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Absalom’s Death (18:1-18)
David organized his army and marched it out in three divisions, led respectively by Joab, Abishai (Joab’s brother), and Ittai the Gittite. The king himself, against his own desire but under strong pressure from his followers, remained behind in Mahanaim. Before they left, he ordered his commanders to deal gently with Absalom. A great battle ensued in the forest of Ephraim, an area west of Jordan difficult to locate today. Absalom’s army was routed with a great slaughter, and the forest with its rocky terrain and pitfalls helped to destroy the fleeing host.
Absalom, in flight, was caught by the head in the forked branch of an oak and left hanging, as his mule rushed on from under him. His hair is not mentioned and thus there is no ground for the traditional explanation that he was caught by his long hair. When the matter was reported to Joab, he slew Absalom with his own hand, in spite of his informant’s reminder of David’s injunction. The body was cast into a pit and stones were heaped on it. This was Absalom’s grave, in contrast to the elaborate tomb which he had constructed for himself in the King’s Valley.
David’s Grief (18:19-33)
Two runners brought the news to David. Ahima-az had asked for the privilege but was refused by Joab, who sent a Cushite (an Ethiopian) instead, probably because he felt a foreigner could better convey the bad news of Absalom’s death. This seems indicated by the fact that later the sight of Ahima-az, a trusty follower, bringing news is interpreted by David as a good omen (vs. 27). Joab subsequently relented and let Ahima-az go also. The latter had been David’s courier earlier, and his anxiety to be the messenger may have been due either to the desire for personal advancement or, more likely, to concern for David and the desire to break gently the news of Absalom’s death. Whatever the cause, he outstripped the Ethiopian and arrived first, but then his heart failed him and he simply reported a victory by the king’s forces, pretending to know nothing of Absalom’s fate. The arrival of the Cushite brought the truth into the open, and David was prostrated with grief.
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"Commentary on 2 Samuel 18". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany