Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Chs. 15–19. Absalom’s Rebellion
For the Psalms illustrative of this period see Introd. ch. VIII. § 6, p. 48.
And it came to pass after this, that Absalom prepared him chariots and horses, and fifty men to run before him.Ch. 2 Samuel 15:1-6. Absalom ingratiates himself with the people
1. And it came to pass after this] To recall Absalom without granting him a full pardon was ill-judged: to readmit him to favour, after he had been irritated by two years of exclusion, without the slightest sign of repentance on his part, was fatal. The natural consequences of such treatment are recorded in the following chapters.
 Dryden has made use of the events of this period as the basis of his political poem on the court of Charles II., entitled “Absalom and Achithophel,” in which Absalom represents the Duke of Monmouth, and Achithophel his evil adviser Shaftesbury.
chariots and horses, &c.] A chariot and horses. Absalom imitated the magnificence of foreign monarchs, in order to make an impression on the people. Cp. Adonijah’s practice (1 Kings 1:5), and see 1 Samuel 8:11.
And Absalom rose up early, and stood beside the way of the gate: and it was so, that when any man that had a controversy came to the king for judgment, then Absalom called unto him, and said, Of what city art thou? And he said, Thy servant is of one of the tribes of Israel.2. beside the way of the gate] By the side of the road leading to the gate of the king’s palace, where he sat to transact business. Cp. ch. 2 Samuel 19:8. From this practice the Sultan’s government is still popularly called in Turkey “the Sultan’s gate,” and the Sublime Porte, which is the French equivalent of Bab-i-Humayoon (the high gate), the name of the principal gate of the palace at Constantinople, is used by us as a synonym for the Turkish government.
a controversy] Better, a suit, as in 2 Samuel 15:4.
of one of the tribes of Israel] Belongs to such and such a tribe or city: naming the particular one in each case.
And Absalom said unto him, See, thy matters are good and right; but there is no man deputed of the king to hear thee.3. See, thy matters, &c.] He artfully flatters each suitor by pronouncing a favourable decision on his case, condoles with him on the improbability of his obtaining a hearing, and hints how differently matters would be managed if he were in power.
there is no man, &c.] This and not the marginal alternative none will hear thee from the king downward is the correct rendering. There was no one appointed to investigate the evidence and lay it before the king. He implies that decisions were given hastily and arbitrarily, and that his father needed assessors to help him. There is no reason to suppose that David was neglecting his duty as a judge; but the task was growing too heavy for one man to perform it. See Ewald’s Hist. iii. 176.
Absalom said moreover, Oh that I were made judge in the land, that every man which hath any suit or cause might come unto me, and I would do him justice!
And it was so, that when any man came nigh to him to do him obeisance, he put forth his hand, and took him, and kissed him.5. put forth his hand] Instead of allowing the people to do him homage as the king’s son, he took them by the hand, and saluted them familiarly with a kiss. Cp. ch. 2 Samuel 20:9.
Compare the description of Bolingbroke’s behaviour which Shakespeare puts into the mouth of Richard II.:
Ourself and Bushy, Bagot here and Green
Observed his courtship to the common people;
How he did seem to dive into their hearts
With humble and familiar courtesy,
What reverence he did throw away on slaves,
Wooing poor craftsmen with the craft of smiles,
King Richard II., Acts 1. Sc. 4:23.
And on this manner did Absalom to all Israel that came to the king for judgment: so Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel.6. stole the hearts] Robbed his father of the people’s affection and transferred it to himself. Sept. ἰδιοποιεῖτο = made his own.
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.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.
For thy servant vowed a vow while I abode at Geshur in Syria, saying, If the LORD shall bring me again indeed to Jerusalem, then I will serve the LORD.8. then will I serve the Lord] By offering a sacrifice in accordance with his vow. Cp. Jacob’s similar vow (Genesis 28:20-22).
And the king said unto him, Go in peace. So he arose, and went to Hebron.
But Absalom sent spies throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, As soon as ye hear the sound of the trumpet, then ye shall say, Absalom reigneth in Hebron.10. spies] Absalom’s emissaries are called spies, because they were sent secretly to ascertain public feeling, and only divulge their real purpose where they could count on support.
the sound of the trumpet] The signal for revolt and for the gathering of his supporters, like the hoisting of a standard in modern times. He was to be proclaimed king simultaneously all over the country. Cp. ch. 2 Samuel 20:1; 1 Kings 1:34; 2 Kings 9:13.
in Hebron] The choice of Hebron clearly shews that Absalom expected to find his chief support in the tribe of Judah. It is probable that the old tribal jealousies had been revived, and that Judah resented its absorption into the nation at large. Such a spirit of discontent would account for the slackness of Judah to bring back the king when the rebellion was over (ch. 2 Samuel 19:11). Hebron itself too probably contained many persons who were aggrieved by the removal of the court to Jerusalem. See Ewald’s Hist. of Israel, III. 176.
And with Absalom went two hundred men out of Jerusalem, that were called; and they went in their simplicity, and they knew not any thing.11. two hundred men … that were called] Invited to the sacrificial feast as Absalom’s guests. In all probability they were men of distinction, and would naturally be regarded, both at Jerusalem and at Hebron, as accomplices in the conspiracy. No doubt Absalom hoped that many of them, finding themselves thus compromised, and seeing the number of his supporters, would decide to join him; or failing this, they might be held as hostages.
And Absalom sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David's counseller, from his city, even from Giloh, while he offered sacrifices. And the conspiracy was strong; for the people increased continually with Absalom.12. Gilonite] Formed from Giloh, as Shilonite (1 Kings 11:29) from Shiloh. Giloh was one of a group of cities in the mountains of Judah, to the south or south-west of Hebron (Joshua 15:51).
sent for Ahithophel] The sense is no doubt right, but it cannot be got out of the existing text. Probably some word has dropped out; the original reading may have been sent and called Ahithophel.
Ahithophel has justly been regarded as a type of the arch-traitor Judas. Even if the words “mine own familiar friend in whom I trusted which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me” (Psalm 41:9, quoted in John 13:18), were not written of Ahithophel, the parallel between his treachery and suicide, and the treachery and suicide of Judas, is too striking to be neglected.
while he offered sacrifices] While he offered the sacrifices. In order to give time for his adherents to gather, Absalom celebrated the sacrifice, which was the ostensible object of his journey. To Ahithophel, who no doubt had already been sounded, he sent a special invitation to join him.
And there came a messenger to David, saying, The hearts of the men of Israel are after Absalom.13. The hearts, &c.] Cp. 2 Samuel 15:6; Jdg 9:3.
13–18. The king’s flight from Jerusalem
For the Psalms written during the Flight see Introd. ch. VIII. § 6, p. 48.
And David said unto all his servants that were with him at Jerusalem, Arise, and let us flee; for we shall not else escape from Absalom: make speed to depart, lest he overtake us suddenly, and bring evil upon us, and smite the city with the edge of the sword.14. let us flee] For the moment David’s courage seems to have failed him. The calamities predicted by Nathan (ch. 2 Samuel 12:11), stared him in the face: a sack of Jerusalem with all the horrors of civil war seemed imminent: he could not face them, and retreat proved in the end to be the wisest course. Time was gained; the first violence of rebellion spent itself; his loyal subjects recovered from their alarm and rallied to defend him. Ahithophel was perfectly right in discerning that delay would be fatal to the enterprise (ch. 2 Samuel 17:1-2).
And the king's servants said unto the king, Behold, thy servants are ready to do whatsoever my lord the king shall appoint.
And the king went forth, and all his household after him. And the king left ten women, which were concubines, to keep the house.16. And the king went forth] “It was apparently early on the morning of the day after he had received the news of the rebellion that the king left the city of Jerusalem. There is no single day in the Jewish history of which so elaborate an account remains as that which describes this memorable flight. There is none, we may add, that combines so many of David’s characteristics—his patience, his high-spirited religion, his generosity, his calculation: we miss only his daring courage. Was it crushed, for the moment, by the weight of parental grief, or of bitter remorse?” Stanley’s Lect. II. 97. Who we may ask, was the eyewitness who has preserved the picture of the scene with such minute and life-like detail? May it not have been the prophet Nathan?
And the king went forth, and all the people after him, and tarried in a place that was far off.17. tarried in a place that was far off] Better, halted at the Far House: the last house on the outskirts of the city, before the road crossed the Kidron. It seems to be used almost as a proper name—Beth-merchak—for the locality. Here David halted, while his troops passed in review before him, and crossed the Kidron.
And all his servants passed on beside him; and all the Cherethites, and all the Pelethites, and all the Gittites, six hundred men which came after him from Gath, passed on before the king.18. all the Gittites] If the text is sound, we must infer that David had brought with him a body of Philistine followers from Gath, a supposition which is in accordance with the view that the Cherethites and Pelethites were Philistines. See note on ch. 2 Samuel 8:18. But it is possible that we should follow the LXX. in reading Gibbôrîm in place of Gittites. During his wanderings David formed a corps of six hundred picked men, who were particularly distinguished as “David’s men.” They appear first at Keilah (1 Samuel 23:13, cp. 1 Samuel 22:2), were with him in the wilderness of Paran (1 Samuel 25:13), followed him to Gath (1 Samuel 27:2-3) and Ziklag (1 Samuel 27:8, 1 Samuel 29:1, 1 Samuel 30:1; 1 Samuel 30:9), came up with him to Hebron (1 Samuel 2:3), and finally to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 15:6). This corps seems to have been afterwards maintained as a guard with the title of “the Gibbôrîm,” that is, “the Heroes” or “the Mighty Men” (cp. ch. 2 Samuel 10:7, 2 Samuel 16:6, 2 Samuel 20:7; 1 Kings 1:8), and it is natural to identify the six hundred here mentioned with that body. Some critics think that without altering the reading, we should identify the Gittites with the Gibbôrîm, and suppose that they were called Gittites either because they had followed David ever since his residence in Gath; or because the corps had at this time been largely recruited from the natives of Gath.
The Sept. text of 2 Samuel 15:18 is as follows: “And all his servants passed on beside him, and all the Cherethites and all the Pelethites, and halted at the olive tree in the wilderness. And all the people marched by close to him, and all his attendants, and all the mighty men, and all the warriors, six hundred men, and were present by his side; and all the Cherethites and all the Pelethites, and all the Gittites, the six hundred men who came after him from Gath, marched on before the king.” This appears to be the rendering of a text differing somewhat from the present Hebrew, to which has been added a rendering of the present Hebrew text, with some further glosses or alternative renderings. “The olive tree in the wilderness,” which marked the scene of the second halt, (if the reading is genuine and not a mere mistranslation), was probably beyond the Mount of Olives on the road to the Jordan.
Then said the king to Ittai the Gittite, Wherefore goest thou also with us? return to thy place, and abide with the king: for thou art a stranger, and also an exile.19–23. The fidelity of Ittai
19. Ittai the Gittite] A distinguished Philistine who had quite recently (2 Samuel 15:20) migrated from his home with his family and followers (2 Samuel 15:22) to enter David’s service. From the fact that he shared the command of the army with Joab and Abishai (ch. 2 Samuel 18:2) it is clear that he must have been an experienced general.
return to thy place] His new home in Jerusalem. This is the right rendering of the Hebrew text as it stands: but the order of the words is unusual, and both Sept. and Vulg. support a different reading: Return and dwell with the king; for thou art a stranger and also an exile from thy place.
with the king] David’s meaning is that Ittai need not involve himself in the revolutions of a foreign country, but might take service under Absalom or any other reigning king without breach of faith.
an exile] We can only conjecture that Ittai had been compelled to leave his country in consequence of some revolution. If we may suppose this to have been the case, it gives additional delicacy to David’s thought fulness in wishing to spare him the repetition of hardships he had but lately experienced.
Whereas thou camest but yesterday, should I this day make thee go up and down with us? seeing I go whither I may, return thou, and take back thy brethren: mercy and truth be with thee.20. I go whither I may] Not knowing where he might find a home, as in the old days of his flight from Saul. Cp. 1 Samuel 23:13.
take back thy brethren: mercy and truth be with thee] The Hebrew as it stands must be rendered: take back thy brethren with thee in mercy and truth: but the true text is probably preserved by the Sept. and Vulg. Take back thy brethren with thee: and the Lord shew thee [or, shall shew thee] mercy and truth: to which some texts of the Vulg. add: because thou hast shewn kindness and faithfulness. Cp. ch. 2 Samuel 2:5-6.
And Ittai answered the king, and said, As the LORD liveth, and as my lord the king liveth, surely in what place my lord the king shall be, whether in death or life, even there also will thy servant be.21. Ittai answered] Compare Ruth’s answer to her mother-in-law (Ruth 1:16-17).
And David said to Ittai, Go and pass over. And Ittai the Gittite passed over, and all his men, and all the little ones that were with him.
And all the country wept with a loud voice, and all the people passed over: the king also himself passed over the brook Kidron, and all the people passed over, toward the way of the wilderness.23. all the country] Lit. all the land: the inhabitants who stood by to watch the procession, as distinguished from all the people, the army and retinue of followers accompanying David.
the brook Kidron] The ravine of Kidron is the deep ravine on the east of Jerusalem, now commonly known as the Valley of Jehoshaphat, which separates the city from the Mount of Olives. No stream now flows in it except during the heavy rains of winter, nor is there any evidence that there was anciently more water in it than at present. The name, if it is a Hebrew word, means black, referring either to the blackness of the torrent flowing through it (Job 6:16), or more probably to the gloominess of the ravine. The Sept., following the common tendency to substitute a significant name of similar sound, calls it the ravine of the cedars (χειμάρρους τῶν κέδρων—Cedrôn, cp. John 18:1). In the O. T. it is chiefly mentioned as an unhallowed spot used for a common cemetery, into which idolatrous abominations were thrown by reforming kings (1 Kings 15:13; 2 Chronicles 29:16; 2 Chronicles 30:14; 2 Kings 23:4; 2 Kings 23:6; 2 Kings 23:12; Jeremiah 31:40). The single mention of it in the N. T. is perhaps designed to recall the present occasion and to suggest the parallel between David fleeing from Jerusalem, and Christ leaving the city which had rejected Him, as the treachery of Judas was the counterpart and “fulfilment” of that of Ahithophel (John 18:1; John 13:18).
toward the way of the wilderness] The road to Jericho led through the northern part of the desert of Judah. Cp. 2 Samuel 15:28 and ch. 2 Samuel 16:2.
And lo Zadok also, and all the Levites were with him, bearing the ark of the covenant of God: and they set down the ark of God; and Abiathar went up, until all the people had done passing out of the city.24–29. The Ark sent back to Jerusalem
24. and Abiathar went up] The Ark halted, to allow the people who were still coming out of the city time to overtake the procession. Meanwhile Abiathar went on up the Mount of Olives, for some purpose which is not stated, possibly to watch the stream of people coming out of the city. He then returned to carry the Ark back. It seems best to suppose that the narrative goes back here, and that the Ark was not taken across the Kidron. Certainly it does not seem to have been carried up the Mount of Olives.
And the king said unto Zadok, Carry back the ark of God into the city: if I shall find favour in the eyes of the LORD, he will bring me again, and shew me both it, and his habitation:25. his habitation] Jerusalem, and in particular the tent where the Ark was kept, was “the habitation” (Exodus 15:13), the earthly “dwelling-place,” of Jehovah (1 Kings 8:13), so far as that could be said of any special locality (1 Kings 8:27). For the thought cp. Psalm 43:3.
But if he thus say, I have no delight in thee; behold, here am I, let him do to me as seemeth good unto him.26. I have no delight in thee] For as he had sung in the confident faith of happier days, deliverance from his enemies depended on God’s good pleasure. See ch. 2 Samuel 22:20, and cp. 1 Kings 10:9.
behold here am I, &c.] Words of true resignation and humble submission to the will of God. He felt that he deserved this punishment for his sins.
The king said also unto Zadok the priest, Art not thou a seer? return into the city in peace, and your two sons with you, Ahimaaz thy son, and Jonathan the son of Abiathar.27. Art not thou a seer] An obscure expression variously explained. (1) Art thou a seer? The high-priest is supposed to be called a seer, because he received divine revelations by means of the Urim and Thummim; but there is no trace of such a use of the term elsewhere. (2) Dost thou see? i.e. understand: an untenable rendering. (3) The Vulg. gives different vowels to the consonants, and renders, O seer, return, &c. (4) The Sept. reads, See! thou shalt return, which requires but a small change in the Heb. text, and is probably the best solution of the difficulty.
See, I will tarry in the plain of the wilderness, until there come word from you to certify me.28. in the plain of the wilderness] The level district of the Jordan valley near Jericho, called elsewhere “the plains of Jericho.” Cp. Joshua 5:10; 2 Kings 25:5; and note on ch. 2 Samuel 2:29. Instead however of plains which is the traditional reading (Qrî), the written text (Kthîbh) has fords. This certainly seems the more probable reading both here and in ch. 2 Samuel 17:16, where there is the same variation, for a definite place must have been named at which the messenger was to find David, and the ford, as a critical point, would be a most natural halting place.
to certify me] To tell me how matters are going in the city.
Zadok therefore and Abiathar carried the ark of God again to Jerusalem: and they tarried there.
And David went up by the ascent of mount Olivet, and wept as he went up, and had his head covered, and he went barefoot: and all the people that was with him covered every man his head, and they went up, weeping as they went up.30–37. Hushai commissioned to defeat Ahithophel
30. the ascent of mount Olivet] Lit. by the ascent of Olives: the name mount Olivet is derived from mons oliveti in the Vulgate of Acts 1:12. The “mount of Olives” is the ridge which rises on the east of Jerusalem above the Kidron ravine, screening the city from the desert country beyond. With the exception of this touching scene, there is little of interest connected with the Mount of Olives in the O. T. On it, perhaps on the spot already consecrated for worship (2 Samuel 15:32), Solomon erected high places for the false gods of his foreign wives (1 Kings 11:7-8), which were desecrated long afterwards by Josiah (2 Kings 23:13-14). A passing allusion to the woods which covered it (Nehemiah 8:15), and the details of the scenery in two prophetic visions (Ezekiel 11:23; Zechariah 14:4), complete the references to it in the O. T. “Its lasting glory belongs not to the Old Dispensation but to the New.” See Stanley’s Sinai and Pal. p. 185 ff.
had his head covered, and he went barefoot] The muffled head marks the deep grief which shuts itself up from the outer world: the bare feet—still a sign of mourning in the East—betoken affliction, self-humiliation, penitence. Cp ch. 2 Samuel 19:4; Esther 6:12; Ezekiel 24:17.
And one told David, saying, Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom. And David said, O LORD, I pray thee, turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness.
And it came to pass, that when David was come to the top of the mount, where he worshipped God, behold, Hushai the Archite came to meet him with his coat rent, and earth upon his head:32. the top of the mount] The head or top is used here and in ch. 2 Samuel 16:1 almost as a proper name, and would naturally refer to the highest summit, where the high place would most probably be. David seems to have taken the road leading directly over the hill to Bahurim (see note on ch. 2 Samuel 3:16) instead of the southern road to Jericho.
where he worshipped God] Where he was wont to worship God: or, where God was wont to be worshipped. The tense indicates that an habitual practice is meant. It was no doubt one of the high places, which seem to have been recognised as legitimate sanctuaries until the Temple was built. Cp. 1 Samuel 7:17; 1 Samuel 9:13 note; 1 Kings 3:2-4.
Hushai the Archite] “The border of the Archite” (E. V. wrongly Archi) is mentioned as one of the boundary marks between Ephraim and Benjamin (Joshua 16:2). A trace of the name is perhaps preserved in Ain Arîk, about six miles W. S. W. of Bethel. As Hushai came to meet David he had probably been absent from the city—perhaps at his native place—when the rebellion broke out, and hastened back to join his master. His coming was in a manner the answer to David’s prayer in 2 Samuel 15:31.
with his coat rent, &c.] See note on ch. 2 Samuel 1:2. The term rendered coat denotes the loose shirt or tunic, over which a cloak was usually worn. See the illustrations in Smith’s Dict. of the Bible, I. 454, or Lane’s Modern Egyptians, I. 36.
Unto whom David said, If thou passest on with me, then thou shalt be a burden unto me:33. unto whom David said] And David said unto him.
a burden unto me] Perhaps Hushai was old and somewhat infirm. Cp. ch. 2 Samuel 19:35.
But if thou return to the city, and say unto Absalom, I will be thy servant, O king; as I have been thy father's servant hitherto, so will I now also be thy servant: then mayest thou for me defeat the counsel of Ahithophel.34. and say unto Absalom] “Hushai’s conduct is certainly no model of Christian uprightness. It is therefore curiously instructive to see it made the warrant of a similarly questionable act in modern times. Sir Samuel Morland, Secretary of State to Cromwell, in describing his betrayal of his master to Charles II., says, ‘I called to remembrance Hushai’s behaviour towards Absalom, which I found not at all blamed in Holy Writ, and yet his was a larger step than mine.’ ” Stanley’s Lect. II, 99. Stratagems of this kind, involving deliberate falsehood and treachery, have been employed in all ages, but the morality of them cannot be approved. In connexion with this question it may be remarked, (1) that wrong actions are often related in Scripture without express condemnation, because the healthy and enlightened conscience can discern at once they are wrong: (2) that many actions, allowable under the Old Testament dispensation, are not allowable to those who have received the light of Christ’s revelation: (3) that Scripture gives no sanction to the doctrine, maintained even now in some quarters, that political and social morality are not governed by the same rules. See also the notes on 1 Samuel 27:11; 1 Samuel 29:8.
And hast thou not there with thee Zadok and Abiathar the priests? therefore it shall be, that what thing soever thou shalt hear out of the king's house, thou shalt tell it to Zadok and Abiathar the priests.
Behold, they have there with them their two sons, Ahimaaz Zadok's son, and Jonathan Abiathar's son; and by them ye shall send unto me every thing that ye can hear.
So Hushai David's friend came into the city, and Absalom came into Jerusalem.37. David’s friend] “The king’s friend” was a regular state-officer, the king’s confidential adviser. Cp. 1 Chronicles 27:33 (E. V., companion); 1 Kings 4:5.