Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
And David numbered the people that were with him, and set captains of thousands and captains of hundreds over them.The Might-have-been
2 Samuel 18:33
I. Besides the Absalom who was, there is the Absalom who might have been: this is the dead son whom David is lamenting, this is the son he knew, the son he cannot forget, whose image is not blotted out by the shamed figure of the murderer, rebel, traitor, which is the only Absalom visible to all the rest.
II. King David has been for Jew and for Christian a type of the Christ. For this once we will make him a type of something else: he shall be an image not of God the Son, but of God the Father: his fatherly love shall be symbol to us of the love of a Father Who is in heaven. May it not be that even the great Father loves and mourns a son as David did, yes, and for cause the same.
Consider it. Such an one is dead, gone (as we say) to his last account: it is a bad record which closes a life vicious, reckless, false: the world sighs with relief to be well rid of him: the Joabs have struck their spears into him as he hung in calamity's grip, and the multitude have cast each man his opprobrious stone to build up the monument of infamy over that disastrous life. But meanwhile the news of that shameful ending has been borne to the towers of heaven. Is it relief, exultation, is it opprobrium that greets it there? I think it not. Rather I think it is a Father, a Divine Father, mourning in His high place with a sorrow larger than the sorrow of man, over 'His son, His son'. That Father is mourning not the fool, the rebel, the profligate, but the son whom He knew before these evil days: the child of His desires, His hopes; the man who might have been, who was not, and now can never be.
III. Would Absalom, if he could have foreseen David's passion of grief over his ruin, would Absalom have been touched at heart, and chosen to have the father's love rather than his own ruin? One cannot know. And however that may be, one of us mortal children of the Father in heaven may find a power upon our wills in the imagination of that parental love which can so sorrow at our fall. If God so cherishes my soul, if He can so delight in the work of His own hands, and believe it so capable of good, mourn so over its failure of good, shall I not care for it myself, believe in it myself, covet to become that which I might be, was made to be?
—J. H. Skrine, The Heart's Counsel, p. 134.
Reference.—XVIII. 33.—W. Howell Evans, Sermons for the Church's Year, p. 176.
And David sent forth a third part of the people under the hand of Joab, and a third part under the hand of Abishai the son of Zeruiah, Joab's brother, and a third part under the hand of Ittai the Gittite. And the king said unto the people, I will surely go forth with you myself also.
But the people answered, Thou shalt not go forth: for if we flee away, they will not care for us; neither if half of us die, will they care for us: but now thou art worth ten thousand of us: therefore now it is better that thou succour us out of the city.
And the king said unto them, What seemeth you best I will do. And the king stood by the gate side, and all the people came out by hundreds and by thousands.
And the king commanded Joab and Abishai and Ittai, saying, Deal gently for my sake with the young man, even with Absalom. And all the people heard when the king gave all the captains charge concerning Absalom.
So the people went out into the field against Israel: and the battle was in the wood of Ephraim;
Where the people of Israel were slain before the servants of David, and there was there a great slaughter that day of twenty thousand men.
For the battle was there scattered over the face of all the country: and the wood devoured more people that day than the sword devoured.
And Absalom met the servants of David. And Absalom rode upon a mule, and the mule went under the thick boughs of a great oak, and his head caught hold of the oak, and he was taken up between the heaven and the earth; and the mule that was under him went away.
And a certain man saw it, and told Joab, and said, Behold, I saw Absalom hanged in an oak.
And Joab said unto the man that told him, And, behold, thou sawest him, and why didst thou not smite him there to the ground? and I would have given thee ten shekels of silver, and a girdle.
And the man said unto Joab, Though I should receive a thousand shekels of silver in mine hand, yet would I not put forth mine hand against the king's son: for in our hearing the king charged thee and Abishai and Ittai, saying, Beware that none touch the young man Absalom.
Otherwise I should have wrought falsehood against mine own life: for there is no matter hid from the king, and thou thyself wouldest have set thyself against me.
Then said Joab, I may not tarry thus with thee. And he took three darts in his hand, and thrust them through the heart of Absalom, while he was yet alive in the midst of the oak.
And ten young men that bare Joab's armour compassed about and smote Absalom, and slew him.
And Joab blew the trumpet, and the people returned from pursuing after Israel: for Joab held back the people.
And they took Absalom, and cast him into a great pit in the wood, and laid a very great heap of stones upon him: and all Israel fled every one to his tent.
Now Absalom in his lifetime had taken and reared up for himself a pillar, which is in the king's dale: for he said, I have no son to keep my name in remembrance: and he called the pillar after his own name: and it is called unto this day, Absalom's place.
Then said Ahimaaz the son of Zadok, Let me now run, and bear the king tidings, how that the LORD hath avenged him of his enemies.
And Joab said unto him, Thou shalt not bear tidings this day, but thou shalt bear tidings another day: but this day thou shalt bear no tidings, because the king's son is dead.
Then said Joab to Cushi, Go tell the king what thou hast seen. And Cushi bowed himself unto Joab, and ran.
Then said Ahimaaz the son of Zadok yet again to Joab, But howsoever, let me, I pray thee, also run after Cushi. And Joab said, Wherefore wilt thou run, my son, seeing that thou hast no tidings ready?
But howsoever, said he, let me run. And he said unto him, Run. Then Ahimaaz ran by the way of the plain, and overran Cushi.
And David sat between the two gates: and the watchman went up to the roof over the gate unto the wall, and lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold a man running alone.
And the watchman cried, and told the king. And the king said, If he be alone, there is tidings in his mouth. And he came apace, and drew near.
And the watchman saw another man running: and the watchman called unto the porter, and said, Behold another man running alone. And the king said, He also bringeth tidings.
And the watchman said, Me thinketh the running of the foremost is like the running of Ahimaaz the son of Zadok. And the king said, He is a good man, and cometh with good tidings.
And Ahimaaz called, and said unto the king, All is well. And he fell down to the earth upon his face before the king, and said, Blessed be the LORD thy God, which hath delivered up the men that lifted up their hand against my lord the king.
And the king said, Is the young man Absalom safe? And Ahimaaz answered, When Joab sent the king's servant, and me thy servant, I saw a great tumult, but I knew not what it was.
And the king said unto him, Turn aside, and stand here. And he turned aside, and stood still.
And, behold, Cushi came; and Cushi said, Tidings, my lord the king: for the LORD hath avenged thee this day of all them that rose up against thee.
And the king said unto Cushi, Is the young man Absalom safe? And Cushi answered, The enemies of my lord the king, and all that rise against thee to do thee hurt, be as that young man is.
And the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept: and as he went, thus he said, O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!