Now Joab the son of Zeruiah perceived that the king's heart was toward Absalom.2 Samuel 14:1. That the king’s heart was toward Absalom — That he longed to see him, and have him restored to his country; but was ashamed to show kindness to one whom God’s law and his own conscience obliged him to punish. He wanted, therefore, a fair pretence for it, with which Joab now furnished him.
And Joab sent to Tekoah, and fetched thence a wise woman, and said unto her, I pray thee, feign thyself to be a mourner, and put on now mourning apparel, and anoint not thyself with oil, but be as a woman that had a long time mourned for the dead:2 Samuel 14:2. Joab sent to Tekoah — A city in the tribe of Judah, about twelve miles south of Jerusalem. And fetched thence a wise woman — One whom he knew to be fit for such an undertaking, having good sense and a ready utterance; and said, I pray thee feign thyself to be a mourner — Who put on no ornaments, nor used any ointment, but appeared in a sordid, neglected condition. She was to assume this habit to heighten the idea of her distress, that her circumstances as a widow, her mournful tale, her dress, and her person, might make one united impression on the king, and secure his attention. She tells the king that she had buried her husband; that she had two sons that were the support and comfort of her widowed state; that they quarrelled, and fought, and one of them unhappily killed the other; that for her part, she was desirous to protect the man-slayer, for, as Rebekah argued concerning her two sons, Why should she be deprived of them both in one day? But though she, who was nearest of kin to the slain, was willing to let fall the demands of an avenger of blood, yet the other relations insisted upon it that the surviving brother should be put to death, according to the law; not out of affection either to justice or to the memory of the slain brother, but that, by destroying the heir, (which they did not conceal to be the thing they aimed at,) the inheritance might be theirs. The whole design of her speech was to frame a case similar to that of David, in order to convince him how much more reasonable it was to preserve Absalom. But there was great art in not making the similitude too plain and visible, lest the king should perceive the intention of the woman’s petition before she obtained a grant of pardon for her son. — Bishop Patrick.
And come to the king, and speak on this manner unto him. So Joab put the words in her mouth.
And when the woman of Tekoah spake to the king, she fell on her face to the ground, and did obeisance, and said, Help, O king.
And the king said unto her, What aileth thee? And she answered, I am indeed a widow woman, and mine husband is dead.
And thy handmaid had two sons, and they two strove together in the field, and there was none to part them, but the one smote the other, and slew him.
And, behold, the whole family is risen against thine handmaid, and they said, Deliver him that smote his brother, that we may kill him, for the life of his brother whom he slew; and we will destroy the heir also: and so they shall quench my coal which is left, and shall not leave to my husband neither name nor remainder upon the earth.2 Samuel 14:7. Deliver him, that we may kill him — Put him to death, as the law requires, Numbers 35:18-19. We will destroy the heir also — Take away his life, although he be the heir, or the only one remaining of the family. And so they shall quench my coal which is left — Deprive me of the little comfort of my life which remains, and ruin the only hope of my family. Shall leave to my husband neither name nor remainder — Shall utterly extinguish my husband’s memory. The reader will easily observe that there is a great difference between the supposed case of this widow and that of David, however plausible their likeness may appear. For her son, she pretended, was slain in a scuffle with his brother, and his death, therefore, was not a premeditated murder, as was the death of Amnon. It also happened in the field, where there were no witnesses, whether he was killed wilfully: whereas all the king’s sons saw Amnon designedly and barbarously murdered. And in the last particular the difference is as great as in either of the others. For David’s family was not in danger of being extinguished, if Absalom had been lost also; David having many children, and also many wives by whom he might have more.
And the king said unto the woman, Go to thine house, and I will give charge concerning thee.2 Samuel 14:8. The king said, Go to thy house, &c. — Notwithstanding the forementioned dissimilarity, the case was too like his own to suffer David to be unmoved; he soon felt her distress, and told her she might return to her house, and leave the care of her business to him; he would give proper directions about it. But not having yet obtained what she wanted, in seeming solicitude for her son, she added, O king, the iniquity be on me, and the king and his throne be guiltless — She means, either, 1st, If she had pressed the king to any thing in itself unjust, or in any way had misinformed him, or misrepresented the state of the case, she wished all the guilt of that iniquity, or misrepresentation, might fall upon her own head, and upon her family. Or, 2d, If, through the king’s forgetfulness, or neglect of her just cause, her adversaries should prevail and destroy her son, her desire was, that God would not lay it to the king’s charge, but rather to her and hers, so that the king might be exempted thereby. By her words, thus taken, she insinuates that such an omission would bring guilt upon him; and yet most decently so expresses herself as not to seem to blame or threaten him with any punishment from God on that account. This sense seems best to agree with David’s answer, which shows that she desired some further assurances of the king’s care.
And the woman of Tekoah said unto the king, My lord, O king, the iniquity be on me, and on my father's house: and the king and his throne be guiltless.
And the king said, Whosoever saith ought unto thee, bring him to me, and he shall not touch thee any more.
Then said she, I pray thee, let the king remember the LORD thy God, that thou wouldest not suffer the revengers of blood to destroy any more, lest they destroy my son. And he said, As the LORD liveth, there shall not one hair of thy son fall to the earth.2 Samuel 14:11. Let the king remember the Lord thy God — In whose presence thou hast made me this promise, to stay the avenger of blood from causing any further destruction in my family. She intended to draw him thus distantly and insensibly into the obligation of an oath: and her address had the desired effect; for the king, to convince her of the integrity of his intentions, immediately answered, As the Lord liveth, there shall not one hair of thy son fall to the ground.
Then the woman said, Let thine handmaid, I pray thee, speak one word unto my lord the king. And he said, Say on.2 Samuel 14:12-13. Then the woman said — Having gained this point, she begs leave to say one word more, which being granted, she immediately proceeds to expostulate with the king upon his own conduct, and unkindness to the people of God, in not pardoning his own son, and bringing him back from exile. Wherefore then — If thou wouldest not permit the avengers of blood to molest me, or to destroy my son, who are but two persons; how unreasonable is it that thou shouldest proceed in thy endeavours to avenge Amnon’s blood upon Absalom, whose death would be grievous to the whole commonwealth of Israel, all whose eyes are upon him as the heir of the crown, and a wise, and valiant, and amiable person, unhappy only in this one act of killing Amnon, which was done upon a high provocation, and whereof thou thyself didst give the occasion by permitting Amnon to go unpunished? The king doth speak as one that is faulty — By thy word, and promise, and oath, given to me for my son, thou condemnest thyself for not allowing the same equity toward thy own son. It is true, Absalom’s case, as we have observed, was widely different from that which she had supposed. But David was too well affected to him to remark that difference, and was more desirous than she could be to apply that favourable judgment to his own son which he had given concerning hers.
And the woman said, Wherefore then hast thou thought such a thing against the people of God? for the king doth speak this thing as one which is faulty, in that the king doth not fetch home again his banished.
For we must needs die, and are as water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again; neither doth God respect any person: yet doth he devise means, that his banished be not expelled from him.2 Samuel 14:14. For we must needs die — Some by one means, and some by another; death being the common lot of all men, Amnon must have died, if Absalom had not cut him off; and Absalom, if he do not die by the hand of justice, must die by the necessity of nature, and, if he be not recalled soon, may die in exile, which would undoubtedly be a great affliction both to thee, O king, and to the people of God. And thou thyself must die, and therefore art obliged to take care of the life of thy successor Absalom, and to endeavour to preserve it instead of taking it away, or exposing it to danger. For when dead, we are like water spilled on the ground which cannot be gathered up again — Amnon’s life is irrecoverable, and, therefore, it is in vain to keep Absalom in banishment on account of it: and if Absalom be cut off also, his life too will be lost, both to thee and to thy people. For God doth not respect any person — So far as to exempt him from this common lot of dying: but kings and their sons, in this respect, share the same fate with others. This, however, it must be acknowledged, was very weak reasoning; for by the same way of arguing every crime might be suffered to go unpunished. It must be observed here, that the Hebrew לא ישׂא נפשׁ, lo jissa nephesh, here rendered, doth not respect persons, is translated by Houbigant and many other learned men, according to the ancient versions, doth not take away the soul, or life. Thus understood, she argues from the sparing mercy of God, who does not immediately inflict the punishment of death when men have deserved it. And, probably, she meant this to be applied particularly to Absalom, whom God had not cut off, but suffered to live: and therefore she desires David to imitate God, and not to be inexorable to one to whom God had shown mercy. Yet doth he — Or, rather, BUT, he doth devise means that his banished be not expelled from him — She means, that God had provided many cities of refuge to which he that slew another unawares might flee; where, though he was banished from his habitation for a time, he was not quite expelled, but might return again after the death of the high-priest. From whence she argues, that kings being the images of God, nothing could more become them than clemency and mercy, in mitigating the punishment of offenders, though there should be a just cause of anger against them. But this case was still different from that of Absalom; for God was not so merciful as to provide for the safety of wilful murderers. But such specious arguments are good enough when men are willing to be persuaded.
Now therefore that I am come to speak of this thing unto my lord the king, it is because the people have made me afraid: and thy handmaid said, I will now speak unto the king; it may be that the king will perform the request of his handmaid.2 Samuel 14:15. Now, therefore, that I am come, &c. — “But here, apprehending she might have gone too far, and made too free with majesty, in expostulating so plainly upon a point of such importance, she excused this presumption, from the force put upon her by her people; who had so severely threatened her, that, in this extremity, she plainly saw she had no resource, or hope of relief, but in laying her son’s case before the king: which she, confiding in his mercy, had, at length, adventured to do.” — Delaney.
For the king will hear, to deliver his handmaid out of the hand of the man that would destroy me and my son together out of the inheritance of God.2 Samuel 14:16. For the king will hear — Clemency and kindness are the properties of a good king, and such a king, she insinuates, she knew David to be, who, she was persuaded, would grant her audience and acceptance. To deliver his handmaid, &c. — By granting her request concerning her son, in whose life, she intimates, her own was bound up, so that she could not outlive his death; supposing that David’s case might be similar, and therefore that this might touch him in a tender part, though it was not proper to say so expressly; and thereby suggesting, that the safety and comfort of the people of Israel depended on Absalom’s restoration. Out of the inheritance of God — That is, out of that land which God gave to his people, to be their inheritance, and in which alone he hath fixed the place of his presence and worship. Thus she artfully reminds the king how dangerous it was to let Absalom (unto whom she had ventured to apply her case) continue among idolaters, in a state of separation from God, his house, and people.
Then thine handmaid said, The word of my lord the king shall now be comfortable: for as an angel of God, so is my lord the king to discern good and bad: therefore the LORD thy God will be with thee.2 Samuel 14:17. The word of my lord the king shall now be comfortable — Upon reflection, she grew confident that the king’s answer would be according to her heart’s desire. For as an angel of God is my lord the king — In wisdom, justice, and goodness. To discern good and bad — To distinguish between reasonable and unreasonable petitions, and to know what is good and what evil, and understand every matter that comes before him. Therefore the Lord thy God will be with thee — To direct thee to judge aright, and show mercy: or, because thou art so wise and gracious to those who in strict justice deserve punishment. God will own and stand by thee in this thy act of grace: or, God will prosper thee in thy enterprises.
Then the king answered and said unto the woman, Hide not from me, I pray thee, the thing that I shall ask thee. And the woman said, Let my lord the king now speak.2 Samuel 14:18-19. The king said, Hide not from me, &c. — Observing the uncommon art and dexterity of her address in the management of this affair, the king immediately began to suspect it was a thing concerted between her and Joab, and asked, Is not the hand of Joab with thee in all this? — Hast thou not said and done all this by his direction? The woman said, None can turn, &c. — That is, it is even so: thou hast discovered the truth: and I will not seek by any turnings or windings, this way, or the other, to dissemble the matter, but will plainly confess it. He put these words into the mouth of thy handmaid — As to the sense and substance of them, but not as to all the expressions, for these were evidently varied as the king’s answer gave occasion.
And the king said, Is not the hand of Joab with thee in all this? And the woman answered and said, As thy soul liveth, my lord the king, none can turn to the right hand or to the left from ought that my lord the king hath spoken: for thy servant Joab, he bade me, and he put all these words in the mouth of thine handmaid:
To fetch about this form of speech hath thy servant Joab done this thing: and my lord is wise, according to the wisdom of an angel of God, to know all things that are in the earth.2 Samuel 14:20. To fetch about this form of speech — That is, to propose his and the people’s desire of Absalom’s restoration, in this parabolical manner. To know all things that are in the earth — Or, rather, in this land, in all thy kingdom; all the counsels and devices of thy subjects, and what is fit to be done in answer to their desires. She still persists in expressing her admiration of the king, that she might the more incline him to grant her request.
And the king said unto Joab, Behold now, I have done this thing: go therefore, bring the young man Absalom again.2 Samuel 14:21-22. The king said unto Joab — Joab seems to have stood in some part of the room all the while the woman was addressing the king; who, therefore, now turned himself from her to him as the principal agent in the business, and said, Behold, now I have done this thing — That is, the thing which thou hast contrived thus to ask. Joab fell to the ground on his face — With the politeness of a courier he returned thanks to the king, in the most fervent manner, as for the greatest obligation conferred upon himself; though, in fact, he had contrived it all to oblige the king, and give him pleasure. “A refinement of flattery and address,” says Delaney, “not easily equalled! The Jews,” he adds, “are generally considered as an illiterate, barbarous people: and the charge is so far just, that they despised the learning of other nations; but this by no means infers them either ignorant or barbarous. The single design and address of this device (the above similitude) are sufficient proofs, were there no other, to evince this people to have neither been unpolite nor uninformed.”
In that the king hath fulfilled the request of his servant — But was not David faulty in granting this request? Did he not, in so doing, act in direct opposition to the laws of God, which strictly command the supreme magistrate to execute justice upon all wilful murderers, without any reservation or exception? Genesis 9:6; Numbers 35:30. Surely David had no power to dispense with God’s laws, or to spare any whom God commanded him to destroy: for the laws of God bound the kings and rulers, as well as the people of Israel, as is most evident from Deuteronomy 17:18-19; and Joshua 1:8, and many other places. And, indeed, we may see David’s sin herein in the glass of those tremendous judgments of God which befell him by means of his indulgence to Absalom. For although God’s providential dispensations be in themselves no rule whereby to judge of the good or evil actions of men; yet where they accord with God’s word, and accomplish his threatenings, as in this case they did, they are to be considered as tokens of God’s displeasure. And how justly did God make this man, whom David had so sinfully spared, to become a scourge to him!
And Joab fell to the ground on his face, and bowed himself, and thanked the king: and Joab said, To day thy servant knoweth that I have found grace in thy sight, my lord, O king, in that the king hath fulfilled the request of his servant.
So Joab arose and went to Geshur, and brought Absalom to Jerusalem.2 Samuel 14:23. So Joab went, and brought Absalom to Jerusalem — “Well pleased, we may be assured, to be at once the messenger of his prince’s mercy to the heir apparent of his crown, and the instrument of their reconciliation: which could not fail to secure him a present fund of favour with the father, and an equal fund in reversion with the son.” — Delaney. St. Ambrose mentions this as an instance of the wonderful affection which parents have to their children, though degenerate and wicked; by which we may raise our thoughts to form some, although a very inadequate idea, of the inconceivable love of our heavenly Father toward the human race, his offspring, though fallen and depraved.
And the king said, Let him turn to his own house, and let him not see my face. So Absalom returned to his own house, and saw not the king's face.2 Samuel 14:24. The king said, Let him turn to his own house — Although the king so far forgave Absalom as to recall him from exile, yet he forbade him to see his face. For his affection to him did not so blind his eyes but he still saw it would not be for his honour to let him come into his presence, lest while he showed some mercy to him, he should seem to approve of his sin. Likewise, he hoped that by this means Absalom might be brought to a more thorough consideration of the heinousness of his crime, and to repentance for it. Indeed, such a discountenance and rebuke as this was necessary, not only to signify the king’s abhorrence of his late cruel revenge upon his brother, but “to mortify his pride and repress his popularity; which it seems now began to blaze out upon the news of his reconciliation to his father. And this may be the reason why the sacred historian subjoins to this account of the king’s discountenance a particular description of Absalom’s beauty, which is a natural and common foundation of popularity; and then adds an account of his having three sons, and one fair daughter, (whom he named after his unhappy sister, Tamar,) which was also another fountain of pride, popularity, and presumption.” — Delaney. He saw not the king’s face — Which was some humiliation to him; for hereby he saw he had not a full pardon, not being entirely restored to the king’s favour. The people also might see by this, in part, how detestable his crime was in the king’s account, and that he would not easily pass by the like in any other person, since he could not endure the sight of a son whose hands were defiled with the blood of his brother.
But in all Israel there was none to be so much praised as Absalom for his beauty: from the sole of his foot even to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him.2 Samuel 14:25. There was none to be so much praised as Absalom for his beauty — Which proved one occasion of his ruin; for he became proud because he was so much admired; and, forgetting his cruel murder of his brother, he began to rely on the people’s favour, and to proceed to the commission of a greater crime, even to seek the life of his father.
And when he polled his head, (for it was at every year's end that he polled it: because the hair was heavy on him, therefore he polled it:) he weighed the hair of his head at two hundred shekels after the king's weight.2 Samuel 14:26. When he polled his head, &c. — In those days hair was accounted a great ornament, and the longer it was, the more it was esteemed. And therefore it is no wonder that Absalom, who was proud, and courted popularity, should let his grow to a great length, as this rendered him still more beautiful in the people’s eyes. It was at every year’s end that he polled it — The Hebrew here,מקצ ימים לימים, mekets jamim lajamim, does not properly signify, at every year’s end, but rather, at the return of a certain season. Houbigant renders the passage, For there were certain seasons when he polled it, that he might deliver himself from the weight; and when he polled it, the weight was two hundred shekels. This weight of hair, if computed by the Jewish shekel, according to Bochart, amounts to three pounds two ounces of our weight, which certainly is prodigious, considering that only a part of it was cut off, on account of its being grown too long. Some, however, understand the expression, not of the weight, but of the price of his hair. But the remark of Bishop Patrick here seems worthy of notice: That, “when the books of Samuel were revised, after the Babylonish captivity, such weights were mentioned as were then known to them; and therefore, when the historian speaks of this weight of Absalom’s hair, he adds, by way of explanation, that it was after the king’s weight — That is, after the weight of the king of Babylon, whose shekel was only one-third of that of the Jews; and thus this large quantity of hair, which has given so much occasion to the enemies of revelation to ridicule the sacred text, is reduced so as not to seem at all enormous. Besides, we should recollect that the hair, being in those days reckoned a great ornament, was perfumed with large quantities of fragrant oils, and powdered with gold-dust, which would make it more heavy than we could otherwise imagine; and further we should remark, that it is very evident from the peculiar manner in which it is mentioned in the sacred text, that there must have been something extremely singular, even at that time, in this large quantity of Absalom’s hair.” — See Dr. Dodd, and Saurin’s 5th Dissert.
And unto Absalom there were born three sons, and one daughter, whose name was Tamar: she was a woman of a fair countenance.
So Absalom dwelt two full years in Jerusalem, and saw not the king's face.
Therefore Absalom sent for Joab, to have sent him to the king; but he would not come to him: and when he sent again the second time, he would not come.2 Samuel 14:29. Absalom sent for Joab — This vain young man, whose only excellence seems to have been his singular beauty, weary with being so long detained in that confinement and obscurity, so mortifying to his pride, and so unfriendly to his popularity, sent a messenger to Joab, to desire to speak with him, in order to prevail upon him to solicit, by his intercession with the king, to be admitted to his presence. But he would not come to him — “The reader little versed in courts is apt to be surprised to see Joab so zealous to get Absalom recalled from exile, and afterward so cold and indifferent to have him re-established in his father’s favour. The truth is, when Joab had greatly gratified the king and gained credit with him, by bringing back Absalom to Jerusalem, he had little reason, as a minister, to be solicitous to bring him near the king’s person, and restore him to full favour; because, in that case, he might naturally apprehend that Absalom’s interest with his father might impair his own.”
Therefore he said unto his servants, See, Joab's field is near mine, and he hath barley there; go and set it on fire. And Absalom's servants set the field on fire.2 Samuel 14:30. Go and set it on fire — Absalom’s ambition could but ill endure Joab’s coldness and delay, and therefore he ordered this extraordinary step to be taken that he might be set right with his father, a step which showed him determined to go any lengths, rather than fall short of his ambitious aims. For he that could order his friend’s field, and that friend so great a man as Joab, and his near kinsman, to be set on fire, barely that he might be admitted to court, would little scruple to set his country in a flame (if the expression may be allowed) to be raised to a crown. See Delaney. Absalom’s servants set the field on fire — For he had still those about him who were ready to execute any command, though ever so unjust, as his servants did when he bade them kill Amnon.
Then Joab arose, and came to Absalom unto his house, and said unto him, Wherefore have thy servants set my field on fire?2 Samuel 14:31. Joab arose and came to Absalom — It may seem strange that so furious a man as Joab should not immediately revenge himself by ordering Absalom’s fields to be burned, or in some such way; but he was so wise as to consider, that, being the king’s son, Absalom might, some time or other, be reconciled to his father, and do him a prejudice. He therefore concealed his resentment, and only expostulated with him on the injury done him.
And Absalom answered Joab, Behold, I sent unto thee, saying, Come hither, that I may send thee to the king, to say, Wherefore am I come from Geshur? it had been good for me to have been there still: now therefore let me see the king's face; and if there be any iniquity in me, let him kill me.2 Samuel 14:32. If there be iniquity in me — He could not but know that there was iniquity in him, heinous iniquity: but he pretends if the king would not pardon it, and admit him into his presence, he had rather die. Let him kill me — For it is better for me to die than be deprived of the sight and favour of my dear father. Thus he insinuates himself into his father’s affections, by pretending such respect and love to him. See how easily even wise parents may be imposed upon by their children, when they are blindly fond of them!
So Joab came to the king, and told him: and when he had called for Absalom, he came to the king, and bowed himself on his face to the ground before the king: and the king kissed Absalom.2 Samuel 14:33. So Joab came to the king — Absalom’s impetuosity prevailed: these passionate expressions that he was weary of life, while he continued to be debarred his father’s presence; nay, that he desired to die so he might but see him, moved Joab to intercede with the king for him, and he was admitted into the royal presence, where he did obeisance, humbling himself before the king with his face to the ground. And the king kissed Absalom — In token of reconciliation. Josephus says, the king raised him up from the ground, and promised him an oblivion of what was past; which was a great weakness in David; for the impenitent become only more wicked by the pardon of their offences; as we find Absalom did, who, being thus received into the king’s favour, soon found means to ingratiate himself with the people, and raise a rebellion against his own father who had thus graciously pardoned him. But we may here properly ask, with Henry, “Did the bowels of a father prevail to reconcile him to an impenitent son, and shall penitent sinners question the compassion of Him who is the Father of mercy? If Ephraim bemoan himself, God soon bemoans him, with all the expressions of fatherly tenderness: He is a dear son, a pleasant child,” Jeremiah 31:20.