Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Moreover Ahithophel said unto Absalom, Let me now choose out twelve thousand men, and I will arise and pursue after David this night:XVII.
(1) Pursue after David this night.—Ahithophel saw clearly that Absalom’s success depended on striking an immediate blow. He felt confident, and perhaps with reason, that David in his distress and weariness was in no condition to resist a sudden onset. That he was wise in his counsel is made plain by the opposition of Hushai and the anxiety to send tidings to David with all speed. “This night” is generally taken to mean the night of the day on which David left Jerusalem; but from 2Samuel 17:16 and 2Samuel 15:28 it appears that he was already encamped by the fords of the Jordan, a greater distance than he could have accomplished in one day’s march.
And I will come upon him while he is weary and weak handed, and will make him afraid: and all the people that are with him shall flee; and I will smite the king only:(2) Will make him afraid.—This translation is hardly strong enough. The thought is that Ahithophel will throw his band into a panic by a sudden night attack, and in the confusion will easily secure the person of the king.
And I will bring back all the people unto thee: the man whom thou seekest is as if all returned: so all the people shall be in peace.(3) Bring back all the people.—This evil counsellor, with artful flattery, assumes that Absalom is the rightful king, and that the people who have gone off after David only need to be brought back to their allegiance.
Then said Absalom, Call now Hushai the Archite also, and let us hear likewise what he saith.(5) Call now Hushai.—The good sense of Absalom and all the people at once approved the counsel of Ahithophel; but, at a crisis so important, Absalom sought the advice also of the other famous counsellor of his father.
And Hushai said unto Absalom, The counsel that Ahithophel hath given is not good at this time.(7) Not good at this time.—The words, at this time, should be transposed. What Hushai says is “This time the counsel of Ahithophel is not good,” implying that his previous advice (2Samuel 16:21) had been wise, thus assuming an appearance of candour.
Therefore I counsel that all Israel be generally gathered unto thee, from Dan even to Beersheba, as the sand that is by the sea for multitude; and that thou go to battle in thine own person.(11) I counsel that all Israel.—Hushai had before him a difficult task. He had not only to “make the worse appear the better reason,” but to do this in face of the counsel of a man very famous for his wisdom and devoted to the interests of Absalom, while his own fidelity had but just now been called in question. He accomplishes his task successfully by emphasising all the possible hazards and contingencies of the plan recommended by Ahithophel, and by proposing, on the other hand, a plan attended with no risk, on the supposition that the great mass of Israel already were, and would continue to be, on Absalom’s side, a supposition which; with delicate flattery, he assumes as true.
Moreover, if he be gotten into a city, then shall all Israel bring ropes to that city, and we will draw it into the river, until there be not one small stone found there.(13) Bring ropes to that city.—Hushai here makes use of hyperbole to show the irresistible power of all Israel united, and therefore the certain success of his plan. This was pleasing to the vanity and dazzling to the imagination of Absalom.
Now therefore send quickly, and tell David, saying, Lodge not this night in the plains of the wilderness, but speedily pass over; lest the king be swallowed up, and all the people that are with him.(16) Lodge not this night.—Hushai’s advice had been taken at the moment, but it might easily be exchanged for Ahithophel’s. At all events there was instant danger for David, and Hushai urges him to place the Jordan without delay between himself and the rebels.
Now Jonathan and Ahimaaz stayed by Enrogel; for they might not be seen to come into the city: and a wench went and told them; and they went and told king David.(17) En-rogel.—A fountain just outside the city, on the boundary between the tribes of Benjamin and Judah (Joshua 15:7; Joshua 18:16). There are two localities which claim to represent it, each of which has its earnest advocates: the “Fountain of the Virgin,” on the western slope of the valley of the Kidron; and “Job’s Well” just below the junction of the valleys of the Kidron and Hinnom. The latter answers much better to the description in Joshua, but either will suit the present passage. The loyalty of the high priests to David must have been well known, and it would have been quite unsafe for their sons to start from the city itself as bearers of tidings to David; even with all their care they were pursued. Their hiding-place, however, was well chosen. as women resorted to the fountains to draw water, so that communications could be had without attracting observation.
A wench.—The maid-servant, the definite article probably indicating some well-known maid of the high priest. The word wench is not found elsewhere in the English Bible.
And the woman took and spread a covering over the well's mouth, and spread ground corn thereon; and the thing was not known.(19) Ground Corn.—This word occurs elsewhere only in Proverbs 27:22, and means wheat or barley beaten or ground so as to remove the hull; in this condition it was spread out to dry.
And when Absalom's servants came to the woman to the house, they said, Where is Ahimaaz and Jonathan? And the woman said unto them, They be gone over the brook of water. And when they had sought and could not find them, they returned to Jerusalem.(20) The brook of water.—This peculiar word for brook occurs only here, and is thought by some writers to be a proper name. A small brook bearing the same name, Michal, is said to exist now in this locality. On the deceit practised by the women, comp. Joshua 2:4-7; 1Samuel 19:12-17. The historian simply records without comment what was done.
And when Ahithophel saw that his counsel was not followed, he saddled his ass, and arose, and gat him home to his house, to his city, and put his household in order, and hanged himself, and died, and was buried in the sepulchre of his father.(23) And hanged himself.—Ahithophei was moved, not merely by chagrin at the rejection of his counsel, but was shrewd enough to see that, with this delay, Absalom’s rebellion would inevitably fail, and he himself be likely to come to a traitor’s death.
Then David came to Mahanaim. And Absalom passed over Jordan, he and all the men of Israel with him.(24) Mahanaim.—See Note on 2Samuel 2:8. The same reasons which made it a favourable place for the capital of Ish-bosheth, recommended it also as a place of refuge to David and a rallying point for his adherents.
And Absalom made Amasa captain of the host instead of Joab: which Amasa was a man's son, whose name was Ithra an Israelite, that went in to Abigail the daughter of Nahash, sister to Zeruiah Joab's mother.(25) Amasa.—Joab having adhered to David and gone away with him, Absalom chose his cousin to succeed him as commander-in-chief.
Ithra an Israelite.—Called in 1Chronicles 2:17. Jether the Ishmeelite. Jether and Ithra are merely different forms of the same name; but Israelite is probably an error for Ishmeelite. The LXX. has, in the Alexandrian copy, Ishmaelite, and in the Vatican, Jezreelite.
Abigail the daughter of Nahash.—Since this Abigail is said to be “sister to Zeruiah,” and in 1Chronicles 2:16 both Abigail and Zeruiah are said to be the sisters of Jesse’s sons, it follows, either that sister is used in the sense of half-sister, or else that Nahash, usually a man’s name, was the name of Jesse’s wife. It is impossible to decide certainly. The Jewish tradition that Nahash is another name for Jesse has no support.
So Israel and Absalom pitched in the land of Gilead.(26) Pitched in the land of Gilead.—Gilead is the tract of country on the east of the Jordan, extending from the land of Moab on the south to Bashan on the north, the valley of the Hieromax forming probably its northern boundary. The site of Mahanaim has not been identified, but it was almost certainly within the territory of Gilead. Absalom, however, did not actually reach Mahanaim before he met and was defeated by the forces of David.
And it came to pass, when David was come to Mahanaim, that Shobi the son of Nahash of Rabbah of the children of Ammon, and Machir the son of Ammiel of Lodebar, and Barzillai the Gileadite of Rogelim,(27) Shobi the son of Nahash.—The narrative pauses in its course a moment to speak of the assistance sent to David during the time he was at Mahanaim and while Absalom had been gathering his forces. Among those whose friendly assistance was conspicuous was “Shobi the son of Nahash of Rabbah of the children of Ammon.” Hanun, king of the Ammonites, was a son of Nahash, and was conquered by David at Rabbah (2Samuel 10:1; 2Samuel 12:29-31). It is very possible that after dismantling the royal city David had left a brother of the late king as governor over the conquered territory, and that he now came forward to show his gratitude and faithfulness. It is also possible that Shobi was the son of some Israelite named Nahash, who lived in the conquered city of Rabbah.
Machir the son of Ammiel.—See note on 2Samuel 9:4. David now reaps a reward for his kindness to the crippled son of Jonathan.
And honey, and butter, and sheep, and cheese of kine, for David, and for the people that were with him, to eat: for they said, The people is hungry, and weary, and thirsty, in the wilderness.(29) Cheese of kine.—A word occurring only here, and of uncertain meaning. The English follows the Chald., Syr., and Rabbinic interpretation; the Vulg. has “fat calves,” and Theod. “sucking calves.”