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CRITICAL AND EXPOSITORY NOTES.
2 Samuel 15:1. “After this.” Keil, Erdmann and Thenius attach the idea of immediateness to the Hebrew adverb here used, but other scholars consider this doubtful. The word occurs only here, in 2 Samuel 3:28, and in 2 Chronicles 32:23, and its precise meaning cannot therefore be determined by usage. “Chariots,” i.e., “a state carriage.” (Keil.) “Fifty men.” “These runners are accustomed to precede the equipage of persons of distinction in Oriental countries. They usually carry a staff or baton, which they constantly wave about them, and strike right and left to clear the way, especially in the streets of Oriental cities which are always narrow and crowded.… They can keep on at a rapid pace, with the equipage which they precede, for many miles without stoppage, their feet covered with dust and frequently bleeding from wounds. In ancient times fifty of these runners formed the usual attendance upon royalty. See 1 Kings 1:5.” (Jamieson).
2 Samuel 15:2. “Rose up early,” etc. “The gate here referred to is the gate of the royal palace, whither those came that sought the decision of the king in law matters. (Erdmann). Malcolm-son says that Oriental ministers hold their levees before western people of rank rise from their beds.
2 Samuel 15:3. “No man,” etc. Lit. “No hearer for thee on the part of the king.” The hearer signifies the judicial officer, who heard complainants and examined into their different causes for the purpose of laying them before the king.” (Keil.)
2 Samuel 15:4. “O that I were,” etc. Lit. “Who will make me,” etc.
2 Samuel 15:6. “So Absalom stole,” etc. “The phrase may also mean to deceive the heart, as in Genesis 31:20; but the connection shows that the meaning here is to bring a person over to one’s side secretly and by stratagem.” (Erdmann and Keil.)
2 Samuel 15:7. “After forty years.” It seems imposssble to read forty in this connection as it cannot be understood either of David’s reign or Absalom’s age, as David’s entire reign was only forty years and a half, and Absalom was born after his father became king. Almost all commentators read four years, but the chronology here must evidently be regarded as uncertain.
2 Samuel 15:7. “Hebron.” “Probably assigning as a reason that he was born there, but really because his father had been made king there, and also possibly because there may have been many persons there who had been displeased by the removal of the court to Jerusalem.” (Keil.)
2 Samuel 15:8. “Serve the Lord.” Rather to do a service, explained by Josephus to mean to offer a sacrifice. “We have here an example of sacrificial feasting, not in connection with the tabernacle (as in 1 Samuel 20:6), an indication that the strict law of Leviticus (Leviticus 17:3-4, and Deuteronomy 12:13-14) was not in practical operation, else David would have objected to sacrificing in Hebron.” (Translator of Lange’s Commentary.)
2 Samuel 15:9. “Go in peace.” “That David observed nothing of all this till the startling news reached him that the heart of Israel was turned towards Absalom, cannot be reckoned to his disadvantage, since so ancient and simple a kingdom had nothing like our modern state police; it is rather a mark of the noble-minded security that we elsewhere see in him, that he gives so free scope to his beloved son, who might be regarded as first-born and heir-apparent.” (Ewald.)
2 Samuel 15:10. “Spies.” “So called because they were first of all to find out the feeling of the people and only execute their commission where they could reckon on support. (Keil.) “The trumpet.” “We must suppose that there were various stations where the summons was repeated.” (Cohen.)
2 Samuel 15:11. “Two hundred men.” “Courtiers such as usually accompanied kings and kings’ sons on their journeys.” (Erdmann.) “Called,” i.e., invited to the sacrificial feast. “Knew not anything,” i.e., were ignorant of the conspiracy.
2 Samuel 15:12. “Giloh.” Upon the mountains of Judah and a little to the south of Hebron (Joshua 15:51). “Ahithophel had no doubt been previously initiated into Absalom’s plans, and had probably gone to his native city merely that he might come to him with greater ease, since his general place of abode, as king’s councillor, must have been in Jerusalem.” (Keil.) On the possible cause of Ahithophel’s desertion of David, see notes on 2 Samuel 11:3.
2 Samuel 15:14. “Let us flee.” “David’s immediate flight is to be explained by the reason that he himself gives, by the fact that he sees that the fulfilment of Nathan’s prophecy of approaching misfortune is now beginning, that the punishment cannot be warded off, and that to stay in the city will only occasion much bloodshed.” (Erdmann.) “To leave the city would be to gain the advantage of his military skill and of the discipline of his tried warriors in the open country.” (Translator of Lange’s Commentary).
2 Samuel 15:15. “Servants,” i.e., soldiers. (Lange’s Commentary.)
2 Samuel 15:17. “A place that was far off.” Literally, “The house of the distance” “Probably a proper name given to a house in the neighbourhood of the city, and on the road to Jericho, which was called ‘the farthest house,’ viz., from the city.” (Keil.)
2 Samuel 15:18. “Cherithites,” etc. See note on 2 Samuel 8:18. “Gittites.” Most scholars identify this body of men with the Gibborim or mighty men mentioned in 2 Samuel 16:6. Some suppose that Gittite is a corruption of Gibborim. It is not likely that they were all natives of Gath, although they are said to have followed David thence. Most commentators consider that this body-guard was formed of David’s first faithful followers (1 Samuel 22:2), kept always up to the number of six hundred by the addition of other trusted and valiant soldiers.
2 Samuel 15:19. “A stranger,” etc. “Do you remain with whoever is or shall be king, since there is no necessity for you as a stranger to take sides at all,” (Keil) or, “You may remain quiet and see whom God shall appoint as king, and whether it be I or Absalom; you can serve the one whom God shall choose.” (Schmidt). “Stranger—not an Israelite; emigrant or exile—one not in his native land.” (Erdmann). Some suppose that the latter noun signifies that Ittai was a captive or a hostage taken in war, but his position in David’s army is against such a supposition.
2 Samuel 15:20. “Mercy and truth” From this and from Ittai’s saying, “As the Lord lives,” it is probable that Ittai, with his whole house, had already become a believer in the God of Israel.” (Erdmann.)
2 Samuel 15:22. “Pass over,” rather, pass on, (Keil.) “The little ones.” “It is characteristic of Oriental people that they carry their whole family along with them in all their migrations.” (Jamieson.)
2 Samuel 15:23. “Kidron.” This mountain torrent, which only flows during the rainy season, runs through the valley of Jehoshaphat, between the eastern side of Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives. “Afterwards passed over by the son of David, the King of Israel, when He was rejected by Jerusalem.” (Wordsworth.)
2 Samuel 15:24. “Zadok” and Abiathar. (See notes on 2 Samuel 8:17.) “Zadok is placed before Abiathar by the historian, although Abiathar was the High Priest, either because Zadok, as the younger man, took the lead in bearing the ark, or perhaps because Abiathar was already beginning to show some signs of lukewarmness and disaffection towards David and his cause. The writer composed the history at a time when it was a well-known fact that Abiathar was deposed by Solomon for disloyalty, and Zadok was placed in his room (See 1 Kings 1:7; 1 Kings 2:35.) (Wordsworth.) Keil and Erdmann consider that Abiathar did not join the procession until all the people had passed out of the city, and therefore his name could not have been placed first here. But the same order is observed in 2 Samuel 15:29. “Went up.” “That is, to the summit of the Mount of Olives, where the ark was set down.” (Erdmann.)
2 Samuel 15:27. “Art not thou,” etc., rather, “Thou seer.” On this word see note on 1 Samuel 9:9. David’s reasons for so naming Zadok is found in 2 Samuel 15:25 scq. Through him David is to learn whether the Lord will again take him into favour and restore him to Jerusalem; that is, Zadok was to act as seer for him.” (Erdmann).
2 Samuel 15:28. “The plain,” rather the fords, the place where the Jordan could be crossed.
2 Samuel 15:30. “The ascent of Olivet.” “Josephus reckons the distance from Jerusalem to the top of the mount at five stadia, and Luke (Acts 1:12) says it was a Sabbath day’s journey. The same pathway over that mount has been followed ever since that memorable day.” (Jamieson.) “His head covered.” “Covering the head is the symbol of the mind sorrowfully sunk in itself, wholly withdrawn from the outer world. Comp. Esther 6:12; Ezekiel 24:18.” (Erdmann.) “See examples of King Darius having his head covered, 2 Curtius, lib. iv. cap. 10, sec. 33, and lib. v. cap. 12, sec. 8. (Jamieson.) “Bare-foot.” While all covered the head, this sign of mourning appears to have been adopted by David only either “as a penitent” (Ewald), or “to manifest his humiliation in the sight of God.” (Thenius).
2 Samuel 15:32. “Where he worshipped.” Rather, where men worshipped, etc., supposed to have been one of the “high places” which then existed in Palestine. “Hushai the Archite.” See 2 Samuel 15:37, 2 Samuel 16:16, and 1 Chronicles 27:33. Keil and others consider him to have been a privy councillor. He was probably a native of the city of Ezek. (See Joshua 16:2.)
2 Samuel 15:33. “A burden,” “He was probably a very old man.” (Keil).
2 Samuel 15:34. “I will be thy servant.” “This was not honest, but it was according to the policy practised in those days, and indeed in all ages; which Procopins Gazaens approves so far as to say that ‘a lie told for a good end is equivalent to truth.’ But I dare not justify such doctrine.” (Patrick).
2 Samuel 15:36. “Zadok,” etc. “This was not an ordinary stratagem; these men were not simply spies, but we can avoid calling them traitors by supposing that the priests were not recognised as adherents of Absalom, but as indifferent non-combatants, or as friends of David.” (Translator of Lange’s Commentary).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE CHAPTER
THE REBELLION UNDER ABSALOM
We have here—
I. An aggravated crime. The rebellion of Absalom against his father would have been an act of great wickedness in whatever manner he had carried it out, but the cloak which he used to conceal it added to his guilt. He must have been a bad man indeed to conspire against his father’s throne; but to dress up his base designs in the garb of patriotism, and even of piety, added hypocrisy to his other sins. But there appears to be no limit to the extent to which men will veil a vicious act in the semblance of a virtuous deed, and thus give proof of the great depravity of which human nature is capable.
II. An aggravated calamity. If Absalom’s guilt was increased by the attendant circumstances so was David’s sorrow. There was, first, the quarter from which it came. It was no small addition to the severity of the trial that the evil sprang from David’s own house—that the rebel was one of his own children and apparently a son for whom he had a deep affection. And added to this was the fact that Absalom was aided and encouraged by one in whom David had placed implicit confidence, his “familiar friend,” Ahithophel, whose faithfulness, it seems, he had never doubted (Psalms 41:9). David had been warned to look for trouble, and for trouble from his own family; but he could hardly have expected so heavy a calamity as the one which now befel him nor is it likely he had ever thought it possible that Absalom and Ahithophel would be the chief instruments of his chastisement. Then, again, it must have been a bitter surprise and mortification to David to find that so many of his people were ready to renounce their allegiance to him and to follow one who was in all respects his inferior, and who had no claims upon their gratitude. Faulty as David had been in his later years, and just as might have been the charge brought against him by Absalom (2 Samuel 15:3), his rule upon the whole had been productive of great good to the nation, whereas Absalom had done nothing for it. Yet, when the standard of rebellion was raised, many men gathered to it who doubtless owed much to the efforts which David had made to benefit the people and thus showed themselves capable of great ingratidude. And we all know that unkindness from such a quarter is much harder to bear than when it comes from the hand of strangers. But by far the greatest aggravation of David’s trial must have been the consciousness that he had brought it on himself. It was no arbitrary sentence which God passed upon him when He warned him that evil would come from his own house. If David’s household had been ordered more in accordance with the will of God, and his own personal life been under more strict discipline, it is more than probable he would have had no such sons as Amnon and Absalom, and no subjects so faithless as Ahithophel and those who followed with him. But even if then such circumstances had arisen, the father and the king would have found strong consolation in the reflection that he was in no sense blameworthy. But he could not have this strongest support in trial but had this burden in addition to all the others, that he was only reaping as he had sown. And, alas! although he alone was responsible for the sowing, many besides himself had to taste the bitter fruit. To a man like David, this must have been an inexpressible grief. To any true-hearted man or woman it is far easier to suffer than to be the means of bringing suffering upon others, even when it is a matter of pure misfortune. But surely nothing can cause such agony of mind as to look upon the miseries of others and to feel that we are the cause of it, and that by our own transgression. David now saw his kingdom rent by civil war with all its attendant desolations, and knew that he, and he only, was to blame; and as we look upon this man after God’s own heart, ascending the Mount of Olives, where can we find a more vivid illustration of the terrible consequences of sin or of the inflexible impartiality of God. If David must thus suffer even after his repentance, what must be the tribulation necessary for those who live a life of rebellion against their God and their conscience and who have never, like him, acknowledged their transgressions and sought to be cleansed from their sin.
III. Calamity lightened by the faithfulness of friends and by confidence in God. If Absalom and his followers afford painful examples of human hypocrisy and ingratitude and make us ashamed of our manhood, the unselfishness and fidelity of Ittai and other servants of David more than redeem it from the disgrace. Although there are many false and cowardly men in the world, there are also many brave and noble ones, and times of trial, whether personal or national, are times of self-revelation which bring to light the real character of both the good and bad. If it had not been for Absalom and Ahithophel’s treachery, David would never have known how deep was the affection which his friends felt for him, and their devotion would not have had the opportunity of manifesting itself and of gaining for them the admiration of future generations. So it is in all times—the wickedness of some brings out the goodness of others and strengthens their virtue and makes it shine more brightly. And to David, in this hour of sorrow, this loyalty—where perhaps he least looked for it—must have been what a spring of living water is to a weary traveller in a spot where he did not expect it. For the friend that comes without being sought in the day when friends are few, is indeed a well in the wilderness, which restores the strength of the fainting wayfarer and enables him to go on his way. To David this faithfulness on the part of man would be a pledge of the faithfulness of God, and a confirmation of the truth of his own words, “Unto the upright there ariseth light in the darkness.”
But David’s own conduct and temper under the trial, tended also to lighten the affliction. Behind the wrong-doing of man he sees the righteousness of God and acknowledges the justice of the permissive providence which allowed such a calamity to overtake him. And although he knows that he is being chastised for his sin, he does not lose the sense of God’s loving-kindness; but, as his words testify (see Psalms 3:0) hopes in Him against whom he has sinned, having the blessed assurance that although he is thus afflicted, his iniquity is forgiven. Any man who is able thus to meet affliction, finds its sting removed; but a soul which cannot see a Divine hand behind the dark cloud, or, seeing it, does not recognise it as a hand of justice and love, is indeed in a sad case. Many as were the aggravations of David’s calamity, it had this greatest alleviation.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
2 Samuel 15:2. The plot which Absalom was working out required a great amount of sapping and mining—a kind of labour extremely trying, and demanding much patience and self-command. Yet for years, apparently, he persevered in it, upheld and encouraged by the one hope of ultimate success. How much wiser in their generation are the children of this world than the children of light! If for wicked or selfish ends men toil with so much perseverance, how should good men labour in the service of God!—Blackie.
2 Samuel 15:19. David’s general desertion by his own people—the tribe of Judah—and the attention which he received from comparative strangers foreshadowed the Lord’s own experience, when betrayed by Judas, denied by Peter, and forsaken by all the apostles, His only sympathy seemed to come from the weeping women, and when strangers like Nicodemus and Joseph were left to attend his funeral.—Blackie.
2 Samuel 15:31. This text is a glass wherein God’s justice is plainly to be seen. David had formerly falsely forsaken Uriah, and now God suffers Ahithophel to forsake David.… I. Let us learn when our friends forsake us, to enter into a serious scrutiny with our own souls. Hast thou never played false or foul with thy friend, if not in action yet in intention? Dost thou not mean to prove base if put to the trial? If so, know thy false friend hath only got the start of thee.… II. The most politic heads have not always the faithfullest hearts.… While David swayed the sceptre, who more loyal to him than Ahithophel? and once David is in banishment, he falls first to Absalom; he loved to worship the sun rising; yea, while, David, the true sun, was but overcast with a cloud, he falls adoring a blazing star—a comet.… That cement which conglutinates hearts is grace and goodness, whereof many politic heads are utterly devoid (1 Corinthians 1:26), and politic men make their own profit the rule and square of their lives.… Do not, then, undervalue the love of those who are of mean and inferior parts. Wise men have made use of such servants and found them more manageable and more profitable; though their judgments were weaker, their affections might be stronger than wiser men. III. False friends will forsake thee in times of adversity. He that believeth that all those who smile on him and promise fair in time of prosperity will perform it in time of his want may as well believe that all the leaves that be on trees at Midsummer will hang there as fresh and as fair on New Year’s Day. Come we now to consider what good uses one may make to himself from the unfaithfulness of friends when they forsake us.
1. Consider with thyself whether thou hast not been faulty in entertaining tale-bearers, and lending a listening ear to them. Solomon says, “A whisperer separateth chief friends” (Proverbs 16:28.) …
2. If herein thy conscience accuse thee not, examine thyself, whether there was not a eæsum principium in the first initiation of your love. How came you first acquainted.… Didst thou first purchase his favour with the price of a sin? For, know, friends unjustly gotten are not long comfortably enjoyed.… We see King Hezekiah, who procured Sennacherib’s love by his sacrilege, enjoyed not that purchase which he made God and His temple pay for. (2 Kings 18:16.) …
3. If there has been no fault in the inclination, examine hath there been none in the continuance of your friendship? Hast thou not committed many sins to hold in with him?… Hast thou not flattered him in his faults, or at leastwise by thy silence consented to him.… If Amnon, in cold blood viewing the heinousness of his offence, so hated Tamar, who only concurred passively in his transgression, how may our friends justly hate us, if haply we have been the causers, movers, and procurers of our badness!…
4. Hast thou not idolatrised to thy friend? Hath he not totally monopolised thy soul? It if just with God that those wooden pillars should break, on whom we lay too much heft.
5. Hast thou not undervalued thy friend?… If so, God hath taught the worth of a pearl by losing it. And this often comes to pass, though not in our friends voluntary deserting us, yet when God takes them away by death.…
6. It may be God suffers thy friends to prove unfaithful to thee, to make thee stick more closely to Himself. Excellent to this purpose is Micah 7:5-7. As if he had said, “Is the world come to this bad pass that one must be far from trusting their nearest friends? It is well, then, I have one fast Friend on whom I may rely, the God of heaven.” I must confess these words of the prophet are principally meant of the time of persecution, but they contain an eternal truth, whereof good use may be made at any time.—Thos. Fuller.
2 Samuel 15:34. In the midst of such piety and resignation, it is strange to find David asking his friend thus to act a dishonest part, and play the spy. We are not called to vindicate his conduct. The Scriptures simply record it; and we must not suppose that everything here is approved which is not directly, and in so many words, condemned. But we may say two things by way of debarring hasty judgment here. First—and I am using now the words of Professor Plumptre: “Slowly in the character of any people; more slowly still in that of any Eastern people; most slowly of all, perhaps, in that of Israel, have men risen to the excellence of veracity. We must not think that the king’s religion was a hypocrisy because it did not bear at once the fruit of the spotless honor and unswerving truth which mark the highest forms of Christian goodness. The Christian Church herself has to notice many like inconsistencies among her crowned martyrs.” Second: let us not forget what those means are by which, even in these modern days, with all our Christian loftiness of character, we seek to countermine and check political rebellion. Some years ago, while I was a resident in Liverpool, there was great talk of Fenianism. We heard of plots for the taking of the ancient city of Chester, and the burning of ships in our own docks. How did we hear of them? By spies, who feigned themselves Fenians for the time! and the man whose astuteness made these discoveries through means of Hushai-like instruments was rewarded by being made a companion of the Most Honorable Order of the Bath! Observe, I do not vindicate either David or these modern officers. I simply state the facts, and beg to say, that if men, with the New Testament in their hands, can do such things, we ought to be tender in our treatment of David here.—Taylor.
2 Samuel 15:16-27. There is no single day in the Jewish history of which so elaborate an account remains as of this memorable flight. There is none, we may add, that combines so many of David’s characteristics—his patience, his high-spirited religion, his generosity, his calculations: we miss only his daring courage. Was it crushed, for the moment, by the weight of parental grief, or bitter remorse?—Stanley.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 15". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany