2 Samuel 20
Lange Commentary on the Holy Scriptures
For the Chapter 20 passage and footnotes, see 1 Samuel 19:1 ff.

2 Samuel 20:1–22. Sheba’s insurrection, Israel’s defection, both quelled by Joab.

2 Samuel 20:1. There was1 there, namely, in Gilgal at the assembly of the tribes; the word “there” indicates directly the place, indirectly the time of the following history, so that the causal connection between it and the preceding scene is obvious. On the person of Sheba, Luther remarks (probably correctly) in his marginal notes: “he was one of the great rogues of the high nobility, who had a large retinue among the people, and consideration or name, as Catiline at Rome.”2 He was a “wicked” man (Luther: heilloser [Eng. A. V. wrongly: “son of Belial]), comp. 1 Sam. 25:17, 25. A Benjaminite, probably (to judge from his conduct) one of the rabid Sauline party, if he were not (as is possible) of Saul’s own family—We have no part in David.—This is said in contrast with 19:42, 43, and with a sharp emphasis on the “no” [“there is not to us part in David”]. David is called the son of Jesse contemptuously in contrast with Saul. “We have nothing in common with him, nothing to do with him,” comp. Deut. 10:9. From his blowing the trumpet it may be surmised that he was a military commander, having control of a somewhat large body of men.—Every man to his tents, that is, home, as in 18:17; 19:9. The expression is an echo from the tent-life of the people in the wilderness.

2 Samuel 20:2. All Israel “went up” from David, namely, from the plain of Gilgal to the hill-country of Ephraim. The whole representation of Israel listens to Sheba’s rebellious signal, and follows him, which is to be explained only by the anger against Judah, freshly excited by the quarrel over bringing the king back. The men of Judah “clave to their king,” crowded close around him [rather, faithfully adhered to him—TR.] and escorted him “from the Jordan to Jerusalem.” The expression: “from the Jordan” does not contradict the fact that the assembly took place in Gilgal (as Thenius holds from this, that it took place on the Jordan); it is not to be explained (with Keil against Thenius) by the remark that the “Judahites” had already escorted the king over the Jordan, but (Gilgal being near the Jordan) is to be taken as a general designation, such as we often use in respect to rivers.

2 Samuel 20:3. David’s return to his house at Jerusalem. The ten concubines (15:16; 16:20 sqq.) that he had left behind—he put in a house of ward, and maintained them, but remained apart from them.3 Grotius: “He pardoned their fear indeed [i. e., their fault committed through fear], but would not approach them, since they were impure for him (having been approached by his son), nor let others approach them, as they were royal concubines.” They lived in “widowhood of life,”4 that is, “whereas death had entered the house, widowhood during the lifetime of the husband.” (Böttch.), comp. Deut. 24:1 sqq.; Isa. 1:1. [So Targum, Gill, Philippson. It may also be rendered: “in a lifelong widowhood,” i. e., as long as they lived; but the objection to this is, that it repeats the statement of the preceding clause.—TR.]

2 Samuel 20:4. And the king said to Amasa, Call me, etc., namely, to follow and attack the insurgent Sheba. In giving Amasa this commission, David’s purpose is to fulfil to him his promise, 19:14. And do thou present thyself here, after three days, when the men of Judah shall have assembled, that thou mayest lead them out to battle. Then David intended formally to appoint him commander-in-chief, and assign him the more important duties. In various respects David here acted unwisely: 1) in bestowing on the late insurgent leader, Amasa an unbounded confidence, that was soon proved to be misplaced, 2 Samuel 20:5, 6; 2) in respect to Joab who, with all his rudeness and cruelty, had remained faithful to David, and by his splendid victory over Amasa, had saved the kingdom; 3) in respect to his faithful tribe of Judah, who must have been offended by this preference shown for the leader of the revolution. [On the other hand, the insurgent Judahites might be pleased by this honor done their general (comp. 19:14), and the men of Israel affected by seeing their former general in David’s service (Patrick); Amasa had probably shown himself an efficient commander, and Joab was not undeserving of punishment.—TR.).

2 Samuel 20:5. He tarried5 over the set time, (three days), either because he met with distrust and opposition among the people, and could not so soon execute his commission, or because he did not wish to make haste, and nourished in his breast traitorous designs, [or, possibly, because of natural lack of vigor.—TR.].

2 Samuel 20:6. And David said to Abishai. Instead of “Abishai,” Thenius (after Syr. and Josephus) would read “Joab,” since from the present text we cannot account for the appearance of Joab in 2 Samuel 20:8, (he is previously not mentioned—only his people mentioned in 2 Samuel 20:7); the “men of Joab” would certainly not have marched out, unless Joab had had the supreme command. He takes the original reading (after the Sept.) in 2 Samuel 20:7 to be: “and there marched out after him Abishai and the men of Joab,” and thinks that from this, “Abishai” got into 2 Samuel 20:6 instead of “Joab,” while in 2 Samuel 20:7 the word “Abishai” fell out from its likeness to the following word (אנשי). Against which Böttcher rightly says that the Syriac and Josephus here made an arbitrary change in the Hebrew, and put “Joab” instead of Abishai, because they thought (from what follows) that the former ought to be named here. “How,” asks Böttcher, “if Joab had originally stood in the text, could Abishai have been accidentally or purposely written for it, since the two names are very different, and Abishai is not mentioned till 2 Samuel 20:10?” Rather in the Sept. (Cod. Vat.) the Abishai might have gotten from 2 Samuel 20:6 (beginning) into 2 Samuel 20:7 (beginning); indeed its insertion is evidently due to the exception that was taken to the omission of his name in 2 Samuel 20:7 while in 2 Samuel 20:6 he is entrusted with the command. To get rid of the difficulties, Böttcher proposes to read in 2 Samuel 20:6: “And David said to Joab: behold, the three days are past, shall we wait for Amasa? now will Sheba, etc.,” (Sept. Vat. reading: “and David said to Amasa”). But this adoption of a variation of the Sept. (which clearly came from a misunderstanding), and the supposed omission of a whole line by the error of a transcriber is artificial and untrustworthy. There remains nothing but to retain the masoretic text (which is confirmed by all the Versions except the Syriac): “and David said to Abishai.” Joab was still David’s official commander-in-chief, though the latter had unwisely promised the command to Amasa; the sending of Amasa to collect the troops was indeed occasioned by that promise; but Joab was not yet deprived of the command. But David speaks to Abishai about Amasa’s delay and not to Joab, because he wished to have nothing to do with the latter on account of his crabbedness, and further knew that he would take Amasa’s appointment ill. David expresses the apprehension: Now will Sheba … become more hurtful (dangerous) than Absalom, the revolution will become more widespread and powerful than before, unless we march immediately against Sheba. Take thou thy Lord’s servants, the troops with the king in Jerusalem, the standing army (the particular parts of which are mentioned in 2 Samuel 20:7), in distinction from, the levy of the people, for which Amasa was sent. And pursue after him, for, as Sheba had gotten a good start in these three days, everything depended on quickly overtaking him. Lest he get him fenced cities,—this he fears has already happened (as the form of the Hebrew verb6 shows). And turn away our eye; the verb (הִצִּיל) means “to take away” (Gen. 31:9, 16; Ps. 119:43; 1 Sam. 30:22; Hos. 2:11), “lest he take away our view,” deceive us (Maurer); Vulg.; “and escape us” [so Eng. A. V.]; Gesen and De Wette: “that he may not escape our eye by throwing himself with his followers into fortified cities” (as actually happened, 2 Samuel 20:15). Maurer well compares the similar expression: “to steal one’s heart (mind),” i. e., to deceive him, Gen. 31:20; 2 Sam. 15:6. Ewald translates: “lest he trouble our eye,” deriving the verb from a stem7 = “to be shaded” (Neh. 13:19, comp. Ezek. 31:3), that is, lest he cause us care and vexation; so also Bunsen, and so already the Sept.; “Lest he darken (shade) our eyes.” Certainly this translation gives too weak a sense (Then.). But, with this derivation of the verb, the meaning might still be: “that he darken not our sight,” hiding himself from us in fortified cities, so that our sight of his hostile preparations is obscured, and we cannot clearly follow and overcome him.—Böttcher, Thenius and Keil, referring to Deut. 32:10; Zech. 2:10, where the “apple of the eye” is the figure of valuable possession, render: “and pluck out our eye,” i. e., severely injure us; but it is the eye, not the apple of the eye, that is here spoken of, nor is there anything here that is compared to the apple of the eye, since the “fortified cities” could not be so meant.

2 Samuel 20:7. “After him,” that is, after Abishai. The men of Joab=his immediate military followers, under his special control. Yet they were not the less “David’s servants.” This view is favored by the expression: “Joab’s people.” If the phrase were intended to indicate a body of men “that Joab in this emergency had collected at his own costs, and with whom as volunteers he himself as volunteer intended to go into this war” (Ewald), this fact would necessarily have been mentioned in the narrative. The Cherethites and Pelethites, the royal body-guard (see on 8:18), whom “the necessity of the case now brought out” (Ewald). The Gibborim [mighty men] are the six hundred heroes, (15:8) who with the body-guard accompanied David when he fled from Absalom. These two bodies together with the “men of Joab” formed the only troops now at the king’s disposal, whom he calls “the servants of thy lord” (2 Samuel 20:6). As the case required the greatest haste (2 Samuel 20:6), he ordered Abishai to follow Sheba for the present with those troops (Ew.). The words “out of Jerusalem” are added because of the local statement that follows.

2 Samuel 20:8. When they came to the great stone of Gibeon—which was doubtless an isolated rock of considerable size. Gibeon lay northwest of Jerusalem in the mountains of Ephraim, whither Sheba (2 Samuel 20:2) had gone. Amasa came towards them, literally “before their face” (De Wette). He was (2 Samuel 20:4) to have proclaimed the arriere-ban [summoned the people to war] in Judah. Here he is found in the tribe of Benjamin. As he meets the troops advancing to the northwest, he must be coming from the opposite direction, as we should expect from David’s order. The cause of his delay thus was that he had gone northward from Judah into Benjamin. Coming thence on his way to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 20:4) with the troops he had raised, he meets these others at “the great stone in Gibeon.” Here Joab, before mentioned, suddenly comes on the scene. As David had not deprived him of the command, we must suppose that he was advancing with the permanent force under Abishai to the field, where Amasa’s retarded levies were to join him. Joab regarded himself as still commander-in-chief, and, that Amasa might not attain this honor, he put him out of the way (2 Samuel 20:10) by murder. It is not to be assumed that David (2 Samuel 20:6) had ordered Abishai to march out with Joab, and that this is not mentioned for brevity’s sake (Keil), nor that David had given Joab the command (omitted in this compendious account) to go along to the field.—The minute description of Joab’s military dress and arms is intended to make it clear how the latter could suddenly kill Amasa without any one’s noticing his purpose. “And Joab was girded with his military coat as his clothing,8 and on it the girdle of the sword, which was fastened on his loins in its sheath; and this [the sheath] came out, and it [the sword] fell down.” The girdle is expressly mentioned in order to show how the sword did not depend from it as usual, but, with its sheath, was thrust in and held by it (Thenius). “And it (referring to the preceding “sheath”) came out” of the girdle, as if accidentally in consequence of a movement, “and it (the sword) fell to the ground”; so Maurer, Böttcher. Mich., Dathe, Schulz render: “he brought (Hiphil) it (the sword) out, so that it fell”; but this, inasmuch as it is supported by no ancient version, is arbitrary. To render “and he (Joab) went forth” (De Wette, Keil [Eng. A. V., Philippson, Bib.-Com.]) is against the connection, since it does not appear whence Joab went forth. [A slight change in the Hebrew, making pronoun and verb feminine (after Sept., and substantially Vulg.) will give: “and it (the sword) came out and fell down,” which is much simpler and more natural.—TR.]

2 Samuel 20:9. Joab performed this manipulation with the sword just before he met Amasa, making such a movement that the sword should fall, as it were accidentally, to the ground, and he could take it up in his left hand, so as with the right hand to lay hold of Amasa’s beard in friendly greeting. No surprise would be felt, therefore, at his holding the sword in his left hand, with which he had taken it up from the ground. From the friendly address: Art thou in health, my brother? Amasa would all the less suspect anything evil, since he was Joab’s rival. The grasping the beard with the right hand is not for the purpose of kissing the beard9 (Winer, Art. Bart.), but is a caressing gesture, like an embrace, intended to draw down the face to kiss it [so Eng. A. V., to kiss him]. So Amasa could suspect no evil. [“My brother”—he was his first cousin, 1 Chr. 3:16, 17 (Bib.-Com.).—TR.]

2 Samuel 20:10. And Amasa took no heed to the sword that was in Joab’s (left) hand. The murder of Amasa by Joab was, therefore, a cleverly contrived and malicious act, the product of jealousy and desire of revenge. “Thus this rude soldier’s friendship and repose was merely a pretence, that he might take his revenge at the first opportunity” (Ewald). “He did it not the second time,” did not repeat the blow; his stroke was mortal! [He stabbed him in the belly (not “in the fifth rib,” as in Eng. A. V.), so that his bowels came out.—TR.]. With the same violence that he had shown in the murder, Joab, with his brother Abishai, now rushes after Sheba, without bestowing a moment’s notice on Amasa struggling in the agonies of death. The words: Joab and Abishai his brother, from the connection favor the view that Joab had gone out at the head (together with Abishai) of the body of troops under Abishai.

2 Samuel 20:11. One of Joab’s henchmen remained by (עַל) Amasa; no doubt at Joab’s command, in order to send Amasa’s levies on to Joab and Abishai with the cry: “He that hath pleasure in Joab, etc.”; pleasure: Joab, used to victory, doubtless inspired more confidence. “And he that is for David”—this refers to the defection from David into which Amasa had led the people, [and is intended to identify Joab’s cause with David’s.—TR.].

2 Samuel 20:12 sqq. How vivid and touching the picture here of Amasa wallowing in his blood on the road, the advancing crowd of people stopping by him, his consequent hasty removal from the road, and the throwing a cloth over him to hide him from the sight of the passers-by, and so to prevent their stopping, and avoid the possible unfavorable impression for Joab and his cause that the sight of the body would make on the people! [Nobody knew the cause of his death, in the hurry there was no time to inquire, the danger from Sheba was imminent, and so the crowd passed on without investigating the matter.—TR.]

2 Samuel 20:13. Only now, it is expressly stated, do the people follow on after Joab without delay. “Every man (or, all the men) went on.” As it is clear from the context that these are Amasa’s levies out of Israel, it is not necessary (with Then., after Sept.) to insert “of Israel” after “all the men.”

2 Samuel 20:14. “And he went through.” This refers to Joab, who now, as general-in-chief of the army, rushed through all the tribes of Israel northward from Ephraim (Manasseh, Issachar, Zebulon, Naphtali), Sheba flying before him and first reaching a strong position in the extreme north. [Others (Patrick, Wellhausen) think that Sheba is here the subject, and this is favored by the fact that the “him” in 2 Samuel 20:15 (and so in 2 Samuel 20:14, end) which refers to Sheba, seems to represent the same person as the subject of the verb “went through;” moreover this verb would naturally refer to the person last mentioned in 2 Samuel 20:13.—TR.] To Abel and Beth-Maachah.—Abel, in the north of Naphtali, very near Beth-Maachah, the two being near and west of Ijon [Iyyon] and Dan (1 Kings 15:20; 2 Kings 15:29); in 2 Chron. 16:4 it is called Abel-mayim, from the neighboring lake Merom on the south, or, more probably, from the well-watered Merj Ayun, the present village Abil el Kamh, i. e., Wheat-meadow. On account of its proximity to Beth-Maachah, it is often combined with this = Abel-Beth-Maacah, 2 Samuel 20:15; 1 Kings 15:20; 2 Kings 15:29; but the “and” here connecting the two names is not for that reason to be stricken out (Ewald, Thenius). By the addition “Beth-Maachah” and Mayim (2 Chron. 16:4) it is distinguished from several other places of this name [Abel], which signifies “meadow.” If the word Berim (בֵּרִים) indicates a region of country [Eng. A. V.: Berites] it must be connected with the preceding verb: and he went through all Berim, though then the absence of the preposition [in the Heb., as in Eng. A. V.], and still more, this appended statement of place after it has been mentioned to what point Joab went, would be surprising. But no such region is known in northern Palestine, nor any similar name of a place. We are therefore justified in supposing a corruption of the text. A suggestion for an emendation of the text is given by the Sept.: “to Beth-Maachah, and all in Charri [this suggests the Heb. bachurim, “choice, chosen young men”], and they were gathered together,” etc.; and by the Vulg.: “and all the chosen men were assembled to him.” Clericus remarks that this looks as if they read “chosen” (הבחורים), but declines to express a judgment in the matter. We must probably read:10 “and all kinds of arms-bearing men” (Then., Winer, s. v., Habarim), or: “and all the (there residing) young men” (Ew., Böttch.). Böttcher thinks it probable (but without sufficient ground) that we should add: “who were in the cities.” We may render then (changing to Perfect the following verb): “and all the young men were gathered together,”11 etc., or (keeping the form in the text): “and all the young men, and (as an additional fact) they were gathered together and went also after him,” i. e., in his march through all the tribes to Abel and Beth-Maachah. That is, the young men as far as the extreme north gathered about him; the “also” refers to the statement in 2 Samuel 20:13 that “every man went on after Joab,” that is, all that had assembled in Ephraim at Gibeon [2 Samuel 20:8]; to these were added all the young men in the other tribes. Thereby the victory was already decided for Joab.

2 Samuel 20:15 sqq. Sheba besieged.—Sheba had found refuge in Abel-Beth-Maachah12—a strongly fortified place, which, as fortress, served by the quantity of water about it, also as a protection towards the north and east. In this city they besieged him.—He had therefore thrown himself into it. It cannot be gathered from the connection that the inhabitants (who could have done nothing against his sudden seizure of the city) took part with Sheba against David; we may rather infer from the procedure of the “wise woman” that they were opposed to the insurgent. They threw up an embankment against the city; and it (the embankment) stood—that is, rose at [= joined on to] the wall of the outer works of the fortress, the outer wall (Sept. προτειχίσματι [the pomerium, or open space without the wall, in which the embankment was placed in order the more easily to batter the city-walls.—TR.]). The rest of 2 Samuel 20:15 is to be taken as protasis, the apodosis beginning with 2 Samuel 20:16: “And as all the people, etc., then cried a wise woman.” The usual rendering: “as they destroyed, in order to throw down the wall” [so Eng. A. V.] involves a contradiction; for if they destroyed, what was left to be thrown down? and this verb (שִׁחֵת) is used (Ezek. 26:4) of the complete tearing down of walls (Then.). Also in 2 Samuel 20:20 Joab says: “Far be it from me to destroy.” It is better with Ewald and Böttcher13 to take the Participle as a denominative (from שַׁחַת, “a pit, ditch”), and render: “they dug ditches to throw down the wall,” by undermining. Josephus: “he ordered them to undermine the walls.” Then cried a wise woman (comp. 14:2 sq.; 1 Sam. 25:3 sq.) from the city.—This expression gives a sufficiently vivid picture of the situation, and there is no need (with Thenius) to change the text after Syr. and Arab.: “down from the wall of the city,” and Sept.: “from the wall,” where the differences of wording show these renderings to be explanatory local descriptions.

2 Samuel 20:18 sqq. The woman’s words to Joab are variously explained. Maurer (after Dathe: “inquiry ought first, said she, to have been made of Abel, and then it ought to have been decided what is to be done”) renders: “and she said: it should first have been said: ‘let the city be consulted;’ so they would have finished the matter.” So also De Wette: “one should first have said: one must inquire in Abel, and so the end would have been reached.” But this is too artificial an expression for the situation. The same remark is to be made of Böttcher’s translation: “And she said, as if she would say: ‘One should first, however, speak, speak, as if she would say: One should ask, ask in Abel; and so the matter would be finished;’ ” that is, the woman protested against Joab’s violent procedure without previous negotiation. Certainly such a protest is to be supposed in the woman’s words. But these are to be translated (with Thenius) simply after the text as follows: “They used to say in old time: let Abel be inquired of; and so they ended (the matter).” Vulg.14: “It was said in the old proverb: those that ask, ask in Abel; and so they finished.” Sept.: “It was formerly said, They shall ask in Abel, and so they left off.” The sense is: It was formerly a proverbial saying: “inquire at Abel,” and if the decision there made was acted on, the affair was satisfactorily concluded; so now, the inhabitants of Abel ought first to have been communicated with, instead of straightway investing and besieging the city; then your design respecting Sheba would have been accomplished. It is assumed and affirmed that Abel was proverbial for the discretion and wisdom of its inhabitants. This wisdom the “wise woman” illustrates factually by her discourse. It is to be noted also that the negotiation before laying siege to a city (and a foreign city, indeed) such as the woman here refers to, is prescribed in the law, Deut. 20:10 sqq., comp. Num. 21:21.—Some codices of the Sept. read: “It was formerly said, It was asked in Abel and in Dan if they left off what the faithful of Israel established,” after which Ewald15 adopts as original text: “Let it be asked in Abel and in Dan, whether what the devout men of Israel formerly ordained has there gone out of I use” [that is, if, when a new custom comes up, one wishes to find out whether old Israelitish usage exists anywhere, he must go to Abel and Dan; the implication being that Joab is violating old custom.—TR.] But Keil rightly remarks that this addition of the Sept. (“what the devout men,” etc.), which is critically of so little value that Tisch. in his edition of the Sept. does not think it worthy of mention, is evidently a gloss or paraphrase of the last words of the verse: “and so they finished” [in connection with the “faithful in Israel” of the next verse.—TR.] [Tisch. in his Sept. (4th ed.) does give these words as a part of the text of the Vatican manuscript; but they seem to be clearly a duplet or double rendering.—TR.]

2 Samuel 20:19. I am of the peaceable, faithful ones of Israel. The woman says “I” in the name of the city; the plural predicates [“peaceable, faithful”] refer to the inhabitants of the city. Clericus: “I am of the number of the peaceable and faithful in Israel, says our city.” The meaning is: We are peaceable and faithful people, averse to insurrection; you ought first to have communicated with us, and then the thing would have been understood. It is herein indirectly stated that the city had no thought of taking part with Sheba, who had thrown himself into it. Whether this was the feeling in the city from the beginning, or was reached only when it was threatened with destruction by the siege, cannot be determined. Anyhow the woman was able cleverly to avert the threatened evil.—Böttcher changes the text, so as to read: “people16 (that are) the peaceablest, truest in Israel thou seekest to kill,” and Ewald: “we are (or better, we are still) peaceable, etc., and thou seekest,” etc.; but there is no necessity for any change.—Thou seekest to kill a city and mother in Israel, that is, one of the chief cities of Israel, comp. 8:1. Why wilt thou destroy the inheritance of the Lord? The city pertained to the people that the Lord had chosen for His possession. Comp. the discourse of the wise woman of Tekoah, 20:16. [Though the Heb. text of the woman’s discourse here is harsh and obscure, no proposed changes better it. As it stands, she seems to say: “Abel is proverbial for its wisdom. You should have entered into negotiations with us instead of attempting to destroy an important city in Israel.” The margin of Eng. A. V. reads: “they plainly spake in the beginning, saying, Surely they will ask of Abel, and so make an end,” that is, in the beginning of the siege the inhabitants expressed the expectation that Joab would communicate with them, and this rendering is approved by Patrick as more literal than the text of Eng. A. V.; but it does not give the proverb-like coloring of the original. Philippson mentions among other Jewish renderings that of the Midrash which haggadistically identifies the wise woman with Serah, the daughter of Asher (Gen. 46:17), who is made to refer in her sharp discourse with Joab to Deut. 20:10, the law of sieges. Erdmann also holds that this law is here alluded to; but there is no intimation of this; the woman intimates only generally that it would have been conducive to a proper understanding if Joab had communicated with the besieged.—TR.]

2 Samuel 20:20 sqq. Joab, impressed by the woman’s words, declares that it is not his purpose to destroy the city, but only to get possession of the insurgent Sheba, who [2 Samuel 20:21] has lifted up his hand against the king. Perhaps the woman first learned from these words the real state of the case and the guilt of Sheba. She said immediately that his head should be thrown through the wall, through one of the openings in the wall, where the besieged might watch and shoot at the enemy, and through which perhaps she spoke with Joab. [Eng. A. V., wrongly: “over the wall.”—TR.]

2 Samuel 20:22. She went to all the people, to report concerning her interview with Joab—a self-evident fact that it was unnecessary to mention in the text. After “people” Sept. adds: “and spoke to the whole city,” a correct explanatory remark, but not to be inserted in the text (as Ew. and Then, think). Equally unnecessary is Böttcher’s alteration: “and the woman went into the city, and spoke to all the people.” The words of the text: She came … in her wisdom (i. e., with her proposition to Joab, which she persuaded the people to accept) are indeed of laconic curtness; but this quite suits this rapid narration. By the delivery of the traitor’s head Joab’s end was gained. He ordered the trumpet to be sounded, as sign that the army should retire from the siege, and set out on the return-march. And they dispersed from the city, namely, the warriors that had joined him (2 Samuel 20:13). And Joab returned, with the warriors with whom he had left Jerusalem (2 Samuel 20:7), to the king, to announce to him the end of the insurrection. “The issue of this occurrence, how David received the victorious Joab, is omitted in our present narrative; he was doubtless now also forbearing to a man who as a soldier was indispensable to him, and who, with all his punishment-deserving savagery, always meant well for his government” (Ewald).

2 Samuel 20:23–26. List of David’s highest officers after the restoration of his authority. See the Introduction, p. 18 sq., as to the relation between this list and that in 8:16–18, and their position and significance in respect to the two chief periods of the history of David and his kingdom, of which history they form the conclusion. [The two lists are appropriately placed at the two beginnings of David’s kingdom, and the differences between them are explained by the changes brought by time.—TR.]

2 Samuel 20:23. 1) Joab, commander of the whole army17 of Israel,—as in 8:16, except that the “Israel” is not inserted there. Joab remained commander-in-chief notwithstanding David’s overhasty decision, 19:3.—2) Benaiah, son of Jehoiada, commander of the bodyguard, as in 8:18. Comp. 1 Kin. 2:25–46, where he performed the execution ordered by Solomon, and 2 Samuel 20:35, where he is named commander-in-chief in Joab’s place, and as such is mentioned in the list of Solomon’s state-officers, 4:1–6. He was over the Cherethites and Pelethites. Cherethites is the marginal reading, for which the text has the equivalent Cari18 (2 Kin. 11:1, 19); see on 8:18.

2 Samuel 20:24.–3) Adoram (1 Kin. 12:18) = Adoniram (1 Kin. 4:6; 5:28), and = Hadoram (2 Chr. 10:18). He was not “rent-master” (Luther) [Eng. A. V., “over the tribute”], for the word (מַם) never19means “tribute, tax,” but overseer of the public works or tribute-work [Germ. frohn, manorial work], a new office (not mentioned in 8:16 sq.), the nature of which is indicated in 1 Kin. 5:27 sq. compared with 1 Kin. 4:6. Adoram, put into this office in the latter years of David, held it till Rehoboam’s time, 1 Kin. 12:18. [The name Adoram, if it be correct (Sept., Syr., Arab. have Adoniram, Vulg. and Chald. as Heb.) must be considered an unusual contraction of the longer form; possibly it is an imitation (though an incorrect one) of such names as Jehoram.—TR.]—4) Jehoshaphat, son of Ahilud was “chancellor” [Eng. A. V., less well: recorder]; see on 8:16.

2 Samuel 20:25.—5) Sheva (or, Sheya) = Seraiah (8:17) was scribe or state-secretary.—6) Zadok and Abiathar, high-priests, 8:17.

2 Samuel 20:26.—7) Ira, the Jairite, confidential counsellor to David, a new officer; in 8:18 “sons of David” are said to have held this office. [The word here rendered “counsellor” (Eng. A. V.: “chief ruler”) is the ordinary term for “priest,” which rendering some would here retain. See on 8:18 for the discussion of the meaning.—TR.] Instead of “Jairite” Thenius (after Syr.) reads “Jattirite” (of Jattir), especially as this city Jattir in the mountains of Judah (Josh. 15:48; 21:14) is mentioned in 1 Sam. 30:27 among those particularly friendly to David. But the rendering of the Syriac is derived from 23:38 on account of the name Ira there found, which, however, represents a different person from this. Thenius, holding that the narrator wrote the history chaps. 11–20 in David’s life-time, since he here breaks off without relating the history up to David’s death, concludes from the way in which Ira is introduced (“and also Ira,” etc.) that the author [Ira] here at the close appends his own name; but this latter assumption is unwarranted, even granting the other.


1. The truthfulness and justice of the theocratic historical narrative is shown, as everywhere in the frank statement of the sins of God’s instruments, so here in the unveiled narration of David’s errors in the way whereby God brought him back to his kingdom, and also of the unhappy results of his overhasty measures. His message to Judah, after he heard of Israel’s preparations to bring him back (19:2 12) was a mistake, since it was of such a nature as to kindle anew the fire of jealousy between the two section of the people; he thereby put Judah before Israel (who had begun the movement for restoration), and the result was the violent war of words, 19:41–43. His mistake in holding out to the rebel Amasa the certain prospect of the chief command, led to the murder of the latter by Joab. David had made Joab the companion and instrument of his crime against Uriah; and this community in crime was a collateral cause of the retention of the latter in the highest military office (20:23).

2. God the Lord, as king of His people, permits sin to work out its extremest evil consequences, in order to reveal His justice in the punishment of sin by sin, and in wise ways hidden from men to further the ends of His kingdom, by making human sin serviceable thereto. By one bad man the greater part of the nation is seduced into insurrection, after David had erred in looking too much to his own honor at his restoration, and regarding flesh and blood (19:12), neglecting to make the Lord’s honor his highest point of view, and to subordinate everything to it. By the second sudden failure of his hopes, based on the popular favor, and his natural-fleshly relations to the people, he is to be brought again to know that the Lord alone is his strength, his protection and his help. The unjustly displaced Joab becomes a second time the saviour and restorer of the theocratic kingdom, striding over the corpse of the murdered ex-traitor to victory over the insurrection; whence David was to learn anew, that the ways of the Lord are not our ways, and His thoughts not our thoughts, and that He in His wisdom and might in the ways that He chooses and to the goal that He has fixed, performs things that in men’s eyes, and through men’s sins are most involved and confused.

3. The greatest confusion of affairs suddenly arises by the concatenation of various sins and crimes, just after the certain prospect of restoration to kingdom, and peace dawns on David. Jealous quarreling divides the people into two hostile parts. The king is powerless to extinguish the fire of anger and hatred. An insurgent quickly carries the greater part of the people off from David. Civil war once more rages throughout the whole nation. The army-leader appointed by the king is treacherously murdered by the unwisely aggrieved Joab. But in this confusion God’s wisdom goes its quiet, hidden way, and His almighty hand leads the sorely tried king, who in this chaotic whirl, must see the consequences of his own errors, back to complete and triumphant royal dominion. While to men’s eyes the co-operation of many evil powers seems to endanger the kingdom of God to the utmost, and its affairs appear to be confused and disturbed in the unhappiest fashion, the wonderful working of the living God reveals itself most gloriously in the unravelment of the worst entanglements, and in the introduction of new and unexpected triumphs for His government.


2 Samuel 19:41–43. Envy and jealousy among God’s people always spring from a passionate self-interest, which puts one’s own honor in place of God’s honor, and often, under the pretence of zeal for the one, makes the other the aim of all its striving;—they produce a spiritual blinding in which it becomes impossible to recognize God’s designs in the matters of His kingdom, an embittering of hearts and minds, whereby brotherly love is changed into hate, and a rending of the divinely joined bonds of union, from which follow wrangling, discord and party hostility.—[HENRY: If a good work be done, and well done, let us not be displeased, nor the work disparaged, though we had no hand in it.—TR.].—From hearts full of bitterness, and rancor flow evil words; these react upon the hearts of those who quarrel, and nurse the flame of hate and discord.—An unloving disposition ends in hard and injurious words; and from evil words it is but one step to evil deeds.

20:1. sq. The ambition of one man often pulls down what many with united forces have built up in a state, and may from one spark of discord kindle a great fire of uproar and insurrection, whereby a whole people is plunged into ruin.—The traitorous voice that leads to uprising against the divinely ordered authorities is followed by all that will not recognize in these authorities the ordination and action of God, and that have turned their hearts away from the living God.—OSIANDER: God tempers with a cross the prosperity of His elect, in order that they may be kept in His fear. Rom. 5:3 sq.—SCHLIER: David must learn from every new experience, what grief and heart-pain it brings to forsake the Lord and not fear Him. And assuredly David did recognize in all these chastisements that again and again broke over him, not merely the hand of men, but above all, the hand of the Lord.—STARKE: It is righteous in God to requite, and to measure with the measure wherewith we have measured, Luke 6:38. [From HALL]: He had lift up his hand against a faithful subject; now a faithless dares to lift up his hand against him.—That is the way of the world: now it exalts one to heaven, now casts him down to earth; let us not then trust in men, but in God.

2 Samuel 20:3. SCHLIER: David well knew that nothing more surely and quickly brings in the Lord’s help than to put away what is unbecoming. When trouble rises let us turn to the Lord, and put away what is an offence in His eyes, and cleanse heart and house of all that is displeasing to Him.

2 Samuel 20:4. The Lord forsakes not His people even when they make mistakes, and does not inflict on us the penalty even when we go astray.

2 Samuel 20:6. WUERT. B.: Pious men are not always steadfast and strong in faith, but amid assaults and trouble often grow pusillanimous, often as weak as if they had never met and withstood an assault. Then let us diligently pray: Lord, increase our faith.

2 Samuel 20:8–10. STARKE: The world is full of insidious courtesies and flatteries, a love-token is the sign and the design is to betray. Ps. 55:22 [21].—HEDINGER [from HALL]: There is no enmity so dangerous, as that which comes masked with love…Thus spiritually deals the world with our souls, it kisses us and stabs us at once: if it did not embrace us with one hand, it could not murder us with the other.

2 Samuel 20:13–15. SCHLIER: From this we may learn how much a man that does his duty at the right time can perform; that which does most harm is not the evil men do, but their weakness in respect to doing good.—STARKE: Let the ungodly flee where they will, and seek shelter for themselves and their sins, yet the divine vengeance pursues them, Ps. 139:7.

2 Samuel 20:16, 17. Wisdom is better and mightier than all weapons. Prov. 11:14. [HALL: There is no reason that sex should disparage, where the virtue and merit are no less than masculine. Surely the soul acknowledgeth no sex, neither is varied according to the outward frame. How oft have we known female hearts in the breasts of men, and contrarily manly powers in the weaker vessels.—TR.] 2 Samuel 20:18,19. CRAMER: The best bulwark of a city is, in addition to the true service of God, to hold fast its fidelity to the authorities, to study peace and avoid insurrection and revolt; for he who lives in innocence lives in safety. Prov. 10:9.

2 Samuel 20:20, 21. WUERT. B.: Often a single ungodly man can bring whole cities and churches into great distress and misfortune, and a single pious man can preserve them. Gen. 34:5; 1 Sam. 22:18. [HENRY: A great deal of mischief would be prevented, if contending parties would but understand one another. The city obstinately holds out, believing Joab aims at its ruin; Joab furiously attacks it, believing all its citizens confederates with Sheba; whereas both were mistaken; let both sides be undeceived, and the matter is soon accommodated.—TR.]

2 Samuel 20:22. He that takes the sword shall perish by the sword, Matt. 26:52, and he that sets himself against the authorities deserves to pay the penalty with his life. Rom. 13:2. When we punish the wicked we should spare the innocent. Ezek. 18:20; Gen. 18:25

2 Samuel 20:25, 26. OSIANDER: The counsellors of princes should be priests of righteousness, that is, should administer justice and righteousness.


1 נִקְרָא “there happened,” Niph. of קרה = קרא “to meet,” not from קרא “to call, name” = “a noted, famous man” (Luther).

2So Patrick, after Victorinus Strigelius; but we know nothing definitely about it.—As Aphiah (1 Sam. 9:1) is the same as Abiah (1 Chr. 7:8), Sheba was so far of the same family as Saul.—TR.]

3 אֲלֵיהֶם, masc. suffix for fem., the general, less determined instead of the more determined, Gen. 31:9; Am. 3:2; 2 Kings 14:13, Ew., § 181 c. [Some MSS. and EDD. of De Rossi have the Fem.—TR.]

4 אַלְמְנוּת adverbial Acc. defined by הַיּוּת; one cod. of Kennicott has בְּאל׳ (Böttcher). [This reading is given by De Rossi.—TR.

5Kethib וַיְּיַחֵרְ is Impf. Pi. of אחר = יחר, Qeri וַיּוֹחֵר is Impf. Hiph. or Qal of the same verb; the latter is unnecessary.

6 פֶּן with the Perf., in expressions “of fear of a thing that, as is almost certainly conjectured, has already happened = μὴ, 2 Kings 2:16; 10:23” (Ew. § 337 b).

7 הִצִּיל as Hiph. of צלל:

8 לְבֻשׁו “his clothing” is descriptive addition to מִדּוֹ “his military garment,” over which he had put the sword-girdle. It is unnecessary (with Then., after Sept. and Vulg.) to point חָגוּר “girded” instead of חֲגוֹר “girdle.”

9[However it is a custom in the East to kiss the beard (d’Arvieux in Philippson).—TR.]

10 כָּל־בַּחֻרִים (Then.) or כָל־הַבַּחֻרִים (Ew.). Sept.: πάντες ἐν χαῤῥι, as if כָל־בְּחָרִי. [On this reading see further in “Text. and Gram.”—TR.]

11Instead of the Kethib ויקלהו we are to read the Qeri ויקהלו (Sept., Vulg., Chald.). If, instead of changing this co Perfect נִקְהֲלוּ, we keep the Impf. וַיִּקָּהְלוּ, the ו must be regarded as adding a new statement, as in Gen. 22:24; 1 Sam. 25:27 (Böttcher).

12On the ָה- in בּאֳבֵלָה Böttcher remarks: “where the relation remains purely local (which is not the case in 2 Samuel 20:18), the adverbial –ָה in innumerable cases remains with the Preposition in names of cities.”

13Böttcher: שָׁחַת may easily, along with its proper Hiph., have had a denominative Hiph. from שַׁחַת, = “to make ditches;” comp. הִפְרִים, proper Hiphil of פָּרַם, and also denominative from פַּרְסָה = “to cleave the hoof,” and הִשְׁבִּיר, Hiph. of שָׁבַר and denom. from שֶׁבֶר, = “to sell grain.” [On this and the proposed rendering: “they thought (= were trying) to throw down the wall,” see “Text. and Gram.”—TR.]

14Vulg.: Sermo, inquit, dicebatur in veteri proverbio: qui interrogant, interrogant in Abela, et sic perficiebant. Sept.: καὶ εἶπε λόγος ἐλαλήθη ἐν πρώτοις, λεγόντων· Ἐρωτῶντες ἐπερωτήσουσιν ἐν Ἀβέλ, καὶ οὕτως ἐξέλιπον.

15Sept. εἰ ἐξέλιπον ἅ ἔθεντο οὶ πιστοὶ τοῦ Ισραήλ. Ew.: בְּאָבֵל וּבְדָן הֲתַמּוּ אֲשֶׁר שָׂמוּ אֱמוּנֵי ישְׂרָאֵל.

16Böttcher: אַנְשֵׁי instead of אָנכִי. Ewald: אֲנַחְנוּ or עֹדֶנּוּ, and ו before אַתָּה.

17 הַצָּבָא, Abs. instead of Const., probably “from the error of a transcriber, who wrote this frequently-occurring form before he noticed that the word ‘Israel’ followed” (Thenius).

18 הַכָּרִי, from כּוּר “to dig.”

19[It seems to have this meaning in Esth. 10:1, but is commonly used as Dr. Erdmann says.—TR.]

And there happened to be there a man of Belial, whose name was Sheba, the son of Bichri, a Benjamite: and he blew a trumpet, and said, We have no part in David, neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse: every man to his tents, O Israel.
Lange, John Peter - Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical

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