Lange Commentary on the Holy Scriptures
For the Chapter 18 passage and footnotes, see 1 Samuel 17:24 ff.
b. 18:1–8. The battle in the forest of Ephraim
2 Samuel 18:1, 2. David organizes his army, and disposes it for battle.
2 Samuel 18:1 sq. 1) The mustering of the whole body of people with David, which had been constantly growing by reinforcements from the country east of the Jordan; 2) the division into smaller bodies of hundreds and thousands; 3) the organization of the whole army in three grand divisions under Joab, Abishai and Ittai the Gittite, comp. 15:29. He “gave them into the hand” (Vulg.), that is, put them under the command of Joab and the others [Eng. A. V. not so well: “sent forth under the hand”].
2 Samuel 18:3, 4. David’s attitude in respect to the impending battle. 1) David’s declaration that he would himself go into the fight; 2) the declaration of the people that they were unwilling to this, since the point was to secure his safety for the benefit of the whole people in the battle. “Thou1 art as we ten thousand,” that is, equal to ten thousand of us. David was to remain behind with a reserve-corps, in order in case of need to come to their help from the city, whence it may be inferred that Mahanaim was a strong place, where a stand might be made. The king agreed to this prudent proposition,2 and stood at the gate-side, while the army filed out before him.
2 Samuel 18:5. David’s order respecting Absalom. He said to the generals: Deal gently with the young man Absalom.—[Heb. has the dativus commodi: “deal me gently;” Eng. A. V.: “deal gently for my sake,” a fair rendering.—TR.] The people heard it, that is, from bystanders, who spread it abroad.—[The text rather says that the people heard the king give the order; the fact is mentioned to explain the answer of the man to Joab in 2 Samuel 18:12; notice the phrase: “in our hearing” there.—TR.] The brief exclamation of David accords with the vividly portrayed scene and with his feeling when he saw his army going forth against his son.
2 Samuel 18:6–8. The battle. “The people went out against Israel,” that is, David’s army made the attack. The battle was in the wood of Ephraim. This name can be understood only of the forest covering the mountains of Ephraim, which, when the Israelites entered Canaan, stretched over the whole mountain (Josh. 17:15–18: “go up into the forest,—a mountain shall be thine, for it is forest), and was still extensive in later times; see 1 Sam. 14:22–26, where it is said that the children of Israel first hid from the Philistines in mount Ephraim (that is, in the mountain-gorges and in caves), and then that all the people came into the forest. We are thus pointed to the wooded heights in the tribe of Ephraim, not far west of the Jordan. Further, Ahimaaz (2 Samuel 18:23) traverses the Jordan-valley in order to carry the news to David at Mahanaim. “Ahimaaz could not have gone this way if the battle had been on the east of the Jordan, and he wished to take a short route” (Keil). Ewald admits that the name “forest of Ephraim” seems certainly to point to the west of the river, but yet puts it on the east, because David’s army returned after the victory to Mahanaim, “while, if the battle had occurred on the west side, it would obviously have been much better to stay on that side and take possession of Jerusalem.” To this it need not be replied with Vaihinger (Herzog, Art. Ephraim) that “David wished to avoid further shedding of blood, and prudence and clemency dictated a return to Mahanaim;” rather it must be urged that Absalom’s defeat had put an end to the insurrection (2 Samuel 18:17, and 19:9), his followers were completely broken up, and therefore an immediate occupation of Jerusalem was unnecessary. But besides, the battle was a severe one, as appears from the fact that of Absalom’s army (which fought very bravely) twenty thousand men fell, and David’s army was not in condition after the fight to make a long and rapid march to Jerusalem. Moreover, even in that case it would have been necessary for the reserve with David to join the victorious army; this junction effected (by crossing the Jordan), the whole army marched to Jerusalem under the lead of the king. Thenius holds that the forest of Ephraim was east of the Jordan, on the ground that nothing is said of Absalom’s re-crossing the river (according to 17:28 he encamped in Gilead, east of the river), that, if he had re-crossed, David (who stood only on the defensive) would have awaited another attack on his present position [Mahanaim], and that the expectation of help from the city [2 Samuel 18:3] presupposes that the battle occurred near Mahanaim, to which it is to be replied that 2 Samuel 18:6 shows that David did not act merely on the defensive (he marched against Absalom), and that David’s unexpected attack on Absalom’s army (which could not spread out in the relatively narrow space between Mahanaim and the Jordan) may well have forced its passage across the river, so that the decisive conflict occurred in’ the wooded hill-region of the tribe of Ephraim. The fact that David stayed behind with one division in Mahanaim, and sent the three generals with their divisions against Absalom, shows clearly that he acted on the offensive. The proposed “help from the city” was only for the case that the attack was not successful, and cannot be urged in support of the view that the battle was near Mahanaim. The narrator here relates only the final and decisive conflict, it not being his purpose to describe the previous actions by which Absalom’s army was forced across the Jordan. That the messengers (2 Samuel 18:19–27) had then to re-cross the Jordan in order to reach David makes no difficulty, since the river could easily be crossed by the fords. From the eastern edge of the wooded Mount Ephraim the messengers could reach Mahanaim by rapid travel in about two hours. The assumption by some expositors of a “Forest of Ephraim “east of the Jordan, presumedly so called from the defeat of the Ephraimites by the Gileadites (Judg. 12:1–5) is a mere conjecture untenable against the demonstrated geographical-historical significance of the name. [Another conjecture is that the “wood of Ephraim” was so called from the place Ephraim where Absalom had sheep-shearers (2 Sam. 13:23); but this has nothing in its favor, since, if the forest is to be put west of the river, the region in the tribe of Ephraim is the most natural here. Most expositors hold (against Erdmann) that the battle must have been near Mahanaim and on the east of the river, since the centre of action seems to be Mahanaim, and nothing is said of Joab’s crossing the river. But in the absence of all information about a “forest of Ephraim” east of the Jordan, the question must be regarded as unsettled. Mr. Grove suggests (Smith’s Bib.-Dict., Art. Wood of Ephraim) that the forest may have been called after this battle, from the prominent part taken in it by the powerful tribe of Ephraim on Absalom’s side; but this is not probable.—If the battle were on the east of the river Ahimaaz might still have found a quicker way to Mahanaim through the Jordan-valley; while, if it were on the west, it would seem necessary that the Cushite also should pass through this valley, and it is intimated that he did not go that way.—TR.]
2 Samuel 18:8. Further description of the defeat of Absalom’s army. The defeat was terrible because the fight spread3 wide over the woody mountain-terrain, and more of Absalom’s men perished in the gorges of the mountain than by the sword. “The forest of Ephraim lay no doubt in the northeastern part of the tribe-territory, towards the Jordan and Succoth” (Vaihinger), where there were deep, narrow gorges and steep declivities towards the Jordan. [It is commonly supposed that Absalom’s army was far larger than David’s; but we know nothing of their numbers. Twenty thousand slain is a great loss, yet not improbable under the circumstances.—The victory may be accounted for by the superior organization of David’s troops and the superior generalship of his army-leaders. As to Amasa see 20:4–6.—TR.]
c. 2 Samuel 18:9–18. Absalom murdered by Joab.
2 Samuel 18:9. In the tumult of the battle Absalom got into the neighborhood of “David’s servants.” The verb4 is to be taken as strictly reflexive: “he came upon, found himself” in a position, where he saw himself already captured or slain. He therefore entered a thicket, on the mule which he rode as royal prince (hence the Art.: “the mule”), in order to escape. His head, however, caught in (literally: “made itself fast in”) the boughs of a terebinth, not merely from his large growth of hair, but doubtless also because the head was jammed in between the branches in consequence of the entanglement of the long hair; thus he was “set,” that is, hung [Eng. A. V.: “was taken up”] between heaven and earth, since the mule went away from under him. [Bib.-Com.: “It would seem that the two things that his vain-glory boasted in, the royal mule and the magnificent head of hair, both contributed to his untimely death.”—TR.]
2 Samuel 18:10. Only one of David’s men saw it and reported it to Joab as commander-in-chief. [The text does not say that “only one man” saw it, but that “a man” saw it; others may have seen it, but this man reported it.—TR.]
2 Samuel 18:11. Joab’s desire of revenge prevents him from regarding David’s command given to the whole army (2 Samuel 18:5). He, the highest commander, forgets himself in disobedience so far as to chide his subordinate for not killing Absalom, and tell him of the reward he had thus lost. This accords precisely with the rude passionateness, violence and barbarity of Joab’s character, as before described.—It was my affair richly therefor to reward thee with ten silver pieces (= about seven dollars5) and with a girdle (comp. Ezek. 23:15), as a valuable and essential part of military dress.
2 Samuel 18:12. The man’s reply. And thought6 I should weigh in (or, on) my hand a thousand shekels [or pieces], that is, if they were already given to me, I would not do such a deed. He refers to the command of the king: Beware, whoever7 it be [= all of you], of (touching) the young man. Maurer: “whoever (of you shall come on him”). [So Eng. A. V.: “beware that none touch”]. Most of the ancient versions and some [Heb.] MSS. read: “beware me of touching,” etc., where me is Dativus commodi; but this is to be rejected as a conjecture to avoid a difficult construction, and suggested probably by the similar phrase in 2 Samuel 18:5 [Eng. A. V.: “for my sake”]. David’s command was to all, not merely to the generals (2 Samuel 18:5), and to the common soldiers, one of whom here shows himself nobler-minded and more obedient than his commander.
2 Samuel 18:13. The initial word “or” (אוֹ) indicates a contrasted assertion.—The preference is to be given to the text “his life” over the marginal reading “my life.” The latter is found in the Sept.: “and how shall I do wrong against my life?”, and the Vulg.: “if I had boldly acted against my life,” and Ewald: “if I had lied (acted deceitfully) against my conscience.” Against Ewald Thenius says that the natural course of thought here is that the man should first state the act itself, and then its consequences for himself. Or, had I dealt deceitfully against his life, wrought falsehood by killing him, inasmuch as I should thus have acted against the express prohibition of the king. The words “and nothing is hid from the king” form a parenthesis; the apodosis begins with “and thou.” And thou wouldest have stood against me, that is, have appeared against me before the king as accuser. For this expression comp. Ps. 109:6; Zech. 3:1. [On other explanations of this difficult verse see “Text. and Gram.” The man’s reply seems to be: “In the first place, I have too much respect for the king’s command to lift my hand against his son for any reward; and in the next place, the reward would avail me nothing, for the king would find out what I had done and punish me, and you yourself would be witness against me,” wherein he says plainly that he does not trust Joab. That the latter does not resent the answer by violence is perhaps to be ascribed to his consciousness of being in the wrong.—Eng. A. V. follows the marginal reading, which also gives a good sense, as does the reading of the Sept.: “the king charged thee, etc., saying, Beware of doing the young man harm, and nothing will be hid from the king,” etc.—TR.]
2 Samuel 18:14. Joab’s answer betrays his vengeful, rudely passionate nature: I will not tarry thus with thee, that is, lose time in myself doing what is necessary. He took three staffs; such is the meaning of the word (שֶׁבֶט), and not “spear, dart, spit” (comp. 23:21), as Sept. and Vulg. [and Eng. A. V.] give it. Thenius therefore changes the text; but the word he proposes (שֶׁלַח) is used (as Keil remarks) in the older Hebrew only as = “missile” (Job 33:18; 26:12; Joel 2:8), and not till postexilian times in the general sense of “weapon” (2 Chr. 23:10; 32:5; Neh. 4:11); and moreover no change is necessary, since our text-word signifies such sharp wooden staffs as Joab could find in the hard terebinth-wood; and this view is supported by the fact that he had to use three weapons, while one spear-thrust would have been sufficient.—The words: “and he was still alive,” etc., are connected with the preceding, not with the succeeding context; in the latter case they would be introduced by a Conjunction or other Particle. Joab thrust “through the heart of the still living prince” (Ewald). The hanging in the tree did not immediately produce death, though it would have done so finally.—“In the heart of the terebinth” (Ex. 15:8) = “in the midst of the terebinth,” agreeing with the description in 2 Samuel 18:9. This expression Böttcher would unnecessarily change to: “in the thicket (עָב) of the terebinth.”
2 Samuel 18:15. After Joab’s thrust in the heart, Absalom is killed by ten of Joab’s young men, probably at his command.—[Thus neither the hanging nor the thrusts in the heart produced death. This, if surprising, is by no means impossible. On Wellhausen’s unnecessary re-disposition of the text (putting 2 Samuel 18:16 before 2 Samuel 18:15) see “Text. and Gram.”—TR.]
2 Samuel 18:16. By Absalom’s death the end of the battle was secured, and Joab therefore called the people off from further pursuit. The motive for his barbarous slaying of Absalom was not private revenge (Kurtz in Herzog), but revenge for the honor of the ejected king, and the conviction that only his death could put an end to the unhappy civil war. He stopped the pursuit, however, because he wished to spare the people, that is, Absalom’s people. A piece of clemency alongside of his barbarity! [The rendering of Eng. A. V. is better: “he held back the people” from pursuit. The phrase “the people” here naturally refers to David’s (and Joab’s) people.—TR.]
2 Samuel 18:17. Absalom cast aside. And they threw over it a very great heap of stones, a sign of embittered feeling against a dead man. [In his translation Erdmann has: “over him.”—TR.] The great heap of stones over the pit (the Art. denotes the well-known pit into which Absalom’s corpse was thrown) was to be a monument of shame for his crime;8 comp. Josh. 7:26 (Achan), 8:29 (the king of Ai). All Israel had fled, every man to his tent, that is, all of Absalom’s army (gathered from all Israel) that survived the defeat; this also confirms the view that the battle took place on the west of the Jordan. [But they would have fled to their homes, no matter where the battle was fought.—TR.]
2 Samuel 18:18. In sharp contrast with this mention of the monument of shame stands the following account of the monument that the vain and ambitious Absalom had set up in his own honor during his lifetime. The word “took” [Eng. A. V. “had taken”] (Num. 16:1; 1 Kings 11:37) is pleonastic, as is common in circumstantial and vivid narration: [“took and reared” = “reared”]. But it may be understood as = “took for himself,” not pleonastic (Böttcher). The form of the pillar (probably of stone) cannot be determined. In the king’s dale, the valley of the Kidron, two stadia east of Jerusalem (Jos. Ant. 7, 10, 3); it took its name from the event described in Gen. 14:17, and was in later times called also the valley of Jehoshaphat. The “Absalom’s pillar” of ecclesiastical tradition, shown even in the Middle Ages, and to-day called “Absalom’s grave,” a pyramidal pointed monument about forty feet high,9 cannot in its present form be the work of Absalom. See Thenius’ excellent argument against the view of Winer and Ewald, that the “king’s dale” was north of Jerusalem, perhaps (according as the Salem in Gen. 14:18 is understood) not far from Salem, a northern city on the Jordan.—I have no son, comp. 14:27; his three sons there mentioned must have afterwards died. “It is called to this day Absalom’s Hand” (1 Sam. 15:12), a monument recalling his memory like an uplifted hand. This monument of honor (whether it was “adorned with a splendid inscription of his name” (Ew.) must be left to the imagination) he had himself erected during his life; that monument of shame in the wood of Ephraim was set up by others after his terrible death. A significant contrast!
d. 2 Samuel 18:19–32. The tidings of joy and grief. David’s lament over Absalom.
2 Samuel 18:19. Ahimaaz, the son of Zadok, who with Jonathan (17:15 sq.) had brought to David the information concerning Absalom’s design, and had remained with the army. He wishes to bear to the king the tidings that the Lord has judged the king [= done him justice] from the hand of his enemies—the theocratic conception of an immediate divine interposition.
2 Samuel 18:20. Joab refuses the request. His reason is: “because10 the king’s son is dead.” He says: Thou art not a messenger to-day [Eng. A. V.: “thou shalt not bear tidings this day”], because he knew that David, notwithstanding the victory, would be deeply moved by the news of Absalom’s death. He did not wish to expose Ahimaaz to the king’s anger, and therefore refused to let him carry the tidings.
2 Samuel 18:21. He rather committed this task to the Cushite, the Ethiopian slave, whom he had at hand for all sorts of work. The name is gentilic, not the proper name of an Israelite (Sept., Vulg. [Eng. A. V.]). After the manner of a slave, he cast himself down before Joab. Grotius: “he sent an Ethiopian, thinking it small damage if he received hurt from the king.”
2 Samuel 18:22 sqq. A remarkably vivid description of the lively conversation between Joab and Ahimaaz. The latter says: “but happen what may11 [Eng. A. V.: “however”], let me run;” he thought more of the victory than of the death. Joab still refuses, but gives an exacter reason than before. “Why wilt thou run? if thou go, the message is not a reward-bringing one,”12 not such a one as will bring thee profit (Böttcher). Luther: “thou wilt not carry a good message.” Thenius alters the text after the Sept., and renders: “there is to thee no message leading to profit.” But according to the explanation given above, there is no need for such insertion and alteration. [Eng. A. V.: “thou hast no tidings ready,” but the signification “ready” is not easily gotten from the Hebrew word. Better: “thou hast no tidings sufficient” (Bib. Com.); that is, the Cushite has already carried the news; or, “thou hast no profitable tidings,” none that can do any body good. The Syr. is as Erdmann’s rendering, the Vulg. as Luther’s. See “Text, and Gramm.”—TR.]
2 Samuel 18:23. In the quick and lively account of the conversation, the phrase “and he said” (easily supplied by the reader) is omitted, as in 1 Sam. 1:20. The repetition of the “and be it as it may” shows Ahimaaz’s ardent desire to carry the tidings to David. He went “by the way of the plain,”13 the Jordan valley (Gen. 13:10–12; 19:17, 25, 29; Deut. 34:3; 1 Ki. 7:47). As “way” has here a local meaning, it cannot be explained as indicating a particular manner of running (Ewald: “he ran in the manner of the Kikkar (plain-) running”). [Erdmann supposes this statement to support the view that the battle was fought on the west of the river; but it has already been pointed out (see note on 2 Samuel 18:6) that it is here intimated that the Cushite did not go by the way of the Jordan-valley, which he must have done if he had come from the west to the east side. (Bib. Com. also calls attention to this fact in note on 2 Samuel 18:23.) Assuming that the scene of battle was on the east, the paths of Ahimaaz and the Cushite cannot be described with exactness; but if it was south-west of Mahanaim and near the river, the Cushite may have struck in over the hills, while Ahimaaz took the more level northward route along the river, and then passed in to Mahanaim (so Patrick). See Bib. Comm. in loco.—TR.] 2 Samuel 18:24–27. That the two runners are seen by the watchman confirms the view that they both came through the Jordan-valley, and so could be seen afar off coming one after the other. The Cushite is seen in the same direction as Ahimaaz, and therefore they could not have come different ways (Thenius).
2 Samuel 18:24. David sat between the two gates (that is, in the space between the outer and the inner gate) waiting for tidings. The watchman went up to the roof of the gate on the wall.—That is, the outer gate connected with the city-wall.
2 Samuel 18:25. [The watchman reports to the king the approach of a runner.] The king said: If he be alone, there is good tidings14 in his mouth.—He has been despatched as a messenger. If the result was bad, several would come as fugitives.
2 Samuel 18:26. The watchman, seeing another man running, called out to the gate;15 “for here, at the farthest possible distance from the outer gate, the king must have taken his position, if he wished also to see the watchman on the flat roof” (Thenius). He also, said the king, brings good tidings—namely, since he comes alone.
2 Samuel 18:27. The watchman recognizes Ahimaaz, probably by the swiftness of his running. The king said, He is a good man, whom Joab would not have chosen as the messenger of evil.
2 Samuel 18:28–32. The double message.—Ahimaaz called out: Hail! [or, Peace! Eng. A. V. giving the sense: All is well!—TR.] The brief exclamation corresponds to the haste of the runner, and gives David assurance of victory. It was understood, as a matter of course, that Ahimaaz would report on this point first. “The Lord hath shut up (the ground-meaning of the Verb is to be retained) thy enemies;” that is, the Lord has set bounds to thy enemies in their revolt, has surrounded and embraced them with His power, so that they can no longer stir. So Sept. and Vulg. Comp. 1 Sam. 17:46; 24:19; 26:8; Am. 1:6,9; Ps. 31:9 .
2 Samuel 18:29. To David’s question concerning Absalom, Ahimaaz answers evasively. I saw, says he, the great tumult.—He describes it from personal observation—hence the Article. In the first part of Ahimaaz’s answer, Vulg., Luther and Michaelis render: “when the king’s servant, Joab, sent me, thy servant;” but “the king’s servant” is not the subject of the verbal form (Infin.), and besides the copula (“and thy servant”) renders this translation impossible, unless the text be altered and the copula omitted. “The king’s servant” is the Cushite, while Ahimaaz calls himself “thy servant.” The subject of the sentence, Joab, stands (as sometimes occurs in such Infinitive-constructions) after the object (so Josh. 14:11; Isa. 5:24; 29:23; 20:1; Ezra 9:8; Ps. 56:1 [title]; 2 Chron. 12:1. Comp. Ges. § 133, 3 Rem). [Dr. Erdmann renders here as Eng. A. V. Perhaps a better text would be: “when Joab sent thy servant;” it is not likely that Ahimaaz would call the Cushite “the king’s servant,” or mention him at all. See “Text. and Gramm.”—TR.] Ahimaaz is unwilling to give the sad news; but he not only keeps back the truth, but makes the false impression that Absalom’s fate was not decided when Joab sent him off.
2 Samuel 18:30. Meantime the Cushite has arrived. At David’s command Ahimaaz stepped to one side (literally: “turned about”). The Cushite speaks in completely theocratic style: “The Lord hath done thee justice on thy enemies.”
2 Samuel 18:32 sq. He answers the question about Absalom indirectly, yet so as not only clearly to make known his death, but also to express condemnation of his hostile attempt against his father and king. The Cushite refers to God’s punitive justice in Absalom’s destruction—a fact that David in this moment of heart-rending grief loses sight of
2 Samuel 18:33 [Heb. 19:1]. “And the king was shaken”16 [Eng. A. V.: “was much moved”]. David’s behaviour is so vividly and touchingly portrayed as only an eye-witness could do it. Augustine (cont. Gaud. II. 14): “Absalom afflicted his father more by his death than by his life.”
HISTORICAL AND THEOLOGICAL
1. The religious-moral character of David’s disposition of heart is clearly expressed in the Psalms pertaining to this gloomy time, through which the experiences of the royal singer have become the common possession of the theocratic community, and the source of comfort and strength to innumerable pious hearts. While Pss. 41. and 55. belong to the time of the development of Absalom’s insurrection, Pss. 3. and 4. are to be referred to the time immediately after David’s flight; for the particulars see Ewald, Hengstenberg, Delitzsch, and Moll [in Lange’s Bible-Work]. Indeed, the time of day that gives coloring to each Psalm may be determined. They are not, however, both evening-songs, as Hengstenberg holds, who refers them to the evening of the day of flight; but Ps. 3. is a morning-song (J. H. Mich., Ew., Del., Moll), written after that dreadful day and the following night in which Ahithophel would have surprised him, and only Ps. 4. is to be regarded as an evening-song, whether written the day of the flight or the next day. “There is indeed,” says Moll on Ps. 3., “no special note of time, and the absence of such note is felt by many expositors to be a difficulty. But they fail to consider that we have here a specifically lyrical-religious effusion, which is not the expression of the feelings of an anxious father (as 2 Sam. 16:11), but sets forth the complaint and the confidence of faith of a commander and king (hard-pressed indeed, but cheerful in prayer) in such terse sentences and vigorous words that the reader hears the royal singer sigh, cry, weep from the bottom of his heart.” The first strophe of Ps. 3. (the title of which is: “Psalm of David when he fled from Absalom his son”), Psalm 3:2, 3 [1, 2] describes his distress by reason of his numerous enemies, who revile him for his trust in God. In the second strophe, Psalm 3:4, 5 [3, 4] he indicates his ground of hope, namely, that God, who has lifted up his head, will help and hear him. In the third strophe, Psalm 3:6, 7 [5, 6] he expresses his confidence of faith, based on the experience of the Lord’s protection during the past night, to which this morning bears testimony. The fourth strophe, Psalm 3:8, 9 [7, 8] contains a prayer for deliverance and blessing, growing out of his confidence of faith and his ground of hope.—Ps. 4., as an evening-song, is a cry of the sorely-pressed singer to “his refuge of righteousness,” the creator and possessor of righteousness, the judge of unrighteousness, the protector and restorer of persecuted righteousness. Psalm 4:2  contains (with a reference to already experienced help) a prayer that God would hear him, Psalm 4:9 , the confident conviction of its fulfilment. “The pillars of the bridge (Psalm 4:3–8) between distress and deliverance, prayer and confidence, are: 1) God’s choice of the singer, and the enemies’ opposition to the divine decision; 2) the singer’s sincere piety (Psalm 4:4 ), the hypocritical and external religiosity of the enemies (see the words of Psalm 4:6 : ‘offer the sacrifices of righteousness’); 3) the singer’s living trust in God, Psalm 4:7, 8 [6, 7], while the enemies trust in human helps; comp. the ‘trust in the Lord,’ Psalm 4:6  (Hengstenberg). To these two Psalms we must add Ps. 63 on account of its direct reference to David’s stay as fugitive west of the Jordan. The title: “Psalm of David when he was in the wilderness of Judah” is confirmed by the agreement of the expressions, “thirsting in a dry land, without water,” with 2 Sam. 16:2, 14; 17:29, compared with 2 Sam 15:23, 28; 17:16. The mention of the sanctuary, ’ Psalm 4:3  and the royal office, ’ Psalm 4:12  forces us to refer it to the flight from Absalom, not to the Sauline persecution. The singer, “pining in the wilderness,” desires that God may be as near to him (’ Psalm 4:2 ) as He formerly was in the sanctuary, of which he is now, alas! deprived (’ Psalm 4:3 ). His highest good and only comfort is God’s grace, which is “better than life,” and his communion with God (’ Psalm 4:2–4 [1–3]), wherein he now even in suffering rejoices (’ Psalm 4:7–9 [6–8]), having also the joyful hope for the future that the Lord will bless him (’ Psalm 4:5, 6 [4, 5]) and judge his enemies (’ Psalm 4:10, 11 [9, 10]), both of these being combined in ’ Psalm 4:12 : “But the king will rejoice in God; every one that sweareth by Him (God) shall glory; for the mouth of them that speak lies shall be stopped.” To the time of distress, when he was on the east of the Jordan, belong Pss. 61 and 62. Ps. 61 expresses first the sorrowful feeling of homelessness, and removal from the sanctuary, whence the psalmist is banished to the “end of the earth” (’ Psalm 61:3 ). All the more earnestly does he pray from afar (Psalm 61:2–5 [1–4]) for deliverance from the evil, which he likens to a steep rock, and which he cannot escape without God’s guidance (Psalm 61:3 ), appealing to God’s former acts of help (Psalm 61:4 ), and begging for protection in the “tabernacle” (Psalm 61:5 ). In Psalm 61:6–9 [5–8] he states the ground of his confident prayer, referring to the prophetic word that assures him an everlasting dominion, himself affirming this dominion (on the ground of 2 Sam. 7., especially 2 Sam. 7:29), and closing with joyous thanksgiving for the mercy and truth that would defend him. In Ps. 42 David first affirms his trust in God, and the truth that rest and salvation are in Him alone (Psalm 42:2, 3 [1, 2]). The wickedness of his enemies, who wish to deprive him of his God-given dignity and of his life, drives him to God (Psalm 42:4, 5 [3, 4]). He calls on his soul to seek God only (Psalm 42:6–8 [5–7]), and invites all to trust Him (Psalm 42:9 ), warning against trust in all else (Psalm 42:10, 11 [9, 10]), and giving in conclusion as the ground of all this God’s mighty power and love. Psalm 42:5, 6 [4, 5], referring to attempts of enemies against his dignity and life, touch Pss. 3 and 4, and point to the time of Absalom. Ewald: “From Psalm 42:5  the enemies seem to be slanderous fellow-citizens, who, relying on a newly-established power, attempt to cast the psalmist down to the ground and destroy him, because they cannot bear his spiritual superiority.” Closely allied with this Psalm is Ps. 39, which is therefore properly referred by several commentators (for example, Delitzsch) to the Absalomic time. David first declares that in the presence of the ungodly he was submissively silent, in order that he might avoid sin (Psalm 39:2, 3 a [1, 2 a]). Yet he gave utterance to his burning grief (Psalm 39:3, 4 [2 b, 3]), and prays to be taught how brief is the measure of his days (Psalm 39:5, 6 [4, 5]). The nothingness of human things forbids trust in them, therefore he will wait on the Lord alone (Psalm 39:7, 8 [6, 7]). On this is founded next the prayer to be delivered from transgression, and from the reproach of the ungodly (Psalm 39:9 ). He will not complain, indeed (“for thou, thou hast done it”), but he prays for deliverance, lest he be destroyed (Psalm 39:10–12 [9–11]). Since he is only a sojourner and pilgrim, he prays that help may be given him before he departs.—To this time belong also Ps. 42 and 43, which together form a whole. The Psalmist is east of the Jordan (Psalm 42.7 ), and sorrowfully recalls the time when at the head of the rejoicing multitude (comp. 2 Sam. 6:14) he went to the house of the Lord (Psalm 42:5), lamenting the present desolation of the sanctuary by the enemy, who mock at him as one forsaken by God, in a land far from any holy place. With this is combined desire and hope of sharing in the service of the sanctuary. In both Psalms the enemies are described as internal as in the Absalomic psalms. Comp. Ps. 43:1: “Judge me, O God, and plead my cause against a people without love [i. e., ‘ungodly’—
2. In these psalms are contained the following truths, valid for all times and relations of the kingdom of God, especially for times of depression and convulsion. The Lord permits such times to come to purify His people, and by sifting to determine who are for Him and who against Him, and for both these classes they contain lessons. The former [God’s people] are, as David, 1) in humble penitence to confess that their own sins have helped to bring distress on God’s kingdom; 2) to learn, for the strengthening of their faith, that not human power and wisdom, but God’s, conduct and further the affairs of His kingdom; 3) to see, for their consolation, that no human power shall long hinder, or even destroy this kingdom, and 4) to recall, for their joy, God’s deeds in the past, which He has not performed in vain, and His sure promises, which will not be left unfulfilled.—On the other hand, the enemies of God’s kingdom are to reflect that they are only instruments in His hand for chastising His house, that their anti-godly work has its limits in the will and command of the Almighty God, and that they can escape His wrath only by humbly bowing under His hand and giving Him the honor.
3. The faithfulness of human love, strengthening in need and cheering in misfortune, is not only the copy, but also the means and instrument of the faithfulness of the divine love, granted to those that how humbly beneath God’s hand, and wholly trust Him.
4. In the contest for the holy cause of the kingdom of God all those that are called to defend it, must thoroughly combine all the forces that willingly offer themselves, in order to overcome the power of evil. But, with all bravery and all anger against evil, the servant of God must guard against sinful fleshly anger, and bring God’s merciful love as near as possible to the authors of the evil, in order to afford them the opportunity and means of conversion, and to save them from destruction. While their evil cause falls under the divine judgment, through human hands, the human hand is not arbitrarily and self-led to be laid on their persons, but to commend them to God, whether they may not be brought to repentance by His long-suffering, by the failure of their wicked undertakings and the exhibition therein given of God’s punitive justice.
5. He who (as Joab), self-determined, angry, merely executing strict justice, anticipating God’s judgment, sits in judgment on his neighbor and executes judgment on him, himself falls under the divine judgment. Comp. 1 Ki. 2:28–34.
6. David’s lament over Absalom, as a father’s lament over his lost son, was not in itself in conflict with his theocratic calling, with all his force, to restore the kingdom of God, on the ground of God’s promises to him, against his son, even at the cost of his destruction. Peter Martyr: “in his heart two feelings met, grief for his son and joy in the divine judgment, so that he could say: just art thou, O Lord, thy judgment is right. But these feelings of joy and grief, being contrary to one another, could not have place together in his mind.” It is psychologically perfectly natural and ethically unexceptionable to feel grief at the judicial destruction of a human life and soul near and dear to us, as David here for Absalom, and at the same time to give place to anger at the unauthorized intrusion of a violent human hand into the course of divine judgment on a lost man, whose soul might else have been saved. But one may easily sin (as David did) in such justifiable sorrow and anger, by weakly yielding to passionate excitement, and holding merely to the human, so that the eye of the spirit loses sight of the earnestness of the divine justice, which permits unauthorized human intrusion into its plans, in order thus to complete itself, and to secure its ends over all human thoughts and weakly human feelings. Kurtz (Herz. III. 304): “Absalom’s sin and shame had two sides: there was in it the curse that David’s sin brought on David’s house (2 Sam. 12:10), the misdeed of the fathers, that is visited on the children (Ex. 20:5),—and not less Absalom’s own wickedness and recklessness, which made him the bearer of the family-curse. David looks at Absalom’s deed not on the latter side, but on the former (for his own guilt seems to him so great, that he looks little at Absalom’s); hence his deep, boundless compassion for his misguided son.”—This king’s path was full of tears. He wept when he parted from Jonathan and went into banishment; he wept when Saul and Jonathan perished; he wept over the death of the son of Bathsheba begotten in adultery; he wept over the murder of his son Amnon by Absalom; he wept when, a dethroned fugitive, he ascended the Mount of Olives; he mentions the tears that he so often shed on his lonesome bed; he weeps most violently and longest over Absalom’s terrible end, since he saw herein the culmination of God’s judgments on his house, which he had incurred by his sin. Augustine: “Not in his life does he weep for him, but when he is dead, because all hope of salvation for him, was then cut off.” But his unrestrained tears, his immoderate grief, as the following narrative shows, obscured his view of the divine judgment, that of necessity came upon Absalom on account of his own reckless wickedness.
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
2 Samuel 17:24–18:8. The proof of genuine fidelity in troubled times: 1) By willing gifts of love to relieve bodily need; 2) By swift help in battle against an evil foe; 3) By offering our own person to save the dear life of our friend; and 4) By tenderly showing forbearance towards his wounded heart in the conflict against the author of his distress.—God wonderfully helps His people in battling for the interests of His kingdom: 1) By awakening and revealing hidden and faithful love, which consoles and refreshes (17:24–29); 2) By collecting brave soldiers, who shrink not from taking part in the battle (18:1–4); 3) By securing glorious victory even against the apparently superior foe (2 Samuel 17:5–8).
18:5–16. Divine righteousness and human compassion towards the adversaries of God’s kingdom: 1) Divine righteousness in executing its judgment upon wickedness and the wicked goes its own way, independently of the feelings of human compassion for their purification and rectification. Yet 2) Human compassion is not excluded by thinking of the earnestness of the divine righteousness; but as a daughter of the divine compassion, when engaged in delivering a human life from eternal ruin, it has a right to ask that it may glory against judgment, so far as in the counsel of God patience and long-suffering is still resolved on.
2 Samuel 18:9–18. Heaven-wide opposites that cannot be reconciled: 1) God’s strict righteousness, when the measure of His holy wrath is full, and human compassion, when the measure of the divine patience and long-suffering is full; 2) Rude exercise of power, which in self-will and recklessness destroys a human life, and tender conscientiousness, which fears to strive against God by attempts upon a human life; 3) The honor, which man in his pride prepares for himself before the world, and the shame, with which God punishes such pride.
2 Samuel 18:19–33. Sweet and bitter in the leadings and dispensations of God: 1) From one source—the Lord’s wise counsel; 2) For one and the same human heart—in order to humble and exalt it; 3) To a like end—the Lord’s glory.
FR. ARNDT: David’s victory over Absalom—how it is 1) prepared, 2) gained, and 3) crowned.
2 Samuel 7:27–29. SCHLIER: In the fidelity of men David was to recognize the fidelity of the Lord; he was to take courage from the fact that the Lord, who is such a friend, and in the midst of his wretchedness has cared for him, will also care for him still further, and help him out of all his wretchedness. Precisely thus, at the present day also, the Lord our God deals with His children. He leads us into trouble, it is true, but in the midst of trouble He sends us refreshing again.—STARKE: So God knows how to refresh His people in time of need, even through strangers, from whom nothing would have been expected (Psalm 34:11 ; 37:19).—S. SCHMID: A righteous cause finds everywhere its supporters and defenders.
Chap 18:1 sqq. FR. ARNDT: O when a man first reaches the point that he is lord of his pain, that no longer sorrow rules over him, but he rules over his sorrow, that thoughtfulness, quiet and peace returns into his heart, then he is again in a good way, no more brought to a stand but in progress, and a door is opened for all help and deliverance.—OSIANDER: Though we ought to trust God, yet we ought in so doing to neglect nothing that we have and can fitly use to turn away the evil.—[HENRY: It is no piece of wisdom to be stiff in our resolutions, but to be willing to hear reason, even from our inferiors, and to be overruled by their advice, when it appears to be for our own good. Whether the people’s prudence had an eye to it or no, God’s providence wisely ordered it that David should not be in the field of battle; for then his tenderness had certainly interposed to save Absalom’s life, whom God had determined to destroy.—TR.]
2 Samuel 18:4–8: SCHLIER: Easy gained, easy lost. Absalom’s example shows that. And to-day also, in great as in small things, how can it be otherwise than according to the saying, Easy gained, easy lost. But another thing we also clearly see from this history: If God is left, we are not forsaken. David held fast to his God, even when the world stormed in upon him from all sides. Let us hold fast to the Lord, let us perseveringly wait for His help. To us also He will at the right time assuredly send help.—[HENRY: Absalom and David …..each did his utmost, and showed what he could do; how bad it is possible for a child to he to the best of fathers, and how good it is possible for a father to be to the worst of children; as if it were designed to be a resemblance of man’s wickedness towards God, and God’s mercy toward man, of which it is hard to say which is more amazing.—TR.]
2 Samuel 18:9. STARKE: God punishes the disobedience of children to their parents very severely (Prov. 30:17; 20:20; Deut. 27:16).—OSIANDER: Those who are puffed up with the gifts that God has granted them, and misuse them for the ends of arrogance and luxury, are often brought by these very gifts to ruin.—S. SCHMID: A man whom the divine vengeance is pursuing does not escape.
2 Samuel 18:14 sqq. S. SCHMID: He must be a very bad man who is not attracted to what is good by the good example of his subordinates.
2 Samuel 18:17 sq. CRAMER: As the death of the saints is precious (Psa. 116:15), so on the contrary the death of the ungodly is little esteemed and horrible (Psa. 34:22).—STARKE: As the memory of the just is blessed (Prov. 10:7), so the memory of the ungodly abides in dishonor and shame.
2 Samuel 18:19 sq. STARKE: Joy is always the beginning of sorrow, and good and evil fortunes are in this world always mingled.—HEDINGER [from HALL]: O how welcome deserve those messengers to be that bring us the glad tidings of salvation, that assure us of the foil of all spiritual enemies, and tell us of nothing but victories, and crowns, and kingdoms.
2 Samuel 18:28. STARKE: When one has obtained a victory, he should ascribe it to God Himself, and not to human powers (2 Chron. 25:8).
2 Samuel 18:29. SCHLIER: David knows well how to bring his duty as ruler into harmony with his duty to his family; for he has a kingly heart full of kingly thoughts, and yet has also a faithful fatherly heart, full of love and compassion, and who should not be glad to learn from such a man? We recognize the upright man in the fidelity he shows to both his calling and his kinsmen, and he who little esteems the one or the other does not rightly do his duty. [It is not necessary to maintain that David did just right in the matter. Certainly he sometimes erred very greatly; and in this case his parental fondness seems to have overbalanced his sense of duty as a king.—TR.]
2 Samuel 18:42 sq. S. SCHMID: Pious parents are justly more anxious for their dissolute children than for the pious and obedient, because they are nearer to ruin.—BERL. BIBLE: God is the true and only source of all parental love and all the compassion which parents maintain even towards their ungodly Absaloms.—[TAYLOR: But the worst ingredient in this cup of anguish would be, I think, the consciousness in David’s heart that if he had himself been all he ought to have been, his son might not thus have perished. …… David now professes, and I believe with truth, to desire that he had died for Absalom; but that was a vain wish. He ought to have lived more for Absalom. He ought, by his own character, to have taught him to love holiness, or, at all events, he ought to have seen that there was nothing in his own conduct to encourage his son in wickedness, or to provoke him to wrath; and then, though Absalom had made shipwreck, he might have had the consolation that he had done his utmost to prevent such a catastrophe.—TR.]
[2 Samuel 18:14. The death of Absalom: 1) He has missed his golden opportunity. (He slighted Ahithophel’s counsel, and now David has organized a strong army.) 2) He has fought desperately, but in vain (2 Samuel 18:6). 3) The very objects of his vanity have occasioned his ignominy (riding the royal mule, his long hair). 4) His father’s often abused fondness continues to the end, but no longer avails him (13:39; 18:5, 11–15, 33). 5) His splendid gifts and reckless ambition have brought him only ruin, and destined him to immortal infamy (2 Samuel 18:17, 18).—TR.]
[2 Samuel 18:33. David mourning over Absalom; 1) Wherein it was right. a) Parental love is indestructible. b) Absalom was not wholly bad, and his faults had been aggravated by the misconduct of others. c) David was conscious that all this was a chastening required by his own sins. 2) Wherein it was wrong. a) In that it excluded gratitude to his faithful and brave followers (19:1 sqq.). b) In preventing attention to the pressing duties of his position (19:7). c) In causing him to overlook the fact that as long as Absalom lived, the kingdom could have no peace. d) In so far as it was not tempered by submission to the will of Jehovah.—TR.]
1Read אַתָּה instead of עַתָּה (obviously an error from following עַתָּה).
2[He was probably willing not to have to go in person against Absalom (Bib.-Com.).—TR.]
3Read the Qeri נָפוֹצֶת, “scattered,” Niph. Particip. fem. [of פּוּץ], instead of the Kethib נפְצוּת, “dispersal” [Ges. reads נְפֻצוֹת, “was scattered.”—TR.]
4 יִקָּרֶה = יִקָּרֵא, Niphal. [See “Text, and Gram.”—TR.]
5[This sum would be equivalent to one hundred dollars at the present day.—On the various kinds of ancient girdles (a necessary article of dress for men and women), including that of the high-priest, and on the custom of presenting them as gifts (still found in Persia), see Art. Girdle in Smith’s Bib.-Dict.—TR.]
6Read Qeri לוּ, with most ancient versions.
7On this construction of מִי with aposiopesis see Ex. 24:14; Judg. 7:3, and below, 2 Samuel 18:22, 33. Ewald, § 104 d, a. לּי for מִי is conjecture.
8[The custom still exists, in respect to robbers, for example. See Thomson, Land and Book, II. 234.—TR.]
9See an exact description of it in Titus Tobler’s Siloahquelle und der Œlberg (1852), p. 267 sqq. [Its base is surrounded by Ionic pillars; it is doubtful whether it is a tomb. See Robinson I. 350.—TR.]
10Read the Qeri כִּי עַל־כֵּן (the כֵּן has evidently fallen out by reason of the following בֶּן); it = “because” (Gen. 18:5; 19:8), see Ges. § 155, 2 d. Maurer [so Syr., Chald.,] retains the Kethib (כִּי עַל) and renders: “for concerning the king’s son as dead (thou wouldest have to carry tidings).” But 1) this addition [of a sentence to the construction] is suspicious, and 2) if מֵת [“dead”] belonged to “the king’s son” as Adjective, it must have the Article.
11 וִיהִי מָה. Comp. Ew. § 104 d: quidquid id est.
12 לְמָה .וּלְכָה אֵין־בְּשׂרָה מֹצֵאת is here permissive Imperative (Böttcher, Thenius): “go thou” = “and if thou go” (as תְּנָה, Ps. 8:2 ). It can be taken (with Preposition) as Pronoun = לְךָ (Gen. 27:37) only where it is conditioned by the word-tone (Böttcher), as Num. 22:33; 1 Sam. 1:26; Psalm 141:8. Here, however, אֵין, not לְכָה (as = thee), has the tone, for the message was profitable for nobody. Thenius: לְבֶצַע מוֹצֵאת, Hiph. Particp. of יָצָא. But the word is Act. Qal. Particp. of מצא, “to come upon” = “that comes on (finds)” an end or a reward.
13 בִּכָּר with or without הַיַּרְדֵּן.
14[The word (בְּשׂרָה) sometimes means good tidings, sometimes bad tidings, sometimes simply tidings; the meaning in any particular case must be decided by the context. Here either “tidings” or “good tidings” would give a proper sense.—TR.]
15Read שַׁעַר “gate” instead of שֹׁעֵר “porter.” [This change of the text (after Sept., Vulg., Syr.) seems hardly necessary. The watchman may have called to the porter, and the porter to the king. The expression “called to (or, towards) the gate” is certainly possible and intelligible, but still strange and unexampled. The fact that the porter is not said to speak to the king makes some difficulty, but not enough to call for a change of text.—TR.]
16Vulg.: contristatus est, “was grieved.” [Erdmann gives the Sept. rendering of this word (וַיִּרְגַּן) as ἐδάκρυσεν (wept), which he rightly characterizes as weak; but though this word is given in the text of Stier and Theile’s Polyglot (an eclectic text), both the Vatican and the Alexandrian texts have the strong and appropriate rendering, ἐταράχθη, “violently perturbed.”—TR.]
17[It is clear that the internal proofs here adduced by the author of the origination of these Psalms (especially Psalm 23, 26–28, 42, 43.) in the insurrection of Absalom are of a very general nature, and cannot be considered as a demonstration. The lessons drawn from them, however, are not the less valid from the uncertainty of the authorship.—TR.]
And David numbered the people that were with him, and set captains of thousands and captains of hundreds over them.