Now Joab the son of Zeruiah perceived that the king's heart was toward Absalom.
Verse 1. - The king's heart was toward Absalom. Again there is a diversity of view as to the right rendering. The preposition does not usually mean "toward," but "against," and is so rendered in ver. 13. The whole phrase occurs again only in Daniel 11:28, and certainly there implies enmity. The whole attitude of David towards Absalom is one of persistent hostility, and, even when Joab had obtained his recall, for two full years he would not admit him into his presence. What has led most commentators to force the meaning here and in 2 Samuel 13:39 is the passionate burst of grief when news was brought of Absalom's death following upon the anxious orders given to the generals to be careful of the young man's life. But David was a man of very warm affections, and while this would make him feel intense sorrow for the death of a son by his brother's hand, and stern indignation towards the murderer, there would still lie deep in the father's heart true love towards his sinning child, and Absalom's fall was sad enough to cause a strong revulsion of feeling. David's grief would be not merely for the death of his son, but that he should have died so miserably, and in an attempt so shameful. Was not, too, the natural grief of a father made the more deep by the feeling that this was the third stage of the penalty denounced on his own sin, and that the son's death was the result of the father's crime?
And Joab sent to Tekoah, and fetched thence a wise woman, and said unto her, I pray thee, feign thyself to be a mourner, and put on now mourning apparel, and anoint not thyself with oil, but be as a woman that had a long time mourned for the dead:
Verse 2. - Tekoah. This town, famous as the birthplace of the Prophet Amos, lay upon the borders of the great wilderness southeast of Jerusalem. As it was only five miles to the south of Bethlehem, Joab's birthplace, he had probably often heard tales of this woman's intelligence; and, though he contrived the parable himself, yet it would need tact and adroitness on the woman's part to give the tale with tragic effect, and answer the king's questions with all the signs of genuine emotion. If her acting was bad, the king would see through the plot, and only by great skill would his heart be so moved as to three him to some such expression of feeling as would serve Joab's purpose.
And come to the king, and speak on this manner unto him. So Joab put the words in her mouth.
And when the woman of Tekoah spake to the king, she fell on her face to the ground, and did obeisance, and said, Help, O king.
Verse 4. - When the woman of Tekoah spake. All the versions and several manuscripts read, as the sense requires, "when the woman of Tekoah came." There is an interesting article in De Rossi, fixing with much probability the twelfth century as the date of this error. Though Absalom subsequently (2 Samuel 15:4) complained of the lax administration of justice in the realm, yet evidently this woman had the right of bringing her suit before the king; and we may be sure that Joab would take care that nothing unusual was done, lest it should awaken the king's suspicions. But possibly there was a want of method in judicial matters, and very much was left in the hands of the tribal officers, such as we find mentioned in Joshua 24:1.
And the king said unto her, What aileth thee? And she answered, I am indeed a widow woman, and mine husband is dead.
And thy handmaid had two sons, and they two strove together in the field, and there was none to part them, but the one smote the other, and slew him.
And, behold, the whole family is risen against thine handmaid, and they said, Deliver him that smote his brother, that we may kill him, for the life of his brother whom he slew; and we will destroy the heir also: and so they shall quench my coal which is left, and shall not leave to my husband neither name nor remainder upon the earth.
Verse 7. - The whole family. This does not mean the kinsfolk, in whom such a disregard of the mother's feelings would have been cruel, but one of the great divisions of the tribe (see note on the mishpachah, in 1 Samuel 20:6, and comp. 1 Samuel 10:21). In ver. 15 she rightly calls them "the people." We have thus a glimpse of the ordinary method of administering the criminal law, and find that each portion of a tribe exercised justice within its own district, being summoned to a general convention by its hereditary chief; and in this case the widow represents it as determined to punish the crime of fratricide with inflexible severity, and we may assume that such was the usual practice. The mother sets before David the other side of the matter - her own loneliness, the wiping out of the father's house, the utter ruin of her home if the last live coal on her hearth be extinguished. And in this way she moves his generous sympathies even to the point of overriding the legal rights of the mishpachah. In modern communities there is always some formal power of softening or entirely remitting penalties required by the letter of the law, and of taking into consideration matters of equity and even of feeling, Which the judge must put aside; and in monarchies this is always the high prerogative of the crown. And we will destroy the heir also. The Syriac has the third person, "And they will destroy even the heir, and quench my coal that is left." This is more natural, but there is greater pungency in the widow putting into the mouth of the heads of the clan, not words which they had actually spoken, but words which showed what would be the real effect of their determination. There is great force and beauty also in the description of her son as the last live coal left to keep the family hearth burning. In another but allied sense David is called "the lamp of Israel" (2 Samuel 21:17, marg.).
And the king said unto the woman, Go to thine house, and I will give charge concerning thee.
And the woman of Tekoah said unto the king, My lord, O king, the iniquity be on me, and on my father's house: and the king and his throne be guiltless.
Verse 9. - The iniquity be on me. The king had given a general promise to help the widow, but she wants to lead him on to a definite assurance that her son shall be pardoned. Less than this would not help Absalom's case. Instead, therefore, of withdrawing, she represents herself as dissatisfied, and pleads for full forgiveness; and as this would be a violation of the letter of the Levitical Law, in order to remove David's supposed scruples, she takes upon herself the penalty.
And the king said, Whosoever saith ought unto thee, bring him to me, and he shall not touch thee any more.
Then said she, I pray thee, let the king remember the LORD thy God, that thou wouldest not suffer the revengers of blood to destroy any more, lest they destroy my son. And he said, As the LORD liveth, there shall not one hair of thy son fall to the earth.
Verse 11. - I pray thee, let the king remember, etc. Thenius says that the woman plays well the part of a talkative gossip, but really she was using the skill for which Joab employed her in bringing the king to give her son a free pardon. Nothing short of this would serve Absalom, who already was so far forgiven as to be in no fear of actual punishment. It is remarkable that David does not hesitate finally to grant this without making further inquiry, though he must have known that a mother's pleas were not likely to be very impartial. Moreover, while in ver. 9 she had acknowledged that there might be a breach of the law in pardoning a murderer, she now appeals to the mercy of Jehovah, who had himself provided limits to the anger of the avenger of blood (see Numbers 35.). He had thus shown himself to be a God of equity, in whom mercy triumphed over the rigid enactments of law. The words which follow more exactly mean, "That the avenger of blood do not multiply destruction, and that they destroy not my son." Moved by this entreaty, the king grants her son full pardon, under the solemn guaranty of an oath.
Then the woman said, Let thine handmaid, I pray thee, speak one word unto my lord the king. And he said, Say on.
And the woman said, Wherefore then hast thou thought such a thing against the people of God? for the king doth speak this thing as one which is faulty, in that the king doth not fetch home again his banished.
Verse 13. - Against the people of God. Very skilfully, and so as for the meaning only gradually to unfold itself to the king, she represents the people of Israel as the widowed mother, who has lost one son; and David as the stern clan folk who will deprive her of a second though guilty child. But now he is bound by the solemn oath he has taken to her to remit the penalty; for literally the words are, and by the king's speaking this word he is as one guilty, unless he fetch home again his banished one. She claims to have spoken in the name of all Israel, and very probably she really did express their feelings, as Absalom was very popular, and the people saw in Tamar's wrong a sufficient reason for, and vindication of, his crime.
For we must needs die, and are as water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again; neither doth God respect any person: yet doth he devise means, that his banished be not expelled from him.
Verse 14. - Neither doth God, etc. This translation is altogether wrong. What the woman says is, "God taketh not life [Hebrew, 'a soul'] away, but thinketh thoughts not to banish from him his banished one." Her argument is that death is the common lot, and that there is no way of bringing back the dead to life. But though death is thus a universal law, yet God does not kill. Death is not a penalty exacted as a punishment, but, on the contrary, he is merciful, and when a man has sinned, instead of putting him to death, he is ready to forgive and welcome back one rejected because of his wickedness. The application is plain. The king cannot restore Amnon to life, and neither must he kill the guilty Absalom, but must recall his banished son. The argument is full of poetry, and touching to the feelings, but is not very sound. For God requires repentance and change of heart; and there was no sign of contrition on Absalom's part. The power of the woman's appeal lay in what she says of God's nature. He is not intent on punishing, nor bent on carrying out the sentences of the Law in their stern literalness; but he is ready to forgive, and "deviseth devices" to bring home those now separate from him. There is also much that is worth pondering over in the distinction between death as a law of nature, and death as a penalty. The one is necessary, and often gentle and beneficial; but death as a penalty is stern and terrible.
Now therefore that I am come to speak of this thing unto my lord the king, it is because the people have made me afraid: and thy handmaid said, I will now speak unto the king; it may be that the king will perform the request of his handmaid.
Verses 15-17. - Now therefore that I am come, etc. The woman now professes to return to her old story as the reason for her importunity, but she repeats it in so eager and indirect a manner as to indicate that it had another meaning. Instead, too, of thanking the king for fully granting her petition, she still flatters and coaxes as one whose purpose was as yet ungained. The king's word is, for rest (see margin): it puts an end to vexation, and, by deciding matters, sets the disputants at peace. He is as an angel of God, as God's messenger, whose words have Divine authority; and his office is, not to discern, but "to hear the good and the evil," unmoved, as the Vulgate renders it, by blessing and cursing. His mission is too high for him to be influenced either by good words or by evil, but having patiently heard both sides, and calmly thought over the reasons for and against, he will decide righteously. Finally, she ends with the prayer, And may Jehovah thy God be with thee! By such words she hoped to propitiate the king, who now could not fail to see that the errand of the woman was personal to himself.
For the king will hear, to deliver his handmaid out of the hand of the man that would destroy me and my son together out of the inheritance of God.
Then thine handmaid said, The word of my lord the king shall now be comfortable: for as an angel of God, so is my lord the king to discern good and bad: therefore the LORD thy God will be with thee.
Then the king answered and said unto the woman, Hide not from me, I pray thee, the thing that I shall ask thee. And the woman said, Let my lord the king now speak.
And the king said, Is not the hand of Joab with thee in all this? And the woman answered and said, As thy soul liveth, my lord the king, none can turn to the right hand or to the left from ought that my lord the king hath spoken: for thy servant Joab, he bade me, and he put all these words in the mouth of thine handmaid:
Verse 19. - Is the hand of Joab with thee in all this? The "not," inserted by the Authorized Version, must be omitted, as it alters the meaning. The king really was uncertain, and asked dubiously, whereas the Authorized Version admits only of an. affirmative answer. David had seen the general drift of the woman's meaning, but she had involved it in too much obscurity for him to do more than suspect that she was the mouthpiece of Joab, who was standing by, and whose face may have given signs of a more than ordinary interest in the woman's narrative. She now frankly acknowledges the truth, but skilfully interweaves much flattery in her answer. And her words are far more expressive than what is given in our versions. Literally they are, By thy life, O my lord the king, there is nothing on the right or on the left of all that my lord the king has spoken. His words had gone straight to the mark, without the slightest deviation on either side.
To fetch about this form of speech hath thy servant Joab done this thing: and my lord is wise, according to the wisdom of an angel of God, to know all things that are in the earth.
Verse 20. - To fetch about this form of speech; correctly, as in the Revised Version, to change the face of the matter hath thy servant Joab, etc. The matter was that referred to in ver. 15, which the king now understands to refer to Absalom. For in the earth, translate in the land. The Hebrew has no means of distinguishing the wider and narrower significations of the word; but while the king would be flattered by the supposition that he knew all that happened in his dominions, the assertion that he knew all that was done in all the world was too broad and general to be agreeable. The Authorized Version has been misled by the thought of what an angel might know; but while it was a compliment to ascribe to the king an angel's intelligence in his own sphere, it would have been bad taste and unmeaning to ascribe to him omniscience. Nay, it is an assumption without proof that even an angel knows "all things that are in the earth."
And the king said unto Joab, Behold now, I have done this thing: go therefore, bring the young man Absalom again.
Verse 21. - I have done this thing. This is an Oriental form of assent, just as we say in English, "It is done," that is, as good as done, now that the order is given. A few manuscripts, nevertheless, support a Mas-soretic emendation (K'ri), namely, "Thou hast done this: go therefore," etc. But both the Septuagint and Vulgate agree with the written text (K'tib), and it is less flat and commonplace than the supposed emendation.
And Joab fell to the ground on his face, and bowed himself, and thanked the king: and Joab said, To day thy servant knoweth that I have found grace in thy sight, my lord, O king, in that the king hath fulfilled the request of his servant.
Verse 22. - In that the king hath fulfilled the request of his servant. Keil concludes from this that Joab had often interceded for Absalom's pardon, and that this had made the king suspect him of being the prime mover in the affair. But this is to force the meaning, Joab now stood confessed as the person who had brought the woman before the king, and had employed her to gain a hearing. Had he been allowed to plead freely, her intervention would not have been necessary. We have seen, too, that the king's suspicions have been made in the Authorized Version much stronger than they really were. Many commentators also assume that Joab had a friendship for Absalom, but there are few traces of it in his conduct, and more probably Joab was chiefly influenced by politic motives. It was injurious to the well being of the nation that there should be discord and enmity between the king and his eldest son, and that the latter should be living in exile. The K'ri, thy servant, placed in the margin, is to be decidedly rejected, with all other attempts of the Massorites to remove little roughnesses of grammar.
So Joab arose and went to Geshur, and brought Absalom to Jerusalem.
And the king said, Let him turn to his own house, and let him not see my face. So Absalom returned to his own house, and saw not the king's face.
Verse 24. - Let him turn to his own house, etc. This half forgiveness was unwise, and led to unhappy results. It seems even as if Absalom was a prisoner in his house, as he could not leave it to visit Joab. Still, we must not assume that even kind treatment would have made Absalom a dutiful son, or weaned him from his ambitions purposes. The long plotted revenge, carried out so determinately, gives us a low idea of his character, and probably during these two years of waiting, he had brooded over David's criminal leniency, and regarded it as a justification for his own foul deed. And now, when allowed to come home, but still treated unkindly, thoughts condemnatory of his father's conduct were cherished by him. It seems, too, as if a protracted punishment is always dangerous to the moral character of the criminal. And must we not add another reason? Absalom, we may feel sure, saw with indignation the growing influence of Bathsheba over the king. A granddaughter of Ahithophel, she was sure to be an adept in those intrigues in which the women of a harem pass their time; and even if, upon the whole, we form a favourable judgment upon her character, yet undoubtedly she was a very able woman, and could have no affection for Absalom.
But in all Israel there was none to be so much praised as Absalom for his beauty: from the sole of his foot even to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him.
And when he polled his head, (for it was at every year's end that he polled it: because the hair was heavy on him, therefore he polled it:) he weighed the hair of his head at two hundred shekels after the king's weight.
Verse 26. - Two hundred shekels after the king's weight. Unless the royal shekel was smaller than the shekel of the sanctuary, the weight of Absalom's hair would be six pounds. But we cannot believe that the king's shekel was not full weight; for to imagine this is to suppose that the king had tampered with the coinage; for the shekel was a coin as well as a weight, being originally a fixed quantity of silver. As a matter of fact, David had amassed too much silver to have need of resorting to what is the expedient of feeble and impoverished princes. Nor can we grant an error in the number; for the versions all agree with the Hebrew, so that any mistake must, at all events, be of great antiquity. Josephus says that Solomon's body guard wore long hair powdered with gold dust, and undoubtedly Absalom's hair was something extraordinary (2 Samuel 18:9). But six pounds is so enormous a weight that it is just possible that some ancient copyist has enlarged the number, to make it accord with a legend current among the people, in which this feature of Absalom's beauty had been exaggerated.
And unto Absalom there were born three sons, and one daughter, whose name was Tamar: she was a woman of a fair countenance.
Verse 27. - Three sons. Their names are not given, because they died early (see 2 Samuel 18:18). Of his daughter Tamar, named after her aunt, and, like her, possessed of great beauty, the Septuagint adds that she became the wife of Rehoboam, and mother of Abijah. In 1 Kings 15:2 we are told that Abijah's mother was "Maachah the daughter of Abishalom;" and in 2 Chronicles 13:2 that her name was "Michaiah the daughter of Uriel of Gibeah." We thus gather that Tamar married Uriel, and that it was the granddaughter of Absalom who became Rehoboam's queen. It is strictly in accordance with Hebrew custom to call Absalom's granddaughter his daughter, and, as Uriel was a man of no political importance, he is passed over, as the narrator's object was to show that Abijah's mother was sprung from the handsome and notorious son of David (see also 2 Chronicles 11:20, 21).
So Absalom dwelt two full years in Jerusalem, and saw not the king's face.
Therefore Absalom sent for Joab, to have sent him to the king; but he would not come to him: and when he sent again the second time, he would not come.
Verse 29. - Absalom sent for Joab. As Joab had been the means of bringing him back, Absalom naturally regarded him as a friend. But Joab had performed the former service for other reasons, and it does not seem as if he really had any affection for Absalom.
Therefore he said unto his servants, See, Joab's field is near mine, and he hath barley there; go and set it on fire. And Absalom's servants set the field on fire.
Verse 30. - Go, and set it on fire. The Hebrew has, Go, and I will set it on fire. Absalom represents himself as doing in his own person what his servants were to be his instruments in accomplishing. The versions, however, agree with the Massorites in substituting the easy phrase in the text. But few languages are so indifferent to persons and numbers as the Hebrew.
Then Joab arose, and came to Absalom unto his house, and said unto him, Wherefore have thy servants set my field on fire?
Verse 31. - Then Joab arose. This high-handed proceeding forced Joab to pay the wished for visit. But, while we cannot acquit Absalom of petulance, we must not regard his act as one of angry revenge; had it been so, Joab would have openly resented it, and he was quite capable of making even the heir apparent feel his anger. It was probably intended as a rough practical joke, which taught Joab better manners, and which he must laugh at, though with inward displeasure.
And Absalom answered Joab, Behold, I sent unto thee, saying, Come hither, that I may send thee to the king, to say, Wherefore am I come from Geshur? it had been good for me to have been there still: now therefore let me see the king's face; and if there be any iniquity in me, let him kill me.
Verse 32. - If there be (any) iniquity in me, let him kill me. The word "any," wrongly inserted in the Authorized Version, as omitted in the Revised Version. It would have been monstrous for Absalom to profess innocence, with the murder of Amnon fresh in his memory; but the phrase, "if there be iniquity in me," means, "if my offence is still unpardoned." If year after year he was to be treated as a criminal, then he would rather be put to death at once. And Absalom's plea succeeds. Joab, who had been unwilling to visit the prisoner, now consents to act as mediator, reports to David his son's vexation at such long continued coldness, and obtains full pardon.
So Joab came to the king, and told him: and when he had called for Absalom, he came to the king, and bowed himself on his face to the ground before the king: and the king kissed Absalom.
Verse 33. - The king kissed Absalom. The father's kiss was, as in the case of the prodigal son (Luke 15:20), the sign of perfect reconciliation, and of the restoration of Absalom to his place as a son, with all its privileges. But God's pardon was immediate (2 Samuel 12:13), while David's was unwilling, and wrung from him. The kiss, we may feel quite sure, was preceded by a conversation between David and his son, the record of which is omitted simply for the sake of brevity. Evidently it satisfied the king, and ended in the kiss which gave the son all he desired. But whatever may have been his professions, Absalom's subsequent conduct is proof that he still regarded Amnon's death as a just retribution for his conduct to Tamar, and secretly cherished a sullen anger against his father for not having punished the wrong doer himself. It was the contrast between his own five years of punishment and the mere verbal reproof which was all that Amnon had to suffer for his shameless conduct, which rankled in Absalom's mind, and gave him an excuse for finally plotting his father's ruin.