|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
18:1-8 How does David render good for evil! Absalom would have only David smitten; David would have only Absalom spared. This seems to be a resemblance of man's wickedness towards God, and God's mercy to man, of which it is hard to say which is most amazing. Now the Israelites see what it is to take counsel against the Lord and his anointed.
Verse 6. - The wood of Ephraim. There is a diversity of opinion as to the locality thus described. It might mean the large forest tract in the highlands of Ephraim; but if so, the battle must have been fought on the west of the Jordan, whereas the general tenor of the narrative makes it plain that it took place on the eastern side, near Mahanaim. It is true that no wood of Ephraim is ever mentioned elsewhere in the Bible as situated in Gilead, and those who cannot believe in such a wood except within the borders of the tribe, argue that, after the three divisions had marched out to battle, there was long skirmishing, in which Absalom drew David's men across the Jordan, and there gave battle. But Absalom's army was evidently surprised, and as we are told that "he pitched in the land of Gilead" (2 Samuel 17:26), for him to have retired would have been a confession of weakness; and Joab, after seeing him cross the Jordan, would not have followed him, but let this retrograde movement have its effect upon his followers. Such a movement is absolutely incredible on the part of an army at least three times as numerous as those whom they attacked, and confident of victory. Moreover, armies in those days were not composed of men receiving pay, and bound to remain with their colours, but of yeomen unwilling to be kept long absent from their farms, and liable, therefore, rapidly to melt away. A quick decision was plainly necessary for Absalom, while David could afford to wait. But besides this, when his forces moved out of Mahanaim, David took his post at the gate with the reserves, and he was still there, sitting "between the two gates," when news was brought him of the victory (ver. 24). The only real argument in support of the view that the battle was fought on the west of the Jordan is that "Ahimaaz ran by the way of the plain" (ver. 23), Hebrew, the kikkar - a name specially given to the valley of the Jordan near Jericho. But then Cushi must also have run through the same valley, and it is evident that his route was in this very respect different from that taken by Ahimaaz. Really, kikkar, which in Hebrew means "circuit," may be used of the country round any city, and is applied in Nehemiah 12:28 to the environs of Jerusalem. Here the meaning probably is that, while the Cushite took the route back over the battlefield through the wood, Ahimaaz went to the left of it, over the more level ground, nearer the Jordan. And though the name is chiefly used of that part near Jericho, it was probably applied popularly to every stretch of level ground near the river. This argument, therefore, is inconclusive; while, on the other side, it is plain that David's army returned that same day to Mahanaim, that they knew at once of his distress, and that they were beginning to steal away home when Joab made David come forth to thank them, and encourage them to remain with him. The most probable explanation of the difficulty is that "the wood of Ephraim" was so called because it was the spot where Jephthah defeated the Ephraimites when they invaded Gilead to punish him for daring to go to war without their consent, they being then the dominant tribe, to whose arbitrament belonged all imperial matters (Judges 12:4-6).
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
So the people went out into the field against Israel,.... Josephus (e) calls it a great field, with a wood behind it:
and the battle was in the wood of Ephraim; or near it (f) rather; not in a wood in the tribe of Ephraim, which lay on this side Jordan; whereas this battle was fought on the other side Jordan, in the land of Gilead, not far from Mahanaim, where was this wood; and which was so called, either from the slaughter of the Ephraimites here in the times of Jephthah, Judges 12:4; or from the Ephraimites feeding their cattle here and near it; for the Jews say (g), that Joshua gave them a grant to feed their cattle in any wood in any of the tribes of Israel; and lying near Jordan, they used to drive their cattle over to this place, from whence it had its name.
(e) Ut supra, (Antiqu. l. 7. c. 10.) sect. 2.((f) "ad sylvam", Junius & Tremellius; "prope sylvam", Piscator. (g) In Jarchi, Kimchi, & Abarbinel, in loc.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
6. wood of Ephraim—This wood, of course, was on the east of Jordan. Its name was derived, according to some, from the slaughter of the Ephraimites by Jephthah—according to others, from the connection of blood with the trans-jordanic Manasseh.
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