2 Samuel 18:18
Now Absalom in his lifetime had taken and reared up for himself a pillar, which is in the king's dale: for he said, I have no son to keep my name in remembrance: and he called the pillar after his own name: and it is called to this day, Absalom's place.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(18) The king’s dale.—Called also in Genesis 14:17 “the valley of Shaveh.” Its site has not been identified, and writers differ as to whether it was near Jerusalem, in the valley of the Kidron, which seems probable, or was near the site of Sodom. On Absalom’s statement that he had no son, see note on 14:27.

2 Samuel

THE WAIL OF A BROKEN HEART

2 Samuel 18:18 - 2 Samuel 18:33
.

The first verse of this passage and the one preceding it give a striking contrast between the actual and the designed burial-place of Absalom. The great pit among the sombre trees, where his bloody corpse was hastily flung, with three darts through his heart, and the rude cairn piled over it, were a very different grave from the ostentatious tomb ‘in the king’s dale,’ which he had built to keep his memory green. This was what all his restless intrigues and unbridled passions and dazzling hopes had come to. He wanted to be remembered, and he got his wish; but what a remembrance! That gloomy pit preaches anew the vanity of ‘vaulting ambition which o’erleaps itself,’ and tells us once more that

‘Only the actions of the just

Smell sweet, and blossom in the dust.’

I. The first picture here shows a glimpse of the battlefield, and brings before us three men, each in different ways exhibiting how small a thing Absalom’s death was to all but the heartbroken father, and each going his own road, heedless of what lay below the heap of stones. The world goes on all the same, though death is busy, and some heart-strings be cracked. The minute details which fill the most part of the story, lead up to, and throw into prominence, David’s burst of agony at the close. The three men, Ahimaaz, Joab, and the Cushite {Ethiopian}, are types of different kinds of self-engrossment, which is little touched by others’ sorrows. The first, Ahimaaz, the young priest who had already done good service to David as a spy, is full of the joyous excitement of victory, and eager to run with what he thinks such good tidings. The word in 2 Samuel 18:19, ‘bear tidings,’ always implies good news; and the youthful warrior-priest cannot conceive that the death of the head of the revolt can darken to the king the joy of victory, He is truly loyal, but, in his youthful impetuosity and excitement, cannot sympathise with the desolate father, who sits expectant at Mahanaim. Right feeling and real affection often fail in sympathy, for want of putting oneself in another’s place; and, with the best intentions, wound where they mean to cheer. A little imagination; guided by affection, would have taught Ahimaaz that the messenger who told David of Absalom’s death would thrust a sharper spear into his heart than Joab had driven into Absalom’s.

Joab is a very different type of indifference. He is too much accustomed to battle to be much flushed with victory, and has killed too many men to care much about killing another. He is cool enough to measure the full effect of the news on David; and though he clearly discerns the sorrow, has not one grain of participation in it. He has some liking for Ahimaaz, and so does not wish him to run, but dissuades him on the ground {2 Samuel 18:22, Revised Version} that he will win no reward. That is the true spirit of the mercenary, who cannot conceive of a man taking trouble unless he gets paid for it somehow, and will fight and kill, all in the way of business, without the least spark of enthusiasm for a cause. Hard stolidity and brutal carelessness shielded him from any ‘womanish’ tenderness. Absalom was dead, and he had killed him. It was a good thing, for it had put out the fire of revolt. No doubt David would be sorry, but that mattered little. Only it was better for the message to go by some one whose fate was of no consequence. So he picks out ‘the Cushite,’ probably an Ethiopian slave; and if David in his anguish should harm him, nobody will be hurt but a friendless stranger.

The Cushite gets his orders; and he too is, in another fashion, careless of their contents and effect. Without a word, he bows himself to Joab, and runs, as unconcerned as the paper of a letter that may break a heart. Ahimaaz still pleads to go, and, gaining leave, takes the road across the Jordan valley, which was probably easier, though longer; while the other messenger went by the hills, which was a shorter and rougher road.

II. The scene shifts to Mahanaim, where David had found refuge. He can scarcely have failed to take an omen from the name, which commemorated how another anxious heart had camped there, and been comforted, when it saw the vision of the encamping angels above its own feeble, undefended tents, and Jacob ‘called the name of that place Mahanaim’ {that is, ‘Two Camps’}. How the change of scene in the narrative helps its vividness, and makes us share in the strain of expectancy and the tension of watching the approaching messengers! The king, restless for news, has come out to the space between the outer and inner gates, and planted a lookout on the gate-house roof. The sharp eyes see a solitary figure making for the city, across the plain. David recognises that, since he is alone, he must be a messenger; and now the question is, What has he to tell? We see him coming nearer, and share the suspense. Then the second man appears; and clearly something more had happened, to require two. What was it? They run fast; but the moments are long till they arrive. The watchman recognises Ahimaaz by his style of running; and David wistfully tries to forecast his tidings from his character. It is a pathetic effort, and reveals how anxiously his heart was beating.

As soon as Ahimaaz is within earshot, though panting with running, no doubt, he shouts, with what breath is left, the one word, ‘Peace!’ and then, at David’s feet, tells the victory, ‘Blessed be the Lord thy God’; the triumph was Jehovah’s gift, and in it He had shown Himself David’s God, and vindicated His servant’s trust. But Ahimaaz is more devout and thankful than David. The king has neither praise and thankfulness to God nor to man. He has no pleasure in the victory; no interest in the details of the fight; no thankfulness for a restored kingdom; no word of eulogium for his soldiers; nothing but devouring anxiety for his unworthy son. How chilling to Ahimaaz, all flushed with eagerness, and proud of victory, and panting with running, and hungry for some word of praise, it must have been, to get for sole answer the question about Absalom! He shrinks from telling the whole truth, which, indeed, the Cushite was officially despatched to tell; but his enigmatic story of a great tumult as he left the field, of which he did not know the meaning, was meant to prepare for the bitter news. So he is bid to stand aside, and no words more vouchsafed to him. A cool reception, unworthy of David! As Ahimaaz stood there, neglected, he would think that the politic Joab was right after all.

The Cushite must have been close behind him, for he comes up as soon as the brief conversation is over. A deeper anxiety must have waited his tidings; for he must have something more to tell than victory. His first words add nothing to Ahimaaz’s information. What, then, had he come for? David forebodes evil, and, with the monotony of a man absorbed in one anxiety, repeats verbatim his former question. Poor king! He more than half knew the answer, before it was given. The Cushite with some tenderness veils the fate of Absalom in the wish that all the king’s enemies may be ‘as that young man is.’ But the veil was thin, and the attempt to console by reminding of the fact that the dead man was an enemy as well as a son, was swept away like a straw before the father’s torrent of grief.

III. The sobs of a broken heart cannot be analysed; and this wail of almost inarticulate agony, with its infinitely pathetic reiteration, is too sacred for many words. Grief, even if passionate, is not forbidden by religion; and David’s sensitive poet-nature felt all emotions keenly. We are meant to weep; else wherefore is there calamity? But there were elements in David’s mourning which were not good. It blinded him to blessings and to duties. His son was dead; but his rebellion was dead with him, and that should have been more present to his mind. His soldiers had fought well, and his first task should have been to honour and to thank them. He had no right to sink the king in the father, and Joab’s unfeeling remonstrance, which followed, was wise and true in substance, though rough almost to brutality in tone. Sorrow which sees none of the blue because of one cloud, however heavy and thunderous, is sinful. Sorrow which sits with folded hands, like the sisters of Lazarus, and lets duties drift, that it may indulge in the luxury of unrestrained tears, is sinful. There is no tone of ‘It is the Lord! let Him do what seemeth Him good,’ in this passionate plaint; and so there is no soothing for the grief. The one consolation lies in submission. Submissive tears wash the heart clean; rebellious ones blister it.

David’s grief was the bitter fruit of his own sin. He had weakly indulged Absalom, and had probably spared the rod, in the boy’s youth, as he certainly spared the sword when Absalom had murdered his brother. His own immorality had loosened the bonds of family purity, and made him ashamed to punish his children. He had let Absalom flaunt and swagger and live in luxury, and put no curb on him; and here was the end of his foolish softness. How many fathers and mothers are the destroyers of their children to-day in the very same fashion! That grave in the wood might teach parents how their fatal fondness may end. Children, too, may learn from David’s grief what an unworthy son can do to stuff his father’s pillow with thorns, and to break his heart at last.

But there is another side to this grief. It witnesses to the depth and self-sacrificing energy of a father’s love. The dead son’s faults are all forgotten and obliterated by death’s ‘effacing fingers.’ The headstrong, thankless rebel is, in David’s mind, a child again, and the happy old days of his innocence and love are all that remain in memory. The prodigal is still a son. The father’s love is immortal, and cannot be turned away by any faults. The father is willing to die for the disobedient child. Such purity and depth of affection lives in human hearts. So self-forgetting and incapable of being provoked is an earthly father’s love. May we not see in this disclosure of David’s paternal love, stripping it of its faults and excesses, some dim shadow of the greater love of God for His prodigals,-a love which cannot be dammed back or turned away by any sin, and which has found a way to fulfil David’s impossible wish, in that it has given Jesus Christ to die for His rebellious children, and so made them sharers of His own kingdom?2 Samuel 18:18. Now Absalom had reared up for himself a pillar — To preserve his name; where as it had been more for his honour if his name had been buried in perpetual oblivion. But this was the effect of that pride and vain glory, which were the chief causes of his ruin. Which is in the king’s dale — A place so called, near Jerusalem. For he said, I have no son — He had had three sons, (2 Samuel 14:27,) but it appears by this they were all now dead, or if any one of them was alive, he thought him unfit and unworthy to keep up his name and honour; and it was a remarkable dispensation of divine providence, that he, who struck at his father’s life, should be punished with the death of all his sons. It is called unto this day, &c. — That is, unto the time when this book was compiled. Indeed, to this day there is a monument, shown to travellers, called Absalom’s Pillar; but it is evidently of modern structure. In the time of Josephus, it was nothing more than a single marble pillar. Absalom’s Place — Hebrew, Absalom’s hand, that is, his work; made, though not by his hand, yet for him and his glory, and by his appointment. But this work of vanity soon became a memorial of reproach. “Strange power of guilt,” says Delaney, “which can, in one moment, turn all the devices of vanity, all the memorials of excellence, all the securities of fame, into monuments of infamy.” 18:9-18 Let young people look upon Absalom, hanging on a tree, accursed, forsaken of heaven and earth; there let them read the Lord's abhorrence of rebellion against parents. Nothing can preserve men from misery and contempt, but heavenly wisdom and the grace of God.The king's dale - Anciently the "valley" of "Shaveh" (marginal reference), and apparently in the near neighborhood of Sodom; but the exact site is not known. It quite agrees with Absalom's preference for Hebron 2 Samuel 15:7, that his monument should be reared by him in the south. If Absalom's monument be placed in the ravine of the Kedron, the "king's dale" here is a different place from the "dale of Shaveh."

Absalom's place - literally, "Absalom's hand." (1 Samuel 15:12 note.)

18. Absalom in his lifetime had reared up for himself a pillar—literally, "hand." In the valley of Jehoshaphat, on the east of Jerusalem, is a tomb or cenotaph, said to be this "pillar" or monument: it is twenty-four feet square, dome-topped, and reaches forty feet in height. This may occupy the spot, but cannot itself be the work of Absalom, as it evidently bears the style of a later architecture. A pillar, to preserve his name in memory; whereas it had been more for his honour if his name had been buried in perpetual oblivion. But this was the effect of his pride and vain-glory.

The king’s dale; a place near Jerusalem so called. Genesis 14:17.

He said, I have no son.

Object. He had three sons, 2 Samuel 14:27.

Answ. Either they were all now dead; or if one of them was left alive, he thought him unfit and unworthy to keep up his name and honour; or he erected this pillar before his sons were born. But the first opinion seems most probable; and it was a remarkable judgment of God, that he who struck at his father’s life, should be punished with the death of all his sons.

Absalom’s place, Heb. Absalom’s hand, i.e. his work, made though not by his hand, yet for him and his glory, and by his procurement. Now Absalom in his lifetime had taken,.... Had taken it into his head, had of himself devised it, as Kimchi explains it; he contrived the following scheme to perpetuate his memory:

and reared up for himself a pillar, which is in the king's dale: or valley, the valley of Jehoshaphat; this pillar was of marble, as Josephus (o) says, and stood about two furlongs or a quater mile from Jerusalem. The author of Cippi Hebraici (p) places it at the bottom of the mount of Olives: this is observed to show how vain are the devices and contrivances of men's hearts; Absalom intended to have been buried under or by this monumental pillar near Jerusalem, and, lo, he was buried in a pit, under an heap of stones, in a wood on the other side Jordan; whether his bones were ever removed hither it is not certain, though a notion has obtained that his grave was near this pillar. Rauwolff (q) says, that as you go from the valley of Jehoshaphat (r) to the Mount of Olives, you see below, towards your left hand, near unto the bridge of the river Kidron, an old square building like unto a steeple; this, although it is believed to this day, not only by Christians, but also by Turks and Moors, to be the grave of Absalom, as you shall see them fling stones into it as they go by, to revenge his unfaithfulness to his father, yet was he not buried there. Sandys (s) says, at the east end of the bridge (over Kidron), and a little on the north, stands the pillar of Absalom, being yet entire, and of a good fabric, rising in a lofty square, below adorned with half columns, wrought out of the sides and corners, of the Doric form; and then changing into a round, a good height higher doth grow to a point in fashion of a bell, all framed of the growing stone; against this there lies a great heap of stones, which increaseth daily, by Jews and Mahometans throwing stones as they pass by; so that the frontispiece of it, which faces the road, as Le Bruyn (t) says, looks like a mountain of stones; but as to the fabric itself, he says, there is not a finer piece of workmanship to be met with in all those parts; it takes up a compass of ground of eighty two feet and an half square; the body, which is square, with its moulding, is one entire piece; and the coping, which is an ornament to it, and runs up into a point, taken with the rest of the work, is above thirty feet high; twenty columns, cut out of the same rock, add to the beauty of this pile; one sees through a broken window a great many pieces of antiquity that hang up in a chamber. Adrichomius also relates (u), from travellers, that in the king's valley is now a tower, and a large heap of stones, which is increased every day more and more; for Heathens and strangers passing by there have a custom to cast everyone a stone at it, as it were revenging, according to the law, Absalom's rebellion against David his father, and curse him after this manner; let Absalom the parricide be cursed, and whoever unrighteously persecutes their parents are cursed for ever:

for he said, I have no son to keep my name in remembrance; for though he had three sons, it seems they were all dead, see 2 Samuel 14:27,

and he called the pillar after his own name, and it is called unto this day Absalom's place; or his "hand" (w), the work of his hand; some wrongly think it was in the form of an hand; it was an obelisk, or monument, erected to preserve his name; but since it became so infamous, it would have been better to have had it buried in oblivion. Such sepulchral monuments were used in other nations; so Minerva advised Telemachus (x) to go in quest of his father Ulysses, and if he could not find him, but was assured of his death, then to raise a signal or monument in memory of him, which he resolved to do.

(o) Antiqu l. 7. c. 10. sect. 3.((p) P. 26. Ed. Hotting. (q) Travels, part 3. c. 21. p. 310, 311. Ed. Ray. (r) So Benjamin. Itinerar. p. 43. (s) Travels, l. 3. p. 147. Ed. 5. (t) Voyage to the Levant, c. 48. p. 188. (u) Theatrum Terrae Sanet. p 174. (w) Sept. "manus", V. L. Montanus. (x) Homer. Odyss. 1. ver. 297. Odyss. 2. ver. 243.

Now Absalom in his lifetime had taken and reared up for himself a pillar, which is in the king's dale: for he said, I have no {f} son to keep my name in remembrance: and he called the pillar after his own name: and it is called unto this day, Absalom's place.

(f) It seemed that God had punished him by taking away his children, 2Sa 14:27.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
18. the king’s dale] In Genesis 14:17 “the king’s dale” is given as an alternative name for “the valley of Shaveh” in which the king of Sodom met Abram. But its situation is uncertain. Josephus (Antiq. VII. 10. 3) says that Absalom’s monument was two furlongs distant from Jerusalem, and in accordance with this statement the Tomb of Absalom is shewn in the valley of the Kidron. But this building is of Roman work; and it cannot even mark the site of Absalom’s monument, for the “king’s dale” was a broad open valley (Heb. êmek), not a narrow ravine like the Kidron (Heb. nachal).

I have no son] His three sons (ch. 2 Samuel 14:27) must have all died young.

Absalom’s place] Lit. Absalom’s hand, i.e. monument. Cp. 1 Samuel 15:12. The historian evidently intends to mark the contrast between this splendid cenotaph, and the heap of stones which marked the rebel’s grave in the forest of Ephraim.Verse 18. - Absalom... had taken and reared up for himself a pillar. In contrast with the heap of stones cast over his dishonoured body, the narrator calls attention to the costly memorial erected by Absalom in his lifetime. The three unnamed sons mentioned in 2 Samuel 14:27 seem to have died in their infancy, and probably also their mother; and Absalom, instead of taking other wives to bear him sons, which would have been in unison with the feelings of the time, manifested his grief by raising this monument. We have no reason for supposing that it was the result of vanity and ostentation. Ostentatious he was, and magnificent, but his not marrying again is a sign of genuine sorrow. The king's dale is "the Valley of Shaveh," mentioned in Genesis 14:17; but whether it was near Jerusalem, as Josephus asserts, or near Sodom, is uncertain. The pillar was probably an obelisk, or possibly a pyramid, and certainly was not the Ionic column of Roman workmanship shown in the Middle Ages and at the present time as "Absalom's grave." This is in the Kidron valley, about two furlongs from Jerusalem. Absalom's place; literally, Absalom's hand; that is, memorial (see note on 1 Samuel 15:12). But the man replied, "And I ... not weighing a thousand shekels in my hand ... might not stretch out my hand to the king's son," i.e., I could not do it for a reward of a thousand shekels. This is the meaning of the Chethib ולא; the Masoretes, on the other hand, have substituted ולוּ, which is the reading adopted in most of the ancient versions, and the one preferred by the majority of expositors: "if I weighed ... I would not," etc. But there is no necessity for this alteration, as the Chethib is quite in accordance with the character of the words. "For before our ears the king commanded" (cf. 2 Samuel 18:5): מי שׁמרוּ, "take care whoever (it be) of the boy Absalom." On this use of מי, see Ewald, 104, d., a. The Keri לי is merely a conjecture, notwithstanding the fact that all the versions follow it, and that one of the Codices in Kennicott has לי. "or," continued the man (2 Samuel 18:13), "should I have acted deceitfully towards his life (i.e., have slain him secretly, which he calls שׁקר, cheating, because it was opposed to the king's open command): and nothing remains hidden from the king; ... thou wouldst have set thyself in opposition to me," i.e., have risen up against me before the king. The middle clause is a circumstantial one, as the fact that וכל־דּבר is placed first clearly shows; so that it cannot be regarded as introducing the apodosis, which really follows in the clause commencing with ואתּה.
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