwards, thus becoming an identifiable part of the ‘ten tribes’ (2 Samuel 19:43; 1 Kings 11:31-32; 1 Chronicles 4:41-43; 1 Chronicles 12:24-25), although with some inevitably remaining in the south (2 Chronicles 15:9).

The inevitable consequence of all this was that a distinct separation into two parts had developed between the northern tribes under the name of Israel, and the southern part that was identified as ‘Judah’, but which included smaller tribal groups, such as the Kenites, within it (Judges 1:16; compare 1 Samuel 27:10). This separation had no doubt been further exacerbated by the fact that Judah were for a long period wholly occupied with the task of defending themselves against the Philistines (as well as against periodic invaders from the south like the Amalekites) with the result that later they could not contribute to the call to arms which was sent out when some northern tribes were in trouble (see for example the tribes included in the defeat of Moab in Judges 3:27, and then in the song of Deborah in Judges 5:14-23, and in all that followed). It had not, of course, been true to begin with because it was Judah under Othniel who had led the tribes in the defeat of Cushan-Rishathaim, king of Aram Naharaim (Mesoptamia) in Judges 3:8-10, and they were also involved in the early dispute that decimated the tribe of Benjamin (Juges 20-21). But it was undoubtedly so later. So while the ‘twelve tribes’ certainly remained loosely bound by the covenant treaty, and acknowledged that they were ‘brothers’, there had grown up an undoubted north-south divide, a division which was made even worse when David became king over Judah as a separate kingdom, with the northern and Transjordanian tribes choosing Ish-bosheth, the son of Saul as their king, a point at which they had become two nations. The consequence was that once they became united under David after the death of Ish-bosheth in order to counter the menace of the widely expanding Philistine empire, it was very much as a nation divided up into two parts by custom and tradition, but meanwhile acting together in partnership.

That they still felt themselves as united by an invisible bond (the covenant of YHWH) comes out in the time that it would take before they finally reluctantly separated, (they sought to compromise to the last). But as hot-headed people living in a hot climate and with strong feelings about their ‘rights’ they were always likely to come to blows. It would have required a deeper tact than David showed to hold them together when Judah, instead of being judicious, reacted to Israel’s complaint of favouritism with harsh words.

Analysis.

a And, behold, all the men of Israel came to the king, and said to the king, “Why have our brothers the men of Judah stolen you away, and brought the king, and his household, over the Jordan, and all David’s men with him?” And all the men of Judah answered the men of Israel, “Because the king is near of kin to us. Why then are you angry over this matter? Have we eaten at all at the king’s cost? Or has he given us any gift?” (2 Samuel 19:41-42).

b And the men of Israel answered the men of Judah, and said, “We have ten parts in the king, and we have also more right in David than you, why then did you despise us, that our advice should not be first had in bringing back our king?” (2 Samuel 19:43 a).

c And the words of the men of Judah were fiercer than the words of the men of Israel (2 Samuel 19:43 b).

b And there happened to be there a base fellow, whose name was Sheba, the son of Bichri, a Benjaminite, and he blew the ram’s horn, and said, “We have no portion in David, neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse. Every man to his tents, O Israel” (2 Samuel 20:1).

a So all the men of Israel went up from following David, and followed Sheba the son of Bichri, but the men of Judah clung firmly to their king, from the Jordan even to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 20:2).

Note that in ‘a’ there was a dispute between Israel and Judah, while in the parallel this resulted in Israel and Judah rallying under two leaders. In ‘b’ we have the grounds of Israel’s complaint, and in the parallel the consequence of Judah’s reply to that complaint. Centrally in ‘c’ it is emphasised that Judah’s reply had been totally unconciliatory, indeed brutal.

2 Samuel 19:41

And, behold, all the men of Israel came to the king, and said to the king, “Why have our brothers the men of Judah stolen you away, and brought the king, and his household, over the Jordan, and all David’s men with him?” ’

David having been ceremonially transported over the Jordan and brought to Gilgal, with Israel only partly involved in the celebrations, the part of Israel not so involved reacted strongly. They felt that the honour of their tribes had been slighted in that while they had been the first to invite David back they had been snubbed as regards his actual return by not being invited to participate in the ceremonial return. In their eyes all the honour had gone to Judah who had been the last to respond to David. Thus they came to the king in a solemn assembly of the tribes, probably held at Gilgal, in order for the matter to be looked into and for their wrong to be righted. At this stage they appear to have been open to being reconciled. It was thus a time for conciliation and cool heads.

Given tribal pride Israel undoubtedly had a cause of grievance. For while we can certainly understand why David wanted to be sure that Judah, who had been the original cause of the rebellion, had been brought on side, there is no doubt that he had not sufficiently taken into account the sensitivities and feelings of Israel. He had failed to recognise the strong tribal rivalry that existed between the two sides which, once he had become king of the joint nations, had initially been hidden by the parlous situation in which they were, threatened on every side. It only manifested itself, as such things will, once the whole country had become secure and they began to have time to think about their own rights and privileges. And the tribal system meant that the nation, divided into tribes which were ruled by their own elders, was, in comparison with other nations, almost ‘democratic’, as it operated through its appointed elders. But as a result of continual mutual assistance the northern tribes on the West of the Jordan had formed a united bond which did not take in Judah. Thus it was not wise for their sensitivities to be ignored. They had still not become reconciled to the idea that the king was sovereign in all final decisions and could override the tribal leaders. In their eyes that was not the way in which their traditions presented kingship. They rather saw the king as being the servant of YHWH, and they believed that YHWH always listened to His people (Deuteronomy 17:17-20).

It is in fact interesting that this viewpoint was tacitly supported by this coming together of ‘the assembly of Israel’, for the whole point of the assembly was in order to iron out difficulties between themselves and Judah, and be fair to all parties. It was here then that they had brought their grievance, ostensibly to David, but in fact to the whole assembly. It is noteworthy that David appears to have kept out of the argument.

2 Samuel 19:42

And all the men of Judah answered the men of Israel, “Because the king is near of kin to us. Why then are you angry over this matter? Have we eaten at all at the king’s cost? Or has he given us any gift?”’

Initially Judah’s response in the assembly was fairly tactful. They pointed out that while it was true that they had been prominent in the crossing of the river celebration (along with Benjamin and the Gileadites), it was because the king was near kin to them. And they stressed that they had not gained any material benefit from what had happened. They were unable therefore to understand why Israel were so concerned and angry. Indeed it appeared strange to them because in their view it had been a family affair and they had gained nothing out of it. Thus as far as they saw it, Israel had nothing to grumble about. In which case what was it that was eating at their hearts? (They did not stop and think how they would have felt if Judah had been left out of the celebrations, nor considered the fact that Israel had in fact been proud of its king, and had seen him as partly ‘theirs’).

2 Samuel 19:43 a

‘And the men of Israel answered the men of Judah, and said, “We have ten parts in the king, and we have also more right in David than you, why then did you despise us, that our advice should not be first had in bringing back our king?”

The bristling men of Israel soon told them. They were larger and more numerous than Judah and therefore considered that they had greater rights in the king who, in their view, ruled equally over the twelve tribes. They thus saw him as ten twelfths belonging to them. And furthermore they pointed out that they had been the first to invite David back as their king. Thus their not having been called to take part in the ceremonial of crossing the Jordan, or even be consulted about it, had been an almost unforgivable insult (even though at this stage they were probably open to being pacified). They considered that they should have been consulted about the crossing and that it should have awaited their coming so that they could play a full part in it.

We note here Israel’s view that they had ‘ten parts’ in the king. They thus saw themselves as representing ten tribes, as would become even more clear when the final split occurred (1 Kings 11:31). This was as much traditional as actual, for there had undoubtedly been considerable variations in the identity and make-up of the occupants of different parts of the land, and the areas contained many of other nationalities with whom they had inter-married and many of whom would have been adopted into the covenant and into the tribes. Furthermore there had undoubtedly been movements of sub-tribes (compare the movements of parts of Simeon and Dan mentioned earlier), as well as movements of individuals, due to various internal and external pressures, while many from all of these tribes would actually have moved to live in and around Jerusalem, both in order to be near the court and because it had become the centre of their worship of YHWH where the Ark of YHWH was to be found.

We should note here, for example, that Benjamin was considered as one of the ‘ten’, for Bishri, who led the revolt of the ten, was a Benjaminite. In 1 Kings 12:21, however, Benjamin was one of the ‘two’. This emphasises the fluidity of the situation.

2 Samuel 19:43 b

‘And the words of the men of Judah were fiercer than the words of the men of Israel.’

Sadly the men of Judah did not consider what was said and reply with conciliatory words. They were fiercely proud of their relationship with David. So instead of answering tactfully they returned fierce and contemptuous answers which simply riled the men of Israel, and resulted in their leaving the assembly in fury. (The histories of the church and of other nations are full of similar examples. How important it is for Christians to seek to see all viewpoints which arise among themselves, and then to be conciliatory, and to treat one another with fairness and with love, only demanding adherence to what are the most basic and central truths. Thereby much division could have been, and would be, avoided).

2 Samuel 20:1

And there happened to be there a base fellow, whose name was Sheba, the son of Bichri, a Benjaminite, and he blew the ram’s horn, and said, “We have no portion in David, neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse. Every man to his tents, O Israel.” ’

The final consequence of the bitter arguments that had taken place in the assembly was that the men of Israel eventually walked away from the assembly in an aggrieved state, with the result that when a ‘base fellow’ named Bichri, who was a Benjaminite, blew the ram’s horn to summon the northern tribes to desert David and return home in order to prepare to exert their independence, there was an immediate response. If David wanted Judah then he could have them, and Judah could have him. In their view he had demonstrated by what had happened that he did not see Israel as having a part in him. Well, all right, if that was so Israel was done with him. (That is, a part of Israel. Certainly not the tribes in Transjordan). Judah had thus not done David any favours by their arrogant behaviour, and he himself seems to have been unconscious of what was happening, no doubt assuming that it would all blow over. Indeed, what follows appears to have caught him by surprise. Bichri’s call to Israel unfortunately turned out to be only too successful, at least as far as the going home was concerned. Once again the hot-heads had won, as they often do when passions are roused and people do not stop to think.

2 Samuel 20:2

So all the men of Israel went up from following David, and followed Sheba the son of Bichri; but the men of Judah clung firmly to their king, from the Jordan even to Jerusalem.’

The result was that the men of Israel, so recently returned to David, seceded from the kingdom and ceased to follow him. Previously it had been the men of Judah who had been the source of rebellion. Now it was Israel. But it was certainly an indication of how little united the kingdom really was. On the other hand, in contrast to their previous attitude, the previously rebellious men of Judah stood firmly by their king and accompanied him to Jerusalem.

We must actually differentiate between the passive resistance of a large part of the northern tribes, and the active resistance aroused by Bichri in certain parts of the tribal lands. The former had responded to his call to go home, seeing themselves as no longer responsible to David. The latter actually took up arms with a view to armed secession.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 19:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/2-samuel-19.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, October 13th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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