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Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary
New American Standard Version
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Verse 2 Samuel 18:8. The wood devoured more people — It is generally supposed that, when the army was broken, they betook themselves to the wood, fell into pits, swamps, c., and, being entangled, were hewn down by David's men but the Chaldee, Syriac, and Arabic, state that they were devoured by wild beasts in the wood.
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Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 18:8". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/acc/2-samuel-18.html. 1832.
War between Absalom and David (17:1-19:8)
Ahithophel advised Absalom that he needed to do only one thing to make his throne secure, and that was kill David. If he did this swiftly, without war or unnecessary bloodshed, the people would soon be fully behind him (17:1-4). Hushai, wishing to gain time for David to escape and organize his troops, advised against such a risky operation, for David was a very experienced soldier. He recommended that the whole Israelite army be assembled and Absalom himself lead them into battle (5-13). Being as vain as he was ambitious, Absalom liked this idea and accepted Hushai’s advice (14).
At the risk of their lives, David’s spies took him news of Absalom’s plan (15-20), with the result that David and his men quickly escaped across Jordan (21-22). Ahithophel committed suicide. His plotting had brought Absalom to the throne, and he knew that all would be lost if Absalom followed Hushai’s advice (23). David had now gained valuable time to rest his weary men, obtain provisions and plan his war strategy (24-29).
The military leaders whom David appointed over his men suggested he not go with his troops to the battle, lest he be killed. David agreed, but warned them not to kill Absalom (18:1-5). David’s experienced army leaders knew better than the inexperienced Absalom how to direct the fighting in the difficult conditions of the thick forest. Absalom’s forces suffered a crushing defeat (6-8). Though Joab acted against David’s command in killing Absalom, he knew that this was the only way to bring the revolt to an end (9-15). Once Absalom was dead, further fighting was not necessary. Absalom had hoped for himself an honourable memorial, but he was buried in disgrace (16-18).
Not knowing how best to break the news of Absalom’s death to David, Joab sent an African slave, in case the king reacted violently and killed the bearer of such bad news. But Ahimaaz, knowing that David would be overcome with grief, persuaded Joab to send him as well (19-23). Ahimaaz arrived first and tried to break the news to David softly (24-29), but when the African arrived he told David bluntly that Absalom was dead (30-33).
David’s uncontrolled grief over the death of Absalom created dissatisfaction among those who had risked their lives to save him (19:1-4). Joab spoke harshly to David, telling him to stop mourning and show some appreciation of what his troops had done for him. If not, he might lose their support entirely (5-8).
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Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 18:8". "Fleming's Bridgeway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bbc/2-samuel-18.html. 2005.
The battle was scattered - Probably Absalom’s forces were far more numerous than David’s; but, most likely by Joab’s skillful generalship, the field of battle was such that numbers did not tell, and David’s veteran troops were able to destroy Absalom’s rabble in detail. The wood entangled them, and was perhaps full of pits, precipices, and morasses 2 Samuel 18:17.
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 18:8". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/2-samuel-18.html. 1870.
So David numbered the people that were with him, and he set the captains over the thousands, and captains over the hundreds. And David sent forth a third part of the people under the hand of Joab, a third part under the hand of Abishai who was the brother of Joab, and a third part under Ittai the Gittite. And the king said unto the people, I will surely go forth with you myself also ( 2 Samuel 18:1-2 ).
So now David is preparing to defend himself, and he divides the people that were with him, the men of war, into three companies, and David volunteers to go with them.
And they said, "No, you shouldn't go into battle with us. You stay back here because really you're the one they want. If we should fall in battle it doesn't make any difference, they're really not after us; they're only after you. And if you go out there you're just gonna put yourself in jeopardy because you're the one they're after. And so we'll go out and we will fight for you.
And so the king called Joab [David called Joab] and Abishai and Ittai, and he said, Deal gently for my sake with the young man, even with Absalom ( 2 Samuel 18:5 ).
So he orders them, "Now look, you know, deal gently with him." Even though Absalom had rebelled against his father, yet he was still his son, and David still had a great love for his son Absalom.
And so the people went out into the field against Israel: and they met them in the woods of Ephraim; and the people of Israel were slain before the servants of David, and there was a great slaughter of twenty thousand men. For the battle was scattered over the face of all the country: and the woods devoured more people that day than the sword. And Absalom met the servants of David. And Absalom rode upon a mule, and the mule went under a thick bough of a great oak, and his head caught hold of the oak, and he was taken up between heaven and the earth; and the mule that was under him went away ( 2 Samuel 18:6-9 ).
Now you remember that Absalom grew hair profusely. In fact, when they would shave his head every year, there were three to four pounds of hair. They would shave his head, and pull it and all, each year, he had three to four pounds of hair. So hair can be an attractive thing, but it can also be a disastrous thing. For Absalom it was a disaster as he was riding on his donkey, riding under this branch of an oak tree, his hair got caught in the oak and the donkey kept going and he was there swinging by his hair from that oak branch.
And a certain man saw him, and he told Joab, and he said, Behold, I saw Absalom hanging on an oak. And Joab said to the man that told him, You saw him, why didn't you smite him? and I would've rewarded you ten shekels of silver, and a girdle. And the man said to Joab, If you'd give me a thousand shekels of silver in my hand, I wouldn't put forth my hand to touch him, because I heard what David told you that you shouldn't touch his son Absalom. I would've wrought falsehood against my own life: for there is no matter that is hid from the king, and thou thyself would've set yourself against me ( 2 Samuel 18:10-13 ).
So the guy says, "Hey, think I'm crazy? I know David, nothing's hidden from him. He doesn't want his son Absalom touched. You yourself would witness against me."
So Joab said, I shouldn't wait with you. And he took three darts in his hand, and he thrust them though the heart of Absalom, while he was still alive there in the midst of the oak. And the ten young men that bare Joab's armour circled about and smote Absalom, and they killed him. And Joab blew the trumpet, and the people returned from pursuing after the Israelites: for Joab restrained the people. And they took Absalom and they cast him into a great pit, and they threw [a lot of] a great heap of stones upon him ( 2 Samuel 18:14-17 ):
During Absalom's lifetime we read that he had made a sort of a tower, a monument after and named it after his own name. This pillar he called "Absalom's place."
Now there is in Jerusalem today, in the valley of the Kidron down beneath what they call the pinnacle of the temple which is the corner of the mount that Herod built for the temple in his day, there was down there at the bottom of the Kidron, a sort of a burial place, a pillar, a monument, that is called "Absalom's Tower." However, most of the noted archeologists say that it dates to some period after Absalom and is not in reality the tower that is mentioned here in the Bible. However, by making of a biblical thing, more people go down to look at it.
But Absalom had a pillar that he had erected, a monument, and it's set up in a valley. For he said, "I have no son to keep my name in remembrance." Now this is interesting because the scripture said that he had two sons. So either his sons, both of them, died young or he built the pillar before his sons were born. One of the two, we don't know which it might be.
So Ahimaaz the son of Zadok said [to Joab], Let me run, and tell David the news. And Joab said to Ahimaaz, Nah, you'll run some other day: and he called Cushi, and he said, Go and tell the king what you have seen. And so Cushi bowed himself and began to run. And Ahimaaz came back again, and he said, I want to run, please let me run, I want to tell the king. And finally Joab said, Okay run. [And Ahimaaz was a faster runner, and so before long he overtook old Cushi as he was puffing along, and left him in the dust.] And David was sitting in the gate of the city: and the guy upon the tower called down, and he said, There is a runner coming, he's by himself. And David said, If he's by himself, then he bears news. Pretty soon he calls and says there's a second runner coming by himself, the first runner looks like the running of Ahimaaz. And David said, If it's Ahimaaz it's good news. And so Ahimaaz came puffing in, and Ahimaaz was called by David over to him, and he said to David, Every thing is well. And he fell down on his face before the king and he said, Blessed be the Lord thy God, which has delivered up the men that lifted up their hand against my lord the king ( 2 Samuel 18:19-28 ).
"It's all well. God has taken care of those men that have lifted up against you."
David said, How is Absalom? And he said, Well I saw a great tumult of people ( 2 Samuel 18:29 )
"Well, how's Absalom?" "Well I really don't know, I just saw a crowd." He said, "Stand back", because old Cushi came in about this time.
Now here is an interesting thing to me. Ahimaaz could run well. He was a good runner, he was faster than Cushi, but his problem, he didn't have any message. Now it doesn't really matter how well you can run, you need to have a message when you get there. I think that some of us many times make the same mistake.
We say, "I want to run. I want to serve the Lord. Oh, I want to go out and serve the Lord. I've been saved for two weeks now." We go out prematurely before we really have something to share. But so anxious we are to run that we get involved in areas where we are not really qualified. I see it over and over again, people coming and saying, "Let me run. I want to go. I want to go out and preach. I want to go out and share." It doesn't matter how well you might run, it's important that you have a message when you get there, that you have something worthwhile to share. That is why so often we say, "No, just sit and learn. Sit and prepare yourself, sit and grow in your knowledge, so that when you go out, you'll have a message to share."
So Cushi then told David that his son Absalom was slain in the battle. And David was very moved, he went up to his chamber over the gate, and as he went up he was crying: saying, O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom. would to God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son ( 2 Samuel 18:31-33 ). "
Copyright © 2014, Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, Ca.
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 18:8". "Smith's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/csc/2-samuel-18.html. 2014.
The end of Absalom 18:1-18
"In the overall structure of 2 Samuel 15:1 to 2 Samuel 20:22, the story of Absalom’s death (2 Samuel 18:1-18) provides a counterpoise to that of Shimei’s curse (2 Samuel 16:5-14 . . .). Just as in the earlier narrative an adversary of David (Shimei) curses him (2 Samuel 16:5, 2 Samuel 16:7-8, 2 Samuel 16:13), so also here an adversary of David (Absalom) opposes him in battle (2 Samuel 18:6-8); just as in the earlier account David demands that Shimei be spared (2 Samuel 16:11), so also here David demands that Absalom be spared (2 Samuel 18:5; 2 Samuel 18:12); and just as in the earlier episode a son of Zeruiah (Abishai) is ready to kill Shimei (2 Samuel 16:9), so also here a son of Zeruiah (Joab, 2 Samuel 18:2) is ready to kill Absalom-and indeed wounds him, perhaps mortally (2 Samuel 18:14-15)." [Note: Youngblood, p. 1017.]
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 18:8". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/2-samuel-18.html. 2012.
The battle between David’s and Absalom’s armies 18:6-8
The location of the forest of Ephraim is unknown, but it was probably in Gilead (cf. Judges 12:1-5). [Note: Cf. LaMoine DeVries, "The Forest of Ephraim," Biblical Illustrator 10:1 (1983):82-85.] As early as the Judges period, so many Ephraimites had settled in Gilead that the western Ephraimites called the Gileadites "fugitives of Ephraim" (Judges 12:4). [Note: George Adam Smith, The Historical Geography of the Holy Land, p. 335, n. 2.] How the forest devoured more of Absalom’s men than David’s soldiers did (2 Samuel 18:8) is not clear, but that it did suggests that Yahweh assisted David’s men by using the forest somehow to give him the victory.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 18:8". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/2-samuel-18.html. 2012.
For the battle was there scattered over the face of all the country,.... Or the warriors were scattered, as the Targum; Absalom's soldiers, their ranks were broken, and they were thrown into the utmost confusion, and ran about here and there all over the field or plain in which the battle was fought, and into the neighbouring wood:
and the wood devoured more people that day than the sword devoured; there were more slain in it the in the field of battle, what by one thing or another; as by falling into pits and on stumps of trees, and being entangled in the bushes, and could make but little haste, and so were overtaken by David's men, and slain; insomuch that, as Josephus h observes, there were more slain fleeing than fighting, and perhaps some might perish by wild beasts; so the Targum,
"and the beasts of the wood slew more of the people than were slain by the sword;''
and so the Syriac and Arabic versions render the words to the same purpose.
h Ut supra. (Antiqu. l. 7. c. 10. sect. 2.)
The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
A printed copy of this work can be ordered from: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1 Iron Oaks Dr, Paris, AR, 72855
Gill, John. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 18:8". "Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/2-samuel-18.html. 1999.
|Preparations for Battle.||B. C. 1023.|
1 And David numbered the people that were with him, and set captains of thousands and captains of hundreds over them. 2 And David sent forth a third part of the people 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 unto the people, I will surely go forth with you myself also. 3 But the people answered, Thou shalt 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 now thou art worth ten thousand of us: therefore now it is better that thou succour us out of the city. 4 And the king said unto them, What seemeth you best I will do. And the king stood by the gate side, and all the people came out by hundreds and by thousands. 5 And the king commanded Joab and Abishai and Ittai, saying, Deal gently for my sake with the young man, even with Absalom. And all the people heard when the king gave all the captains charge concerning Absalom. 6 So the people went out into the field against Israel: and the battle was in the wood of Ephraim; 7 Where the people of Israel were slain before the servants of David, and there was there a great slaughter that day of twenty thousand men. 8 For the battle was there scattered over the face of all the country: and the wood devoured more people that day than the sword devoured.
Which way David raised an army here, and what reinforcements were sent him, we are not told; many, it is likely, from all the coasts of Israel, at least from the neighbouring tribes, came in to his assistance, so that, by degrees, he was able to make head against Absalom, as Ahithophel foresaw. Now here we have,
I. His army numbered and marshalled, 2 Samuel 18:1; 2 Samuel 18:2. He had, no doubt, committed his cause to God by prayer, for that was his relief in all his afflictions; and then he took an account of his forces. Josephus says they were, in all, but about 4000. These he divided into regiments and companies, to each of which he appointed proper officers, and then disposed them, as is usual, into the right wing, the left wing, and the centre, two of which he committed to his two old experienced generals, Joab and Abishai, and the third to his new friend Ittai. Good order and good conduct may sometimes be as serviceable in an army as great numbers. Wisdom teaches us to make the best of the strength we have, and let it reach to the utmost.
II. Himself over-persuaded not to go in person to the battle. He was Absalom's false friend that persuaded him to go, and served his pride more than his prudence; David's true friends would not let him go, remembering what they had been told of Ahithophel's design to smite the king only. David showed his affection to them by being willing to venture with them (2 Samuel 18:2; 2 Samuel 18:2), and they showed theirs to him by opposing it. We must never reckon it an affront to be gain-said for our good, and by those that therein consult our interest. 1. They would by no means have him to expose himself, for (say they) thou art worth 10,000 of us. Thus ought princes to be valued by their subjects, who, for their safety, must be willing to expose themselves. 2. They would not so far gratify the enemy, who would rejoice more in his fall than in the defeat of the whole army. 3. He might be more serviceable to them by tarrying in the city, with a reserve of his forces there, whence he might send them recruits. That may be a post of real service which yet is not a post of danger. The king acquiesced in their reasons, and changed his purpose (2 Samuel 18:4; 2 Samuel 18:4): What seemeth to you best I will do. It is no piece of wisdom to be stiff in our resolutions, but to be willing to hear reason, even from our inferiors, and to be overruled by their advice when it appears to be for our own good. Whether the people's prudence had an eye to it or no, God's providence wisely ordered it, that David should not be in the field of battle; for then his tenderness would certainly have interposed to save the life of Absalom, whom God had determined to destroy.
III. The charge he gave concerning Absalom, 2 Samuel 18:5; 2 Samuel 18:5. When the army was drawn out, rank and file, Josephus says, he encouraged them, and prayed for them, but withal bade them all take heed of doing Absalom any hurt. How does he render good for evil! Absalom would have David only smitten. David would have Absalom only spared. What foils are these to each other! Never was unnatural hatred to a father more strong than in Absalom; nor was ever natural affection to a child more strong than in David. Each did his utmost, and showed what man is capable of doing, how bad it is possible for a child to be to the best of fathers and how good it is possible for a father to be to the worst of children; as if it were designed to be a resemblance of man's wickedness towards God and God's mercy towards man, of which it is hard to say which is more amazing. "Deal gently," says David, "by all means, with the young man, even with Absalom, for my sake; he is a young man, rash and heady, and his age must excuse him; he is mine, whom I love; if you love me, be not severe with him." This charge supposes David's strong expectation of success. Having a good cause and a good God, he doubts not but Absalom would lie at their mercy, and therefore bids them deal gently with him, spare his life and reserve him for his judgment.
Bishop Hall thus descants on this: "What means this ill-placed love? This unjust mercy? Deal gently with a traitor? Of all traitors, with a son? Of all sons, with an Absalom? That graceless darling of so good a father? And all this, for thy sake, whose crown, whose blood, he hunts after? For whose sake must he be pursued, if forborne for thine? Must the cause of the quarrel be the motive of mercy? Even in the holiest parents, nature may be guilty of an injurious tenderness, of a bloody indulgence. But was not this done in type of that immeasurable mercy of the true King and Redeemer of Israel, who prayed for his persecutors, for his murderers, Father, forgive them? Deal gently with them for my sake." When God sends and affliction to correct his children, it is with this charge, "Deal gently with them for my sake;" for he knows our frame.
IV. A complete victory gained over Absalom's forces. The battle was fought in the wood of Ephraim (2 Samuel 18:6; 2 Samuel 18:6), so called from some memorable action of the Ephraimites there, though it lay in the tribe of Gad. David thought fit to meet the enemy with his forces at some distance, before they came up to Mahanaim, lest he should bring that city into trouble which had so kindly sheltered him. The cause shall be decided by a pitched battle. Josephus represents the fight as very obstinate, but the rebels were at length totally routed and 20,000 of them slain, 2 Samuel 18:7; 2 Samuel 18:7. Now they smarted justly for their treason against their lawful prince, their uneasiness under so good a government, and their base ingratitude to so good a governor; and they found what it was to take up arms for a usurper, who with his kisses and caresses had wheedled them into their own ruin. Now where are the rewards, the preferments, the golden days, they promised themselves from him? Now they see what it is to take counsel against the Lord and his anointed, and to think of breaking his bands asunder. And that they might see that God fought against them, 1. They are conquered by a few, an army, in all probability, much inferior to theirs in number. 2. By that flight with which they hoped to save themselves they destroyed themselves. The wood, which they sought to for shelter, devoured more than the sword, that they might see how, when they thought themselves safe from David's men, and said, Surely the bitterness of death is past, yet the justice of God pursued them and suffered them not to live. What refuge can rebels find from divine vengeance? The pits and bogs, the stumps and thickets, and, as the Chaldee paraphrase understands it, the wild beasts of the wood, were probably the death of multitudes of the dispersed distracted Israelites, besides the 20,000 that were slain with the sword. God herein fought for David, and yet fought against him; for all these that were slain were his own subjects, and the common interest of his kingdom was weakened by the slaughter. The Romans allowed no triumph for a victory in a civil war.
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Henry, Matthew. "Complete Commentary on 2 Samuel 18:8". "Henry's Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/2-samuel-18.html. 1706.
In the sketch proposed of these books of scripture there is of course no pretension to notice every point of interest they contain, but only a general comprehensive view, as far as the Lord enables me to present, of their main course and objects. The most careless reader must perceive, that as Saul holds a considerable place in the First Book of Samuel, so Absalom occupies not a little space in the Second, and both of them in collision with David. Now the nature of inspiration supposes that God, in selecting such persons or facts as are regarded there, had a divine object before Him. It is the main business of an interpreter to learn and set out according to his measure the design that the Spirit of God appears to have had in view.
It is clear on the face of it that the chief feature of Absalom's history is, in the end of it at least, opposition to David: he stood in the nearest relationship to the king, but he was none the less an antagonist. Now as David all through, whether in the First or in the Second Book of Samuel, is a type of the Lord Jesus, there ought not to be a question, as it appears to me, that the Spirit of God is giving us, in the adversaries of David, antichrists. Only the antichrist has qualities in his type, which differ quite as much as those of the antitype will, in express scripture or in reality. Thus in the New Testament, where he is brought before us directly and as a matter of doctrine or prophecy, John describes the antichrist first as one that denies the Christ; then as going on with a growing audacity (and this is more particularly his opposition to the Christian revelation) to deny the Father and the Son. For he is the liar and the antichrist. He denies Christ both in Jewish relations and in personal dignity. He sets aside therefore in Him the glory of Israel, and also the fulness of divine grace as now shown in Christianity. For we must remember that the Lord Jesus in the variety of His glories displays God in many ways; for instance as Messiah King of Israel, and, when rejected by the Jews, as the Son of man, ruler of all tribes, peoples, nations, and tongues in the world. The unbelief of the Jews in rejecting the Lord was and will be thus used by God still more fully to display Christ's glory and His own counsels.
Now as John refers to the two characteristics of the last antagonist of Christ, so I think it will be found that in the First Book of Samuel Saul stands forth as the chief adversary of David before he came to the throne. After it Absalom holds a similar place in the Second; and of the two, Absalom was the more dangerous and daring, as the enormity in him was incomparably worse. The nearness and character of his relationship to the king made the guilt of his conduct the more dreadful before God and man. It is this which to my mind explains the large space that is given both to king Saul's jealous persecution on the one hand, and to Absalom's attempt at usurping the power of David on the other. It is true that at first Absalom by no means shows out the violent form which his wickedness was finally to take. He uses a certain craft which no doubt succeeded with the simple though repulsive to the upright. Before his treason we hear the details of his blood-thirsty cruelty, which no provocation could palliate, not even that most gross conduct of Amnon towards his sister Tamar. It will be so with antichrist. All his evil will not come out fully at once. Surely then it is a most solemn consideration for all our souls the moral principle which we see in these cases. Nearness to what is good invariably develops evil in its worst features. There could be no such thing as antichrist if there were not Christianity and Christ. It is the fulness of the grace and truth that is revealed in the person of the Lord Jesus that brings out the worst evil in man. And even Satan himself could not accomplish his designs against the glory of God save by rising up against the Man who is the special object of God's delight and of His counsels in glory.
Hence we find a pretty full answer to all this in the twofold type: first, Saul the adversary of David in his earlier career, when he had not been yet seated on the throne; then Absalom, not all at once, but by degrees coming out, though no doubt full of craft and blood-thirstiness before he turned against his father. The liar and the murderer is betrayed even in the earliest account of him which scripture brings before us. God, on the other hand, was judging the family of David, and speaking to David's own heart and conscience in the sin and shame and scandal that covered as a whole the family with reproach; and this it is that lets us see Absalom. He will avenge his sister's wrong himself. He has made up his mind to shed his brother's blood; he cloaks it under fair pretences. Amnon is ensnared to his ruin. (2 Samuel 13:1-39)
But there is more than this; there is a magnificent display of divine mercy shadowed in the way in which Absalom was brought home; and here again we have another witness of the same truth that has been often referred to. It is only after God has shown His rich mercy that Satan and man mature and work out their deepest malice. The woman of Tekoah was employed by the subtle Joab, who knew well that the heart of the king was yearning after his guilty son. At the same time he knew that the king had difficulty in conscience, for he was the executor of the law of God. To him God had entrusted the sword in Israel, and Absalom had brought the stain of blood on the people and the land of God, as well as on the family of the king.
On every ground therefore David was called upon to assert what was due to God against his own son. But this is only one of a number of instances that strew the whole line of divine history where God, while He does insist on righteousness and resent all failure in maintaining it here below, never abdicates grace, but always holds the title of divine mercy above the claims of earthly righteousness. And certainly David was one who could not resist such an appeal There might be a certain struggle; and the very fact too that Absalom was his son would to an upright mind make the struggle harder: was it really possible for David to deny that grace which was his only ground and chief boast before God? This then was what Joab, who had not the slightest appreciation of grace himself, would nevertheless know to be the surest avenue to David's heart: and this it was that the woman of Tekoah therefore pleads. She comes before the king, who asks her what was her sorrow. She puts in a parabolic way the position in which she stood, saying, "Thy handmaid had two sons, and they two strove together in the field, and there was none to part them, but the one smote the other, and slew him. And, behold, the whole family is risen against thine handmaid, and they said, Deliver him that smote his brother, that we may kill him, for the life of his brother whom he slew; and we will destroy the heir also: and so they shall quench my coal which is left, and shall not leave to my husband neither name nor remainder upon the earth. And the king said unto the woman, Go to thine house, and I will give charge concerning thee. And the woman of Tekoah said unto the king, My lord, O king, the iniquity be on me, and on my father's house: and the king and his throne be guiltless. And the king said, Whosoever saith ought unto thee, bring him to me, and he shall not touch thee any more. Then said she, I pray thee, let the king remember Jehovah thy God, that thou wouldest not suffer the revengers of blood to destroy any more, lest they destroy my son. And he said, As Jehovah liveth, there shall not one hair of thy son fall to the earth."
Having thus secured the ground, the woman begins to open the secret. The king had now pledged his royal word. Grace was very dear to his heart. His feelings were moved and stirred deeply. It was no new thing for him, as his procedure to Mephibosheth could attest. Who knew or valued so highly the "kindness of God"? He had known the need of it himself. Of this then Joab had taken advantage in putting forward this woman to plead before David the imaginary trouble of her house. Now the king's conscience might be relieved. If he would spare another's house, spite of guilt, would he not spare his own? This was what calmed his fears. Nothing could be more artfully devised. Hence we see how the woman gradually begins to explain what it was that was really aimed at. "Then the woman said, Let thine handmaid, I pray thee, speak one word unto my lord the king. And he said, Say on. And the woman said, Wherefore then hast thou thought such a thing against the people of God? for the king doth speak this thing as one which is faulty, in that the king doth not fetch home again his banished." It was no question of her son, but of the king's banished. "For we must needs die," she adds, "and are as water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again; neither doth God respect any person: yet doth he devise means, that his banished may not be expelled from him."
It is the way of grace she pleads. Impossible for David to resist this. If God devises means that His banished should return, who was David to differ from God? If God, with all His unstained holiness, with all His jealous regard to righteousness, nevertheless devises His efficacious means (and David knew it well), who or what was David that he should hold out against the pitiful case of his banished one? of Absalom driven to another land because of the blood of Amnon, the blood of the guilty brother that he had shed in avenging his sister's dishonour? So it was then that the king, moved by it, listens to her. "The word of my lord the king shall now be comfortable: for as an angel of God, so is my lord the king to discern good and bad: therefore Jehovah thy God will be with thee."
Yet righteousness was not guarded here, as God does perfectly in Christ. Hence a suspicion arises that all was not straight. The king accordingly says, "Hide not from me, I pray thee, the thing that I shall ask thee. And the woman said, Let my lord the king now speak. And the king said, Is not the hand of Joab with thee in all this? And the woman answered and said, As thy soul liveth, my lord the king, none can turn to the right hand or to the left from ought that my lord the king hath spoken: for thy servant Joab, he bade me, and put all these words in the mouth of thine handmaid: to fetch about this form of speech hath thy servant Joab done this thing: and my lord is wise, according to the wisdom of an angel of God, to know all things that are in the earth." Where the eye is single, the whole body is full of light. There could be no doubt that the allegory was admirably drawn. Alas! it was the parable of one whose heart was not in the matter. How solemn a thing it is, my brethren, to see from time to time in the course of scripture history, as we may in fact now, that there are natural minds who can sometimes see more clearly what becomes a saint of God than saints themselves feel. But it is only those who know how to turn the grace of God to their own purpose when it suits them. This is what Joab was now doing by the woman of Tekoah. He held the truth in unrighteousness, we shall see with what result as far as Absalom was concerned.
But the king, when he did discover the aim, did not swerve from his word. He says to Joab, "Behold now, I have done this thing." He, indebted to grace, and to nothing so much as grace, could not possibly disavow the appeal of grace. Hence his command, "Go therefore, bring the young man Absalom again." Joab thanks the king, and acts. But David is not indifferent to the guilt contracted by the past, and Absalom is forbidden to come near. "The king said, Let him turn to his own house, and let him not see my face. So Absalom returned to his own house, and saw not the king's face."
Next the Spirit of God gives us the description of the person of Absalom. There was everything to attract the eye, everything to meet the natural desires, of one who would wish the comeliest person in Israel to be the king. Nature had wrought formerly in the choice of Saul. It was repeated again with Absalom. (2 Samuel 14:1-33)
In the next chapter (2 Samuel 15:1-37) the wicked plans of the traitor begin to ripen and unfold themselves, and this, it will be marked, only after the richest grace had been shown him. This indeed was necessary. It was not till the banished one had found means in the grace of the king to return; it was after that which answers as much as anything could to the grace of God in the gospel. Then, consequent on all the mercy shown him, does a more terrible character of antichrist display itself in Absalom than had ever been seen in king Saul. What then appears to be the distinction intended? Is it not that Saul show; us antichrist more as the consequence of Jewish apostasy; Absalom more as the consequence of Christian apostasy? Both these traits must be found in the antichrist of the last days; and this is one reason too why, although there were antichristian features when the Lord Jesus was found here below, the full display of the antichrist could not be until after all the grace of God in Christianity had been fully brought out.
This also explains why there should be a double type of antichrist one in each of these two Books of Samuel. We have the display of the fullest possible evil of man one in pride and real envy and affected contempt, and at last of murderous hatred toward David. All this was found in Saul. But in Absalom's case there was a still deeper character of lawlessness, as there was a nearer and more dependent tie to the king. Besides, there had been the richest manifestation of mercy to himself. The most dreadful wickedness on his own part had been met by greater love and grace on the part of David. After all this then we find Absalom laying his plots and carrying out his schemes for the purpose of supplanting the king his father.
This was the manner of the man: "And it came to pass after, that Absalom prepared him chariots and horses, and fifty men to run before him. And Absalom rose up early, and stood beside the way of the gate: and it was so, that when any man that bad a controversy came to the king for judgment, then Absalom called unto him, and said, Of what city art thou? And he said, Thy servant is of one of the tribes of Israel. And Absalom said unto him, See, thy matters are good and right; but there is no man deputed of the king to hear thee." Two principal objects are apparent: the undermining of the king, and this in order to the glorifying himself. Hence as the readiest way he Hatters the people, whom he never loved as David did, but despised, and assuredly none so much as those taken in his nets of fair words and good speeches. "Absalom said moreover, Oh that I were made judge in the land, that every man which hath any suit or cause might come unto me, and I would do him justice I And it was so, that when any man came nigh to him to do him obeisance, he put forth his hand, and took him, and kissed him. And on this manner did Absalom to all Israel that came to the king for judgment: so Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel." It need not be argued at length that there was neither righteousness nor love in all this; neither the righteousness that discriminated the mutual relationships of himself and of those that came, and yet more of all to the king, without which there could not be anything right; neither was there the love that sought the good of others instead of its own things, but unbridled will and the loftiest ambition. His object was himself, and himself too for the vilest purposes for his own exaltation by the overthrow of his father, whom God had anointed king of Israel. "And it came to pass," it is said, "after forty years, that Absalom said unto the king, I pray thee, let me go and pay my vow, which I have vowed unto Jehovah, in Hebron. For thy servant vowed a vow while I abode at Geshur in Syria, saying, If Jehovah shall bring me again indeed to Jerusalem, then I will serve Jehovah."
Observe here the profanation of the name of Jehovah, which always accompanies the worst evil of men on the earth. "And the king said unto him, Go in peace. So he arose, and went to Hebron. But Absalom sent spies throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, As soon as ye hear the sound of the trumpet, then ye shall say, Absalom reigneth in Hebron. And with Absalom went two hundred men out of Jerusalem, that were called; and they went in their simplicity, and they knew not any thing. And Absalom sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David's counsellor, from his city, even from Giloh, while he offered sacrifices. And the conspiracy was strong; for the people increased continually with Absalom." Another character is here which was necessary to complete the character of antichrist; that is, the combination of kingly power in Israel with spiritual pretension. There will be the highest assumption of a religious sort. The antichrist is not barely infidel. Infidelity there will be, but always a show of religion along with it, whether in the same personage or in one that is joined with him in type. That which brings in an evil spiritual power is necessary to give the true and full character of the antichrist. Hence Ahithophel is associated with Absalom. So, as we know, the second beast, or false prophet, in the Revelation symbolises this same personage. Notably he has two horns like the lamb. There is a double character of power. It is not simply that he is or has a horn. He is not a mere king, but a beast with two horns. And at this time it would seem that it is no longer a question of imitating the priestly power of Christ, but he will pretend to have not only a kingly place but a prophet character, an understanding of the mind of God, just as Ahithophel here, as we see, who had been David's counsellor before but is now Absalom's. There is thus a combination of the false prophet with royalty. These at the close will be united in the antichrist.
I am not now speaking of the great imperial power, the beast, in those days that bring on judgment For this we must look elsewhere; for it will not have its seat in Jerusalem, nor will the sphere of its dominion be the land of Israel. There will be the place where the final conflict takes place; there the scene of the destruction of the beast and the false prophet, and of the associated kings that are with them.
Such are a few of the leading points which may help, not only to guide souls, but also to preserve from mistakes too often made, to which we are as liable as any. There is no power of preservation in the truth except by simple subjection to the word of God. If we begin to give ourselves credit for anything like a definite system of truth, more particularly when it takes a traditional shape carried on from one to another, I am persuaded that the Lord will not be with the enterprise. Of all men, we need most to walk in sustained subjection to God and His word. No doubt all the children of God do; but if God has brought us out from the creeds and stereotyped forms of human arrangement, be assured we are not the less in danger. It is not meant in the least that there is no security. Who can overlook the fact that those who have trusted creeds and formularies have little to boast of their orthodoxy at this present time? We can well see too that there is no end of inconsistency; yea, the grossest contradiction of that which is avowed and confessed may be and is carried on, though one may be thankful for whatever check there is to deadly error; for the value of a creed at best is chiefly in its protest against heterodoxy. "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God," not by a creed. And the infidelity of men who subscribe all the old creeds is so glaring that mere lawyers and men of the world in general are ashamed at the scandal. This is not said to wound any one, nor as a busy body in other men's matters, but rather for our souls' profit, believing that there are none whom God will hold more decidedly to what we profess.
But is it not our joy, and the sure means of security, to cherish continual and unqualified subjection in our souls to the truth of God as He has revealed it not to the thoughts that we may receive through others, however striking or helpful? Let us be grateful for their help; yet it is our duty to judge all by the word. Let us thankfully enjoy whatever of truth the Lord's servants can minister to us, but no deductions can ever be a ground of faith. Whatever may be taught by this one or preached by that must be brought to the touchstone of scripture, instead of being taken out of its place and made a test of the truth. The word of God is not only the great source, but the only standard, of the truth. Do we desire from God the truth? We have His precious word to teach us that truth with certainty. Ministry in the word is a blessed help; and it would be proud and base to despise the help of God's servants ungrateful towards Him, haughty toward them, and injurious to our own souls. "They shall be all taught of God" is true of all saints, but it in no way excludes teachers and other ordinary means, though there may be extraordinary instances where they are taught without this or that aid. But it is in general an unfounded pretension to have learnt directly from God through His own word, independently of those He has set in the body of Christ for this express purpose. And it will be found, in fact, that those who boast of not having learnt through such means as He usually employs know little, being really too proud to be taught. To the word of God then we need to pay heed if we would have the assurance of divine teaching, even if it be only a question about the antichrist. It is, of course, apart from those foundation truths that are immediately bound up with our own relationship to God; and we may bless Him that so it is and must be in His wisdom. Still we must remember that it is by the truth that we are sanctified. Nor can we afford, for the Lord's name sake, any more than for our own souls' good, to admit lightly any thought into our minds which is not of Him. Indeed, no matter how distant, where any thing is received into the heart that is not the truth of God, as being false, and a foreign ingredient, it will work evil in various ways; it will surely embroil other scriptures, and make us to confound things that differ. The consequence will be that we know not what the effect of even a trifling departure from the truth may be in thus destroying the symmetry and the perfectness of the truth of God in His word. The fact is that the truth is one, and therefore, where any one part is misapprehended or rejected, there is danger of weakening the rest. I am now speaking, of course, not of that which concerns our own souls with God, but merely of profitably using every part of God's word.
Thus then, if we have been guided aright in what is before us, there is in the type the union of both on the one hand royal power (and this was what Absalom was affecting for himself); but along with it there was joined with him a falsely prophetic character typified by Ahithophel. The two were connected together, just as we saw Saul himself at the last finding his resource in the witch of Endor. There was an evil spiritual adviser of the lowest kind to which he was driven. See too Pharaoh and the magicians, also Balak and Balaam. So constantly are these two characters linked in opposition to the Christ of God.
However this be, Absalom is seen successful apparently at first; and there speedily follows the solemn sight of the king obliged to be a fugitive from the throne, and the capital, and the sanctuary of Israel. "David said to Ittai, Go and pass over. And Ittai the Gittite passed over, and all his men, and all the little ones that were with him. And all the country wept with a loud voice, and all the people passed over: the king also himself passed over the brook Kidron, and all the people passed over, toward the way of the wilderness. And lo Zadok also, and all the Levites were with him, bearing the ark of the covenant of God: and they set down the ark of God; and Abiathar went up, until all the people had done passing out of the city."
How beautiful the contrast with a former scene, but too familiar! The people and priests in their panic before the Philistines brought out the ark of God, if peradventure it might serve as a charm against the swords of their enemies; but here David refuses to employ it selfishly and irreverently, whatever his need and peril a man, if ever there was one of old on earth, with living faith in God, and real reverence for the sign of His presence in Israel; for there was no one that ever showed such a value, and this believingly, for the ark of God, as king David. Nevertheless in this supreme hour of his deepest extremity and greatest humiliation he refuses to jeopard the ark of God. He will not allow for his own sake the smallest shade cast upon it. What! he, David, call the ark of God out of Jerusalem? Far from it! David bids the sons of Zadok and the Levites carry it back to the city, where it is destined for ever to rest, once the Lord Jesus establishes it; and on this affecting and unselfish ground: "If I shall find favour in the eyes of Jehovah, he will bring me again, and show me both it, and his habitation: but if he thus say, I have no delight in thee; behold, here am I, let him do to me as seemeth good unto him." Was not this a heart, my brethren, which in the face of all his faults accepted his humiliation, taking it from the hand of God to justify Him? He was one who knew that, whatever the grace of God already shown to him, it was not exhausted yet. Far from yielding to a suspicion of God's goodness to him, questioning his own manifold shortcomings, or palliating his gross failure, we see one prepared to bow to whatever God would do, and to bless Him for it. David would plead for the honour of God, cost what it might to himself. And this is faith, which appropriates to its own need and joy what it sees in God. But just because it is faith, it will never allow that what its little range of vision takes in can equal, but must ever be surpassed by the grace that is in Him. In short, faith, as it always gets what it seeks, so it is always assured that there is more, never pretending to reach up to the fulness of the grace of God. At the same time it does not listlessly stop short, satisfied with what it has, however thankful. But it confesses that faith in man is never a match for grace in God, so to speak; draw as it may, it can never fathom His goodness. It may dive more and more in, but it can never get to the bottom.
In this spirit it was that we find the king going up by the ascent of mount Olivet. It may remind us of a greater than he; but the One greater than David, though He knew tears as none ever did, did not then go up weeping. Not that His heart was not filled with the deepest feelings of love yet of sorrow for man and Israel, for His own too in their midst, soon to enjoy the Comforter He would send down from heaven as the seal of redemption. But for David it was a day of shame, not only for the people and his guilty son, but not without ground for himself personally; it was a day when he could not deny the righteous hand of God stretched out over him and his seed in the correction of faults neither few nor light. He "wept" therefore "as he went up, and had his head covered, and he went barefoot: and all the people that was with him covered every man his head, and they went up, weeping as they went up."
But furthermore one told David, saying, "Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom." David turns to God. He knew the gravity of the tidings, but this very thing brought before him the spring of his confidence, as surely as he saw the hand of Satan in it. A father's love might abstain from pleading against Absalom; but David could now unburden his heart to God. Therefore he says, "O Jehovah, I pray thee, turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness." And Jehovah heard, and answered.
Nevertheless, the king was not without comfort and joy. He was not without that which consoled, soothed, and cheered his spirit in the day of his calamity. This is brought out before us in the next chapter (2 Samuel 17:1-29),where "Ziba the servant of Mephibosheth met him, with a couple of asses saddled, and upon them two hundred loaves of bread and an hundred bunches of raisins, and an hundred of summer fruits, and a bottle of wine. And the king said unto Ziba, What meanest thou by these? And Ziba said, The asses be for the king's household to ride on; and the bread and summer fruit for the young men to eat; and the wine, that such as be faint in the wilderness may drink." And so it is, beloved friends, that, where grace is in the heart, the Lord will give the opportunity to show it. This He is giving to us at the present time, while Jesus is still despised; and He is despised, although they own Him in words to be seated on the throne.
So too, when we are gone to heaven, will He give to the godly remnant at the end of this age, and accept the sweet fruits of faith which shall display themselves in those that refuse what is false and of the enemy, as they look through clouds and difficulties, no doubt, but not without assurance, to the bright day of the kingdom that is about to be set up here below. This is what is figured by the faith that wrought by love, that we are shown in thus providing for David. But when the king arrives at Bahurim, he is subjected to a fresh trial in the way of insult; for these two things may now be together, fruits of grace and works of flesh inspired by Satan. Here Shimei "cast stones at David, and at all the servants of king David: and all the people and all the mighty men were on his right hand and on his left." The mighty men naturally knew no small indignation; but we hear the voice of the humbled king reproving his followers, too hasty to shed blood. No; it was from God that the humiliation came, and David accepts it thoroughly. Shimei shall not provoke him so as to lose a grain of the profit. The arm that would have crushed Shimei in a moment would have deprived David of a lesson never to be forgotten. If then a trusty warrior proposes to punish the wanton insolence of Shimei, the king breathes the spirit of meekness, even at that moment when the basest of men poured contempt on him. "Then said Abishai unto the king, Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? let me go over, I pray thee, and take off his head. And the king said, What have I to do with you, ye sons of Zeruiah? so let him curse, because Jehovah hath said unto him, Curse David. Who shall then say, Wherefore hast thou done so?" We must remember that, before the Lord Jesus comes out as King, others will be put to the proof, and their faith and patient grace be tried in their measure as truly as ours. For us indeed the trial of our faith should be always. They will have it for a brief season, and severely. But now there is everything calculated to seduce us into the world, and cause us to overlook the moral glory of our calling, to forget Christ's rejection and cross.
Indeed, the relationship seen here will apply fully to the latter-day saints, whereas it can only be ours in general spirit. For Christ is own Lord and Head. David was truly the king, and there was none other. But we know that, although the Lord Jesus be not yet sitting on His own throne, He is crowned with glory and honour. We know Him on what is after all a greater throne, and on a deeper title than that of Messiah; we know Him possessed of a larger glory and in a higher sphere; we know that it is He that will confer glory on the throne, instead of merely receiving glory from it; but for this very reason we have the opportunity of showing how far our faith in Christ exceeds and makes as nothing all Satan's allurements to serve the world and forget our rejected Master. But the same thing in principle will be true for those that shall follow us. They will not, of course, have the same form of relationship to the Lord Jesus as we have; and the special part of the word of God that will bear on their souls and circumstances will be quite different from that which God intends for us now. There is a common groundwork, but much that is distinctive of each. And this is of great importance. It shows convincingly that it is not merely a question of God's word, but of His Spirit; and the same Spirit who brings out the truth, and leads into our relationship with Christ above, will bring out to the souls of the righteous godly Jews by and by the expectation of the true King to come for the overthrow of antichrist with every other enemy at the close of the age, and to reign over Israel and the earth in the age to come.
This will furnish them with opportunities similar in principle to those which the Lord gave to Mephibosheth on the one hand, and of which Shimei took advantage on the other. There will be room both for despite and for reciprocation of grace between the Messiah and all who have waited for Him in that day.
In the end of the chapter we have another scene still reminding us of the great crisis. Hushai goes to Absalom and opposes in every way the counsel of Ahithophel. Thus also in those future days will the Lord know how to defeat all the plans of the devil. There was no doubt that Ahithophel of the two was the subtler the one best of all calculated to further the plans of Absalom; but the time was not yet come for anything but a shadowy effort.
There was then as now one "that letteth." It was not yet the hour for apparent success. God confounds the plans accordingly, and Ahithophel is vexed to the utmost, and more and more as he finds there is one near Absalom who brings to nothing all his devices. This is set fully before us in2 Samuel 17:1-29; 2 Samuel 17:1-29. The result was that "when Ahithophel saw that his counsel was not followed, he saddled his ass, and arose, and get him home to his house, to his city, and put his household in order, and hanged himself, and died, and was buried in the sepulchre of his father."
The next chapter (2 Samuel 18:1-33) brings the solemn crisis before us. The battle takes place, and he that lifted himself up so proudly, he that had fawned on Israel to gain them over as his partisans against his father, he who sought dominion but not from God, setting himself against the glory of God and the king of Israel, dies a death of special shame and curse, hanging on a tree. Lifted up, as we know, by the very hair of his head which had been his vanity, as it was a part of his personal beauty, Absalom died as a fool dies; so had Jehovah Himself in His providence ordered the result, as he fled from the scene of his defeat. The king betrays the natural affection of a father's heart, but, it may be, with too little sense of his son's impious rebellion, or of God's righteous retribution This is brought before us in the most touching manner.
What need of details now? Suffice it to say that Joab comes in to reprove the king as he gives way to unmeasured grief, and cries with a loud voice, "O my son Absalom! O Absalom, my son, my son!" The very people that had gained the victory for him could not but be vexed as they read an implied reproof in the king's laments and tears. Joab therefore ventures to say, "Thou hast shamed this day the face of all thy servants which this day have saved thy life, and the lives of thy sons and of thy daughters, and the lives of thy wives, and the lives of thy concubines; in that thou lovest thine enemies, and hatest thy friends For thou hast declared this day, that thou regardest neither princes nor servants: for this day I perceive, that if Absalom had lived, and all we had died this day, then it had pleased thee well. Now therefore arise, go forth, and speak comfortably unto thy servants: for I swear by Jehovah, if thou go not forth, there will not tarry one with thee this night." How evident that not yet did the king reign in righteousness; else Joab had never dared so to speak. Thus every type falls short of the truth. It must be so in the nature of things; and is it for us to find fault with the plain truth that the Lord Jesus is thus unapproachable? For what does it tell? The tale of all scripture the failure of the first man. The only one worthy of all homage and praise, of all confidence and love, is the second Man, the last Adam.
Then the king was pleased to sit in the gate. "And all the people came before the king, for Israel fled every man to his tent." And then king David sends "to Zadok and to Abiathar the priest, saying, Speak unto the elders of Judah, saying, Why are ye the last to bring the king back to his house? seeing the speech of all Israel is come to the king, even to his house. Ye are my brethren, ye are my bones and my flesh: wherefore then are ye the last to bring back the king? And say ye to Amasa, Art thou not of my bone, and of my flesh? God do so to me, and more also, if thou 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 the heart of one man; so that they sent this word unto the king, Return thou, and all thy servants. So the king returned, and came to Jordan. And Judah came to Gilgal to go to meet the king to conduct the king over Jordan." And there it is that the blaspheming Shimei cowers before the returning king; for now those that had rendered a feigned obedience are being made manifest. Here too the king shows that he was by no means equal to the task that will be taken up and carried out in full by the true David only; for, wrought on by his feelings, he swears to Shimei that he shall not die an oath that could not avail when Solomon comes to the throne, as we learn from another book of scripture.
Next we find Mephibosheth and his sorrowful tale; and Barzillai the Gileadite comes before us with his grace in due season. The result of all is that the men of Israel come to the king and say, "Why have our brethren the men of Judah" for it becomes now a rivalry of care and affection and honour for the king "Why have our brethren the men of Judah stolen thee away, and have brought the king, and his household, and all David's men with him, over Jordan? And all the men of Judah answered the men of Israel, Because the king is near of kin to us: wherefore then be ye angry for this matter? have we eaten at all of the king's cost? or hath he given us any gift? 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 ye." The king is now their portion and boast. If here we find nature again, nevertheless what a change as the king returned! He is borne forward to Jerusalem by the returning affections of the people. Another traitor is discovered in the person of Sheba overthrown still by the prompt zeal, as well as by the courage of Joab and all was order afresh in the kingdom. The latter part of this chapter shows us that the efforts of the enemy only turn to the greater honour of king David now reinstated in Jerusalem and the throne.
But in 2 Samuel 21:1-22 an instructive scene is introduced to us to which we may turn our attention for a moment. Whatever may be the grace and faithfulness of God, for the very same reason God is jealous of His word, and deals righteously wherever His name is pledged. We are all familiar with the fact that in the days of Joshua the Gibeonites had deceived the heads of Israel. They had palmed themselves off on Joshua as coming from a far country, having for their own ends hidden the truth that they belonged to the accursed races of Canaan. The result was that Joshua and the other leaders of Israel committed the name of Jehovah, through the deceit of the Gibeonites, to sparing their lives, though in consequence of that deceit they were reduced to the condition of hewers of wood and drawers of water for the sanctuary. But Saul in his spurious zeal for God lost sight of what was so solemnly assured to the Gibeonites. Are you surprised that the king who would have taken away the life of his own son because of his rash oath, which Jonathan knew not, should feel lightly the oath that had been sworn by Joshua and the other leaders of Israel in the olden time? Wonder not; for the flesh, which here overstrains, there breaks down altogether.
It was no doubt long ago, and there are those who would ignore what is past for present ease. But time makes no difference, any more than place, in the things of God. What He looks to is His name, and by this are we also bound to keep His word and not deny His name. Saul forgot it. Can we not easily understand this? In him was no living faith whatever. There was only form, and this will sell the Lord when it suits for the price of a slave, though it may at the same time make the greatest show of devotedness. Doubtless Saul could vaunt his own superior zeal for the Lord in this that he at least was not going to be carried away by a mere name, and an obligation so long ago as to be obsolete. If the Gibeonites were Canaanites, woe be to them from king Saul! And so it was that there was a famine, not immediately after, but now in the days of David for three years. Two things particularly may well arrest attention in this as a great moral truth It was a long time since the name of Jehovah was pledged; but does God ever forget? Secondly, it was by no means a short time since Saul had done the bloody deed, and yet no chastening had yet come from Jehovah. The chastening did not follow till a considerable time after. Such patience tests souls thoroughly. The chastening fell not in the days of Saul, but in those of David. Why? Because God will have all to enquire of Him; He will exercise His people in their common and continuous responsibility; He will make us feel and judge our forgetfulness of heart, our lack of looking to Himself. The evil might have been dealt with personally on Saul; but the patience of God on the one hand, and the solidarity of the people on the other, was more impressively taught when the blow fell in the days of David. People and king were thus forced to review what had been soon forgotten because taken too lightly when done. He at least is occupied with our ways, and the discipline may tarry a long time. He would have His people learn the reason why His hand was upon them.
If they confide in His righteousness, they will learn why it was the fitting time, and according to the wisdom of God, that the chastening should fall in the days of David rather than in those of Saul. If it had fallen in the days of Saul, the Lord had not been so enquired of. Here was one that felt for the honour of Jehovah. The blow came. If David had felt the sin, if the people had confessed it, if Jehovah's name had been cleared about it, the famine might not have befallen them as it actually did. The evil was done by another who was personally guilty. It is granted that neither David nor they were responsible for his acts, but they were responsible to feel and confess the wrong. It was done publicly by king Saul in Israel. Had they mourned the deed as tarnishing Jehovah's glory? There is no appearance that there was any such confession; and the Lord now will compel them to take up that sin most seriously under the pressure of a famine, repeated till He was glorified in the matter where the wrong was done. In fact the king was guilty, but had the people shown godly horror at his profanation of Jehovah's name? They were careless about it, one cannot doubt; and David wakes up now in answer to the call; and he, chastened of God, does truly feel it, as all Israel had at any rate to smart under the consequences. So then the famine comes, and David enquires of Jehovah. It is very evident that it required a heavy and prolonged dealing from God to make them feel; for it is said, "The famine came in the days of David three years, year after year." It is not that God takes pleasure in inflicting a sore plague on His people; but anything is good that leads us to draw near to God in self-judgment for a dishonour done to His name. It seems plain then that this scourge was required year after year to rouse the conscience of Israel, possibly even of David also. At length he enquires of Jehovah, who distinctly answers, "It is for Saul, and for his bloody house, because he slew the Gibeonites."
What a solemn lesson that God will not only not suffer unrighteousness to be done to the people that He loves, but even to the enemies that deceived them! "The righteous Jehovah loveth righteousness." It would be hard to see or ask a more patent proof of the delicacy and also the tenacity of God's holding to righteousness than His dealing in this very case with Israel for the oath passed to the Gibeonites. Every one can understand how He must feel about Israel or about David; but that God should be jealous for a wrong done under such circumstances, and so long ago, to the Gibeonites, is to my mind a most wholesome lesson of the God with whom we have to do.
Nor this only. "And the king called the Gibeonites, and said unto them, What shall I do for you? and wherewith shall I make an atonement, that ye may bless the inheritance of Jehovah?" This is another important point: their consciences must be satisfied, their hearts consoled and at rest for the wrong that had been done to them. Yet there is no disguise as to the people in question. Now the Gibeonites were not of the children of Israel. The Spirit of God expressly calls our attention to their origin and race. They were "of the remnant of the Amorites" and you know what the Amorites were "and the children of Israel had sworn unto them, and Saul sought to slay them in his zeal to the children of Israel and Judah." An excellent thing, is it not zeal for the people of God? But zeal only for God's people, or nominally for God Himself, can never sanctify disrespect to His name, even if through trickery only that name had been pledged to His worst enemies. For in truth it was not a question of those to whom the name was pledged, but of His name that was sworn thus. If Jehovah's name was given as a shield to any, Jehovah would be the unswerving and most righteous guardian of its sanctity.
Then of the Gibeonites when they come, David asks, "What shall I do for you? And wherewith shall I make the atonement, that ye may bless the inheritance of Jehovah? And the Gibeonites said unto him, We will have no silver nor gold of Saul, nor of his house; neither for us shalt thou kill any man in Israel. And he said, What ye shall say, that will I do for you. And they answered the king, The man that consumed us, and that devised against us that we should be destroyed from remaining in any of the coasts of Israel, let seven men of his sons be delivered unto us, and we will hang them up unto Jehovah in Gibeah of Saul, whom Jehovah did choose. And the king said, I will give them. But the king spared Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan the son of Saul, because of Jehovah's oath that was between them." We must carefully look to this, and we shall always find God with us in it. Never should we sacrifice one duty in doing another. However important it may be for instance to pay God homage outside, we must never let slip God's honour at home in the family. It is a blessed thing to serve Him abroad, but there will be a sorry maintenance of His glory outside the house if He is not honoured within. And if we find therefore the Gibeonite's oath from Jehovah on one side, there was no less the oath to Jonathan, Saul's son and his seed on the other. No doubt a hasty spirit would have sacrificed the one for the other; the wisdom of God enables us to maintain both This is fairly seen in the conduct of David.
And further, the very execution of divine judgment introduces the deeply pathetic story of Saul's concubine: "And Rizpah the daughter of Aiah took sackcloth, and spread it for her upon the rock, from the beginning of harvest until water dropped upon them out of heaven, and suffered neither the birds of the air to rest on them by day, nor the beasts of the field by night. And it was told David what Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, the concubine of Saul, had done." This was not a slight thing to David. No doubt God's name demanded vindication, and it was right. It was due to the Gibeonites that they should be satisfied. God was compelling them to judge the case that the guilt might be expiated; but it was more than right it was beautiful and suitable that Rizpah should thus spread the deep sorrow of her heart before God. At this conjuncture David shows too on his part what v,-as lovely and becoming in the king of Israel. Far was he from insulting the memory of the late king; for the very one that had given up his sons to die went and took the bones of Saul: this was the very time that he took them showing the last honour to the departed king of Israel and his family. "And David went and took the bones of Saul and the bones of Jonathan his son from the men of Jabesh-gilead, which had stolen them from the street of Beth-shan where the Philistines had hanged them, when the Philistines had slain Saul in Gilboa: and he brought up from thence the bones of Saul and the bones of Jonathan his son; and they gathered the bones of them that were hanged. And the bones of Saul and Jonathan his son buried they in the country of Benjamin in Zelah, in the sepulchre of Kish his father: and they performed all that the king commanded. And after that God was intreated for the land."
The close of the chapter tells us of the prowess of some of David's servants on behalf of the waning strength of the king.
But at this point it were well to heed the remarkable manner in which the Spirit of God has put together the two next chapters. Certainly such a conjunction is not after the manner of men. 2 Samuel 22:1-51 consists, as is well known, of portions substantially given again in the Book of Psalms. ThusPsalms 18:1-50; Psalms 18:1-50 is made here more striking because it is put along with the last words, as they are called, of David, in 2 Samuel 23:1-39. Now a comparison of these two will reward every spiritual mind. For what is the distinctive point of 2 Samuel 22:1-51? The identification of Israel's history with David as the type of the Messiah. Nothing can be more striking to any person that would patiently and intelligently meditate the chapter than the remarkable way in which the grand events of the history of Israel their deliverance from Egypt, their being brought through the Red Sea, the defeat of their enemies are all blended with the Messiah, first entering into the sorrows and troubles of the people, then brought out of them at last to be their deliverer, the head not only of Israel but of the Gentiles. Here therefore we find a course of sorrow and of suffering that ends in joy and triumph.
How different is the character of2 Samuel 23:1-39; 2 Samuel 23:1-39! "These be the last words of David. David the son of Jesse said, and the man who was raised up on high, the anointed of the God of Jacob, and the sweet psalmist of Israel, said, The Spirit of Jehovah spake by me, and his word was in my tongue. The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spake to me, He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God. And he shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds (the anticipation of the day of Jehovah Himself); as the tender grass springing out of the earth by clear shining after rain. Although my house be not so with God; yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure: for this is all my salvation, and all my desire, although he make it not to grow."
Thus we find two things the bright expectation of the kingdom, with the solemn sense that the time was not yet come. No man felt it more than king David. The fact that God put into his mouth the anticipations of the Messiah that he himself knew that he in a striking manner (the most so of any man up to that day) was made the progenitor and type of the Messiah this very fact made his own shortcomings, errors, and sins more poignantly felt. Well he knew that those failures of himself were darkly shadowed out, and retributively brought to mind, in the grief and shame and dishonour of his house. Thus we find a double current in the heart of David his faith bright and undimmed in the joy that was coming with the true king who would surely sit upon his throne; but meanwhile his was the softened spirit, the broken and the contrite heart, of a man that knew what moral humiliation means as regarded himself and all his house. What in David could be more lovely in itself, or more suited to the actual state of things, than these two facts, both made true in his soul? And should it not be the very same thing with us now? Is it not important to see that the sense of our failure, as well as of what we are, is never meant to interfere with the brightness of our confidence in the Lord? Conscience must be exercised unhinderedly; and so must faith also, Grace provides for both in the believer's heart. It is excellent thus to look onward, the eye filled with the glory of the Lord Jesus, and the heart resting on His grace. But there should also be the unsparing judgment of ourselves in the light, and consequently due and suited confession. Where this is, there will be the lowliness that becomes men who have no standing-place but in grace. God forbid that this should be wanting in any Christian. It is hard to preserve the balance of truth; but at least it is well to desire it. Let us beware of having the appearance of one-sidedness. To be cast down with the constant sense of shame because of what we are, to hang our heads as bulrushes, is a poor testimony to the love of Christ, and to the victory God gives us through Him. But it is a worse state where the recognition of His grace is misused to enfeeble conscience and destroy sensibility as to sin, above all as to our own sins.
It is well that we should know that the path of faith is far removed from either of these two things. For we are entitled to enjoy the brightness of what Christ is and has done for us; but there is also the unfailing and never-to-be-forgotten sense of what it cost Him so to suffer for us.
David then anticipated the two things as perhaps no Old Testament saint as far as I am aware up to that day had ever done. It is evident too that, as he began with a very simple confidence in the Lord, so he went through a most heart-breaking process in his experience.
The kingdom is before him here. He sees clearly the judgment of the wicked. "The sons of Belial," as he says, "shall be all of them as thorns thrust away, because they cannot be taken with hands: but the man that shall touch them must be fenced with iron and the staff of a spear; and they shall be utterly burned with fire in the same place." This will never be till Jesus execute the judgment.
Then follow the names of his mighty men, and certainly there is one act among them that may well read a lesson of the gravest kind to us. I do not allude now to the brave men that broke through the army of the Philistines, and brought to David of the water of Bethlehem that he longed for. I speak of the grace which, when it was brought, refused to touch it, of the faith that could look on that water, much as he had longed for it, as the blood of those mighty men that had risked their lives. Oh for more of this self-renouncing power of faith!
On the great deeds of these heroic men we need not dwell now, save to make this simple remark: God looks for another kind of might now. It is not so much the worth of doing that He values as the lot of suffering, what one of our own poets has called in prose "the irresistible might of weakness." We may well covet this in the name of the Lord Jesus that power which is most of all shown in being nothing that Christ may be magnified, in accepting whatever of scorn, shame, loss or persecution, the Lord sees meet for us to bear, because we take our side unqualifiedly with Him and with His truth in a day when not merely the world, or man in general, but even Christendom is departed from Him. And there is no trial so great as this, because in it we see those that the Lord loves taking part against His name with those that hate Him.
To appear even to blame the children of God ought to be a pain to us. To differ from, and by differing to condemn, in word or deed, those we esteem better than ourselves, must lead to searching of our own heart, but not to question the unerring word of God rather to confirmation of faith; but not the less ought the testimony He gives us to be taken up and borne unflinchingly, only let us be sure that it is the will of the Lord. There is nothing that gives such firmness both to do and to suffer as the certainty of what the will of the Lord is. May we learn it! This was what these brave men felt and proved. This assurance nerved their arm with might; this by grace gave them victory. It was not their strength, nay, it was their faith, and there are no victories so precious in the eyes of God. But, beloved brethren, I believe that we have and that all the children of God have as bright an opportunity, yea a brighter still. For have not you now the path marked out for you in the world? Oh, may your faith win victory! But remember the only victories that God now registers as precious in His eyes are those won under the shadow and in the power of the cross of Christ those that most take their stamp from His death. This is our one sign: with this let us conquer in faith. We shall reign with Christ by and by; let us be content to suffer with and for Him now: what can the world do if we suffer? To it an evident token of perdition, to us of salvation.
2 Samuel 24:1-25 brings before us one scene more, with which the book closes. "And again the anger of Jehovah was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah. For the king said to Joab the captain of the host, which was with him, Go now through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan even to Beer-sheba, and number ye the people, that I may know the number of the people." Oh, what a forgetfulness of the Lord! He was everything to David, and everything to Israel, yet David was now repeating the sin of Saul in principle. The people would have a king, when God was their king; and the king thinks of the people only as his own. The people forgot their highest portion was God, and wanted to be like the nations; and the king whom God gave now sought a people just like a Gentile. It was the worst unfaithfulness in David, now evidently a snare to the king. It was judged in Israel; how much more judged in David! Even Joab was alarmed and shocked. He felt that it was not only a crime, but (what he cared for far more) a blunder. Joab would not have stuck much at a sin if it had seemed useful politically; but Joab was too good a politician to be guilty of a blunder, and his quick eye soon perceived that the numbering of Israel was a fatal mistake; not that he cared to please Jehovah, but he would avoid His displeasure, and felt for the interests of the kingdom of David his uncle.
The king proceeds, spite of Joab's remonstrance; the number is taken, and God seems as if He saw it not and heard it not. Months and months passed on, and the king's will and word was still being carried out; but then comes the heavy sentence from God, and David has to choose which of three strokes of His anger he will have. David, guilty as he was, chose like a man of faith; for the believer shows his faith even after he had been so faulty. David under any circumstances prefers God's hand, though it were stretched out against him, to man's hand. But God's hand did not slacken. For very love, for His own name's sake, God could not, would not, spare; and the plague swept over the land and people as a terrible scourge. But in the midst of judgment mercy rejoiced against it, and that very Jerusalem from which the guilty order went forth was the place where the hand of judgment was stayed; and if grace thus would prove itself mightier than judgment and it always will grace would prove itself in every way, for it was to David that God listened. The guilty one that had brought the plague on Israel pleads and is heard. It was at the threshing-floor of a poor stranger of a Gentile that the uplifted hand of the angel was stayed. This purchased possession of the king God would make the site of His house, the blessed connecting link between heaven and earth, between God and man, in days yet to dawn on a world still groaning, but to be surely blessed under the Lord Jesus.
To dwell further on the book is scarcely my task now. I leave the blessed subject with yourselves. God alone can give you a taste of the sweetness and of the power of His own truth through our Lord Jesus.
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Kelly, William. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 18:8". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/wkc/2-samuel-18.html. 1860-1890.
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20