Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
And it came to pass after this, that Absalom prepared him chariots and horses, and fifty men to run before him.XV.
(1) Prepared him chariots and horses.—As a preparation for his rebellion, it was necessary to impress the people with his wealth and splendour. (Comp. 1Kings 1:5, where Adonijah does the same thing.) This was the first use in Israel of chariots and horses as a part of regal pomp.
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) There is no man deputed of the king.—There is no official hearer appointed. It was impossible for the king to hear every case in detail; certain persons were therefore appointed to hear causes and report the facts to the king, who thereupon pronounced his judgment. Absalom uses the same arts which have been used by the demagogue in all ages. He does not accuse the king himself of wrong, but insinuates that the system of government is detective, and expresses his own earnest wish to set things right.
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) After forty years.—The reading is certainly incorrect. Absalom was born after David began his reign in Hebron, and his whole reign was only forty years. Absalom therefore was not yet forty at his death. The reading found in the Syriac and most MSS. of the Vulgate, and adopted by Josephus, four years, is probably correct. It remains uncertain from what point this four years is to be reckoned; probably it is from Absalom’s return to Jerusalem.
Pay my vow . . . in Hebron.—We have no means of knowing whether this vow was real or fictitious; certainly Absalom now uses it as a pretext, and yet there is nothing improbable in his having actually made such a vow during his exile. Hebron was the place of his birth and childhood, as well as a holy city from very ancient times, and was thus a suitable place for the performance of his vow; it was also at a convenient distance from Jerusalem, and had been the royal city of David for the first seven years of his reign. It was thus well adapted to be the starting place of Absalom’s rebellion, and it is not unlikely, moreover, that the men of Hebron may have resented the transfer of the capital to Jerusalem, and therefore have lent a willing ear to Absalom. Like many other culprits, Absalom veils his crime under the cloak of religion, pretending submission to his father, and receiving his blessing at the very moment when he is striking at his crown and his life.
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) Sent spies.—These were agents who were to sound the people in the various parts of the land, and doubtless to communicate the conspiracy only secretly, and to those whom they found favourably disposed. They started from Jerusalem, perhaps, at the same time with Absalom, or possibly had been sent out quietly, a few at a time, beforehand. The signal for rising was to be a messenger with a trumpet.
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) Went in their simplicity.—The two hundred guests whom Absalom had invited to take part with him in his sacrifices, were doubtless prominent and influential citizens of Jerusalem. That they were entirely ignorant of Absalom’s purposes shows the extreme secrecy with which the affair was managed. Absalom, no doubt, hoped when he once had them at Hebron, to secure them for his side, or, failing this, forcibly to prevent their opposition. In any case it would appear to the people that they were with him, and he would thus secure additional prestige.
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) Sent for Ahithophel.—Giloh, the city of Ahithophel, was one of the groups of towns just south of Hebron (Joshua 15:51), and Ahithophel may have gone there in readiness to be summoned by Absalom. Why he deserted David does not appear. It has been conjectured that he was aggrieved at David’s treatment of Bath-sheba, who is supposed to have been his granddaughter. Bath-sheba’s father was Eliam (2Samuel 11:3) and Ahithophel had a son Eliam (2Samuel 23:34), but there is no evidence that these were the same, and if they had been, Ahithophel probably would have felt honoured rather than aggrieved that his daughter should have been made queen. It is more likely that Ahithophel and many others of the tribe of Judah were alienated because, in the rapidly growing empire of David, their relative importance was of necessity constantly diminishing. It is noteworthy that the rebellion was cradled in Judah, and seems to have found there its chief strength.
There is a difference of opinion whether Psalms 41 was written on this occasion; but its ninth verse certainly applies very pointedly to Ahithophel; and his conduct, both in his treachery and his suicide, forms a striking parallel to that of Judas, to whom this verse is applied in John 13:18. Many writers also consider that Psalms 55 was composed with reference to Ahithophel.
While he offered sacrifices.—Absalom had arranged these, apparently with pomp and circumstance, to continue through several days. This gave time for the conspiracy to gain strength, and the accompanying feasting allowed Absalom an excellent opportunity for using his popular arts, and with such success that “the people increased continually with Absalom.”
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.—The sequel abundantly proved the wisdom of David’s course. Ahithophel also (2Samuel 17:1-2) and Hushai (2Samuel 17:7-13) recognised that delay would be fatal to Absalom’s cause. His rebellion was thoroughly unreasonable, and must lose ground with time given for reflection. By this course also much of the horror of civil war was averted, and Jerusalem saved from “the edge of the sword.”
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, i.e., at a definite place known by this name, probably the last house on the outskirts of the city before the road crossed the Kidron. Here David mustered his forces and made the arrangements for his flight.
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) Cherethites . . . Pelethites.—See Note on 2Samuel 8:18.
Gittites.—This word in its form would naturally mean men of Gath, and it has therefore been understood by some commentators of a body of Philistines in David’s service. But the term is distinctly explained here as meaning the “six hundred men which came after him from Gath,” and called “Gittites” for that reason, a body of men with whom the previous history of David has made us very familiar. They had gathered to him during his outlawry (1Samuel 22:1-2), had been with him at Keilah (1Samuel 23:13), in the wilderness of Paran (1Samuel 25:13), and at Gath (1Samuel 27:3), “came after him from Gath” to Ziklag, and shared with him in his life and exploits there (1Samuel 27:8; 1Samuel 29:2; 1Samuel 30:1-9), and went up with him to Hebron (2 Samuel 23), and thence to Jerusalem (2Samuel 5:6). They are generally supposed to have afterwards constituted the body of “heroes” or “mighty men,” to whom frequent reference is made (2Samuel 10:7; 2Samuel 16:6; 2Samuel 20:7; 1Kings 1:8). The Vatican LXX. here, as often, adds considerably to the text.
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) Ittai the Gittite.—The patronymic must here be understood literally, since David calls him “a stranger and also an exile;” he had but comparatively recently (2Samuel 15:20) attached himself to David’s service, bringing with him his family and others of his countrymen. From the fact that David afterwards entrusted him with the command of a third of his forces, it is clear that he must have been an experienced general. It cannot be shown positively that he was a proselyte, although this is probable.
In the latter part of this verse the English has unnecessarily changed the order of the words. Read, “Return and abide with the king, for thou art a stranger and an exile at thy place,” viz., at Jerusalem. David neither means to recognise Absalom as king, nor yet to speak of him ironically; he only means to tell Ittai that, as a foreigner, he need not concern himself in such a question, but is quite justified in serving the king de facto, whoever he may be. Ittai’s answer may be compared with Ruth’s (Ruth 1:16-17).
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) The brook Kidron.—A valley with a watercourse, filled in winter, lying immediately east of Jerusalem, between the city and the Mount of Olives.
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) Zadok also.—Zadok appears here as in charge of the ark, and David (2Samuel 15:27) addresses him exclusively, while Abiathar is merely mentioned. This gives no indication of the relations existing between the two, but merely shows how matters went on this day of hurry and confusion. The language is obscure, but probably means that Zadok and the Levites brought the ark out of the city, and set it down while the multitude were assembling; meantime Abiathar led the multitude forward up the Mount of Olives until they had all come out of the city.
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) Let him do to me as seemeth good.—David recognises that he is suffering under the punishment pronounced by Nathan for his sin, and he seeks to throw himself entirely into the hands of God, trusting in His mercy. (Comp. 2Samuel 24:14.) He is, therefore, unwilling to have the ark carried with him lest he should seem to undertake to compel the Divine presence and blessing. He feels sure that if God so will, he shall be brought again in peace; but if not, yet he will perfectly submit himself to God’s ordering.
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?—The Hebrew is difficult, and must be translated either. Art thou a seer? or, with a very slight change in a vowel, as an address, Thou seer. Zadok is so called because he was now in some sort to fulfil the office of a prophet in guiding David’s course, and also in making known to him the events taking place in Jerusalem which would show God’s will concerning him. Nothing is said in any part of this narrative of Nathan and Gad, both of whom were certainly still living (2Samuel 24:11; 2Samuel 24:13-14; 1Kings 1:11).
Your two sons with you.—Zadok only has been mentioned, and probably Abiathar was not present at the moment, but David shows by this way of speaking that he means to address them both.
See, I will tarry in the plain of the wilderness, until there come word from you to certify me.(28) The plain of the wilderness.—This is the reading of the Hebrew margin here and at 2Samuel 17:16, and is followed by the ancient versions. It is used for the wide valley of the Jordan in which Jericho is situated; but in both places the Hebrew text is better, the fords, both as a more definite place where messengers would find David, and also as a place of strategic importance where a retreat across the Jordan was open at any moment.
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.(31) One told David.—This is no doubt the meaning, but the preposition has dropped out of the Hebrew text, leaving it unintelligible, and reading literally, and David told.
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) Where he worshipped God.—Rather, where men worship. The original indicates a customary act. David had taken the road over the crest of the Mount of Olives, and there, in all probability, was one of those “high places” which abounded in Israel.
Hushai the Archite.—His place is mentioned in Joshua 16:2 as on the border between Ephraim and Benjamin, and he may have been at his own home when the rebellion broke out. His coming appears as the beginning of the answer to David’s prayer in 2Samuel 15:31.
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) Say unto Absalom.—David here counsels fraud and treachery, and Hushai willingly accepts the part assigned to him, in order to thwart Ahithophel’s counsel and weaken Absalom’s rebellion. The narrative simply states the facts without justifying them. But while we cannot too strongly condemn such a stratagem, two things are to be remembered: first, that like frauds in time of war and rebellion have been practised in all ages, and still continue; and, secondly, that David and Hushai had but slender knowledge of the Divine revelation of truth and righteousness which enables us to condemn them, and, therefore, did with a clear conscience many things which we see to be wrong.