Matthew Poole's Commentary
And David numbered the people that were with him, and set captains of thousands and captains of hundreds over them.David viewing the armies in their march, giveth them charge of Absalom, 2 Samuel 18:1-5; whose men are smitten: he hanging by his hair on an oak, is slain by Joab, and cast into a pit: his pillar and monument, 2 Samuel 18:6-18. David hearing hereof, 2 Samuel 18:19-32, mourneth for Absalom, 2 Samuel 18:33.
The people that were with him; which flocked to him thither, so as to make up a small army.
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.Under the hand of Joab, to wit, for his especial conduct and management in the battle: otherwise Joab was the general of all the forces; nor had David yet taken away that power from him, nor was this a time to do it. But such distributions of forces are usual in battles.
I will surely go forth with you myself also, that by my presence I may put life and courage into my soldiers; and because it is fit I should run the same hazards with you, which you do for my sake.
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.Thou shalt not go forth; for this was Absalom’s great error, into which he was drawn by a Divine infatuation, and by Hushai’s craft, to go to battle in his own person, which was the utter ruin of him and of his cause.
Thou art worth ten thousand of us; not only for the dignity of thy person, but also for the importance of our common cause and concern, which, if thou art slain, is irrecoverably lost.
That thou succour us out of the city, by sending us supplies of men, and provisions of all sorts, as we have occasion; and by securing our retreat, if we be defeated. Or thus, Not go along to the battle with us, but only go out with us, or accompany us out of the city, (to encourage the company,) slid then retire for thy own safety. And so it seems by the next verse.
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.By the gate side, i.e. between the two gates of the city, as it is expressed below, 2 Samuel 18:24.
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.Deal gently with Absalom; if you conquer, (which he presaged they would by God’s gracious answer to his prayer for the turning of Ahithophel’s counsel into foolishness,) take him prisoner, but do not kill him. Which desire proceeded, partly, from his great indulgence towards his children; partly, from David’s consciousness that he himself was the meritorious and procuring cause of this rebellion, Absalom being given up to it for the punishment of David’s sins, and therefore did indeed deserve some pity from him; partly, from the consideration of his youth, which commonly makes men foolish, and heady, and violent, and subject to ill counsels; and partly, from his piety, being loth that he should be cut off in the act of his sin without any space or means for repentance, whereby both his soul and body would be in danger to perish for ever. All the people, to wit, the citizens and others who stood with the king in the gate when the army marched forth.
So the people went out into the field against Israel: and the battle was in the wood of Ephraim;So called, not from its situation in the tribe of Ephraim, which was on the other side Jordan, as is evident; but from some memorable action or occurrent of the Ephraimites beyond, Jordan; whether it was their killing of Oreb and Zeeb there, Judges 7:25 8:3, or their slaughter by Jephthah, Judges 12:5,6, or some other not mentioned in sacred Scripture.
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.The people of Israel, i.e. the soldiers of Absalom; so called, partly to note that all Israel (some few excepted) were engaged in this rebellion, which made David’s deliverance more glorious and remarkable; and partly in opposition to David’s men, who, as to the main body, or most considerable part, were of the tribe of Judah, or had followed him from Judah.
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.The battle was there scattered, i. e. the warriors being beaten in the fight, fled, and were dispersed; the abstract being put for the concrete, as poverty is put for poor men, 2 Kings 24:14, and deceit for the deceiver, and dreams for dreamers, Proverbs 12:24 13:6.
The wood devoured more people, i.e. more people died in the wood, either through hunger, and thirst, and weariness; or by the wild beasts, whereof great numbers were there, which, though they were driven away by noise and clamour from the place of the main battle, yet might easily meet with them when they fled several ways, which also might be directed and sent to them by God’s providence and just judgment to punish them for their rebellion; or by falling into ditches and pits, which were in that place, 2 Samuel 18:17, and probably were covered with grass or wood, so as they could not see them till they fell into them; or by being hanged in trees, as Absalom was, 2 Samuel 18:9; and especially by David’s men, who pursued them, and killed them in the wood: and the wood is rightly said to have devoured them, because it gave the occasion to their destruction, inasmuch as the trees, and ditches, and pits, entangled them, and stopped their flight, and made them an easy prey to David’s men, who followed them, and slew them in the pursuit, being therein directed and assisted by the people of that country, who, after the manner, fell in with the victorious side.
Than the sword devoured, to wit, in the main battle; the sword being put for the battle, by a common metonymy.
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.Absalom met the servants of David, who, according to David’s command, spared him, and gave him an opportunity to escape.
His head caught hold of the oak; in which probably he was entangled by the hair of the head, which being very long and thick, might easily catch hold of a bough, especially when the great God directed it. Either he wore no helmet, or his helmet was such as left much of his hair visible; or he had thrown away his helmet as well as his other arms, to hasten his flight, or because of the heat of the season. Thus the matter of his pride was the instrument of his ruin, as also Asahel’s swiftness, 2 Samuel 2:18, and Ahithophel’s policy, 2 Samuel 17:23, were the occasions of their destruction.
The mule that was under him went away; which might easily happen, because being in flight the mule passed along very swiftly.
And a certain man saw it, and told Joab, and said, Behold, I saw Absalom hanged in an oak.No text from Poole on this verse.
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.Why didst thou not smite him down from the oak, and with thy spear nail him to the ground?
A girdle; a military belt of more than ordinary price, as a testimony of thy valour and good service. See Poole on "1 Samuel 18:4".
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.Or, take heed what (for so the Hebrew pronoun mi is sometimes used, as Judges 13:17) ye do with the young man. He expresseth David’s sense, though not his words.
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.Either, first, I should have been guilty of false and perfidious dealing against the king’s express injunction, and that with the manifest hazard of my own life. Or, secondly I should have betrayed my own life. I should not only have deceived myself with false hopes, either of concealing my fact from the king, or of obtaining a reward, yea, or a pardon, from him or thee for it; but also have destroyed myself thereby, and laid a plot against my own life.
There is no matter hid from the king; this, as all other things, would certainly come to the king’s ear.
Thou thyself wouldest have set thyself against me; thou wouldst have been my adversary and accuser; partly because it was thy duty to be so; and partly to vindicate thyself by casting the blame upon another. Or, thou wouldst have stood afar off, as this phrase is used, Psalm 38:11. Thou wouldst not have stood to me to intercede for my life or reward, but wouldst keep at a distance from 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.I may not tarry thus with thee; I must not lose time in contending with thee till I let the occasion slip.
Through the heart of Absalom; not properly so called, for he was yet alive after these wounds, and was slain, 2 Samuel 18:15; but through his middle, as the word heart is oft used, as Psalm 46:2, and that too not exactly, but more largely understood, as Deu 4:11 Ezekiel 27:4 Matthew 12:40; or through his body; which might be, and yet the wounds not mortal.
While he was yet alive, or, yet he continued alive, i.e. the darts did not despatch him, and therefore they smite him again, and kill him, 2 Samuel 18:15.
And ten young men that bare Joab's armour compassed about and smote Absalom, and slew him.Judging that there could be no safety to the king, nor peace to the kingdom, nor security to himself, and all David’s friends and loyal subjects, and good men, if Absalom had lived, as may seem probable from 2 Samuel 19:10, and yet perceiving that the king’s heart was reconcilable to Absalom, notwithstanding his abominable crimes of lying with his father’s concubines, and of horrid and unnatural rebellion; both which were capital crimes by the law of God; he adventured to save David’s life against his will. But whether Joab did well in this, all things considered, I shall not here determine.
And Joab blew the trumpet, and the people returned from pursuing after Israel: for Joab held back the people.Who otherwise were highly incensed against the rebels, and hotly pursued them. But the head of the rebellion being cut off, and the danger thereby past, be puts a stop to the effusion of Israelitish blood.
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.Laid a very great heap of stones upon him, as a lasting monument of Absalom’s sin and shame, and of the righteous judgment of God upon him. Compare Joshua 7:26 8:29 10:27. He was first hanged, after a sort, which was an accursed death, Deu 21:23; and then thrust through with darts and swords; and, after all, in a manner stoned, which was the proper punishment of a rebellious son, Deu 21:21.
Every one to his tent; to their houses and dwellings, to avoid the shame and punishment of their rebellion.
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.A pillar, to preserve his name in memory; whereas it had been more for his honour if his name had been buried in perpetual oblivion. But this was the effect of his pride and vain-glory.
The king’s dale; a place near Jerusalem so called. Genesis 14:17.
He said, I have no son.
Object. He had three sons, 2 Samuel 14:27.
Answ. Either they were all now dead; or if one of them was left alive, he thought him unfit and unworthy to keep up his name and honour; or he erected this pillar before his sons were born. But the first opinion seems most probable; and it was a remarkable judgment of God, that he who struck at his father’s life, should be punished with the death of all his sons.
Absalom’s place, Heb. Absalom’s hand, i.e. his work, made though not by his hand, yet for him and his glory, and by his procurement.
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.No text from Poole on this verse.
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.And thou shalt not be a messenger of evil tidings, which will be unwelcome to him, and prejudicial to thee.
Then said Joab to Cushi, Go tell the king what thou hast seen. And Cushi bowed himself unto Joab, and ran.To Cushi, or, to an Ethiopian; so he might be by birth, and yet by profession an Israelite.
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?My son; so he calls him with respect both to his younger years, and to that true and tender affection which he had for him.
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.The way of the plain was the smoother and easier, though the longer way.
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.Between the two gates; for the gates of the cities then were, as now they are, large and thick; and, for the greater security, had two gates, one more outward, the other inward. Here he sat, that he might hear tidings when any came into the city.
Unto the wall; unto the top of the wall or tower upon the gate, where watchmen used to watch. Compare 2 Kings 9:17 Ezekiel 33:2.
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.There is tidings in his mouth; he is sent with some special message; which was a very probable conjecture; for if he had run or fled from the enemy, many others would have followed him.
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.No text from Poole on this verse.
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.He loves me well, and therefore would not afflict me with evil 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.Into thy hand and power; or, to destruction. Compare 1 Samuel 24:18 26:8.
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.The king’s servant, Cushi.
I knew not what it was; he seems to tell an untruth, as is evident from 2 Samuel 18:20, because he now plainly perceived what Joab foretold him, that such tidings would be very unwelcome to David. But he made a bad choice, to offend God with a lie, rather than to displease the king with a truth. Yet thus far it might be true, that though he had reason to think Absalom was dead, yet was not able to give account of the particulars which concerned it, wherewith Cushi was intrusted.
And the king said unto him, Turn aside, and stand here. And he turned aside, and stood still.No text from Poole on this verse.
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.No text from Poole on this verse.
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.May they perish and be cut off, as he 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!Went up to the chamber over the gate; retiring himself from all men and business, that he might wholly give up himself to lamentation.
David might speak thus from a deep sense of his eternal state, because he died in his sins, without the least testimony of repentance, and because David himself had by his own sins been the unhappy instrument and occasion of his son’s death.