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CRITICAL AND EXPOSITORY NOTES.—
2 Samuel 18:1. “David numbered,” etc. “The hardy mountaineers of Gilead came in great numbers at the call of their chieftains.”—(Jamieson.) Josephus says the army numbered about 4000.
2 Samuel 18:6. The situation of this battle-ground is much disputed. Erdmann thinks the name can be understood only of the forest covering the mountains of Ephraim mentioned in Joshua 17:15-18, and Keil agrees with him; but against this view the majority of writers on the subject urge the statement that Absalom encamped in Gilead (2 Samuel 17:26.), and the fact that the army returned to Mahanaim after the battle (2 Samuel 19:3; 2 Samuel 19:15). The expression in 2 Samuel 18:3, “that thou succour us out of the city” is also strongly in favour of the assumption that the battle took place in Gilead. But if so, there is no satisfactory answer to the question why the site bore this designation. Mr. Groves suggests (Bib. Dict.) that the forest may have been so called after this battle on account of the conspicuous part which the tribe of Ephraim probably took in the rebellion. Grotius suggests that the name was derived from the slaughter of the Ephraimites by Jephthah in the neighbourhood (Judges 12:1-3), and Dean Stanley and others, that there was a settlement of Ephraim there in connection with the neighbouring brother tribe of Manasseh.
2 Samuel 18:7. “People of Israel.” “This designation, together with the immense slaughter afterwards, shows the large extent to which the people were enlisted in this unhappy civil contest.”—(Jameison.) “Twenty thousand men.” It is commonly supposed that Absalom’s army was far larger than David’s.… A great loss, yet not improbable under the circumstances. The victory may be accounted for by the superior organisation of David’s troops and the superior generalship of his army-leaders.”—(Translator of Lange’s Commentary.)
2 Samuel 18:8. “The wood devoured.” “Most likely the woody region was full of ravines, precipices, and marshes, into which the flying foe was pursued, and where so many perished.”—(Keil).
2 Samuel 18:9. “Met.” Rather, Came upon, found himself among. “A mule.” Lit. “upon the mule.” Josephus says that it was the king’s mule. Compare 1 Kings 1:33; 1 Kings 1:38; 1 Kings 1:44, where the riding upon the king’s mule is represented as an act of royal authority.—(Wordsworth). “Oak.” “Terebinth.” “Probably Quercus Ægilope, Valonia Oak, for which Gilead and Bashan were famous.”—Jameison. “Caught hold.” Lit., made itself fast in. There is no mention made here of the hair of Absalom being the cause of his entanglement. That would be covered by his helmet.
2 Samuel 18:11. “A girdle.” “A girdle, curiously and richly wrought, was among the ancient Hebrews a mark of honour, and sometimes bestowed as a reward of military merit.” (Jamieson.)
2 Samuel 18:13. “Otherwise,” etc. Rather, “Or, had I dealt deceitfully against his life, i.e., have wrought falsehood by killing him, inasmuch as I should then have acted against the express prohibition of the king. The words, ‘and nothing is hid from the king,’ form a parenthesis; the apo-dosis begins with, ‘and thou.’ ” (Erdmann.)
2 Samuel 18:14. “Darts.” The Hebrew word means a sharp, wooden staff. “This explains the reason for his taking three, whereas one javelin or dart would have been sufficient; and also the fact that Absalom was not slain, notwithstanding their being thrust at his heart. The last clause of this verse belongs to what follows:—“Still living in the midst of the terebinth, ten young men,” etc. (Keil.)
2 Samuel 18:17 : “Laid.” Rather, threw. “The people of the East indicate their detestation of the memory of an infamous person by throwing stones at the place where he is buried. The heap is increased by the gradual accumulation of stones which passers-by add to it.” (Jamieson.) (See also, Joshua 8:26; Joshua 8:29). “All Israel.” Absalom’s army.
2 Samuel 18:18. “The king’s dale.” The valley of the Kidron, or Jehoshaphat, so called from the events recorded in Genesis 14:17. “No son.” Those mentioned in 2 Samuel 14:27 must have died, or were born after the erection of the pillar. “Absalom’s place.” Lit., hand, that which pointed him out. “And perhaps, also, as being his handiwork.” (Wordsworth.)
2 Samuel 18:21. “Cushi.” It is uncertain whether this is a proper name for an Israelite, or whether it signifies a descendant of Cush. “The form of the name rather favours the latter view, in which case it would suggest the idea of a Moorish slave in the service of Joab.” (Keil.) “He sent an Ethiopian, thinking it small damage if he received hurt of the king.” (Grotius.)
2 Samuel 18:22. “No tidings ready.” “The message is not a reward—bringing one.” (Erdmann.) “Thou wilt not carry a good message.” (Luther.) “Thou hast not idings sufficient,” that is—“The Cushite has already carried the news.” (Biblical Commentary.)
2 Samuel 18:23. “The plain.” The Jordan valley. Those who contend that the battle was fought on the west of the Jordan, think that this statement confirms their view. But those who favour the general opinion, contend that if the battle were on the eastern side of the river, Ahimaaz might still have found a quicker way to Mahanaim by way of the Jordan valley; and that the expression intimates that Cushi did not take that route which he would have done, had he been on the west of Jordan,
2 Samuel 18:24. “The two gates.” “The outer and inner gate of the fortified city wall, between which there was a small court.” (Keil.)
2 Samuel 18:25. “Tidings.” “Good tidings.” If the army had been defeated there would have been many as fugitives.
2 Samuel 18:27. “Good man.” One whom Joab would not have sent as a messenger of evil.
2 Samuel 18:28. “All is well.” Heb. Shalom, Peace! The usual Hebrew salutation.
2 Samuel 18:33. “The chamber,” etc. A sequestered part of the building to which a person can retire for meditation and undisturbed solitude.” (Dr. Shaw.) “O my son.” “To understand this passionate utterance of anguish, we must bear in mind not only the excessive tenderness, or rather weakness, of David’s paternal affection for his son, but also his anger that Joab and his generals should have paid so little regard to his command to deal gently with Absalom. With the king’s excitable temperament, this entirely prevented him from taking a just and correct view of the crime of his rebel son, which merited death, and of the penal justice of God which had been manifest in his destruction.” (Keil.)
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE CHAPTER
THE DEATH OF ABSALOM
I. The wicked are successful only until they have fulfilled God’s purposes. Hitherto all Absalom’s plans had prospered. Great numbers—possibly a large majority (see note on 2 Samuel 18:7) of the people of Israel—had gathered to his standard; he had entered the capital without resistance and had apparently secured an efficient leader of his army. So far he was allowed to proceed without check, because he was the instrument in God’s hand of executing His sentence upon David. But his mission was now fulfilled. David had received his chastisement with becoming submission, and given full evidence of his sincere and hearty repentance, and now God has no more work for Absalom to do, and permits so insignificant a thing as the branch of a tree to seize and hold him until he receives the doom he deserves. This is the lot of all ungodly men. Unwilling to be workers with God—having no sympathy with His desires and aims—they shall yet unconsciously work for Him, while they follow the lead of their own unlawful passions. In this sense God called Nebuchadnezzar his “servant” (Jeremiah 25:9; Jeremiah 27:6; Jeremiah 43:10) because while he was pursuing his own ambitious designs, he was unconsciously inflicting the chastisement necessary to Israel’s moral restoration; but when he and his descendants had accomplished the work their power was given into other hands. It is ever so when the rulers of the world take “counsel against the Lord and against His anointed” (Psalms 2:0)—for a time all their plans seem to prosper, but when they have fulfilled the counsel of the most High, the word goes forth:—“Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further; and here shall thy proud waves be stayed.” (Job 38:11)
II. There are depths of human affection which no ingratitude can exhaust. The strength of human love is measured by the demands made upon it. We cannot certify that the well is deep from which we only draw a few buckets of water, but if it yields abundantly after an unusual demand has been made upon it, we know certainly that it must be fed from an almost inexhaustible source. There is an ordinary natural affection which will bear an ordinary strain, but gives way under the pressure of great unkindness or even neglect. But, as in the case of David, there is a human love so strong and deep that no cruelty can dry it up or even lessen its intensity. If Absalom had been David’s most dutiful son he could have scarcely uttered a more pathetic lament over him; although he had received at his hands as much dishonour and insult as it was possible for one man to offer to another, the father’s heart still acknowledges the tie between them and first tries to save the traitor’s life and then bitterly mourns the failure of his effort. Perhaps no man could thus retain his tenderness towards an erring child unless he had himself been made sensible of the love of the Divine Father towards himself, a deep consciousness of our own ingratitude to God and of His infinite patience and mercy to us must make us long-suffering and pitiful, and even loving towards those who sin against us. This sense of the love of God is the living spring whence must flow unfailing springs of tenderness towards all men, and especially towards those related to us by natural ties, and streams so fed are not dried up by their wrong-doing. David’s love, we know, was fed by such a fountain, and hence its depth and strength.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
2 Samuel 18:4. So meekly doth David submit himself to the will of his men. Affliction and meekness grow both on the same root in a holy tongue.—Trapp.
2 Samuel 18:1-4. Whatever fears of Divine desertion might occasionally darken the soul of David, between the day of his flight and the battle, it is certain that these visitations of alarm did not restrain him from prayer.… The immediate answer to prayer, in the present emergency, consisted to a large extent in the spirit of wisdom and counsel poured out upon David and his friends. Every step they took was taken with prudence, while every movement of their opponents was a blunder. It was wise in David, as we have already seen, to cross the Jordan and retire to Gilead; it was wise in him to make Mahanaim his head-quarters; it was wise, as we shall by and bye see to have a wood in the neighbourhood of the battle-field; and it was wise too, to make the arrangements that were actually adopted, in expectation of the enemy’s attack.… It is instructive to mark this; because there is a lurking feeling in the minds of some, that it is not so proper to pray for wisdom as for other and more spiritual gifts. And yet it is very certain that sound discretion is one of the gifts we are most specially invited to ask, and which believers through the merits of Christ, may most certainly expect.—Blaikie.
2 Samuel 18:4-8. Easy gained, easy lost. Absalom’s example shows that. And to-day also, in great as in small things, how can it be otherwise?—Schlier.
2 Samuel 18:10. When the hour of Absaloms’s calamities arrived it found him without a single friend! Even Saul had his armour-bearer at his side when lie fled over the mountains of Gilboa; but not an armour-bearer, not a servant, not a friend, not a single human being attended Absalom as he hastened from the battle-field. It could hardly be that he was last of all his army. Riding on a mule, he must have made more speed than most. Many of those who flocked to his standard must have passed him as he hung with his hair entangled in the prickly oak; but not one would spare the time to help him: intent on saving himself, each one left him to his fate. The world has seldom witnessed a more striking instance of retribution than in the fate of Absalom. As Saul had destroyed all the wizards in the land, and could hardly find one when he desired their help; so Absalom had made havoc of the loyal hearts of the kingdom, and when he needed a loyal heart not one could he obtain. If he had secured but one heart by honest means, it would have served him in better stead than all that he had stolen.—Blaikie.
2 Samuel 18:14. It was the purpose of the Lord that Absalom should perish, and in the person of Joab God found a fitting instrument for carrying His purpose into effect. How often have we occasion to remark the intrepid boldness of the ways of Providence. The mind of God is a wonderful combination of qualities; with a tenderness more soft than that of the most affectionate woman, it combines a courage more fearless than that of the most iron-hearted warrior. When once it appears to God that some dreadful blow is necessary for the greater good of an individual or the world, He advances to strike it with an unhesitating and unshrinking step.… But it is not always when such things must be done that God finds an instrument for doing them, animated by the same spirit of mingled firmness and tenderness as Himself. Nay, it is not often that He does so. Firm men are not commonly tender; tender men are not commonly firm. The separation is the usual result of human imperfection. The instruments God has to employ for His sterner judgments are commonly men of little compassion, of firm nerve, and relentless purpose. Such was His instrument in the death of Absalom.—Blaikie.
2 Samuel 18:18. So did Absalom esteem himself, that he thought it would be a wrong to the world to want the memorial of so goodly a person. God had denied him sons; how just it was that he should want a son, who had robbed his father of a son, who would have robbed himself of a father, his father of a kingdom! It had been pity so poisonous a plant should have been fruitful: his pride shall supply nature; he rears up a stately pillar in the king’s dale, and calls it by his own name, that he might live in dead stones, who could not survive in living issue; and now behold this curious pile ends in a rude heap, which speaks no language but the shame of that carcass which it covers. Hear this, ye glorious fools, that care not to perpetuate any memory of yourselves to the world, but of ill-deserving greatness; the best of this affectation is vanity; the worst, infamy and dishonour; whereas the memorial of the just shall be blessed: and if his humility shall refuse an epitaph, and choose to hide himself under the bare earth, God Himself shall engrave his name upon the pillar of eternity.
2 Samuel 18:9-18. Absalom and David did each his utmost, and showed what he could do; 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.—Henry.
Heaven-wide opposites that cannot be reconciled. I. God’s strict righteousness, when the measure of His holy wrath is full, and human compassion, when the measure of Divine patience and long-suffering is full. II. Rude exercise of power, which in self-will and recklessness destroys a human life, and tender conscientiousness, which fears to strive against God by attempts upon a human life. III. The honour, which man in his pride prepares for himself before the world, and the shame, with which God punishes such pride.—Lange’s Commentary.
Justly was he lift up to the oak, who had lift up himself against his father and sovereign; justly is he pierced with darts, who had pierced his father’s heart with so many sorrows; justly is he mangled, who hath dismembered and divided all Israel; justly is he stoned, who not only cursed, but pursued his own parent.—Bp. Hall.
What is this we hear? that he, whose life Israel valued at ten thousand of theirs, should be exchanged with a traitor’s: that a good king, whose life was sought, should wish to lay it down for the preservation of his murderer. The best men have not wont to be the least passionate. But what shall we say to that love of thine, O Saviour, who hast said of us wretched traitors, not “Would God I had died for you!” but, I will die, I do die, I have died for you. O love, like thyself, infinite, incomprehensible, whereat the angels of heaven stand yet amazed, where-with thy saints are ravished!—Bp. Hall.
When the infant of Bathsheba died, he could say, “I shall go to him;” but on this occasion there is no such comforting assurance. Absalom’s sun had gone down in thickest darkness; no one ray of hope remained to relieve the gloom of his father’s heart; and none but those who have been called to mourn in similar circumstances can tell how bitter is a grief like that.
But worse than either of these ingredients in this cup of anguish would be, as I think, the consciousness in David’s heart, that if he had himself been all he ought to have been, his son might not thus have perished. Was there no connection between his own great trespass and Absalom’s iniquity? If he had been less foolishly indulgent, Absalom might never have rebelled. Nay, if he had been wiser, even after Absalom’s fratricidal guilt, probably he had not stung him into revolt. Such thoughts and questionings as these, would, I doubt not, intensify the sadness of the Psalmist in this trying hour; and it becomes every parent among us to see that in his training of his children, and in his life before them, there is nothing that may tend to ruin them. David now professes, and I believe with truth, to desire that he had died for Absalom; but that was a vain wish. He ought to have lived more for Absalom. He ought, by his own character, to have taught him to love holiness, or, at all events, he ought to have seen that there was nothing in his own conduct to encourage his son in wickedness or to provoke him to wrath; and then, though Absalom had made shipwreck, he might have had the consolation that he had done his utmost to prevent such a catastrophe.—Taylor.
We must bring David’s terrible grief to the standard of God’s Word, and try to apportion to it in due measure its need of praise and of blame. To begin with the least agreeable element. We cannot but be struck with the absence of what had kept him so calm in the climax of his public trials—the absence of any recognition of the hand of God, and of any expression of submission to his will.… His uncontrolled vehemence confirms a former remark, that in domestic matters, the Divine will was not regarded as his rule so much as in his public undertakings. It was not so regarded actively in considering what ought to be done, nor passively, in bearing what had to be borne.… In the agony of his private grief he forgot the public welfare of his kingdom. Noble and generous though the wish was—“Would God I had died for thee”—it was not on public grounds a wish that could be justified.—Blaikie.
David mourning over Absalom. I. Wherein it was right, (a) Parent love is indestructible. (b) Absalom was not wholly bad, and his faults had been aggravated by the misconduct of others, (c) David was conscious that all this was a chastening required by his own sin. II. Wherein it was wrong. (a) In that it excluded gratitude to his faithful and brave followers. (b) In preventing attention to the pressing duties of his position. (c) In causing him to overlook the fact that so long as Absalom lived the kingdom could have no peace. (d) In so far as it was not tempered by submission to the will of Jehovah.—Translator of Lange’s Commentary.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 18". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Epiphany