2 Samuel 14
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Now Joab the son of Zeruiah perceived that the king's heart was toward Absalom.
Ch. 2 Samuel 14:1-20. Joab’s stratagem to procure Absalom’s recall

1. that the king’s heart was toward Absalom] This verse like the preceding one admits of two widely different explanations. (1) If the rendering of the E. V. is retained, the exact meaning will depend on whether the first or the second explanation of chap. 2 Samuel 13:39 given above, is adopted. (a) In combination with the first of those explanations, the words simply state Joab’s recognition of the king’s yearning towards his son which is there described. (b) In combination with the second of those explanations, which seems to be preferable, the words describe a further change in the king’s feeling from indifference to a positive desire for reconciliation. But on the supposition that David was longing to be reconciled to Absalom it is by no means easy to explain the following narrative. Why was Joab’s subtle scheme necessary, if David was eager of his own accord to recall Absalom? Why, if he was longing for a reconciliation, did he refuse to admit him to his presence for two whole years after his return?

(2) The words may however be rendered: “And Joab the son of Zeruiah knew that the king’s heart was against Absalom.” In favour of this rendering it may be urged (a) that the preposition generally means against not toward: (b) that in the only other passage where the phrase occurs (Daniel 11:28), it unquestionably expresses hostility: (c) that this meaning agrees better with the whole course of the narrative, which leaves the impression that Absalom’s recall was a concession extorted from David by Joab’s cunning. Although David had abandoned the ideas of vengeance which he at first entertained (of course the second explanation of ch. 2 Samuel 13:39 is the only one which can stand in combination with this rendering) his heart remained set against Absalom, and he shewed no disposition to recall him from exile. This view of the state of David’s feelings towards Absalom at once accounts for Joab’s subtle scheme to convince the king of the hardship of prolonging Absalom’s exile, and for the king’s refusal to see Absalom when he had been persuaded to allow him to return. It may seem inconsistent with the passionate affection which he afterwards displayed for his rebellious son (ch. 2 Samuel 18:5; 2 Samuel 18:33), but it is not really so. A violent revulsion of feeling, when Absalom’s life was in danger, and still more when he had perished by a miserable death, would be quite in accordance with David’s impulsive character.

Most commentators however adopt the rendering of the E. V., and suppose that political and judicial reasons prevented David from yielding to the dictates of affection: that, perceiving this, Joab planned his scheme in order to give the king the excuse he desired for recalling his son: that the refusal to see Absalom was prompted by a hope that the “discipline of disapproval” might bring him to a state of penitence for his offence.

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. Tekoah] Situated on a lofty hill five miles south of Bethlehem. The name survives almost unaltered in the modern Tekûa. It was the native place of Ira, one of David’s Thirty Heroes (ch.2 Samuel 23:26): Rehoboam fortified it as a defence against invasions from the south (2 Chronicles 11:6): but its chief claim to be remembered is as the home of the prophet Amos who was “among the herdmen of Tekoa” (Amos 1:1). The proximity of Tekoah to Bethlehem explains Joab’s acquaintance with this woman, whose shrewdness fitted her to act the part he wished. The term “wise woman” does not mean a witch, as the Speaker’s Comm. implies when it speaks of her “lawless profession.” Cp. ch. 2 Samuel 20:16.

feign thyself to be a mourner] Compare the similar ‘acted parable’ in 1 Kings 20:35-43.

anoint not thyself] Cp. ch. 2 Samuel 12:20, note.

And come to the king, and speak on this manner unto him. So Joab put the words in her mouth.
3. come to the king] An interesting evidence of the simplicity of the times, when the king was thus directly accessible to his subjects who had causes to be tried or grievances to be redressed. Cp. ch. 2 Samuel 15:2; 1 Kings 3:16.

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.
4. And when the woman … spake … she fell] All the versions and many Hebrew MSS read as the sense requires: “And the woman of Tekoah came to the king, and fell,” &c.

fell on her face to the ground] It was and in some cases still is the practice in Oriental countries for a subject approaching the king, especially with any petition, to kneel down and bend forward until the forehead actually touches the ground. See the illustrations from Assyrian and Egyptian monuments in Van Lennep’s Bible Lands, II. 649.

did obeisance] See note on ch. 2 Samuel 1:2, and cp. the almost identical phrase in 1 Samuel 25:23.

Help] Or, Save. Cp. 2 Kings 6:26; Psalm 20:9. The Sept. repeats it twice: “Help, O king, help.”

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.
7. the whole family, &c.] The whole clan demanded blood-revenge, according to the primitive custom, sanctioned and regulated by the Mosaic Law. See Numbers 35:19; Deuteronomy 19:12-13.

and we will destroy the heir also] The woman puts these words that we may kill him … and destroy the heir also into the mouth of her kinsmen, in order to make their conduct appear in the worst possible light, as actuated not so much by a wish to observe the law as by covetousness and a desire to share the inheritance among themselves. Cp. Matthew 21:38.

they shall quench my coal which is left] The surviving son, who is the last hope for the continuance of his family, is compared to the live coal still left among the embers, by which the fire almost extinct may be rekindled.

And the king said unto the woman, Go to thine house, and I will give charge concerning thee.
8. I will give charge, &c.] Implying that her son should be protected. The king could reasonably grant a free pardon, as it was a case of manslaughter and not a premeditated murder.

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.
9. the iniquity be on me, &c.] If there is any guilt in thus leaving bloodshed unavenged, may I and my family bear the punishment. She wishes to lead the king up to a more definite promise, before she applies her parable to the case of Absalom.

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.
11. let the king remember the Lord thy God] She presses for the further assurance of an oath in the name of God.

there shall not one hair, &c.] Cp. 1 Samuel 14:45; 1 Kings 1:52; Matthew 10:30; Luke 21:18; Acts 27:34.

Then the woman said, Let thine handmaid, I pray thee, speak one word unto my lord the king. And he said, Say on.
12. Let thine handmaid, &c.] The great object of her errand has still to be effected. Firmly and clearly, but yet to all appearance incidentally, she argues from the case of her son to that of Absalom.

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.
13. Wherefore then, &c.] David’s resolution to keep Absalom in exile was an injury to the people of God, for he was the heir to the throne.

for the king, &c.] Better, and by the king’s speaking this word he is as one guilty. The promise of protection to her son was a condemnation of his own conduct towards Absalom. He had acknowledged the possibility of an exception to the general rule of punishment for murder, but he had not extended this exception to his own son, in spite of the strongest reasons for so doing.

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.
14. For we must needs die] The argument of this verse seems to be, that since life is uncertain and cannot be restored, and since God Himself sets the example of mercy, David should be reconciled to his son at once, before it is too late. For the simile of water spilt, cp. Psalm 58:7.

neither doth God respect any person] This translation cannot be defended. Better: and God doth not take away life, but deviseth devices (lit. thinketh thoughts, cp. 2 Samuel 14:13) to the end that he may not [utterly] banish a banished one. The statement is quite general, but contains a pointed allusion to God’s mercy in sparing David’s own life when he had deserved death for adultery and murder, and devising a plan to bring him to repentance and so restore him to His presence.

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.
15. Now therefore, &c.] Simply, And now. There seems to be a studied ambiguity about this verse. If “the people” means the family who had demanded the surrender of her son, she is artfully returning to her own petition, to prevent the king from suspecting that her whole story is a fiction: if, as is more natural, “the people” means the nation, she is excusing her boldness on the ground that she was forced by them into speaking thus.

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.
16. the inheritance of God] The nation of Israel. Cp. 1 Samuel 26:19; Deuteronomy 32:9.

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.
17. Then thine handmaid said] Sept. “And the woman said:” which suits the context better.

shall now be comfortable] Lit. Let the word … be for rest: give me security from my enemies.

as an angel of God] Cp. 2 Samuel 14:20; ch. 2 Samuel 19:27; and 1 Samuel 29:9.

to discern good and bad] To hear the good and the evil: to listen patiently to all manner of petitions, and decide justly upon them.

therefore the Lord thy God will be with thee] The words are a prayer or blessing: and Jehovah thy God be with thee.

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.
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:
19. none can turn, &c.] The king’s words hit the mark precisely: he discerns the exact state of the case.

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.
20. to fetch about this form of speech] Rather, in order to bring round the face of the business: that is, to alter the aspect of Absalom’s relations to his father.

And the king said unto Joab, Behold now, I have done this thing: go therefore, bring the young man Absalom again.
21–24. Joab sent to bring Absalom back

21. I have done this thing] I have granted thy wish and restored Absalom to favour. The “read” text or Qrî has thou hast done, but the “written” text or Kthîbh (supported by the Sept. and Vulg.) is certainly right here.

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.
22. his servant] This is the reading of the Kthîbh, and is clearly best: the marginal alternative thy comes from the Qrî.

So Joab arose and went to Geshur, and brought Absalom to Jerusalem.
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.
24. let him not see my face] To recall Absalom without giving him a full pardon was a most dangerous policy. It could not fail to irritate him. It may be inferred from 2 Samuel 14:29; 2 Samuel 14:31 that he was confined to his house by David’s order, for otherwise he would not have had to wait until Joab came. David’s reasons for this course of action are discussed in the note on 2 Samuel 14:1.

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.
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.
25–27. Absalom’s person and family

26. polled] From poll, the head, comes the verb to poll, to cut the hair.

two hundred shekels after the king’s weight] If the royal shekel was the same as the sacred shekel, two hundred shekels would be about six pounds, an extraordinary weight. But perhaps the royal shekel was smaller, or as is so often the case with numbers, there may be some error in the text. It was not considered effeminate for men to wear their hair long: the Nazarites did so (Numbers 6:5), and Josephus says that Solomon’s body-guard had long flowing hair. Modern Arabs frequently allow the hair to grow to its natural length.

And unto Absalom there were born three sons, and one daughter, whose name was Tamar: she was a woman of a fair countenance.
27. three sons] Who are not named, because none of them lived to grow up. See ch. 2 Samuel 18:18.

Tamar] Who inherited the beauty as well as the name of her aunt. The Sept. adds, “and she became the wife of Roboam the son of Solomon, and bare him Abia.” This however does not agree with the books of Kings and Chronicles. From 1 Kings 15:2 we learn that Maachah the daughter of Abishalom was the wife of Rehoboam and mother of Abijam: from 2 Chronicles 13:2 that Abijah’s mother’s name was Michaiah the daughter of Uriel of Gibeah (cp. 2 Chronicles 11:20-22). The natural inference is that Michaiah is an alternative name or a textual error for Maachah, and that Maachah was the daughter or Uriel and Tamar, and granddaughter of Absalom, named after her great-grandmother.

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.
28–33. Absalom readmitted to David’s presence through Joab’s mediation

29. he would not come to him] Not choosing to incur David’s displeasure by visiting Absalom while he was still in disgrace.

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.
30. set it on fire] Partly in revenge for Absalom’s refusal (cp. Jdg 15:3-5), partly in the hope of bringing Joab to make a complaint in person.

The Sept. and some MSS. of the Vulg. add at the end of the verse: “And Joab’s servants came to him with their clothes rent, and said, Absalom’s servants have set thy field on fire.” The words are not absolutely necessary to the sense, but they may have been accidentally omitted from the Heb. text.

Then Joab arose, and came to Absalom unto his house, and said unto him, Wherefore have thy servants set my field on fire?
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.
32. if there be any iniquity in me] Let the king treat me either as guilty or as innocent. This half-forgiveness is worse than death. Absalom means to protest that he is innocent, and had been fully justified in taking revenge on Amnon, as the king had left his offence unpunished.

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.
33. the king kissed Absalom] As a pledge of reconciliation. See Genesis 33:4; Genesis 45:15; Luke 15:20.

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