And David numbered the people that were with him, and set captains of thousands and captains of hundreds over them.2 Samuel 18:1-3. David numbered the people that were with him — Which had flocked to him thither, so as to make up a small army. And finding himself sufficiently strong to go against the enemy, he resolved not to wait their coming, but to give the assault; and accordingly marched his forces out of the city, dividing them into three parts, and setting a captain over each, one of whom, however, Joab, was, doubtless, also general of the whole army. I will surely go forth with you myself also — Which he thought would be a great encouragement to them, and cause them to fight the more valiantly. The people answered, Thou shalt not go with us — They did not think it advisable that he should hazard his life, on the preservation of which their common cause, in a great measure, depended; signifying that if they should be routed, and half of them slain, Absalom would not think himself a conqueror as long as David was alive, who might raise new forces and give him battle again. Indeed it was Absalom’s great error, and the utter ruin of himself and his cause, to go to battle in his own person, an error into which he was drawn by a divine infatuation, through Hushai’s craft. Now thou art worth ten thousand of us — Not only for the dignity of thy person, but also for the importance of our common cause, which, if thou art slain, is irrecoverably lost. It is better that thou succour us out of the city — By sending us supplies of men and provisions of all sorts, together with counsel and advice, as we shall have occasion; and by securing our retreat if we be defeated.
And David sent forth a third part of the people under the hand of Joab, and a third part under the hand of Abishai the son of Zeruiah, Joab's brother, and a third part under the hand of Ittai the Gittite. And the king said unto the people, I will surely go forth with you myself also.
But the people answered, Thou shalt not go forth: for if we flee away, they will not care for us; neither if half of us die, will they care for us: but now thou art worth ten thousand of us: therefore now it is better that thou succour us out of the city.
And the king said unto them, What seemeth you best I will do. And the king stood by the gate side, and all the people came out by hundreds and by thousands.
And the king commanded Joab and Abishai and Ittai, saying, Deal gently for my sake with the young man, even with Absalom. And all the people heard when the king gave all the captains charge concerning Absalom.2 Samuel 18:5. Deal gently for my sake, &c. — If you conquer, (which he expected they would, from God’s gracious answer to his prayer, in turning Ahithophel’s counsel into foolishness,) take him prisoner, but do not kill him. Which desire proceeded from his great indulgence toward his children; from his consciousness that he himself was the meritorious cause of this rebellion, Absalom being given up to it for the punishment of David’s sins; from the consideration of Absalom’s youth, which commonly makes men foolish, and subject to ill counsels; and from David’s own piety, being loath that his son should be cut off in the act of his sin without any space for repentance. But “what means,” says Bishop Hall, “this ill-placed mercy? Deal gently with a traitor? Of all traitors, with a son? And all this for my sake, whose crown, whose blood he hunts after? Even in the holiest parents, nature may be guilty of an injurious tenderness. But was not this done in type of that unmeasurable mercy of the true King of Israel, who prayed for his murderers, Father, forgive them! Deal gently with them for my sake!” Yea, when God sends an affliction to correct his children, it is with this charge, Deal gently with them for my sake: for he knows our frame.
So the people went out into the field against Israel: and the battle was in the wood of Ephraim;
Where the people of Israel were slain before the servants of David, and there was there a great slaughter that day of twenty thousand men.
For the battle was there scattered over the face of all the country: and the wood devoured more people that day than the sword devoured.2 Samuel 18:8. The battle was scattered over all the country — In that neighbourhood; both in the field and in the wood. The wood devoured more people than the sword — Some think the wood is said to devour them because they fell into pits, or stumbled upon stumps of trees, or pressed one another to death, as they came into strait places, or were killed by wild beasts. But the most natural meaning of the words is, that there were more slain in the wood, into which Absalom’s men fled, than in the open field; that is, more in their flight, which was stopped by the wood, than in the battle.
And Absalom met the servants of David. And Absalom rode upon a mule, and the mule went under the thick boughs of a great oak, and his head caught hold of the oak, and he was taken up between the heaven and the earth; and the mule that was under him went away.2 Samuel 18:9. Absalom met the servants of David — Who, according to David’s command, spared him, and gave him an opportunity to escape. But whom they would not arrest, the divine vengeance arrested. For the mule, on which he rode, went under the thick boughs of a great oak, and his head caught hold of the oak — Probably he was entangled by the hair of his head, which, being long and thick, might easily catch hold of a bough. For it is likely he either wore no helmet, or he had thrown it away, as well as his other arms, to hasten his flight. Thus the matter of his pride was made the instrument of his ruin. Some think his neck stuck fast between two boughs, or arms, of this oak, and was so wedged in by the swift motion of his mule that he was not able to disentangle himself; but yet, that, by the help of his hands, he so supported himself as not to be strangled.
And a certain man saw it, and told Joab, and said, Behold, I saw Absalom hanged in an oak.
And Joab said unto the man that told him, And, behold, thou sawest him, and why didst thou not smite him there to the ground? and I would have given thee ten shekels of silver, and a girdle.
And the man said unto Joab, Though I should receive a thousand shekels of silver in mine hand, yet would I not put forth mine hand against the king's son: for in our hearing the king charged thee and Abishai and Ittai, saying, Beware that none touch the young man Absalom.
Otherwise I should have wrought falsehood against mine own life: for there is no matter hid from the king, and thou thyself wouldest have set thyself against me.2 Samuel 18:13. I should have wrought falsehood against my own life — Not only have been false and disobedient to the king, but should have betrayed my own life, and therefore not have been true to myself. For there is no matter hid from the king — This, as all other things, would certainly have come to the king’s ear. Thou thyself wouldest have set thyself against me — Thou wouldest have been my adversary and accuser, both because it would have been thy duty to be so, and to vindicate thyself from any blame in the matter. He knew the disposition of Joab so well, that he was sure that general would have been as forward as any one both to inform the king of what had been done, and to have had the person punished who did it, for disobeying his sovereign.
Then said Joab, I may not tarry thus with thee. And he took three darts in his hand, and thrust them through the heart of Absalom, while he was yet alive in the midst of the oak.2 Samuel 18:14-15. I may not tarry thus with thee — I must not lose time in contending with thee, till I let the occasion slip. And thrust them through the heart of Absalom — Not through the part properly so called, (for then he would have died immediately, and there would have been no need for his soldiers to fall upon him as they afterward did, 2 Samuel 18:15,) but through the midst of his body, which did not kill him outright, but some life still remained in him. Ten young men that bare Joab’s armour — Who waited upon his person as general of the army; smote Absalom and slew him — By Joab’s command, who probably judged that there could be no safety to the king, nor peace to the kingdom, nor security to himself, and David’s friends and other loyal subjects, or to any good men, if Absalom was suffered to live. For he thought that some unquiet people, who were deeply engaged in this rebellion, would soon take occasion to move new disturbances to set him on the throne, which Absalom would be very ready to encourage. Therefore, knowing that he had been guilty of several crimes which the law of God made capital, especially of committing incest with his father’s concubines, and raising an unnatural rebellion against him, with a design to rob him both of his kingdom and his life; Joab did, not as David commanded, but as, he imagined, he ought to have commanded. “Thus fell,” says Delaney, “this cruel, this murderous, this incestuous parricide! and with him, twenty thousand of his rebel adherents.” So much mischief may one restless, interested man do in his country! and such ruin may his ambition bring upon it! We do not, however, intend, by these observations, to plead Joab’s justification in the act of direct disobedience to his sovereign’s orders, but leave the reader to form his own judgment of the matter.
And ten young men that bare Joab's armour compassed about and smote Absalom, and slew him.
And Joab blew the trumpet, and the people returned from pursuing after Israel: for Joab held back the people.2 Samuel 18:16. Joab blew the trumpet, and the people returned — He knew Absalom’s men had been drawn unthinkingly into this rebellion, and would return to their duty, now they had none to head them. For Joab held back the people — Who otherwise, being highly incensed against the rebels, would have hotly pursued, and made still greater slaughter among them. In this Joab acted like a wise and merciful man, who wished to stop the further effusion of Israelitish blood.
And they took Absalom, and cast him into a great pit in the wood, and laid a very great heap of stones upon him: and all Israel fled every one to his tent.2 Samuel 18:17. They took Absalom and cast him into a great pit — They would not bring his body to be disposed of by his father’s order, lest it should excite his grief to excess. And laid a very great heap of stones upon him — As a lasting monument of his sin and shame, and of the righteous judgment of God upon him. Thus the Israelites treated the dead body of Achan, and those of the king of Ai, and the five kings of the Amorites. See Joshua 7:26; Joshua 8:29; Joshua 10:27. Absalom was, in a sort, first hanged, which was an accursed death, and then thrust through with darts and swords; and, after all, in a manner stoned, which was a proper punishment of a rebellious son, Deuteronomy 21:21-23. Adricomius, in his description of the Holy Land, according to Bishop Patrick, says, that this heap remained to his days, and that all travellers, as they went by it, were wont to throw a stone to add to the heap, in detestation of his rebellion against his father. And all Israel fled every one to his tent — To their houses and dwellings, to avoid the shame and punishment of their rebellion.
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 unto this day, Absalom's place.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.”
Then said Ahimaaz the son of Zadok, Let me now run, and bear the king tidings, how that the LORD hath avenged him of his enemies.2 Samuel 18:19-20. Let me now run — Ahimaaz wished to be made the messenger of this good success to the king; but Joab, who loved him, and knew how disagreeable the account of Absalom’s death would be to David, refused to let him be the bearer of such unwelcome news. Thou shalt bear no tidings, because the king’s son is dead — Thou shalt not be a messenger of evil tidings; they will be unwelcome to the king, and procure no good to thee.
And Joab said unto him, Thou shalt not bear tidings this day, but thou shalt bear tidings another day: but this day thou shalt bear no tidings, because the king's son is dead.
Then said Joab to Cushi, Go tell the king what thou hast seen. And Cushi bowed himself unto Joab, and ran.
Then said Ahimaaz the son of Zadok yet again to Joab, But howsoever, let me, I pray thee, also run after Cushi. And Joab said, Wherefore wilt thou run, my son, seeing that thou hast no tidings ready?2 Samuel 18:22. Wherefore wilt thou run, my son? — So he terms him, both with respect to his younger years, and to that true and tender affection which he had for him. Seeing thou hast no tidings ready — Art not acquainted with the particulars of the fight, of which I have not time to inform thee.
But howsoever, said he, let me run. And he said unto him, Run. Then Ahimaaz ran by the way of the plain, and overran Cushi.
And David sat between the two gates: and the watchman went up to the roof over the gate unto the wall, and lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold a man running alone.2 Samuel 18:24. David sat between the two gates — It is probable the gates of cities then were, as they now generally are, large and thick, and that, for greater security, they had two gates, one more outward, and the other inward. Here the king sat, that he might hear tidings as soon as they came to the city.
And the watchman cried, and told the king. And the king said, If he be alone, there is tidings in his mouth. And he came apace, and drew near.2 Samuel 18:25. If he be alone, there are tidings in his mouth — He is sent with some special message, which was a very probable conjecture, and that he brought good news; for if he had run, or fled from the enemy, many others would have followed him.
And the watchman saw another man running: and the watchman called unto the porter, and said, Behold another man running alone. And the king said, He also bringeth tidings.
And the watchman said, Me thinketh the running of the foremost is like the running of Ahimaaz the son of Zadok. And the king said, He is a good man, and cometh with good tidings.2 Samuel 18:27-29. He is a good man, and cometh with good tidings — He is true to my interest, and loves me well, and therefore would not afflict me with evil tidings. Blessed be the Lord thy God, which hath delivered. &c. — Like a truly religious man, he ascribes the victory which they had obtained unto the Lord; who still showed his mercy unto David, and continued to be his God and benefactor. Is the young man Absalom safe? — David is so much a father that he forgets he is a king; and therefore cannot rejoice in the news of victory till he knows whether his son be safe; for whom his heart trembled, almost as much as Eli’s, in a like case, for the ark of God. Ahimaaz answered, When Joab sent the king’s servant — That is, Cushi, who appears by this to have been one belonging to the court; I saw a great tumult, but I knew not what it was — He dissembled his knowledge of Absalom’s death; and perhaps in this said true, that he did not know the particular manner of it; though it appears plainly from 2 Samuel 18:20, that he knew he was dead. The king, doubtless, apprehended the worst, and he was thus, in some degree, prepared for the afflictive information Cushi was to give him.
And Ahimaaz called, and said unto the king, All is well. And he fell down to the earth upon his face before the king, and said, Blessed be the LORD thy God, which hath delivered up the men that lifted up their hand against my lord the king.
And the king said, Is the young man Absalom safe? And Ahimaaz answered, When Joab sent the king's servant, and me thy servant, I saw a great tumult, but I knew not what it was.
And the king said unto him, Turn aside, and stand here. And he turned aside, and stood still.
And, behold, Cushi came; and Cushi said, Tidings, my lord the king: for the LORD hath avenged thee this day of all them that rose up against thee.
And the king said unto Cushi, Is the young man Absalom safe? And Cushi answered, The enemies of my lord the king, and all that rise against thee to do thee hurt, be as that young man is.2 Samuel 18:32-33. The enemies of my Lord the king be as that young man is — A decent way this of informing him that Absalom was dead. And the king was much moved — So that we do not find he made any inquiry concerning the manner of his death, or any of the particulars of the victory. And went up to the chamber over the gate — That he might, in private, give vent to his distress; yet he could not refrain from tears and lamentations, even till he got thither; but was heard crying out as he went, O my son Absalom! my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son! — Words most passionate, and dictated by his excessive love to Absalom, and grief for his death; which made him vent himself in expressions which were very inconsiderate, especially in wishing he had died for him. “The king’s command to spare Absalom,” says Delaney, “was an extraordinary instance of mercy, equalled only in Him who, dying, prayed for his murderers; yet it is to be accounted for from his fatherly fondness, and the benignity of his nature. But there is something astonishing in this excess of grief for such a reprobate; and I confess it is to me utterly unaccountable from any other principle than the sad and shocking reflection of his having died with all his sins upon his head, and gone down quick to perdition.” Certainly a deep sense of Absalom’s eternal state, as dying in his sins, together with the consideration, that David himself by his sins had been the occasion of his death, might be the principal cause of the excessive sorrow which he felt, and thus expressed.
And the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept: and as he went, thus he said, O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!