2 Samuel 15:7
And it came to pass after forty years, that Absalom said unto the king, I pray thee, let me go and pay my vow, which I have vowed unto the LORD, in Hebron.
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(7) After forty years.—The reading is certainly incorrect. Absalom was born after David began his reign in Hebron, and his whole reign was only forty years. Absalom therefore was not yet forty at his death. The reading found in the Syriac and most MSS. of the Vulgate, and adopted by Josephus, four years, is probably correct. It remains uncertain from what point this four years is to be reckoned; probably it is from Absalom’s return to Jerusalem.

Pay my vow . . . in Hebron.—We have no means of knowing whether this vow was real or fictitious; certainly Absalom now uses it as a pretext, and yet there is nothing improbable in his having actually made such a vow during his exile. Hebron was the place of his birth and childhood, as well as a holy city from very ancient times, and was thus a suitable place for the performance of his vow; it was also at a convenient distance from Jerusalem, and had been the royal city of David for the first seven years of his reign. It was thus well adapted to be the starting place of Absalom’s rebellion, and it is not unlikely, moreover, that the men of Hebron may have resented the transfer of the capital to Jerusalem, and therefore have lent a willing ear to Absalom. Like many other culprits, Absalom veils his crime under the cloak of religion, pretending submission to his father, and receiving his blessing at the very moment when he is striking at his crown and his life.

2 Samuel 15:7. After forty years — That is, as some say, from the change of the government into a monarchy, which change took place about ten years before David began to reign. So that this fell out about the thirtieth year of his reign. But the Syriac and Arabic, whom Houbigant follows, read, After four years; that is, from the time of his father’s reconciliation with him. Josephus, Theodoret, the manuscripts mentioned in the Benedictine edition of Jerome’s version, the canon of the Hebrew verity, (supposed to be made about the ninth century, and altered by some correcting hand,) the reading of the famous Latin Bible of Sextus, the Latin manuscript in Exeter college library, marked C. 2. 13., and the ancient Latin manuscript written in Gothic characters, the variations of which are published in Blanchini’s Vindiciæ, all have it, four; so that Grotius, and, after him, Patrick, were well supported in having pronounced so decisively, that it would admit of no doubt that an error had crept into the text, and that instead of ארבעים, arbagnim, forty, should be read ארבע, arbang, four. See Kennicott’s Dissert., vol. 2. p. 358, and Houbigant’s note. Let me go and pay my vow which I have vowed to the Lord in Hebron — To wit, to perform there by some solemn sacrifice. As Delaney is of opinion that a very grievous sickness of David gave Absalom occasion to take the forementioned steps, so he thinks that his father’s unexpected recovery, perhaps through God’s extraordinary influence, broke Absalom’s measures for some time, and made him postpone his wicked purpose. In the mean time, his popularity had all the field he could wish. As all the people of Israel resorted to Jerusalem thrice in every year, on the three solemn festivals, he had so often an opportunity of paying his court, and insinuating his poison, till the infection spread through the whole body of the realm, and wanted nothing but a fair occasion to display itself in all its malignity, which Absalom sought by going to Hebron.

15:7-12 See how willing tender parents are to believe the best concerning their children. But how easy and how wicked is it, for children to take advantage of good parents, and to deceive them with the show of religion! The principal men of Jerusalem joined Absalom's feast upon his sacrifice. Pious persons are glad to see others appear religious, and this gives occasion for deceptions. The policy of wicked men, and the subtlety of Satan, are exerted to draw good persons to countenance base designs.Forty years - An obvious clerical error, though a very ancient one for four years, which may date from Absalom's return from Geshur, or from his reconciliation with David, or from the commencement of the criminal schemes to which 2 Samuel 15:1 refers.

Hebron - This, as having been the old capital of David's kingdom and Absalom's birthplace, was well chosen. It was a natural center, had probably many inhabitants discontented at the transfer of the government to Jerusalem, and contained many of the friends of Absalom's youth. As the place of his birth (compare 1 Samuel 20:6), it afforded a plausible pretext for holding there the great sacrificial feast ("the serving the Lord," 2 Samuel 15:8), which Absalom pretended to have vowed to hold to the glory of God.

7-9. after forty years—It is generally admitted that an error has here crept into the text, and that instead of "forty," we should read with the Syriac and Arabic versions, and Josephus, "four years"—that is, after Absalom's return to Jerusalem, and his beginning to practice the base arts of gaining popularity.

my vow, which I have vowed unto the Lord—during his exile in Geshur. The purport of it was, that whenever God's providence should pave the way for his re-establishment in Jerusalem, he would offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving. Hebron was the spot selected for the performance of this vow, ostensibly as being his native place (2Sa 3:3), and a famous high place, where sacrifices were frequently offered before the temple was built; but really as being in many respects the most suitable for the commencement of his rebellious enterprise. David, who always encouraged piety and desired to see religious engagements punctually performed, gave his consent and his blessing.

After forty years.

Quest. Whence are these to be computed?

Answ. Not from Absalom’s birth; for he was born in Hebron some considerable time after David had begun his reign, 2 Samuel 3:3, much less from the time of his vow made, or of his return from banishment; but either, first, From the time of David’s election or designation to the kingdom. 1 Samuel 16:13. Or, secondly, From the beginning of Saul’s reign; which being a solemn time, and observable for the change of the government in Israel, might very fitly be made an epochs, from which the computation or account of times begin; as the Greeks and Romans began their accounts in the same manner, and upon the same ground. Or rather, thirdly, From the beginning of David’s reign, who reigned forty years; and so the words may be rendered, about or towards the end of forty years, i. e. in the beginning of the fortieth year. And so this very phrase is used Deu 15:1, At the end of every seven years, i.e. in the seventh year, even from the beginning of it, as is manifested and confessed. So in a like expression, After three days will I rise again, Mark 8:31, i.e. on the beginning of the third day, when Christ did rise; the number of three days being then completed when the third day is begun. And the forty years are here expressed as one motive or inducement to Absalom to rebel, because now his father’s end grew near; and one of the Hebrew doctors affirms, that there was a tradition, or rumour, or prediction, that David should reign but forty years. And Absalom might easily understand that David intended to decline him, and to make Solomon his successor, as well by the conscience of his own wickedness and unfitness for so great a trust, as by that eminent wisdom and piety which appeared in Solomon in his tender years, and that great respect and affection which his father must needs have and manifest to him upon this account, and by that promise and oath given to Bathsheba concerning his succession mentioned 1 Kings 1:30, but made before that time, which also might come to Absalom’s ear. Against this opinion two things are objected: first, That David was in the time of this rebellion a strong man, for he marched on foot, 2 Samuel 15:30, whereas in his last year he was very infirm and bedrid. Secondly, That after this rebellion was ended divers other things happened, as the three years’ famine, 2 Samuel 21:1, and other things following in the history. But it may be answered to the first, that David might in the beginning of his last year have so much strength and vigour left as to march on foot, especially when he did so humble and afflict himself, as it is apparent he did, 2 Samuel 15:30; and yet through his tedious marches, and the tormenting cares, fears, and griefs of his soul for Absalom, might be so strangely and suddenly impaired, as in the end of the same year to be very feeble and bedrid, it being a very common accident, especially in old men, and upon extraordinary occasions, to languish and decline exceedingly, and to fall from some competent degree of health and rigour, to be very infirm and bedrid, and that in the space of a few months. And to the second objection, That those histories related 2Sa 21, &c., though they be placed after this rebellion, yet indeed were done before it; the proof of which see on 2 Samuel 21:1. For it is so confessed and evident, that things are not always placed in the same order in which they were done, that it is a rule of the Hebrews, and approved by other learned men, Non datur pri us et posterius in Saetia literis; that is, There is no first and last in the order of Scripture relations. And here is a plain reason for this transplacing of this history, which is allowed in other like cases, that when once the history of Tamar’s rape had been mentioned, it was very fit to subjoin the relation of all the mischiefs which followed upon that occasion. If any infidel will yet cavil with this text and number of years, let him know, that instead of forty, the Syriac, and Arabic, and Josephus the Jew read four years; and that it is much more rational to acknowledge an error of the scribe, who copied out the sacred text, than upon so frivolous a ground to question the Divine authority of the Holy Scriptures. And that some men choose the latter way rather than the former, is an evidence that they are infidels by the choice of their wills, more than by the strength of their reasons.

Let me go and pay my vow: he pretends piety, which he knew would please his father, and easily procure his consent.

Hebron is mentioned as the place, not where the vow was made, for that was at Geshur, 2 Samuel 15:8, but where he intended to perform it. The pretence for which was, that he was born in this place, 2 Samuel 3:3, and that here was a famous high place; and, till the temple was built, it was permitted to sacrifice upon the high places.

And it came to pass after forty years,.... Or four years; so long it was from the reconciliation of Absalom to David, as Josephus (f) says; and so read Theodoret on the place, the Syriac and Arabic versions: but some say it was either forty years from the time Israel first had a king; and which might be an era of reckoning with the Jews, as the era of Seleucidae was with the Greeks, on the like account; or from the time Saul slew the priests at Nob, as Jerom (g); or from the time of David's being anointed by Samuel; or this was the year of Absalom's age, or of David's reign: but these, and other attempts made to account for this passage, are not entirely satisfactory; and therefore one may be tempted to conclude there must be a mistake in the copy, of "arbaim" for "arba", forty for four; which makes it quite easy, and confirms the first sense:

that Absalom said unto the king, I pray thee, let me go and pay my vow,

which I have vowed unto the Lord, in Hebron; not what he vowed in Hebron; for according to his own account he had vowed it in Geshur, as in 2 Samuel 15:8; but his request is, that he might pay it in Hebron; which place he fixed upon, being his native place, and where David was anointed king; and which, being about twenty miles from Jerusalem, was at a proper distance to lay the scene of his conspiracy in, and bring it to perfection.

(f) Antiqu. l. 7. c. 9. sect. 1.((g) Trad. Heb. in 2 lib. Reg. fol. 78. M.

And it came to pass after {e} forty years, that Absalom said unto the king, I pray thee, let me go and pay my vow, which I have vowed unto the LORD, in Hebron.

(e) Counting from the time that the Israelites had asked a king of Samuel.

7–12. Absalom’s conspiracy

7. after forty years] There is no obvious date from which forty years could be reckoned in this way without specifying what point of time was intended. In place of forty we must read four with Josephus and some of the ancient versions. The four years are to be reckoned in all probability from the time of Absalom’s reconciliation to David. They were spent in preparing for the conspiracy by ingratiating himself with the people in the way described in the preceding verses.

in Hebron] The fact that Hebron was his birth-place would make the wish to pay his vow there instead of at Jerusalem seem sufficiently natural.

Verse 7. - After forty years. As Absalom was born in Hebron after David was made king (2 Samuel 3:3), and as David's whole reign lasted only forty years and six months, the reading "forty" is evidently incorrect. Suggestions, such, for instance, as that the forty years are to be reckoned from the desire of the Israelites to have a king, or from the anointing of David by Samuel, are merely methods of evading a difficulty. The Syriac, however, and the Vulgate - except the Codex Amiatinus, which reads "forty," supported by Josephus and some manuscripts have "four years," which would give ample, yet not too long, time for the growth of Absalom's popularity, and of dissatisfaction at David's tardy administration of justice. In Hebron. Absalom chose this town, beth as being his birthplace, and also because it was on the road to Geshur (1 Samuel 27:8), whither flight might be necessary should the enterprise fail. He hoped also to win to his cause some of the powerful tribe of Judah, though it generally was the mainstay of David's throne. Local sacrifices were still customary (see note on 1 Samuel 16:2), and the visit of the king's son for such a purpose would be celebrated by a general holiday and much feasting at Hebron. As Ewald remarks, David's confidence and want of suspicion were the results of a noble-minded generosity. And besides, there was no state police ever on the watch, and ready to put an unfavourable construction on all that was done; and probably David was even pleased at his son's popularity, and took his professions as proof that he would be a just and wise ruler on succeeding to his father's place. Perhaps, too, he was glad at this indication of religious feeling on Absalom's part; for a father is sure to look on the better side of his son's acts. He had been tardy enough in fulfilling his vow, but it seemed to David that conscience had at last prevailed, and that right was to be done. 2 Samuel 15:7Absalom's rebellion. - 2 Samuel 15:7, 2 Samuel 15:8. After the lapse of forty (?) years Absalom said to the king, "Pray I will go (i.e., pray allow me to go) and perform a vow in Hebron which I vowed to the Lord during my stay at Geshur" (2 Samuel 15:8). The number forty is altogether unsuitable, as it cannot possibly be understood either as relating to the age of Absalom or to the year of David's reign: for Absalom was born at Hebron after David had begun to reign, and David only reigned forty years and a half in all, and Absalom's rebellion certainly did not take place in the last few weeks of his reign. It is quite as inappropriate to assume, as the terminus a quo of the forty years, either the commencement of Saul's reign, as several of the Rabbins have done, as well as the author of the marginal note in Cod. 380 of De Rossi (שאול למלכות), or the anointing of David at Bethlehem, as Luther (in the marginal note) and Lightfoot do; for the word "after" evidently refers to some event in the life of Absalom, to which allusion has previously been made, namely, either to the time of his reconciliation with David (2 Samuel 14:33), or (what is not so probable) to the period of his return from Geshur to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 14:23). Consequently the reading adopted by the Syriac, Arabic, and Vulgate, also by Theodoret and others, viz., "four years," must certainly be the correct one, and not "forty days," which we find in Codd. 70 and 96 in Kennicott, since forty days would be far too short a time for maturing the rebellion. It is true, that with the reading ארבּע we should expect, as a rule, the plural שׁנים. At the same time, the numbers from two to ten are sometimes construed with a singular noun (e.g., 2 Kings 22:1; cf. Gesenius, 120, 2). The pretended vow was, that if Jehovah would bring him back to Jerusalem, he would serve Jehovah. את־יהוה עבד, "to do a service to Jehovah," can only mean to offer a sacrifice, which is the explanation given by Josephus. The Chethib ישׁיב is not the infinitive, but the imperfect Hiphil: si reduxerit, reduxerit me, which is employed in an unusual manner instead of the inf. absol., for the sake of emphasis. The Keri ישׁוּב would have to be taken as an adverb "again;" but this is quite unnecessary.
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