Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
And it was told Joab, Behold, the king weepeth and mourneth for Absalom.
And Joab came into the house to the king, and said, Thou hast shamed this day the faces of all thy servants, which this day have saved thy life, and the lives of thy sons and of thy daughters, and the lives of thy wives, and the lives of thy concubines;XIX.
(5) And Joab came.—This is a continuation of 2Samuel 19:1, the intervening verses being parenthetical. Joab’s whole character appears strikingly in his conduct on this occasion. With his hand red with the blood of the beloved son, he goes, in the hardest and most unfeeling terms, to reproach the father for giving way to his grief; he treats the king with thorough insolence, and with the air of a superior; yet withal he counsels David for his own welfare and for that of the kingdom as a wise and loyal statesman. It may be doubted whether David yet knew of Joab’s part in the death of Absalom.
The lives of thy sons.—Had Absalom succeeded he would no doubt not only have slain his father, but also, after the Oriental custom, have put out of the way all who might possibly have become rival claimants of the throne. (Comp. Judges 9:5; 1Kings 15:29; 1Kings 16:11; 2Kings 10:6-7; 2Kings 11:1.)
Now therefore arise, go forth, and speak comfortably unto thy servants: for I swear by the LORD, if thou go not forth, there will not tarry one with thee this night: and that will be worse unto thee than all the evil that befell thee from thy youth until now.(7) I swear by the Lord.—The statement which Joab emphasises with this solemn oath is not that ne will lead the people into revolt—he does not seem to have conceived, far less to have expressed any such design—but it is simply an assurance of the extreme danger of the course David was pursuing, put in such a strong and startling way as to rouse him from the selfishness of his sorrow.
Then the king arose, and sat in the gate. And they told unto all the people, saying, Behold, the king doth sit in the gate. And all the people came before the king: for Israel had fled every man to his tent.(8) For Israel had fled.—Translate, but Israel fled; “Israel” being used here, as throughout this narrative (see 2Samuel 16:15; 2Samuel 16:18; 2Samuel 17:5; 2Samuel 17:14-15; 2Samuel 17:24; 2Samuel 17:26; 2Samuel 18:6-7; 2Samuel 18:16-17), for those who had espoused the cause of Absalom.
And all the people were at strife throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, The king saved us out of the hand of our enemies, and he delivered us out of the hand of the Philistines; and now he is fled out of the land for Absalom.(9) The king saved us.—With the collapse of the rebellion the accompanying infatuation passed away, and the people began to remember how much they owed to David. There seems to have been a general disposition among the people to return to their allegiance, yet the movement was without organisation or leadership.
And Absalom, whom we anointed over us, is dead in battle. Now therefore why speak ye not a word of bringing the king back?(10) We anointed over us.—There is no other mention of the anointing of Absalom, and it certainly would not have been performed by the high-priests. It may have been done by some prophet, or this may be a mere form of expression taken from the custom of anointing, and only mean “whom we appointed over us.”
Why speak ye not?—There was evidently a hesitation and delay, arising probably from a mere want of organisation, but yet of dangerous tendency. It is under these circumstances that David shows that politic power which had so often before stood him in good stead. The LXX. very unnecessarily places at the end of this verse the clause which is found at the end of 2Samuel 19:11.
And king David sent to Zadok and to Abiathar the priests, saying, Speak unto the elders of Judah, saying, Why are ye the last to bring the king back to his house? seeing the speech of all Israel is come to the king, even to his house.(11) The elders of Judah.—Judah was naturally particularly slow in returning to its allegiance. It had shown especial ingratitude to David, and had formed the cradle and centre of the rebellion, and even now Jerusalem probably had a garrison of Absalom’s soldiers. They might naturally doubt how they would be received, and their military organisation in Absalom’s interest threw especial obstacles in their way. The last words of the verse, “to his house,” may be an accidental repetition from the previous clause.
Ye are my brethren, ye are my bones and my flesh: wherefore then are ye the last to bring back the king?(12) My bones and my flesh.—More exactly, bone, as in 2Samuel 19:13 and 2Samuel 5:1. Of course the tribe of Judah, from which David sprung, was more closely connected with him by blood than any other; but the point likely to influence them was that the king recognised this relationship.
And say ye to Amasa, Art thou not of my bone, and of my flesh? God do so to me, and more also, if thou be not captain of the host before me continually in the room of Joab.(13) Say ye to Amasa.—Amasa, like Joab, was David’s nephew, although possibly his mother may have been only half-sister to David. In this offer of the command-in-chief to the rebel general, David adopted a bold, but a rash and unjust policy. Amasa should have been punished, not rewarded for his treason. He had given no evidence of loyalty, nor was there proof that he would be trustworthy. Moreover, this appointment would be sure to provoke the jealousy and hostility of Joab. But David had long been restless under the overbearing influence of Joab (see 2Samuel 19:22; 2Samuel 16:10; 2Samuel 3:39), and now since he had murdered Absalom, was determined to be rid of him. He therefore took advantage of the opportunity by this means to win over to himself what remained of the military organisation of Absalom.
So the king returned, and came to Jordan. And Judah came to Gilgal, to go to meet the king, to conduct the king over Jordan.(15) Judah came to Gilgal.—The two parties met at the Jordan, David coming from Mahanaim to the eastern side of the ford, near Jericho, and the representatives of the tribe of Judah to Gilgal on the opposite bank.
And Shimei the son of Gera, a Benjamite, which was of Bahurim, hasted and came down with the men of Judah to meet king David.(16) Shimei the son of Gera.—See Note on 2Samuel 16:5. It is evident that Shimei was a man of influence and importance, and his accession to David at this juncture was of great value. At the same time, it is plain that Shimei himself was only a time-server, and that he was thoroughly disloyal in his heart, and only came now to David because he saw that his was “the winning cause.”
And there were a thousand men of Benjamin with him, and Ziba the servant of the house of Saul, and his fifteen sons and his twenty servants with him; and they went over Jordan before the king.(17) Before the king.—Comp. the same phrase in 2Samuel 20:8. In both cases “before” is, literally, before the face of, and is equivalent to saying “they went over Jordan to meet the king.” In their eagerness to prove their very doubtful allegiance, they dashed through the waters of the ford, and met the king on the eastern side of the Jordan.
And there went over a ferry boat to carry over the king's household, and to do what he thought good. And Shimei the son of Gera fell down before the king, as he was come over Jordan;(18) As he was come over.—Rather, as he was coming over, as he was about to cross. Shimei and Ziba met the king on the east of Jordan, and his crossing is not spoken of until 2Samuel 19:31-40.
For thy servant doth know that I have sinned: therefore, behold, I am come the first this day of all the house of Joseph to go down to meet my lord the king.(20) The house of Joseph.—Shimei was not strictly of “the house of Joseph,” but of Benjamin; and it is plain that Joseph, as the name of the most prominent member, stands for all the tribes outside of Judah. This usage is well recognised at a later time (see 1Chronicles 5:1-2; Amos 5:15), and it has hence been argued that it indicates a late date for the composition of the book; but it is also found in Psalm 80:1-2; Psalm 81:5 (the date of which it would be rash to attempt to fix), in the reign of Solomon, 1Kings 11:28, and probably very early in Judges 1:35. There is no reason why the expression may not have been used at the earliest date when there began to be a certain separation and distinction between Judah and the other tribes, which was soon after the conquest of Canaan.
And David said, What have I to do with you, ye sons of Zeruiah, that ye should this day be adversaries unto me? shall there any man be put to death this day in Israel? for do not I know that I am this day king over Israel?(22) Adversaries.—The word in the original here is Satan.
Therefore the king said unto Shimei, Thou shalt not die. And the king sware unto him.(23) The king sware unto him.—This oath of David assuring immunity to Shimei brings to mind his dying charge to Solomon concerning him (1Kings 2:8-9): “His hoar head bring thou down to the grave with blood.” The whole transaction is to be viewed from a political point. Shimei had been guilty of high treason in David’s distress; at his return he had confessed his fault, and exerted himself to help on David’s restoration to the throne. He had accordingly been pardoned, and David, somewhat rashly, had confirmed this pardon with an oath, in such a way that he was unable to punish any subsequent treasonable tendencies showing themselves in Shimei. From the character of the man, however, and from Solomon’s address to him in 1Kings 2:44, it is plain that he remained thoroughly disloyal. David saw this, and hindered by his oath from treating him as he deserved, pointed out the case to Solomon. Solomon settled the matter by a compact (into which Shimei willingly entered), that his life should be forfeited whenever he should go out of Jerusalem. There he was under supervision; elsewhere he could not be trusted. After a few years he violated this condition, and was executed. David had made a rash oath, and observed it to the letter, but no farther, towards a thorough traitor.
And Mephibosheth the son of Saul came down to meet the king, and had neither dressed his feet, nor trimmed his beard, nor washed his clothes, from the day the king departed until the day he came again in peace.(24) Came down to meet.—The obvious meaning of this is that Mephibosheth came down from the high land of Jerusalem to meet the king in the Jordan valley, and in this case the following verse should be translated, “And it came to pass when Jerusalem” (meaning its inhabitants, with Mephibosheth among them) “was come to meet the king.” Some writers, however, prefer to keep 2Samuel 19:25 as it is, and to suppose that during the rebellion Mephibosheth had taken refuge on his ancestral estate near the heights of Gibeah, and that he came thence to Jerusalem to meet David. In either case the signs of deep mourning used by Mephibosheth “from the day the king departed” were an evidence of his loyalty. The word for beard is used only for the moustache.
And it came to pass, when he was come to Jerusalem to meet the king, that the king said unto him, Wherefore wentest not thou with me, Mephibosheth?(25) Wentest not thou with me?—David had heard and believed the story of Mephibosheth’s ingratitude and treachery (2Samuel 16:3-4), and his present remonstrance is so gentle and kindly as to show that Mephibosheth’s appearance at once produced an impression, and suggested in David’s mind a doubt of the truth of what Ziba had told him.
And he answered, My lord, O king, my servant deceived me: for thy servant said, I will saddle me an ass, that I may ride thereon, and go to the king; because thy servant is lame.(26) My servant deceived me.—It now appears that the two asses laden with provisions which Ziba had brought to David in his flight (2Samuel 16:1-2) were those which he had been ordered to prepare for his master. When Ziba had stolen away with these, Mephibosheth was left helpless in his lameness. Most of the ancient versions read “said to him, Saddle,” &c., but the sense is plain enough as the text stands.
And the king said unto him, Why speakest thou any more of thy matters? I have said, Thou and Ziba divide the land.(29) Divide the land.—When Ziba came to David with his false report about Mephibosheth, David had instantly transferred to him all his master’s possessions (2Samuel 16:4); he now saw the injustice of his hasty action, and ought at least to have reversed it, if not to have punished Ziba besides. Either, however, because he had still some doubt of the real merits of the case, or more probably because he was unwilling for political reasons to offend Ziba, he resorts to that halfway and compromise course which was both weak and unjust. The circumstances of the case, the continued mourning of Mephibosheth, the silence of Ziba, concur with the physical infirmity of Mephibosheth to show the truth of his story.
Now Barzillai was a very aged man, even fourscore years old: and he had provided the king of sustenance while he lay at Mahanaim; for he was a very great man.(32) Provided the king of sustenance.—An old use of the preposition “of,” meaning with. The word is the same here as that translated in the next verse “feed thee,” and there is an especial fitness in the use of the same word in both cases which is lost in the English Version. It is translated “nourish” in Genesis 45:11; Genesis 47:12; Genesis 1:21, &c., and “sustain” in 1Kings 17:9, Nehemiah 9:21, &c. The king proposes to return Barzillai’s service in kind, but multiplied manifold.
Let thy servant, I pray thee, turn back again, that I may die in mine own city, and be buried by the grave of my father and of my mother. But behold thy servant Chimham; let him go over with my lord the king; and do to him what shall seem good unto thee.(37) Chimham.—It appears from 1Kings 2:7, where David gives charge to Solomon to care for Barzillai’s sons, that Chimham was his son. This might be supposed from the narrative here, but is not expressly stated. In Jeremiah 41:17 mention is made of “the habitation of Chimham, which is by Bethlehem,” from which it is supposed that David conveyed to Chimham a house upon his own paternal estate.
And all the people went over Jordan. And when the king was come over, the king kissed Barzillai, and blessed him; and he returned unto his own place.(39) All the people.—As “Israel” has been used throughout this narrative for Absalom’s supporters, so “the people” is used for those faithful to David.
Then the king went on to Gilgal, and Chimham went on with him: and all the people of Judah conducted the king, and also half the people of Israel.(40) All the people.—The tribe of Judah, deeply moved by the measures and words of David, had united generally in his restoration; the other tribes, who had first proposed to return to their allegiance (2Samuel 19:9-10), had not had time to join in the present movement, or had not generally known of it, and only Shimei with his one thousand Benjamites, and doubtless others living near, together with the tribes east of the Jordan, represented altogether as “half the people of Israel,” were able to come together.
And, behold, all the men of Israel came to the king, and said unto the king, Why have our brethren the men of Judah stolen thee away, and have brought the king, and his household, and all David's men with him, over Jordan?(41) All the men of Israel.—When David had crossed the Jordan, he naturally made a halt at Gilgal, and then the representatives of the remaining tribes came to him, full of wrath at the apparent neglect of them. Jealousies between the tribes, and especially between Judah on the one side and the ten tribes on the other, had all along existed, the tribe of Ephraim being particularly sensitive (Judges 8:1; Judges 12:1). By the successful wars of Saul these jealousies were held in check, but broke out in national separation on his death; after seven and a half years they were partially healed by David, and were kept in abeyance by the wise administration of Solomon, but at his death they broke out with fresh power, and dismembered the nation for ever.
And all the men of Judah answered the men of Israel, Because the king is near of kin to us: wherefore then be ye angry for this matter? have we eaten at all of the king's cost? or hath he given us any gift?(42) Have we eaten.—Judah justifies its course by its nearness of relationship to the king, and repels the idea of having received any especial favours from him. In this, then, may be a taunt to the Benjamites on account of the partiality shown them by Saul. On the other hand, the Israelites urge their claim of numerical superiority. The whole dispute is a remarkable testimony to the fairness of David’s government as between the tribes.
And the men of Israel answered the men of Judah, and said, We have ten parts in the king, and we have also more right in David than ye: why then did ye despise us, that our advice should not be first had in bringing back our king? And the words of the men of Judah were fiercer than the words of the men of Israel.(43) More right in David than ye.—The LXX. adds “and I am the firstborn rather than thou,”—an unnecessary gloss, and certainly untrue as respects Benjamin, who was probably prominent in the discussion.
That our advice should not be first had.—Better, was not our word the first for bringing back the king? (Comp. 2Samuel 19:9-10.)