Keil and Delitzsch OT Commentary
And David numbered the people that were with him, and set captains of thousands and captains of hundreds over them.Preparation for war. - 2 Samuel 18:1-2. David mustered the people that were with him, and placed over them captains of thousands and hundreds, and divided them into three companies, under the generals Joab, Abishai, and Ittai the Gathite, who had given such decided proofs, according to 2 Samuel 15:21-22, of his fidelity to David. בּיד שׁלּח, to leave to the hand of a person, i.e., to his power, is used here in the sense of placing under his direction. The people opposed in the most decided manner the wish of the king to go with them to the war, saying (2 Samuel 18:3), "Thou shalt not go out: for if we flee, they will take no heed of us (i.e., attach no importance to this); and if half of us die, they will take no heed of us: for thou art as ten thousand of us (we must evidently read אתּה for עתּה, and עתּה has merely got into the text in consequence of ועתּה following): and now it is good that thou be ready to give us help from the city" (the Chethib לעזיר, inf. Hiphil for להעזיר, is not to be disputed). David was to stay behind in the city with a reserve, that he might be able to come to their relief in case of need.
And David sent forth a third part of the people under the hand of Joab, and a third part under the hand of Abishai the son of Zeruiah, Joab's brother, and a third part under the hand of Ittai the Gittite. And the king said unto the people, I will surely go forth with you myself also.
But the people answered, Thou shalt not go forth: for if we flee away, they will not care for us; neither if half of us die, will they care for us: but now thou art worth ten thousand of us: therefore now it is better that thou succour us out of the city.
And the king said unto them, What seemeth you best I will do. And the king stood by the gate side, and all the people came out by hundreds and by thousands.The king gave his consent to these proposals, and went to the side of the gate, whilst the people went out by hundreds and thousands; but in the hearing of all he commanded the principal generals, "Mildly for me (i.e., deal gently for my sake) with the boy Absalom." לאט is not the imperative of לאט, to cover over, which would not suit the connection, and could not be construed with ל, but an adverb from אט, as in Isaiah 8:6; 1 Kings 21:27; Job 15:11.
And the king commanded Joab and Abishai and Ittai, saying, Deal gently for my sake with the young man, even with Absalom. And all the people heard when the king gave all the captains charge concerning Absalom.
So the people went out into the field against Israel: and the battle was in the wood of Ephraim;Battle in the wood of Ephraim, and death of Absalom. - 2 Samuel 18:6, 2 Samuel 18:7. When the people, i.e., David's army, had advanced into the field against Israel (those who followed Absalom), a battle was fought "in the wood of Ephraim," when Israel was smitten by David's warriors and sustained a loss of 20,000 men. The question, where the "wood of Ephraim" was situated, is a disputed one. But both the name and the fact that, according to Joshua 17:15-16, the tribe-land of Ephraim abounded in forests, favour the idea that it was a wood in the inheritance of Ephraim, on this side of the Jordan; and this is in perfect harmony with the statement in 2 Samuel 18:23, that Ahimaaz took the way of the Jordan valley to bring the news of the victory to David, who was staying behind in Mahanaim. Nevertheless the majority of commentators have supposed that the place alluded to was a woody region on the other side of the Jordan, which had received the name of "wood Ephraim" probably after the defeat of the Ephraimites in the time of Jephthah (Judges 12:1-5). The reasons assigned are, first, that according to 2 Samuel 17:26, Absalom had encamped in Gilead, and it is not stated that he had crossed the Jordan again; secondly, that 2 Samuel 18:3 ("that thou succour us out of the city") presupposes that the battle took place in the neighbourhood of Mahanaim (Thenius); and thirdly, that after the victory the army returned to Mahanaim; whereas if the battle had been fought on this side of the Jordan, it would evidently have been much better for it to remain there and occupy Jerusalem (Ewald, Gesch. iii. p. 237). But neither of these reasons is decisive, and there is no force in the other arguments employed by Thenius. There was no necessity for an immediate occupation of Jerusalem by David's victorious army, since all Israel fled to their tents after the fall of Absalom and the defeat of his army (2 Samuel 18:17 and 2 Samuel 19:9); that is to say, such of Absalom's followers as had not fallen in or after the battle, broke up and returned home, and therefore the revolution was at an end. Consequently there was nothing left for David's army to do but to return to its king at Mahanaim, and fetch him back to Jerusalem, and reinstate him in his kingdom. The other two reasons might have some force in them, if the history before us contained a complete account of the whole course of the war. But even Ewald admits that it is restricted to a notice of the principal battle, which completely crushed the rebellion. There can be no doubt, however, that this was preceded, if not by other battles, yet by such military operations as accompany every war. This is clearly indicated in 2 Samuel 18:6, where it is stated that the army advanced into the field against Israel (2 Samuel 18:6), which evidently refers to such an advance on the part of David's army as might compel Absalom to draw back from Gilead across the Jordan, until at length a decisive battle was fought, which ended in the complete destruction of his army and his own death. Ewald observes still further, that "it seems impossible, at any rate so far as the name is concerned, to assume that the wood of Ephraim was on the other side of the Jordan, whilst according to 2 Samuel 18:23, the messenger who reported the victory went from the field of battle towards the Jordan valley in order to get to David." But the way in which Ewald tries to set aside this important point, as bearing upon the conclusion that the battle took place on this side of the Jordan, - namely, by adopting this rendering of 2 Samuel 18:23, "he ran after the manner of Kikkar, running, and therefore overtook Kushi," - is far too unnatural to meet with acceptance. Under all these circumstances, therefore, we decide in favour of the assumption that the wood of Ephraim is to be sought for in the tribe-territory of Ephraim.
The nature of the ground contributed a great deal to the utter defeat of Absalom.
Where the people of Israel were slain before the servants of David, and there was there a great slaughter that day of twenty thousand men.
For the battle was there scattered over the face of all the country: and the wood devoured more people that day than the sword devoured.The conflict extended over the surface of the whole land, i.e., the whole of that region (the Chethib נפצות is not the plural נפצות, which would be quite unsuitable, but is most probably a noun, נפצוּת ,nuon a, signifying bursting asunder, or wild flight; the Keri נפצת is a Niphal participle, fem. gen.); "and the wood devoured more of the people than the sword ate on the same day." The woody region was most likely full of ravines, precipices, and marches, into which the flying foe was pursued, and where so many perished.
And Absalom met the servants of David. And Absalom rode upon a mule, and the mule went under the thick boughs of a great oak, and his head caught hold of the oak, and he was taken up between the heaven and the earth; and the mule that was under him went away."And Absalom was lighted upon (יקּרא equals יקּרה) by the servants of David, riding upon the mule; and the mule had come under the thick branches of the great terebinth, and his head fastened itself (remained hanging) on the terebinth, so that he was held (hung) between heaven and earth, as the mule under him went away." The imperfects, ויּבא, ויּחזק, and ויּתּן, are only a combination of the circumstantial clause רכב ואבשׁ. With regard to the fact itself, it is not clearly stated in the words that Absalom hung only by his hair, but simply that his hair entangled him in the thick branches, and his head was fastened in the terebinth, namely, by being jammed between the strong boughs.
And a certain man saw it, and told Joab, and said, Behold, I saw Absalom hanged in an oak.A man (one of David's men) saw him in this situation, and told Joab, Joab replied (2 Samuel 18:11), "Behold, thou hast seen it, and wherefore has thou not smitten him there to the ground? and it was for me to give thee ten silverlings and a girdle;" i.e., if thou hadst slain him, it would have been my duty to reward thee.
And Joab said unto the man that told him, And, behold, thou sawest him, and why didst thou not smite him there to the ground? and I would have given thee ten shekels of silver, and a girdle.
And the man said unto Joab, Though I should receive a thousand shekels of silver in mine hand, yet would I not put forth mine hand against the king's son: for in our hearing the king charged thee and Abishai and Ittai, saying, Beware that none touch the young man Absalom.But the man replied, "And I ... not weighing a thousand shekels in my hand ... might not stretch out my hand to the king's son," i.e., I could not do it for a reward of a thousand shekels. This is the meaning of the Chethib ולא; the Masoretes, on the other hand, have substituted ולוּ, which is the reading adopted in most of the ancient versions, and the one preferred by the majority of expositors: "if I weighed ... I would not," etc. But there is no necessity for this alteration, as the Chethib is quite in accordance with the character of the words. "For before our ears the king commanded" (cf. 2 Samuel 18:5): מי שׁמרוּ, "take care whoever (it be) of the boy Absalom." On this use of מי, see Ewald, 104, d., a. The Keri לי is merely a conjecture, notwithstanding the fact that all the versions follow it, and that one of the Codices in Kennicott has לי. "or," continued the man (2 Samuel 18:13), "should I have acted deceitfully towards his life (i.e., have slain him secretly, which he calls שׁקר, cheating, because it was opposed to the king's open command): and nothing remains hidden from the king; ... thou wouldst have set thyself in opposition to me," i.e., have risen up against me before the king. The middle clause is a circumstantial one, as the fact that וכל־דּבר is placed first clearly shows; so that it cannot be regarded as introducing the apodosis, which really follows in the clause commencing with ואתּה.
Otherwise I should have wrought falsehood against mine own life: for there is no matter hid from the king, and thou thyself wouldest have set thyself against me.
Then said Joab, I may not tarry thus with thee. And he took three darts in his hand, and thrust them through the heart of Absalom, while he was yet alive in the midst of the oak.Joab replied, "Not so will I wait before thee," i.e., I will not leave the thing to thee. He then took three staffs in his hand, and thrust them into Absalom's heart. שׁבטים is rendered by the lxx and Vulgate, βέλη, lanceas; and Thenius would adopt שׁלחים accordingly, as an emendation of the text. But in the earlier Hebrew שׁלח only occurs in poetical writings in the sense of a missile or dart (Job 33:18; Job 36:12; Joel 2:8); and it is not till after the captivity that we find it used to denote a weapon generally. There is no necessity, however, for altering the text. Joab caught up in his hurry the first thing that he found, namely pointed staff, and pierced Absalom with them to the heart. This explains the reason for his taking three, whereas one javelin or dart would have been sufficient, and also the fact that Absalom was not slain, notwithstanding their being thrust at his heart. The last clause of the verse belongs to what follows: "Still living (i.e., as he was still alive) in the midst of the terebinth, ten young men, Joab's armour-bearers, surrounded him, and smote him to death."
And ten young men that bare Joab's armour compassed about and smote Absalom, and slew him.
And Joab blew the trumpet, and the people returned from pursuing after Israel: for Joab held back the people.Immediately afterwards Joab stopped any further pursuit, "for Joab spared the people," i.e., he wanted to spare them.
And they took Absalom, and cast him into a great pit in the wood, and laid a very great heap of stones upon him: and all Israel fled every one to his tent.But Absalom they cast into a great pit in the wood, and threw up over him a very large heap of stones, as an ignominious monument, like those thrown up over Achan (Joshua 7:26) and the king of Air (Joshua 8:29). This was the end of Absalom and his rebellion. "All Israel (that had crowded round him) had fled, every one to his tent" (i.e., home: see at Deuteronomy 16:7).
Now Absalom in his lifetime had taken and reared up for himself a pillar, which is in the king's dale: for he said, I have no son to keep my name in remembrance: and he called the pillar after his own name: and it is called unto this day, Absalom's place.Absalom had erected a monument to himself in the king's valley during his lifetime; "for he said, I have no son to preserve the remembrance of my name, and he called the monument by his own name; and so it was called hand (memorial) of Absalom unto this day." The לקח before ויּצּב is apparently pleonastic; but it belongs to the diffuse and circumstantial character of the antiquated Hebrew diction (as in Numbers 16:1). מצּבת, a memorial of stone; whether in the form of a column, or an obelisk, or a monolith, cannot be determined (vid., Genesis 28:22; Genesis 31:52). The king's valley, which received its name from the event narrated in Genesis 14:17, was two stadia from Jerusalem according to Josephus (Ant. vii. 10, 3), and therefore not "close to the Dead Sea," or in regione transjordanensi (Ges. Thes. pp. 1045, 1377), or "in the Jordan valley in Ephraim" (Tuch and Winer). It was on the eastern side of Jerusalem, in the Kidron valley; though Absalom's pillar, which ecclesiastical tradition has transferred thither, a monument about forty feet in height and pointed like a pyramid, is not of early Hebrew, but of Grecian origin. On the words "I have no son," see at 2 Samuel 14:27.
Then said Ahimaaz the son of Zadok, Let me now run, and bear the king tidings, how that the LORD hath avenged him of his enemies.David is informed of the victory, and of the death of Absalom. - 2 Samuel 18:19, 2 Samuel 18:20. Ahimaaz, the son of Zadok, wanted to carry the news to David, that Jehovah had "procured the king justice out of the hand of his enemies" (שׁפט with מן is a pregnant expression signifying to procure justice and deliver out of); but Joab, knowing how David would receive the tidings of the death of Absalom, replied, "Thou art no man of good tidings to-day; thou shalt take the news on another day, not on this, even because (על־כּן כּי, see at Genesis 18:5) the king's son is dead." The Keri על־כּן כּי is to be preferred to the Chethib כּי־על; and כּן has no doubt been dropt out merely because of בּן which follows. The Chethib does not give any suitable sense; for the absence of the article before מת is decisive against the explanation proposed by Maurer, viz., "for (tidings have to be carried) concerning the king's son dead." If מת were to be construed as an adverb with בּן־מלך, it would of necessity have the article.
And Joab said unto him, Thou shalt not bear tidings this day, but thou shalt bear tidings another day: but this day thou shalt bear no tidings, because the king's son is dead.
Then said Joab to Cushi, Go tell the king what thou hast seen. And Cushi bowed himself unto Joab, and ran.Joab therefore entrusted the Cushite with the duty of conveying to David the announcement of what had occurred. It cannot be decided with certainty whether הכּוּשׁי or Cushi is the proper name of an Israelite, or whether it signifies the "Cushite," i.e., a descendant of Cush. The form of the name rather favours the latter view, in which case it would suggest the idea of a Moorish slave in the service of Joab.
Then said Ahimaaz the son of Zadok yet again to Joab, But howsoever, let me, I pray thee, also run after Cushi. And Joab said, Wherefore wilt thou run, my son, seeing that thou hast no tidings ready?As Ahimaaz still expressed a wish to hasten to the king, even after Cushi had been sent, and could not be induced to relinquish his purpose by the repeated expostulations of Joab, the latter at length permitted him to run. And he ran so fast, that he got before Cushi. מה ויהי: let whatever will happen. וּלכה is the pronoun "to thee," as in Genesis 27:37, and not the imperative of הלך, "thou mayest go." The meaning is, "and there is no striking message for thee," no message that strikes the mark, or affects anything. We must supply "he said" in thought before 2 Samuel 18:23. There was the less necessity to write it here (as in 1 Samuel 1:20), since it is perfectly obvious from the repetition of מה ויהי that it is Ahimaaz who is speaking. Ahimaaz then ran by the way of the plain, i.e., the way which lies through or across the plain of the Jordan. Now he could not possibly have taken this road, if the battle had been fought in a wood on the eastern side of the Jordan, and he had wanted to hurry from the scene of battle to Mahanaim; for in that case he would have taken a circuitous route two or three times the distance of the straight road, so that it would have been utterly impossible for him to get there before the Cushite, however quickly he might run. This notice therefore furnishes a decisive proof that the battle was fought upon the mountains of Ephraim, in the land to the west of the Jordan, since the straight road thence to Mahanaim would lie through the valley of the Jordan.
But howsoever, said he, let me run. And he said unto him, Run. Then Ahimaaz ran by the way of the plain, and overran Cushi.
And David sat between the two gates: and the watchman went up to the roof over the gate unto the wall, and lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold a man running alone.David was sitting between the two gates of Mahanaim waiting for tidings of the result of the battle. The two gates are the outer and inner gate of the fortified city wall, between which there was a small court, where David was sitting. The watchman then went up to the roof of the gate by the wall, probably the outer gate in the city wall, and as he looked he saw a man running alone.
And the watchman cried, and told the king. And the king said, If he be alone, there is tidings in his mouth. And he came apace, and drew near.When he announced this to the king, he said, "If he (is or comes) alone, there is good news in his mouth," namely, because several runners would have shown themselves if it had been a flight. As the first messenger came nearer and nearer, the watchman saw another man running, and shouted this into the gate (השּׁער is wrongly pointed for השּׁער, according to the lxx, Syr., and Vulgate); whereupon the king replied, "This is also a good messenger."
And the watchman saw another man running: and the watchman called unto the porter, and said, Behold another man running alone. And the king said, He also bringeth tidings.
And the watchman said, Me thinketh the running of the foremost is like the running of Ahimaaz the son of Zadok. And the king said, He is a good man, and cometh with good tidings.When the watchman saw by the running of the first that it was Ahimaaz, recognising him probably by the swiftness of his running, and announced it to the king, he replied, "He is a good man, and cometh with good tidings," because Joab would not have selected him to bring any other than good news.
And Ahimaaz called, and said unto the king, All is well. And he fell down to the earth upon his face before the king, and said, Blessed be the LORD thy God, which hath delivered up the men that lifted up their hand against my lord the king.Ahimaaz then called out to the king, "Shalom," i.e., Hail! and fell down before him to greet him reverentially, and said, "Blessed be Jehovah thy God, who hath given up the men that lifted up their hand against my lord the king."
And the king said, Is the young man Absalom safe? And Ahimaaz answered, When Joab sent the king's servant, and me thy servant, I saw a great tumult, but I knew not what it was.In answer to the king's inquiry, "Is it well with the young man Absalom?" Ahimaaz replied, "I saw the great tumult (that arose) when Joab sent off the king's servant, and thy servant, and know not what" (sc., had occurred). Ahimaaz spoke as if he had been sent off before Absalom's fate had been decided or could be known. "The king's servant" is the Cushite, whom Ahimaaz saw just approaching, so that he could point to him. Joab is the subject, which is sometimes written after the object in the case of an infinitive construction (vid., Gesenius, 133, 3 Anm.); and the expression "thy servant" is a conventional one for "me" (viz., Ahimaaz).
And the king said unto him, Turn aside, and stand here. And he turned aside, and stood still.And the king said, "Turn, and stand here," that he might hear the further news from the Cushite, who had just arrived.
And, behold, Cushi came; and Cushi said, Tidings, my lord the king: for the LORD hath avenged thee this day of all them that rose up against thee.The Cushite said, "Let my lord the king receive good tidings, for Jehovah hath procured thee justice to-day out of the hand of all who have risen up against thee" (cf. 2 Samuel 18:19).
And the king said unto Cushi, Is the young man Absalom safe? And Cushi answered, The enemies of my lord the king, and all that rise against thee to do thee hurt, be as that young man is.When asked about the welfare of Absalom, the Cushite replied, "May it happen to the enemies of my lord the king, and all who have risen up against thee for evil (i.e., to do thee harm), as to the young man." The death of Absalom was indicated clearly enough in these words.
And the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept: and as he went, thus he said, O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!The king understood the meaning of the words. He was agitated, and went up to the balcony of the gate (the room above the entrance) and wept, and said, walking about, "My son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Oh that I had died for thee, Absalom, my son, my son!" To understand this passionate utterance of anguish, we must bear in mind not only the excessive tenderness, or rather weakness, of David's paternal affection towards his son, but also his anger that Joab and his generals should have paid so little regard to his command to deal gently with Absalom. With the king's excitable temperament, this entirely prevented him from taking a just and correct view of the crime of his rebel son, which merited death, and of the penal justice of God which had been manifested in his destruction.