Keil and Delitzsch OT Commentary
Absalom's Return, and Reconciliation to the King - 2 Samuel 14
As David did not repeal the banishment of Absalom, even after he had comforted himself for Amnon's death, Joab endeavoured to bring him back to Jerusalem by stratagem (vv. 1-20); and when this succeeded, he proceeded to effect his reconciliation to the king (2 Samuel 14:21-33). He may have been induced to take these steps partly by his personal attachment to Absalom, but the principal reason no doubt was that Absalom had the best prospect of succeeding to the throne, and Joab thought this the best way to secure himself from punishment for the murder which he had committed. But the issue of events frustrated all such hopes. Absalom did not succeed to the throne, Joab did not escape punishment, and David was severely chastised for his weakness and injustice.
Now Joab the son of Zeruiah perceived that the king's heart was toward Absalom.When Joab perceived that the king's heart was against Absalom, he sent for a cunning woman from Tekoah, to work upon the king and change his mind, so that he might grant forgiveness to Absalom. 2 Samuel 14:1 is understood by the majority of commentators, in accordance with the Syriac and Vulgate, as signifying that Joab learned that the king's heart was inclined towards Absalom, was well disposed towards him again. But this explanation is neither philologically sustained, nor in accordance with the context. לב, written with על and without any verb, so that היה has to be supplied, only occurs again in Daniel 11:28, where the preposition has the meaning "against." It is no argument against this meaning here, that if David had been ill disposed towards Absalom, there would have been no necessity to state that Joab perceived it; for we cannot see why Joab should only have perceived or noticed David's friendly feelings, and not his unfriendly feelings as well. If, however, Joab had noticed the re-awakening of David's good feelings towards Absalom, there would have been no necessity for him to bring the cunning woman from Tekoah to induce him to consent to Absalom's return. Moreover, David would not in that case have refused to allow Absalom to see his face for two whole years after his return to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 14:24). Tekoah, the home of the prophet Amos, the present Tekua, two hours to the south of Bethlehem (see at Joshua 15:59, lxx). The "wise woman" was to put on mourning, as a woman who had been mourning for a long while for some one that was dead (התאבּל, to set or show herself mourning), and to go to the king in this attire, and say what Joab had put into her mouth.
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:
And come to the king, and speak on this manner unto him. So Joab put the words in her mouth.
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.The woman did this. All the old translators have given as the rendering of האשּׁה ותּאמר "the woman came (went) to the king," as if they had read ותּבא. This reading is actually found in some thirty Codd. of De Rossi, and is therefore regarded by Thenius and the majority of critics as the original one. But Bttcher has very justly urged, in opposition to this, that ותּאמר cannot possibly be an accidental corruption of ותבא, and that it is still less likely that such an alteration should have been intentionally made. But this remark, which is correct enough in itself, cannot sustain the conjecture which Bttcher has founded upon it, namely that two whole lines have dropt out of the Hebrew text, containing the answer which the woman of Tekoah gave to Joab before she went to the king, since there is not one of the ancient versions which contains a single word more than the Masoretic text. Consequently we must regard ותּאמר as the original reading, and interpret it as a hysteron-proteron, which arose from the fact that the historian was about to relate at once what the woman said to the king, but thought it desirable to mention her falling down at the feet of the king before giving her actual words, "Help, O king," which he introduces by repeating the word ותּאמר.
And the king said unto her, What aileth thee? And she answered, I am indeed a widow woman, and mine husband is dead.When the king asked her, "What aileth thee?" the woman described the pretended calamity which had befallen her, saying that she was a widow, and her two sons had quarrelled in the field; and as no one interposed, one of them had killed the other. The whole family had then risen up and demanded that the survivor should be given up, that they might carry out the avenging of blood upon him. Thus they sought to destroy the heir also, and extinguish the only spark that remained to her, so as to leave her husband neither name nor posterity upon the earth. The suffix attached to ויּכּו, with the object following ("he smote him, the other," 2 Samuel 14:6), may be explained from the diffuseness of the style of ordinary conversation (see at 1 Samuel 21:14). There is no reason whatever for changing the reading into יכּוּ, as the suffix ow, though unusual with verbs הל, is not without parallel; not to mention the fact that the plural יכּוּ is quite unsuitable. There is also quite as little reason for changing ונשׁמידה into וישׁמידוּ, in accordance with the Syriac and Arabic, as Michaelis and Thenius propose, on the ground that "the woman would have described her relatives as diabolically malicious men, if she had put into their mouths such words as these, 'We will destroy the heir also.' " It was the woman's intention to describe the conduct of the relations and their pursuit of blood-revenge in the harshest terms possible, in order that she might obtain help from the king. She begins to speak in her own name at the word וכבּוּ ("and so they shall quench and"), where she resorts to a figure, for the purpose of appealing to the heart of the king to defend her from the threatened destruction of her family, saying, "And so they shall quench the burning coal which is left." גּחלת is used figuratively, like τὸ ζώπυρον, the burning coal with which one kindles a fresh fire, to denote the last remnant. שׁוּם לבלתּי: "so as not to set," i.e., to preserve or leave name and remnant (i.e., posterity) to my husband.
This account differed, no doubt, from the case of Absalom, inasmuch as in his case no murder had taken place in the heat of a quarrel, and no avenger of blood demanded his death; so that the only resemblance was in the fact that there existed an intention to punish a murderer. But it was necessary to disguise the affair in this manner, in order that David might not detect her purpose, but might pronounce a decision out of pity for the poor widow which could be applied to his own conduct towards Absalom.
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.
And the king said unto the woman, Go to thine house, and I will give charge concerning thee.The plan succeeded. The king replied to the woman, "Go home, I will give charge concerning thee," i.e., I will give the necessary commands that thy son may not be slain by the avenger of blood. This declaration on the part of the king was perfectly just. If the brothers had quarrelled, and one had killed the other in the heat of the quarrel, it was right that he should be defended from the avenger of blood, because it could not be assumed that there was any previous intention to murder. This declaration therefore could not be applied as yet to David's conduct towards Absalom. But the woman consequently proceeded to say (2 Samuel 14:9), "My lord, O king, let the guilt be upon me and upon my father's house, and let the king and his throne be guiltless." כּסּא, the throne, for the government or reign. The meaning of the words is this: but if there should be anything wrong in the fact that this bloodshed is not punished, let the guilt fall upon me and my family. The king replied (2 Samuel 14:10), "Whosoever speaketh to thee, bring him to me; he shall not touch thee any more." אליך does not stand for עליך, "against thee;" but the meaning is, whoever speaks to thee any more about this, i.e., demands thy son of thee again.
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.
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.The crafty woman was not yet satisfied with this, and sought by repeating her petition to induce the king to confirm his promise on oath, that she might bind him the more firmly. She therefore said still further: "I pray thee, let the king remember Jehovah thy God, that the avenger of blood may no more prepare destruction, and that they may not destroy my son." The Chethib הרבּית is probably a copyist's error for הרבות, for which the Masoretes would write הרבּת, the construct state of הרבּה, - a form of the inf. abs. which is not commonly used, and which may possibly have been chosen because הרבּה had become altogether an adverb (vid., Ewald, 240, e.). The context requires the inf. constr. הרבות: that the avenger of blood may not multiply (make much) to destroy, i.e., may not add to the destruction; and הרבּית is probably only a verbal noun used instead of the infinitive. The king immediately promised on oath that her son should not suffer the least harm.
Then the woman said, Let thine handmaid, I pray thee, speak one word unto my lord the king. And he said, Say on.When the woman had accomplished so much, she asked permission to speak one word more; and having obtained it, proceeded to the point she wanted to reach: "And wherefore thinkest thou such things against people of God? And because the king speaketh this word, he is as one inculpating himself, since the king does not let his own rejected one return." כּאשׁם, "like one who has laden himself with guilt," is the predicate to the clause וגו וּמדּבּר. These words of the woman were intentionally kept indefinite, rather hinting at what she wished to place before the king, than expressing it distinctly. This is more particularly applicable to the first clause, which needs the words that follow to render it intelligible, as כּזאת חשׁבתּה is ambiguous; so that Dathe and Thenius are wrong in rendering it, "Why dost thou propose such things towards the people of God?" and understanding it as relating to the protection which the king was willing to extend to her and to her son. חשׁב with על does not mean to think or reflect "with regard to," but "against" a person. Ewald is quite correct in referring the word כּזאת to what follows: such things, i.e., such thoughts as thou hast towards thy son, whose blood-guiltiness thou wilt not forgive. אלהים על־אם, without the article, is intentionally indefinite, "against people of God," i.e., against members of the congregation of God. "This word" refers to the decision which the king had pronounced in favour of the widow. השׁיב לבלתּי, literally, in not letting him return.
In order to persuade the king to forgive, the crafty woman reminded him (2 Samuel 14:14) of the brevity of human life and of the mercy of God: "For we must die, and (are) as water spilt upon the ground, which is not (cannot be) gathered up, and God does not take a soul away, but thinks thoughts, that He may not thrust from Him one expelled." Although these thoughts are intentionally expressed quite generally, their special allusion to the case in hand can easily be detected. We must all die, and when dead our life is irrevocably gone. Thou mightest soon experience this in the case of Absalom, if thou shouldst suffer him to continue in exile. God does not act thus; He does not deprive the sinner of life, but is merciful, and does not cast off for ever.
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.
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.
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.After these allusions to David's treatment of Absalom, the woman returned again to her own affairs, to make the king believe that nothing but her own distress had led her to speak thus: "And now that I have come to speak this word to the king my lord, was (took place) because the people have put me in fear (sc., by their demand that I should give up my son to the avenger of blood); thy handmaid said (i.e., thought), I will indeed go to the king, perhaps the king will do his handmaid's word," i.e., grant her request.
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."Yea, the king will hear, to save his handmaid out of the hand of the man that would destroy me and my son from the inheritance of God." אשׁר must be supplied before להשׁמיד: who is to destroy, i.e., who is seeking to destroy (vid., Gesenius, 132, 3). "The inheritance of God" was the nation of Israel (as in 1 Samuel 26:19; cf. 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."Then thine handmaid thought, may the word of my lord the king be for rest (i.e., tend to give me rest); for as the angel of God (the angel of the covenant, the mediator of the blessings of divine grace to the covenant-nation), so is my lord the king to hear good and evil (i.e., listening to every just complaint on the part of his subjects, and granting help to the oppressed), 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.These words of the woman were so well considered and so crafty, that the king could not fail to see both what she really meant, and also that she had not come with her petition of her own accord. He therefore told her to answer the question without disguise: whether the hand of Joab was with her in all this. She replied, "Truly there is not (אם) anything to the right hand or to the left of all that my lord the king saith," i.e., the king always hits the right point in everything that he said. "Yea, thy servant Joab, he hath commanded me, and he hath put all these words into thy servant's mouth." אשׁ is not a copyist's error, but a softer form of ישׁ, as in Micah 6:10 (vid., Ewald, 53c, and Olshausen, Gramm. p. 425).
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:
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."To turn the appearance of the king (i.e., to disguise the affair in the finest way) Joab hath done this; my lord (i.e., the king), however, is wise, like the wisdom of the angel of God, to know all that is (happens) upon earth." She hoped by these flattering words to gain the king completely over.
And the king said unto Joab, Behold now, I have done this thing: go therefore, bring the young man Absalom again.David then promised Joab, that the request which he had presented through the medium of the woman of Tekoah should be fulfilled, and commanded him to fetch Absalom back. The Chethib עשׂתי (2 Samuel 14:21) is the correct reading, and the Keri עשׂית has arisen from a misunderstanding.
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.Joab thanked the king for this, and blessed him: "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." It is pretty evident from this, that Joab had frequently applied to David for Absalom's return, without any attention being paid to his application. David therefore suspected that Joab had instructed the woman of Tekoah. The Chethib עבדּו is not to be exchanged for the Keri עבדּך.
So Joab arose and went to Geshur, and brought Absalom to Jerusalem.Joab then went to Geshur (see 2 Samuel 13:37), and fetched Absalom back 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.But David could not forgive Absalom altogether. He said to Joab, "Let him turn to his own house, and my face he shall not see." This half forgiveness was an imprudent measure, and bore very bitter fruit. The further account of Absalom is introduced in 2 Samuel 14:25-27 with a description of his personal appearance and family affairs.
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.There was no man in all Israel so handsome as Absalom. מאד להלּל, "to much praising," i.e., so that he was greatly praised. from the sole of the foot even to the crown of his head, there was no fault (מוּם, bodily 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."When he polled his head, and it took place from year to year that he polled it; for it became heavy upon him (too heavy for him), and so he polled it: they weighed the hair of his head, two hundred shekels by the king's weight." A strong growth of hair was a sign of great manly power, and so far a proof of Absalom's beauty. The statement as to the weight of the hair cut off, viz., two hundred shekels, is in any case a round number, and much too high, although we do not know what the difference between the royal and the sacred shekel really was. According to the sacred reckoning, two hundred shekels would be about six pounds; so that if we were to assume that the royal shekel was about half the other, the number would be still much too high. It is evident, therefore, that there is an error in the text, such as we frequently meet with in the case of numbers, though we have no means of rectifying it, as all the ancient versions contain the same number.
And unto Absalom there were born three sons, and one daughter, whose name was Tamar: she was a woman of a fair countenance.Unto Absalom there were born three sons, and one daughter named Tamar, who was beautiful in figure. Contrary to general usage, the names of the sons are not given, in all probability for no other reason than because they died in infancy. Consequently, as Absalom had no sons, he afterwards erected a pillar to preserve his name (2 Samuel 18:18). The daughter's name is probably given as a proof of Absalom's great affection for his sister Tamar, whom Amnon had violated.
(Note: The lxx have this additional clause, καὶ γίνεται γυνὴ Ῥοβαὰμ υἱῷ Σαλωμὼν καὶ τίκτει αὐτῷ τὸν Ἀβιά (and she became the wife of Rehoboam the son of Solomon, and bore him a son named Abia). Although this is quite at variance with 1 Kings 15:2, where it is stated that the wife of Rehoboam and mother of Abia (Abijam) was named Maacah, the clause had been adopted by Thenius, who regards it as original, though for reasons which Bttcher has shown to be worthless.)
So Absalom dwelt two full years in Jerusalem, and saw not the king's face.After Absalom had sat for two whole years in his house at Jerusalem without seeing the king's face, he sent to Joab that he might obtain for him the king's full forgiveness. But as Joab would not come to him, even after he had sent for him twice, Absalom commanded his servants to set fire to one of Joab's fields which adjoined his own and was then full of barley, for the purpose of compelling him to come, as he foresaw that Joab would not take this destruction of his property quietly, but would come to him to complain. ידי אל, literally "at my hand," i.e., by the side of my field or property. The Chethib והוציתה ("come, I will set it on fire") is a Hiphil formation, according to verbs ופ, for which the Keri has והצּיתוּה, the ordinary Hiphil form of יצת in the second person plural, "go and set it one fire."
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.
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.
Then Joab arose, and came to Absalom unto his house, and said unto him, Wherefore have thy servants set my field on fire?When Joab came to Absalom's house in consequence of this, and complained of it, Absalom said to him, "See, I have sent to thee, to say to thee, Come hither, and I will send thee to the king, to say to him, Wherefore have I come from Geshur? it were better for me that I were there still: and now I will see the king's face; and if there is any iniquity in me, let him put me to death." This half forgiving was really worse than no forgiveness at all. Absalom might indeed very properly desire to be punished according to the law, if the king could not or might not forgive him; although the manner in which he sought to obtain forgiveness by force manifested an evident spirit of defiance, by which, with the well-known mildness of David's temper, he hoped to attain his object, and in fact did attain it. For (2 Samuel 14:33) when Joab went to the king, and announced this to him, the king sent for Absalom, and kissed him, as a sign of his restoration to favour. Nothing was said by Absalom about forgiveness; for his falling down before the king when he came into his presence, was nothing more than the ordinary manifestation of reverence with which a subject in the East approaches his king.
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.
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.