Matthew Poole's Commentary
Now Joab the son of Zeruiah perceived that the king's heart was toward Absalom.Joab suborning a widow of Tekoah by a parable to incline the king’s heart to fetch home Absalom, bringeth him to Jerusalem, but not into David’s sight, 2 Samuel 14:1-24. Absalom’s beauty, hair, and children, 2 Samuel 14:25-27. After two years Joab bringeth, him into the king’s presence, 2 Samuel 14:28-33.
He desired to see him, but was ashamed to show kindness to one whom God’s law and his own conscience obliged him to punish; and wanted a fair pretence, which therefore Joab gave him.
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:Tekoah; a city of Judah, 2 Chronicles 11:5,6. One of Jerusalem was not convenient, lest the king might know the person, or search out the business. And besides, this woman seems to be of great eminency for her wisdom, as the following discourse manifests.
A wise woman, rather than a man, because women can more easily express their passions, and do sooner procure pity in their miseries, and an answer to their requests.
Anoint not thyself with oil; as they used to do when they were out of a mourning state. See Ruth 3:3 Matthew 6:17.
And come to the king, and speak on this manner unto him. So Joab put the words in her mouth.No text from Poole on this verse.
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.No text from Poole on this verse.
And the king said unto her, What aileth thee? And she answered, I am indeed a widow woman, and mine husband is dead.I am indeed a widow woman; one of them who most need thy compassion and assistance, and whom thou art by God’s law obliged in a singular manner to protect and relieve.
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.There was none to part them; and therefore there is no witness, either that he killed him, or how he killed him, whether from some sudden passion and great provocation, or in his own necessary defence, or otherwise.
Slew him; as the avengers of blood report.
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.That we may kill him; according to the law, Numbers 35:19 Deu 19:12.
We will destroy the heir also; so they plainly discover that their prosecution of him was not so much from love of justice, as from a covetous desire to deprive him of the inheritance, and to transfer it to themselves; which self-interest might justly render their testimony suspected. Or perhaps these words are not spoken as the expresswords of the prosecutors, (who can hardly be thought so directly to express a sinister design,) but as the woman’s inference or comment upon what they were doing, (for this would be indeed the result of it, though they did not say so in express words,) thereby to represent her case as the more deserving pity.
My coal which is left; the poor remainder of my light and comfort, by whom alone my hopes may be revived and repaired.
To my husband; she names him rather than herself, because children bear the names of their fathers, not of their mothers.
And the king said unto the woman, Go to thine house, and I will give charge concerning thee.That thy cause may be justly and truly examined, and thy son preserved from their unjust and malicious proceedings.
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.The sense is, either, first, this, If I do not inform thee aright, and thou thereby be drawn to give an unrighteous sentence on my behalf, I am willing to bear the whole blame of it before God, and men; I acknowledge thou art wholly innocent in the case. Compare Genesis 27:13. Or, secondly, this, If through thy forgetfulness or neglect of this my just cause, my adversaries prevail and destroy my son, my desire is, that God would not lay it to the king’s charge, but rather to me and mine, so the king may be exempted thereby. Whereby she both insinuates her great esteem of and affection for the king, thereby winning upon him to compass her design; and withal implies that such an omission of the king’s will bring guilt upon him; and yet most prudently and decently orders her phrase so as not to seem to blame or threaten the king. Compare Exodus 5:16,2 Samuel 20:16. This sense seems best to agree with David’s answer, which shows that she desired some further assurance of the king’s care and justice in her concern.
And the king said, Whosoever saith ought unto thee, bring him to me, and he shall not touch thee any more.i.e. So as to hurt or molest thee, by pursuing thy son.
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.Let the king remember the Lord thy God: the sense is, either, first, Make mention (as this Hebrew verb is oft rendered) of the name of the Lord thy God, to wit, in an oath, i.e. swear to me by God, that thou wilt protect me and my son against the revenger of blood; for so David did in compliance with this desire of hers. Only she was forced to express her mind in more general and ambiguous terms, because it had been presumption and rudeness for her in plain terms to desire the king’s oath, as if she durst not trust his word; yet withal she insinuates her meaning so plainly that the king understood it; and yet so handsomely and elegantly, that the king was much pleased with her wisdom, and thereby inclined to grant her request. Or, secondly, this, Remember the gracious nature of thy God, who is not too severe and rigorous to mark at all that is amiss, nor doth cut off every man-slayer, as appears from Num 35, and from the example of Cain, and from thyself, O king; though this she expresseth not, but only useth such words which she knew would give so wise and good a king occasion to reflect upon himself, and upon the goodness of God in sparing him, though a wilful murderer, that thereby he might be obliged to imitate God, in sparing the person whom she designed. Or, thirdly, this, Remember the Lord in whose presence thou hast made me this promise, and who will be a witness against thee, if thou breakest it.
That thou wouldest not suffer the revengers of blood to destroy any more, Heb. lest the avenger of blood multiply to destroy, i. e. lest they cause one destruction to another, and add my surviving son to him who is slain already. Or, lest thou dost multiply avengers of blood to destroy, i. e. lest by thy connivance at their cruel and malicious proceedings against my son, thou dost encourage avengers of blood to the like furious practices, and thereby increase the number of that sort of men, and upon that pretence occasion multitudes of murders.
Lest they destroy my son; or, and let them not destroy my son; the future tense being put for the imperative mood, as is frequent.
There shall not one hair of thy son fall to the earth, i. e. he shall not suffer the least damage. We have the same phrase used 1 Samuel 14:45 1 Kings 1:52 Acts 27:34: compare Matthew 10:30.
Then the woman said, Let thine handmaid, I pray thee, speak one word unto my lord the king. And he said, Say on.Having obliged the king by his oath in her supposed case, she now throws off the veil, and begins to apply this parable to the king’s and kingdom’s present case.
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.If thou wouldst not permit the avengers of blood to molest me, or to destroy my son, who are but two persons; how unreasonable is it that thou shouldst proceed in thy endeavours to avenge Amnon’s blood upon Absalom, whose death would be highly injurious and grievous to the whole commonwealth of Israel, all whose eyes are upon him as the heir of the crown, and a wise, and valiant, and amiable person, unhappy only in this one act of killing Amnon, which was done upon a high and heinous provocation, and whereof thou thyself didst give the occasion, by permitting Amnon to go unpunished!
The king doth speak this thing as one which is faulty; by thy word, and promise, and oath given to me for thy son, thou condemnest thyself for not allowing the same equity towards thy own son.
His banished, to wit, Absalom, from that heathenish country, where he is in evident danger of being infected with their idolatry and other vices; which is likely to be a great and public mischief to all thy people, if he come to reign in thy stead, which he is very likely to do. It is true, there was a considerable disparity between her son’s and Absalom’s case, the one being a rash and sudden action, the other a deliberate and premeditated murder; but that may seem to be balanced in some measure, partly by Amnon’s great and lasting provocation, and principally by the vast difference between a private injury, which was her case, and in a public calamity and grievance, which she affirmed, and the king easily believed, was Absalom’s case: and what David said in the case of Joab’s murder of Abner, that he could not revenge it, because the sons of Zeruiah were too hard for him, 2 Samuel 3:39; the like peradventure might have been said in this case, where the people’s hearts may seem to have been universally and vehemently set upon Absalom, and the rather, because his long banishment moved their pity, and his absence made him more desirable, as it frequently happens among people; and therefore it might really be out of the king’s power to punish him; and so he might seem to be obliged to spare him for the common safety of his whole kingdom.
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.We must needs die, Heb. in dying we shall die, i. e. we shall certainly and suddenly die all of us; both thou, O king, who therefore art obliged to take due care of thy successor, who is Absalom; and Absalom, who, if he do not die by the hand of justice, must shortly die by the necessity of nature; and Amnon too must have died in the common way of all flesh, if Absalom had not cut him off. Therefore, O king, be not implacable towards Absalom for nipping a flower a little before its time of fading, and restore him to us all before he die in a strange land.
Spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again; which is quickly drunk up and buried in the earth, and cannot be recovered.
Neither doth God respect any person, to wit, so far as to exempt him from this common law of dying. But this version seems not to agree with the Scripture phrase; for
the accepting of a person is never to my knowledge expressed in Hebrew by nasa nephesh, which is the phrase here, but by nasa panira, every where. The words therefore may be rendered either thus, yet God will not take away, or doth not use to take away, (the future tense oft noting a continued act, as Hebricians observe,) the soul, or souls, or lives of men, to wit, by violence. God doth not severely and instantly cut off offenders, but suffers them to live till they die by the course of nature; and therefore so shouldst thou do too. Or rather thus yet God hath not taken away his soul or life; the pronoun his being understood here as it is in many other places, and as being easily supplied out of the context. So the sense is, God hath hitherto spared him, and did not suffer his brethren to kill him, as in reason might have been expected; nor hath God himself yet cut him off for his murder, as he oft doth with persons who are out of the magistrate’s reach; but hath hitherto preserved him even in a heathenish land; all which are intimations that God would have him spared.
Yet doth he devise means, that his banished be not expelled from him; or, but hath devised means, &c., i.e. hath given laws to this purpose, that the man-slayer who is banished should not always continue in banishment, but upon the high priest’s death return to his own city; whereby he hath showed his pleasure that the avenger of blood should not implacably persist in seeking revenge, and that the man-slayer should be spared. Or rather thus, but thinketh thoughts, or, but hath designed, or, therefore he intendeth that he who is banished (to wit, Absalom) be not (always) expelled or banished from him, i.e. from God and from his people, and from the place of his worship, but that he should return home to him. So the sense is, that God, by sparing Absalom’s life in the midst of dangers, did sufficiently intimate that he would in due time bring him back to his land and people.
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.It is because the people have made me afraid; the truth is, I was even forced to this bold address to thee by the disposition and condition of thy people, who are discontented at Absalom’s perpetual banishment, and full of fears; either lest, upon thy death, which none knoweth how soon it may happen, they should be involved in a civil war about thy successor; or lest, in the mean time, if Absalom by his father-in-law’s assistance invade the land, and endeavour by force to regain and secure his right to the succession, the people, who have a great opinion of him, and kindness for him, and think he is very hardly used, should take up arms for him; or lest he who is thy heir and successor should by continual and familiar conversation with heathens be ensnared in their errors, or alienated from the true religion, and from God’s worship, from which he is now utterly excluded.
And thy handmaid said, or, therefore thy handmaid said; either within myself, i.e. I intended; or to the people, to quiet them.
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.For I know the king is so wise and just, that I assure myself of audience and acceptation; which expectation of hers is cunningly insinuated here, that the king might conceive himself obliged to answer it, and not to disappoint her hope, nor to forfeit that good opinion which his subjects now had of him.
To deliver his handmaid out of the hand of the man; to grant my request concerning my son, and consequently the people’s petition concerning Absalom.
Me and my son; implying that her life was bound up in the life of her son, and that she could not outlive his death; (and supposing, it is like, that it might be David’s case also, and would therefore touch him in a tender part, though it were not proper to say it expressly;) and thereby suggesting that the tranquillity, safety, and comfort of the people of Israel depended upon Absalom’s restitution, and the settlement of the succession in him.
Out of the inheritance of God, i.e. out of that inheritance which God hath given to me and mine; or out of that land which God gave to his people to be their inheritance and possession, and in which alone God hath settled the place of his presence and worship; whereby she intimates the danger of Absalom’s living in a state of separation from God and his house, and amongst idolaters.
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.The word of my lord the king shall now be comfortable; I doubt not the king will give a gracious and satisfactory answer to my petition.
As an angel of God, to wit, in wisdom, and justice, and goodness.
To discern good and bad; to hear and judge of causes and requests, whether they be just, and good, and fit to be granted, as mine is; or unrighteous, and unreasonable, and fit to be rejected. So she intimates her confidence in the justice of her cause, and thereby confirms the king in his purpose and promise to grant her request, and withal arms the king against the suggestions of them who should advise him to a rigorous execution of God’s law against Absalom, and be ready to censure him for restoring Absalom, and this for want of that angelical wisdom which the king had, who wisely considered many things far above their reach.
Therefore; because thou art so wise, and just, and pitiful, and gracious to those who in strict justice deserve punishment.
The Lord thy God will be with thee; God will own and stand by thee in this thy act of grace; or, God will prosper thee in thy enterprises; or, at least, not be offended 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.No text from Poole on this verse.
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:Is not the hand of Joab with thee in all this? hast thou not said and done this by Joab’s direction and contrivance?
None can turn to the right hand or to the left from ought that my lord the king hath spoken: as the king is so wise that no man can deceive him by any turnings or windings to the right or left hand, but he quickly searcheth out the truth in every thing; so, (it is a folly to dissemble, or go about to conceal it,) it is even so, thou hast now discovered the truth of this business.
He put all these words in the mouth of thine handmaid, to wit, for the scope and substance of them, but not as to all the expressions which she used, for these were to be varied as the king’s answer gave occasion, which also she did with singular prudence.
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 fetch about this form of speech, i.e. to propose mine, and his, and the people’s desire of Absalom’s restitution in this parabolical manner, in mine and my son’s person.
In the earth, or, in this land, in all thy kingdom; all the counsels and devices of thy subjects which have any relation to thee or thy affairs.
And the king said unto Joab, Behold now, I have done this thing: go therefore, bring the young man Absalom again.I have done this thing, in compliance with thy desire; although in truth it was according to his own desire. He overlooks the woman in this grant, because she was but Joab’s instrument in it.
The young man; by which expression he mitigates his crime, as being an act of youthful heat, and folly, and rashness.
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.i.e. Restored Absalom at my request; whereby. Joab thought to establish himself for ever, and that he should be both the father’s and the son’s favourite.
Quest. Whether David did well in granting this request?
Answ. Although there be some circumstances which in part extenuate David’s fault herein, as Amnon’s high provocation of Absalom; Absalom’s being out of the reach of David’s justice, where also he could and would have kept himself, if David had not promised him immunity; the extreme danger of Absalom’s infection by heathenish principles and practices; the safety of David’s kingdom, which seemed to depend upon the, establishment of the succession, and that upon Absalom, to whom the hearts of the people were so universally and vehemently inclined, if the matter was really so, and not pretended or magnified by the art of this subtle woman: yet it seems most probable that David was faulty herein, because this action was directly contrary to the express laws of God, which strictly command the supreme magistrate to execute justice upon all wilful murderers, without any reservation, Genesis 9:6 Numbers 35:30,31. And David had no power to dispense with God’s laws, nor to spare any whom God commanded him to destroy; for the laws of God did bind the kings and rulers as well as the people of Israel to observe and obey them, as is most evident from Deu 17:18,19, and from Joshua 1:8, and many other places. And indeed we may read David’s sin in the glass of those tremendous judgments of God which befell him, by means of his indulgence to Absalom. For although God’s providences be in themselves no rule to judge of the good or evil of men’s actions; yet where they comply with God’s word, and accomplish his threatenings, as here they did, they are to be taken for the tokens of God’s displeasure.
So Joab arose and went to Geshur, and brought Absalom to Jerusalem.No text from Poole on this verse.
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.Let him not see my face; lest whilst he showed some mercy to Absalom, he should seem to approve of his sin, and thereby wound his own conscience, and lose his honour, and encourage him and others to such-like attempts; and that by this means Absalom might be drawn to a more thorough humiliation and true repentance.
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.This is here noted as the occasion of his pride and insolency, and of the people’s affections to him, and consequently of the following rebellion.
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.Whereas ordinarily the hair of a man’s head which grows in a year’s space comes not to half so much. But some men’s hair grows much faster, and is much heavier, than others. But others understand this not of the weight, but of the price of his hair, which was sold by him that polled it at that rate.
And unto Absalom there were born three sons, and one daughter, whose name was Tamar: she was a woman of a fair countenance.Three sons; all which died not long after they were born, as may be gathered from 2 Samuel 18:18, where it is said that Absalom had no son. Tamar; so called from her aunt, 2 Samuel 13:1.
So Absalom dwelt two full years in Jerusalem, and saw not the king's face.No text from Poole on this verse.
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.To have sent him to the king; that by his mediation he might be admitted into the king’s favour and presence.
He would not come; partly, because perceiving David’s affections to be cold to Absalom, he would not venture his own interest for him, especially in desiring that which he feared he should be denied; partly, lest by interceding further for Absalom, he should revive the remembrance of his former murder, and meet with the reproach of one murderer’s interceding for another; and partly, because by converse with Absalom he observed his temper to be such, that if once he were fully restored to the king’s favour, he would not only eclipse and oppose Joab’s interest and power with the king, but also attempt high things, not without danger to the king and kingdom, as it happened.
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.Go and set it on fire, that Joab may be forced to come to me to complain of and demand reparations for, this injury.
Then Joab arose, and came to Absalom unto his house, and said unto him, Wherefore have thy servants set my field on fire?No text from Poole on this verse.
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.It had been good for me to have been there still, rather than here, because my estrangement from him now when I am so near to him is both moro grievous and more shameful to me. But the truth of the business was this, Absalom saw that his father had accomplished his design in bringing him thither, having satisfied both his own natural affection, and his people’s desire of Absalom’s return from banishment; but that he could not without restitution into the king’s presence and favour compass his design, i.e. confirm and improve that interest which he saw he had in the people’s hearts.
Let him kill me; for it is better for me to die, than to want the sight and favour of my dear father. Thus he insinuates himself into his father’s affections, by pretending such respect and love to him. It seems that by this time Absalom having so far recovered his father’s favour as to be recalled, he began to grow upon him, and take so much confidence as to stand upon his own justification, as if what he had done had been no iniquity, at least not such as to deserve death; for so much this speech intimates.
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.In testimony of his thorough reconciliation to him; which Absalom did very ill requite, as the next chapter manifesteth.