2 Samuel 17
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Moreover Ahithophel said unto Absalom, Let me now choose out twelve thousand men, and I will arise and pursue after David this night:
Ch. 2 Samuel 17:1-14. Ahithophel’s counsel defeated by Hushai

1. this night] The night following David’s flight and Absalom’s entrance into Jerusalem. Ahithophel’s advice, given no doubt at the council described in ch. 2 Samuel 16:20, was excellent. The success of the rebellion would be ensured by striking a sudden blow, and securing the king’s person. A small body of picked troops might easily have overtaken David, who was not likely to get more than twelve or fifteen miles from Jerusalem the first day.

And I will come upon him while he is weary and weak handed, and will make him afraid: and all the people that are with him shall flee; and I will smite the king only:
2. will make him afraid] The word describes the panic caused by a sudden night attack, in the confusion of which David might easily be seized.

And I will bring back all the people unto thee: the man whom thou seekest is as if all returned: so all the people shall be in peace.
3. the man, &c.] Lit. As the returning of all is the man whom thou seekest. The return of all the people to thee will be ensured by the removal of David. If that is effected, there will be no civil war. Ahithophel’s use of the term “return” is a subtle flattery, implying that David’s followers were deserting their lawful sovereign. But the true text is not improbably preserved by the Sept.: “And I will cause all the people to return unto thee, as the bride returneth to her husband. Only one man’s life dost thou seek, and unto all the people there shall be peace.” The defection of the people is compared to the momentary desertion of a bride, who speedily returns to her husband.

And the saying pleased Absalom well, and all the elders of Israel.
4. the elders of Israel] Who were sitting in council with Absalom. For the various functions of the elders, see note on 1 Samuel 8:4.

Then said Absalom, Call now Hushai the Archite also, and let us hear likewise what he saith.
5. let us hear likewise what he saith] Let us hear what he too has to say, as well as Ahithophel.

And when Hushai was come to Absalom, Absalom spake unto him, saying, Ahithophel hath spoken after this manner: shall we do after his saying? if not; speak thou.
And Hushai said unto Absalom, The counsel that Ahithophel hath given is not good at this time.
7. The counsel, &c.] The counsel which Ahithophel hath counselled this time is not good: in contrast to his previous counsel (ch. 2 Samuel 16:21), which Hushai pretends to approve.

For, said Hushai, thou knowest thy father and his men, that they be mighty men, and they be chafed in their minds, as a bear robbed of her whelps in the field: and thy father is a man of war, and will not lodge with the people.
8. For, said Hushai] And Hushai said.

chafed in their minds] Lit. bitter of soul: embittered and exasperated. Cp. Jdg 18:25; 1 Samuel 22:2.

as a bear robbed of her whelps] Proverbial for its ferocity. Cp. Proverbs 17:12; Hosea 13:8. The Syrian bear is said to be particularly ferocious. See 1 Samuel 17:34. The Sept. adds, “and like a savage sow in the plain,” which is rather a Greek than a Hebrew simile. Cp. Hom. Il. xiii. 471 ff.

Behold, he is hid now in some pit, or in some other place: and it will come to pass, when some of them be overthrown at the first, that whosoever heareth it will say, There is a slaughter among the people that follow Absalom.
9. in some pit, or in some other place] Omit other. By pit is meant a cave or natural hiding-place; by place an artificially strengthened position.

when some of them be overthrown] Or, when he (David) falleth upon them (his assailants).

And he also that is valiant, whose heart is as the heart of a lion, shall utterly melt: for all Israel knoweth that thy father is a mighty man, and they which be with him are valiant men.
Therefore I counsel that all Israel be generally gathered unto thee, from Dan even to Beersheba, as the sand that is by the sea for multitude; and that thou go to battle in thine own person.
11. be generally gathered] Generally = ‘as a whole’: as we might say, “that there be a general gathering of all Israel.”

from Dan even to Beer-sheba] See note on 1 Samuel 3:20.

the sand, &c.] A common figure for an innumerable multitude. Cp. Genesis 22:17; Genesis 41:49; 1 Samuel 13:5; Psalm 78:27; &c.

and that thou go, &c.] Or, and that thy presence go in the midst of them; as the Sept., Vulg., and other versions read instead of to the battle.

So shall we come upon him in some place where he shall be found, and we will light upon him as the dew falleth on the ground: and of him and of all the men that are with him there shall not be left so much as one.
12. as the dew] As the innumerable drops of dew settle on the ground unseen and unheard, so will our vast army completely overwhelm him without perceptible effort.

Moreover, if he be gotten into a city, then shall all Israel bring ropes to that city, and we will draw it into the river, until there be not one small stone found there.
13. into the river] Into the ravine. Hushai intentionally indulges in an extravagant hyperbole in order to describe the irresistible power of the force that would be gathered, if he means to suggest the idea of dragging a city bodily down from the rock on which, like most fortified cities, it was built: but perhaps he means no more than that the city should be conquered and demolished as a penalty. Compare Micah’s prophecy of the destruction of Samaria, which stood on a hill: “I will pour down the stones thereof into the valley” (Micah 1:6).

And Absalom and all the men of Israel said, The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel. For the LORD had appointed to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, to the intent that the LORD might bring evil upon Absalom.
14. Hushai saw that it was essential to gain time, “in order,” to quote the words of Tacitus, “to give the disaffected time to repent, and the loyal time to unite: crimes gain by hasty action, better counsels by delay.” (Tac. Hist. i. 32.) His scheme was cleverly devised to appeal to Absalom’s vanity and love of display. It seemed safe and easy: it was a far more attractive idea for Absalom to march in person against David at the head of an immense army, than for him to let Ahithophel complete the revolution by a decisive action at once. His vanity proved his ruin. He forgot that a general levy would involve no slight delay: he forgot that the rising was by no means certain to be general, and that when the first surprise of the insurrection was over, many would return to their allegiance to David. But Absalom and his counsellors were blinded by a divinely ordered infatuation. “Quern vult Deus deperdere, dementat prius.”

Then said Hushai unto Zadok and to Abiathar the priests, Thus and thus did Ahithophel counsel Absalom and the elders of Israel; and thus and thus have I counselled.
Now therefore send quickly, and tell David, saying, Lodge not this night in the plains of the wilderness, but speedily pass over; lest the king be swallowed up, and all the people that are with him.
15–22. Hushai sends word to David by Jonathan and Ahimaaz

16. Lodge not this night] A prudent precaution, for Absalom might change his mind, and follow Ahithophel’s counsel after all.

in the plains of the wilderness] Perhaps we should read at the fords of the wilderness. See note on ch. 2 Samuel 15:28.

Now Jonathan and Ahimaaz stayed by Enrogel; for they might not be seen to come into the city: and a wench went and told them; and they went and told king David.
17. Jonathan and Ahimaaz] Hushai had evidently communicated David’s plan to Zadok and Abiathar, and commissioned the young men to be in waiting at a convenient place.

En-rogel] That is, “The Fuller’s Fountain,” probably the modern “Fountain of the Virgin,” in the valley of the Kidron, just outside the city on the south-east. It was close to “the stone of Zoheleth” (1 Kings 1:9), which has been identified with the cliff Zahweileh, on which the modern village of Siloam stands. Others however suppose En-rogel to be the deep and ancient well known as “Job’s Well,” near the junction of the valleys of the Kidron and Hinnom. En-rogel was a land-mark on the boundary between Judah and Benjamin (Joshua 15:7; Joshua 18:16).

they might not be seen] For it was notorious that the high-priests were on David’s side. They knew that their movements would be watched, as the next verse shews was the case.

a wench] The maid-servant: the definite article probably denotes a particular servant belonging to the household of one of the high-priests. She could go to the fountain for water without exciting suspicion. Wench, found here only in the E. V., means a girl, usually one of low birth.

Nevertheless a lad saw them, and told Absalom: but they went both of them away quickly, and came to a man's house in Bahurim, which had a well in his court; whither they went down.
18. a well] A cistern, dry at the time. The existence of numerous rock-cut cisterns with narrow mouths at Almît, the probable site of Bahurim, illustrates the incident. See Pal. Expl. Fund Quarterly Statement, Jan. 1881, p. 45.

And the woman took and spread a covering over the well's mouth, and spread ground corn thereon; and the thing was not known.
19. a covering] The covering, either the usual cover of the cistern, or, as the general use of the word suggests, the curtain which hung in the doorway. See Exodus 26:36 (E. V. hanging).

ground corn] Bruised or husked wheat, which she spread out as if to dry. The mode of its preparation is referred to in Proverbs 27:22, the only other passage in which the word occurs.

And when Absalom's servants came to the woman to the house, they said, Where is Ahimaaz and Jonathan? And the woman said unto them, They be gone over the brook of water. And when they had sought and could not find them, they returned to Jerusalem.
20. The brook of water] The word Michal, translated brook, is found here only. It may have been some local name. The woman sent the pursuers off in the wrong direction, and then at once despatched Jonathan and Ahimaaz. Compare the deceit practised by Rahab (Joshua 2:4 ff.), and by Michal (1 Samuel 19:12-17). As stated in the note on the latter passage, Holy Scripture affirms the universal duty of Truth without any exception (Leviticus 19:11), nor can it be understood to sanction breaches of this general law by recording them without express disapproval. See also note on ch. 2 Samuel 15:34. It is left to the casuist to discuss whether any necessity is sufficient to justify a falsehood or an act of deception. See Whewell’s Elements of Morality, Chaps. xv. xvi.

And it came to pass, after they were departed, that they came up out of the well, and went and told king David, and said unto David, Arise, and pass quickly over the water: for thus hath Ahithophel counselled against you.
Then David arose, and all the people that were with him, and they passed over Jordan: by the morning light there lacked not one of them that was not gone over Jordan.
And when Ahithophel saw that his counsel was not followed, he saddled his ass, and arose, and gat him home to his house, to his city, and put his household in order, and hanged himself, and died, and was buried in the sepulchre of his father.
23. The suicide of Ahithophel

23. to his city] Giloh. See ch. 2 Samuel 15:12.

put his household in order] Lit. gave charge concerning his house: arranged his affairs and made his will. Cp. 2 Kings 20:1.

hanged himself] Like Judas (Matthew 27:5). It is the first deliberate suicide on record, and was prompted by mortification at the rejection of his counsel; by the chagrin of baffled ambition; by the conviction that now the rebellion would inevitably fail, and that he would only live to suffer a traitor’s death.

Then David came to Mahanaim. And Absalom passed over Jordan, he and all the men of Israel with him.
24–26. Progress of the Rebellion

24. to Mahanaim] See note on ch. 2 Samuel 2:8. It was chosen for David’s head-quarters as the most important and strongest city in the trans-Jordanic country, which was evidently the least disaffected.

And Absalom passed over Jordan] Before this a considerable interval must have elapsed, during which Absalom was formally anointed (ch. 2 Samuel 19:10), and a general levy of the nation raised according to Hushai’s counsel, while David had time to organize his forces and establish himself at Mahanaim.

And Absalom made Amasa captain of the host instead of Joab: which Amasa was a man's son, whose name was Ithra an Israelite, that went in to Abigail the daughter of Nahash, sister to Zeruiah Joab's mother.
25. Amasa] It has been supposed by some that he is the same as Amasai who came to David at Hebron (1 Chronicles 12:16-18). But if so, would not the fact of his relationship to David have been mentioned there?

Ithra an Israelite] Called in 1 Chronicles 2:17 Jether the Ishmeelite. Jether and Ithra are different forms of the same name: and Ishmaelite should probably be read here in place of Israelite, which has no point. The Alex. MS. of the LXX reads Ishmaelite, the Vatican MS. Jezreelite.

Abigal the daughter of Nahash] Amasa’s mother Abigal (or Abigail) was David’s sister, and we should naturally infer from 1 Chronicles 2:16-17 that Abigail and Zeruiah were Jesse’s daughters. Who then was Nahash? To this three answers may be given. (1) The obvious one, that she was Jesse’s wife, to which the objection is that Nahash is not a woman’s name. (2) That Nahash is another name for Jesse, which is the Jewish tradition, but is not supported by any evidence. (3) That Nahash was the first husband of Jesse’s wife, so that Abigail and Zeruiah were only step-sisters to David. This view has in its favour the guarded statement of 1 Chronicles 2:16, which does not say that they were Jesse’s daughters, but sisters of his sons. To go on to identify Nahash with the king of the Ammonites defeated by Saul is mere conjecture. It should be noted that Amasa and Joab were cousins.

So Israel and Absalom pitched in the land of Gilead.
And it came to pass, when David was come to Mahanaim, that Shobi the son of Nahash of Rabbah of the children of Ammon, and Machir the son of Ammiel of Lodebar, and Barzillai the Gileadite of Rogelim,
27–29. Loyal reception of David at Mahanaim

27. when David was come to Mahanaim] The narrative is continued from 2 Samuel 17:24. What follows happened immediately on David’s arrival there.

Shobi the son of Nahash of Rabbah] It is natural to suppose that Shobi was a brother of Hanun (ch. 2 Samuel 10:1), who had been invested with some kind of dependent chieftainship by David after the conquest of the Ammonites, and now came to testify his gratitude.

Machir] See note on ch. 2 Samuel 9:4. He who had entertained Jonathan’s son now shews hospitality to Jonathan’s friend.

Barzillai the Gileadite of Rogelim] Who came down to escort the king over Jordan on his return, but declined to accompany him to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 19:31-40). His sons were commended to Solomon’s care (1 Kings 2:7) and as late as the Return from the Captivity a family of priests traced their descent from one of his daughters (Ezra 2:61-63; Nehemiah 7:63). The site of Rogelim is unknown.

Brought beds, and basons, and earthen vessels, and wheat, and barley, and flour, and parched corn, and beans, and lentiles, and parched pulse,
28. beds, and basons] The Sept. reads “ten beds with coverlets and ten bowls.”

parched corn … parched pulse] If the text is sound, this is the right explanation: but it is strange that the same word should be twice repeated in one sentence to denote different articles. The Sept. omits the second.

And honey, and butter, and sheep, and cheese of kine, for David, and for the people that were with him, to eat: for they said, The people is hungry, and weary, and thirsty, in the wilderness.
29. butter] Curdled milk is probably meant, called leben by the modern Arabs, and greatly esteemed as a refreshing drink. Cp. Jdg 5:25.

cheese of kine] So the Targum explains a word which occurs here only. The Vulg. gives fat calves, which agrees better with the position of the word after sheep.

The people is hungry] The people hath got hungry, &c., in their passage through the wilderness.

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