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Clarke's Commentary on the Bible
David reviews and arranges the people, and gives the command to Joab, Abishai, and Ittai, 2 Samuel 18:1, 2 Samuel 18:2. On his expressing a desire to accompany them to the battle, they will not permit him, 2 Samuel 18:3. He reviews them as they go out of the city, and gives commandment to the captains to save Absalom, 2 Samuel 18:4, 2 Samuel 18:5. They join battle with Absalom and his army, who are discomfited with the loss of twenty thousand men, 2 Samuel 18:6-8. Absalom, fleeing away, is caught by his head in an oak; Joab finds him, and transfixes him with three darts, 2 Samuel 18:9-15. The servants of David are recalled, and Absalom buried, 2 Samuel 18:16-18. Ahimaaz and Cushi bring the tidings to David, who is greatly distressed at hearing of the death of Absalom, and makes bitter lamentation for him, 2 Samuel 18:19-33.
1And David numbered the people that were with him, and set captains of thousands and captains of hundreds over them.
And set captains of thousands - By this time David's small company was greatly recruited; but what its number was we cannot tell. Josephus says it amounted to four thousand men. Others have supposed that they amounted to ten thousand; for thus they understand a clause in 2 Samuel 18:3, which they think should be read, We are now ten thousand strong.
2And 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.
3But 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.
But now thou art worth ten thousand of us - The particle יתה attah, now, is doubtless a mistake for the pronoun אתה attah, thou; and so it appears to have been read by the Septuagint, the Vulgate, and the Chaldee, and by two of Kennicott's and De Rossi's MSS.
4And 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.
5And 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.
Deal gently - with the young man - David was the father of this worthless young man; and is it to be wondered at that he feels as a father? Who in his circumstances, that had such feelings as every man should have, would have felt, or acted otherwise?
6So the people went out into the field against Israel: and the battle was in the wood of Ephraim;
7Where the people of Israel were slain before the servants of David, and there was there a great slaughter that day of twenty thousand men.
Twenty thousand men - Whether these were slain on the field of battle, or whether they were reckoned with those slain in the wood of Ephraim, we know not.
8For 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 wood devoured more people - It is generally supposed that, when the army was broken, they betook themselves to the wood, fell into pits, swamps, etc., and, being entangled, were hewn down by David's men; but the Chaldee, Syriac, and Arabic, state that they were devoured by wild beasts in the wood.
9And 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 his head caught hold of the oak - It has been supposed that Absalom was caught by the hair, but no such thing is intimated in the text. Probably his neck was caught in the fork of a strong bough, and he was nearly dead when Joab found him; for it is said, 2 Samuel 18:14, he was yet alive, an expression which intimates he was nearly dead.
10And a certain man saw it, and told Joab, and said, Behold, I saw Absalom hanged in an oak.
I saw Absalom hanged in an oak - He must have hung there a considerable time. this man saw him hanging; how long he had been hanging before he saw him, we cannot tell. He came and informed Joab; this must have taken up a considerable time. Joab went and pierced him through with three darts; this must have taken up still more time. It is therefore natural to conclude that his life must have been nearly gone after having been so long suspended, and probably was past recovery, even if Joab had taken him down.
11And 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 a girdle - The military belt was the chief ornament of a soldier, and was highly prized in all ancient nations; it was also a rich present from one chieftain to another. Jonathan gave his to David, as the highest pledge of his esteem and perpetual friendship, 1 Samuel 18:4. And Ajax gave his to Hector, as a token of the highest respect. - Hom. Il. vii., ver. 305.
12And 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.
13Otherwise 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.
Thou thyself wouldest have set thyself against me - This is a strong appeal to Joab's loyalty, and respect for the orders of David; but he was proof against every fine feeling, and against every generous sentiment.
14Then 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.
I may not tarry thus with thee - He had nothing to say in vindication of the purpose he had formed.
Thrust them through the heart of Absalom - He was determined to make sure work, and therefore he pierced his heart.
Joab should have obeyed the king's commandment: and yet the safety of the state required the sacrifice of Absalom. But independently of this, his life was quadruply forfeited to the law: -
1. In having murdered his brother Amnon.
2. In having excited an insurrection in the state.
3. In having taken up arms against his own father, Deuteronomy 21:18, Deuteronomy 21:21.
4. In having lain with his father's concubines, Leviticus 18:29.
Long ago he should have died by the hand of justice; and now all his crimes are visited on him in his last act of rebellion. Yet, in the present circumstances, Joab's act was base and disloyal, and a cowardly murder.
15And ten young men that bare Joab's armour compassed about and smote Absalom, and slew him.
Ten young men - smote Absalom and slew him - That is, they all pierced the body; but there could be no life in it after three darts had been thrust through the heart: but they added as much as would have killed him had he been alive.
16And Joab blew the trumpet, and the people returned from pursuing after Israel: for Joab held back the people.
Joab blew the trumpet - He knew that the rebellion was now extinguished by the death of Absalom; and was not willing that any farther slaughter should be made of the deluded people.
17And 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.
And laid a very great heap of stones - This was the method of burying heroes, and even traitors, the heap of stones being designed to perpetuate the memory of the event, whether good or bad. The ancient cairns or heaps of stones, in different parts of the world, are of this kind. The various tumuli or barrows in England are the same as the cairns in different parts of Ireland and Scotland. In the former, stones were not plenty; hence they heaped up great mounds of earth.
18Now 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.
Reared up for himself a pillar - There was a marble pillar in the time of Josephus called Absalom's pillar: and there is one shown to the present day under this name; but it is comparatively a modern structure.
Absalom's place - Literally Absalom's Hand. See the note on 1 Samuel 15:12.
19Then 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.
20And 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.
21Then said Joab to Cushi, Go tell the king what thou hast seen. And Cushi bowed himself unto Joab, and ran.
Tell the king what thou hast seen - At this time the death of Absalom was not publicly known; but Joab had given Cushi private information of it. This Ahimaaz had not, for he could not tell the king whether Absalom were dead. To this Joab seems to refer, 2 Samuel 18:22 : "Thou hast no tidings ready.
22Then 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?
23But howsoever, said he, let me run. And he said unto him, Run. Then Ahimaaz ran by the way of the plain, and overran Cushi.
24And 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 sat between the two gates - He was probably in the seat of justice. Before the gate of the city it is supposed there was an enclosure, which had its gate also; David sat in the space between these two doors. Over the larger gate there appears to have been a turret, on which a sentinel or watchman stood continually, and gave information of what he saw in the country.
25And 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.
If he be alone, there is tidings - That is, good tidings. For if the battle had been lost men would have been running in different directions through the country.
26And 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.
27And 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.
28And 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.
29And 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.
I saw a great tumult - It was very probable that Ahimaaz did not know of the death of Absalom; he had seen the rout of his army, but did not know of his death. Others think he knew all, and told this untruth that he might not be the messenger of bad news to David.
30And the king said unto him, Turn aside, and stand here. And he turned aside, and stood still.
Stand here - He intended to confront two messengers, and compare their accounts.
31And, 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.
32And 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.
Is the young man Absalom safe? - This was the utmost of his solicitude, and it well merited the reproof which Joab gave him, 2 Samuel 19:5.
33And 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!
O my son Absalom - It is allowed by the most able critics that this lamentation is exceedingly pathetic. In what order the words were pronounced, for much depends on this, we cannot say. Perhaps it was the following: -
בני אבשלום בני Beni Abshalom, beni! My son Absalom! O my son!
בני אבשלום Beni Abshalom! O my son Absalom!
מי יתן מותי אני תחתיך Mi yitten muthi ani thachteicha. O that I had died in thy stead!
אבשלום בני בני Abshalom, beni! beni! O Absalom, my son, my son!
Is there no hope for the soul of this profligate young man? He died in his iniquity: but is it not possible that he implored the mercy of his Maker while he hung in the tree? And is it not possible that the mercy of God was extended to him? And was not that suspension a respite, to the end that he might have time to deprecate the wrath of Divine justice?
This is at least a charitable conjecture, and humanity will delight in such a case to lay hold even on possibilities. If there be any room for hope in such a death, who that knows the worth of an immortal soul, would not wish to indulge in it?