And it came to pass after this, that Absalom prepared him chariots and horses, and fifty men to run before him.
Verse 1. - After this. The Hebrew is a more precise phrase than that on which we have commented on 2 Samuel 10:1 and 2 Sam 13:1, and implies that Absalom began his devices soon after obtaining his liberty. Chariots and horses; Hebrew, a chariot and horses; that is, a chariot for state occasions, in which Absalom rode, while fifty footmen ran at his side. Probably his grandfather Talmai practised similar magnificence at Geshur. In India it is still common for men of rank to be attended by runners on foot, who will keep up with horses or elephants for an incredible distance.
And Absalom rose up early, and stood beside the way of the gate: and it was so, that when any man that had a controversy came to the king for judgment, then Absalom called unto him, and said, Of what city art thou? And he said, Thy servant is of one of the tribes of Israel.
Verse 2. - The way of the gate. The gate would be that of the royal palace, where the king gave audience and administered justice. At the gate of the city the elders were the judges, and, though the higher authority of the king may have weakened the action of this citizen court, yet passages such as Isaiah 50:23 and Jeremiah 5:28 imply, not only its continued existence, but also that it retained much importance. Probably all causes between citizens were tried by it, just as causes in the country were tried by the mishpachah (see note on 2 Samuel 14:7); but with an appeal in weighty matters to the king. It is a mistake to suppose that David altogether neglected his judicial functions. On the contrary, the woman of Tekoah obtained an audience, as a matter of course; and Absalom would not have risen up thus early unless David had also taken his seat in the early morning on the royal divan to administer justice. It was the suitors on their way to the king whom Absalom accosted, and made believe that he would be more assiduous in his duties than his father, and that he would have decided every suit in favour of the person to whom he was talking, whereas really one side alone can gain the cause. Still, we may well believe that, guilty himself of adultery and murder, and with his two eider sons stained with such terrible crimes, David's administration of justice had become half hearted. And thus his sin again found him out, and brought stern punishment. For Absalom used this weakness against his father, and, intercepting the suitors on their way, would ask their city and tribe, and listen to their complaint, and assure them of the goodness of their cause, and lament that, as the king could not hear all causes easily himself, he did not appoint others to aid him in his duties. It was delay and procrastination of which Absalom complained; and as many of the litigants had probably come day after day, and not succeeded in getting a hearing, they were already in ill humour and prepared to find fault. Now, as David possessed great powers of organization, we may well believe that he would have taken measures for the adequate administration of law had it not been for the moral malady which enfeebled his will. In the appointment of Jehoshaphat and Seraiah (2 Samuel 8:16, 17) he had made a beginning, but soon his hands grew feeble, and he did no more.
And Absalom said unto him, See, thy matters are good and right; but there is no man deputed of the king to hear thee.
Absalom said moreover, Oh that I were made judge in the land, that every man which hath any suit or cause might come unto me, and I would do him justice!
And it was so, that when any man came nigh to him to do him obeisance, he put forth his hand, and took him, and kissed him.
And on this manner did Absalom to all Israel that came to the king for judgment: so Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel.
Verse 6. - Absalom stole the hearts. By professing anxiety to devote himself to the hearing and deciding of the people's causes, by flattering each one with the assurance that his case was so good that it needed only a hearing to be decided in his favour, and by his affability, made the more charming and irresistible by his personal beauty, he won the love of the people almost without their knowing how devoted they had become to him.
And it came to pass after forty years, that Absalom said unto the king, I pray thee, let me go and pay my vow, which I have vowed unto the LORD, in Hebron.
Verse 7. - After forty years. As Absalom was born in Hebron after David was made king (2 Samuel 3:3), and as David's whole reign lasted only forty years and six months, the reading "forty" is evidently incorrect. Suggestions, such, for instance, as that the forty years are to be reckoned from the desire of the Israelites to have a king, or from the anointing of David by Samuel, are merely methods of evading a difficulty. The Syriac, however, and the Vulgate - except the Codex Amiatinus, which reads "forty," supported by Josephus and some manuscripts have "four years," which would give ample, yet not too long, time for the growth of Absalom's popularity, and of dissatisfaction at David's tardy administration of justice. In Hebron. Absalom chose this town, beth as being his birthplace, and also because it was on the road to Geshur (1 Samuel 27:8), whither flight might be necessary should the enterprise fail. He hoped also to win to his cause some of the powerful tribe of Judah, though it generally was the mainstay of David's throne. Local sacrifices were still customary (see note on 1 Samuel 16:2), and the visit of the king's son for such a purpose would be celebrated by a general holiday and much feasting at Hebron. As Ewald remarks, David's confidence and want of suspicion were the results of a noble-minded generosity. And besides, there was no state police ever on the watch, and ready to put an unfavourable construction on all that was done; and probably David was even pleased at his son's popularity, and took his professions as proof that he would be a just and wise ruler on succeeding to his father's place. Perhaps, too, he was glad at this indication of religious feeling on Absalom's part; for a father is sure to look on the better side of his son's acts. He had been tardy enough in fulfilling his vow, but it seemed to David that conscience had at last prevailed, and that right was to be done.
For thy servant vowed a vow while I abode at Geshur in Syria, saying, If the LORD shall bring me again indeed to Jerusalem, then I will serve the LORD.
And the king said unto him, Go in peace. So he arose, and went to Hebron.
But Absalom sent spies throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, As soon as ye hear the sound of the trumpet, then ye shall say, Absalom reigneth in Hebron.
Verse 10. - Absalom sent spies. The word means "those who go hither and thither," and, as the object of such journeying would usually be. to gather information, the right translation often is "spies." Here there was no such purpose, nor were they to report to Absalom, but to disperse themselves everywhere, and, when the signal was given at Hebron, they were to endeavour to gather the people to Absalom's standard. Some simple minded commentators wonder how one trumpet could be heard throughout the land. It was heard only at Hebron, but the news of the proclamation would rapidly spread; and, though the rumour might be vague and confused, yet these emissaries, fully acquainted beforehand with its meaning, would turn it to Absalom's advantage, and urge the people to confirm the choice, made, as they would affirm, by the whole tribe of Judah. In such attempts everything depends upon gathering a powerful following at first; and usually a good deal of vigour and even force is necessary to make men take part in a revolt. But as the numbers swell, adherents readily flock in to what seems to be the winning side.
And with Absalom went two hundred men out of Jerusalem, that were called; and they went in their simplicity, and they knew not any thing.
Verse 11. - Two hundred men. These, doubtless, were courtiers and men of rank, who were so accustomed to Absalom's love of display, that, when called, that is, invited, they would go without suspicion. To Absalom their attendance was most important, not only because, being compromised, many would join him, and even all of them for a time be forced to yield obedience, but because they would make the people of Hebron suppose that Absalom had a powerful body of supporters at Jerusalem. It is quite possible that at Hebron, and generally in Judah, there was great discontent because David had left their tribe to choose a capital elsewhere, and because he did not show them any decided preference over the other tribes, whose good will he would rightly seek to conciliate. The existence of much jealousy between Judah and the ten tribes is plain from 2 Samuel 19:41-43.
And Absalom sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David's counseller, from his city, even from Giloh, while he offered sacrifices. And the conspiracy was strong; for the people increased continually with Absalom.
Verse 12. - Ahithophel the Gilonite. The desertion of David by Ahithophel is in every way remarkable, even if he were Bathsheba's grandfather (see note on 2 Samuel 11:3). For he was far too subtle a man to have joined the conspiracy unless he bad felt reasonably sure that it would be successful. Successful it would have been had his advice been followed; but so correctly did he estimate the result if David were allowed time to gather his friends, that, when his counsel was rejected, he withdrew immediately to Giloh, and committed suicide. Still if the revolt had been successful, it would have involved, if not the death of Bathsheba, yet certainly that of her sons, and the exclusion of Ahithophel's great-grandchildren from the throne. In Psalm 41, written at this time, we learn what were David's feelings when he heard the news of this conspiracy, and Ahithophel is the familiar friend, in whom he had trusted, and who had eaten at his table, but now raised up his heel to kick at him. In John 13:18 the words are quoted of Judas Iscariot, of whom Ahithophel was a type in his treachery and in his death by his own hand. The translation, "sent for Ahithophel," cannot be maintained. The Hebrew is "sent Ahithophel," but for what purpose or on what embassy is not mentioned. As thus something must have dropped out of the Hebrew text, it possibly may be the preposition "for," as this gives a good sense. For Giloh, Ahithophel's town, was situated a few miles to the south of Hebron (Joshua 15:51), and Ahithophel had probably been working there secretly for Absalom for some time. As David's counsellor, his proper place of residence would have been Jerusalem, but the conspiracy had been kept so secret that he had been able to get away without suspicion. He is now summoned to Absalom's side, and his presence there brings in so many adherents that a rapid march on Jerusalem might have put David into their power. The Revised Version is right in translating, while he offered the sacrifices; namely, those which he had vowed, and which were the reason given for his visit to Hebron.
And there came a messenger to David, saying, The hearts of the men of Israel are after Absalom.
And David said unto all his servants that were with him at Jerusalem, Arise, and let us flee; for we shall not else escape from Absalom: make speed to depart, lest he overtake us suddenly, and bring evil upon us, and smite the city with the edge of the sword.
Verse 14. - Arise, and let us flee. The rebellion of Absalom, and David's humiliating flight, bring out all the better parts of the king's character, and set him once again before us as a man after God's own heart. For this period is richly illustrated by the psalms which were written under the pressure of this great affliction, and which are marked by firm confidence in God, and an assured sense of the Divine nearness and protection. Psalm 41. shows how poignant was his anguish at Ahithophel's treachery, but it inspired no fear: "As for me, thou up. holdest me in mine integrity, and settest me before thy face forever" (Psalm 41:12). It was a firm faith which prompted such words. In Psalm 63, written "in the wilderness of Judah," before David had reached the Jordan, he gives utterance to his grief at the loss of his religious privileges at Jerusalem; but Jehovah is still his strong Tower, and his dwelling will be in God's tabernacle forever. Psalm 3. and 4. are his morning and evening hymns written "when he fled from Absalom his son." Psalm 55 is one more sad even than Psalm 41. He describes in it his panic stricken feelings when the news reached him, his longing to escape from the turmoil of life, and flee into the wilderness and be at rest; and his grief at his desertion by men in whose company he had worshipped in the house of God. Upon this follows an outburst of vehement indignation, made the more bitter by the sense of the treachery whereby he had been duped into connivance with Absalom's plans (ver. 21); but amidst it all his confidence was unshaken that if he cast his burden upon God, "he would sustain him, and never suffer the righteous to be moved." Finally, in Psalm 27, we have the contrast between Jehovah's abiding goodness and the inconstancy of men; while Psalm 61. and 62. were probably written at Mahanaim, when David s anguish of mind was being assuaged, and a calm confidence was taking its place. Everywhere in all of them David speaks as one who had now given all his heart to God. As regards his terror and flight (Psalm 55:5-8), it may seem strange that David should have withdrawn so hurriedly from a city so strong as Jerusalem. But we must not suppose that he had a standing army, and his few Cherethites and Pelethites could have made no head against the nation. Probably, too, the fortifications of the city were incomplete (Psalm 51:18); and even if in good order, yet, cooped up in Jerusalem, David would have left the whole country in Absalom's power, and finally, after a long blockade, he must have been driven by famine to surrender. Away from Jerusalem he was the centre whither all who disliked Absalom's attempt would gather, and every day as it passed would make men reflect more and more upon what David had done for them, and the more steady and thoughtful of them would finally decide in his favour. There would be, moreover, the secret conviction that David, with such men round him as Joab and Abishai, if free to take his own course, would be more than a match for Absalom and his larger numbers. This was what Ahithophel foresaw, and was so convinced that, if David were not crushed at once, he would gain the day, that he did not even wait to see, but destroyed himself. Abarbanel thinks that the wish of the people had never been for more than the association of Absalom with David on the throne, according to what he had himself suggested (ver. 4); and that there was a great revulsion of feeling when they saw that they must choose absolutely between father and son, and that whoever lost the crown must lose his life as well. Some commentators consider that Psalm 31. also belongs to this period, though others ascribe it to Jeremiah. Parts of it are singularly applicable to the circumstances of David's flight, as where the psalmist speaks of Jehovah as being his Fortress in contrast with Jerusalem, and adds, "Thou hast not shut me up into the hands of the enemy, but hast set my feet in a large space," as though "the net which the conspirators had privily laid for him" had been the design to coop him up within the walls of the city, There are touching words, too, of distress at the slander and reproach breaking forth on every side, and at the completeness of his fall, so that whereas but a few days before he had been a king, now "he was clean forgotten, as a dead man out of mind; and east aside as though he were now of no more account than the shards of a broken vessel." But, with the calm strength of faith he adds, "My times are in thy hand;" "Thou shalt hide all who trust in thee in the secret of thy presence;" "Oh, then, love Jehovah, and be of good courage! for he shall strengthen the heart of all whose hope is fixed on him."
And the king's servants said unto the king, Behold, thy servants are ready to do whatsoever my lord the king shall appoint.
Verse 15. - The king's servants. These were the officers of David's court and household, numerous enough to hamper his movements, but not enough to protect him. All David's wives, moreover, went, and his children, and some of his concubines (2 Samuel 19:5), ten, however, being left in charge of the palace.
And the king went forth, and all his household after him. And the king left ten women, which were concubines, to keep the house.
And the king went forth, and all the people after him, and tarried in a place that was far off.
Verse 17. - And tarried in a place that was far off; Revised Version, in Beth-merhak. "The Far House" - so we may translate this proper name - was probably not a dwelling, but a pavilion overlooking the Kidron valley; and here David halted his household until all were assembled, and arrangements made for their journey. Here, too, the bodyguard would gather, and they would cross the Kidron only when everything was ready for their orderly progress. Confusion at such a time would breed a panic and invite an attack.
And all his servants passed on beside him; and all the Cherethites, and all the Pelethites, and all the Gittites, six hundred men which came after him from Gath, passed on before the king.
Verse 18. - All the Gittites, air hundred men which came after him from Gath. The Septuagint reads "Gibborim," and without doubt these are the persons meant; but while they were styled Gibborim, the "mighties," for honour's sake, because of their prowess, they probably were popularly called David's Gittites, because they were the six hundred men who had formed his little army when he sought refuge with Achish, King of Gath (l 1 Samuel 27:2; 1 Samuel 30:9). They were not Philistines, but Israelites of desperate fortune (1 Samuel 22:2); and it is a proof of David's great ability, and of the moral influence of his character, that he was successful, not only in controlling them and maintaining discipline, but also in forming them into as noble a set of heroes as ever existed, and who were faithful to him in all his fortunes. To their number belonged the thirty-seven champions end-merated in ch. 23, and possibly the title "Gibborim" strictly belonged to them only. As they are still called "the six hundred," it is probable that the corps was maintained at this number by new appointments, and that they had special privileges which made their position very desirable. Certainly David would never forget men who had shared all his fortunes, and been so true and so useful to him; and it is evident, from Hushai's counsel (2 Samuel 17:8), that Absalom feared their resolute valour, and hesitated to attack without overwhelming numbers. Thenius compares these veterans to Napoleon's Old Guard.
Then said the king to Ittai the Gittite, Wherefore goest thou also with us? return to thy place, and abide with the king: for thou art a stranger, and also an exile.
Verse 19. - Ittai the Gittite. Ittai was not one of the six hundred, though there was an Ittai among them, a Benjamite. He was a citizen of Gath, who had lately come ("yesterday," see ver. 20), with all his household of slaves and dependents, his clan, Hebrew, his taf - translated in ver. 22 his "little ones." He had evidently been a person of importance in his own country, whence he had been driven, perhaps by political troubles, and was now, therefore, an exile and a foreigner (Authorized Version, "stranger") at Jerusalem. As David made him joint commander of his army with Joab and Abishai (2 Samuel 18:2), he must also have been a general of recognized military skill. As he was thus not personally interested in the government of Israel, and, in fact, had only lately come thither, David recommends him to return... and abide with the king, that is, with the de facto king, Absalom. But so great was the fascination which David exercised upon those around him, that this foreigner boldly threw in his lot with him, and accompanied him in his flight. Return to thy place. This is a very daring transposition, as the Hebrew is, Return and abide with the king; for thou art a foreigner, and also an exile art thou to thy place. The Revised Version gives the same sense as the Authorized, though it shows more respect to the grammar. But the Septuagint, Syriac, and Vulgate, by "his own place" understand Gath, either taking the words as meaning "an exile as to thy own place," or having a different reading. The Hebrew then proceeds, Yesterday was thy coming, and shall 1 today make thee wander to go with us, seeing I go whither I go? that is, I go I know not whither. Return thou, and take back thy brethren - in mercy and truth. This gives a very good sense, but the Septuagint and Vulgate have a different reading: "Take back thy brethren with thee, and the Lord chew thee mercy and truth." The Syriac gives the genera] sense of the Hebrew, rendering, "Take back thy brethren well."
Whereas thou camest but yesterday, should I this day make thee go up and down with us? seeing I go whither I may, return thou, and take back thy brethren: mercy and truth be with thee.
And Ittai answered the king, and said, As the LORD liveth, and as my lord the king liveth, surely in what place my lord the king shall be, whether in death or life, even there also will thy servant be.
And David said to Ittai, Go and pass over. And Ittai the Gittite passed over, and all his men, and all the little ones that were with him.
Verse 22. - All the little ones; Hebrew, all the taf; in ver. 20 called "his brethren," that is, all the relatives and dependents who had accompanied him in his exile. Their presence with him proves that he had entirely broken with the Philistines, and left his country for good. He may have taken this step for religious reasons, though his swearing by Jehovah (ver. 21) does not prove it, as Achish did the same (1 Samuel 29:6); or Ittai, after the capture of Gath by David (2 Samuel 8:1), may have made himself unpopular by becoming the ally of the conqueror, and so finally have determined to leave the city, and find a home in Israel.
And all the country wept with a loud voice, and all the people passed over: the king also himself passed over the brook Kidron, and all the people passed over, toward the way of the wilderness.
Verse 23. - All the country wept. This general lamentation proves that David was not really unpopular in Jerusalem, though it was there that Absalom had dazzled the people by his magnificence, and sought to win favour by his gracious ways. By the country the inhabitants are meant, who watched the king's departure; while the people are David's followers - his retinue and attendants. The brook Kidron. This is a winter torrent, dry during most of the year, but serving at the rainy seasons to carry off the rainfall from the Valley of Jehoshaphat. It lay on the east of Jerusalem, and beyond it was Mount Olivet. The direction of David's flight was toward the wild country on the east of the Jordan, in which Ishbosheth had found a refuge after the defeat of Gilboa. To reach it he must pass by Jericho, and thence through the Arabah (Jeremiah 39:4) to the ford of the Jordan, after crossing which he would be in comparative safety. Ahithophel would have followed that very night, and have attacked before David had placed the river between himself and his pursuers.
And lo Zadok also, and all the Levites were with him, bearing the ark of the covenant of God: and they set down the ark of God; and Abiathar went up, until all the people had done passing out of the city.
Verse 24. - And Abiathar went up. This rendering, though confirmed by the versions, is very unintelligible. Whither did Abiathar go up? And moreover it is said that he continued going up until all David's followers had passed out of the city. Another possible rendering is, "And Abiathar offered (sacrifices) until all the people had done passing out of the city." Passages quoted in proof that the verb may be so rendered without the addition of the word "sacrifice" are 1 Samuel 2:28 and 2 Samuel 24:22; but in both these places the context makes the sense plain. Such a sacrifice would, of course, sanctify both king and people in their flight; but as none of the versions support this method of translating the text, it seems unsafe to adopt it, and the passage must remain obscure. On the one hand, it is unlikely that there would be time to offer sacrifices at so hasty a flight; but on the other hand, the removal of the ark was a solemn thing, which probably required some such religious ceremonial, and Cahen and other Jewish authorities translate, "Abiathar offered burnt offerings."
And the king said unto Zadok, Carry back the ark of God into the city: if I shall find favour in the eyes of the LORD, he will bring me again, and shew me both it, and his habitation:
But if he thus say, I have no delight in thee; behold, here am I, let him do to me as seemeth good unto him.
Verse 26. - Let him do to me as seemeth good unto him. David's answer is full, not only of devout resignation and trust in God, but is remarkable also for the absence of superstition. He feels that God will not judge him by any mere outward sign or privilege, but in truth and equity. If he deserves condemnation, he will not escape it by carrying the ark about with him. If, on the contrary, God accepts him, he will restore him to the enjoyment of his spiritual privileges, and bring him back to worship at the place which he has chosen for his dwelling. We must notice that he addresses these words to Zadok, who had remained with the ark. This was natural if Abiathar was occupied in offering, but hard to understand if he had gone up, that is, in advance of the ark, to acquaint David with their purpose.
The king said also unto Zadok the priest, Art not thou a seer? return into the city in peace, and your two sons with you, Ahimaaz thy son, and Jonathan the son of Abiathar.
Verse 27. - Art thou (not) a seer? Both the Authorized Version and the Revised Version evade the difficulty of this passage by inserting the word "not." It is one of the merits of the Revised Version that usually it does not take these liberties. But "Art thou a seer?" is meaningless; and the attempts, moreover, to show that Zadok was a seer fail entirely in proof. The receiving revelations by Urim and Thummim was a priestly, and not a prophetic, function. Without altering the text, the words may be correctly translated, "Seest thou?" This was probably a colloquial phrase, of which the Septuagint gives the sense by rendering it in the imperative, "See;" while the Syriac, regarding it as an expletive, boldly omits it.
See, I will tarry in the plain of the wilderness, until there come word from you to certify me.
Verse 28. - In the plain of the wilderness. The Revised Version has "at the fords of the wilderness," that is, it rightly keeps to the written Hebrew text (the K'tib), while the Authorized Version adopts a conjecture of the Massorites (the K'ri). This conjecture is the substitution of arboth for abroth, and they have made the same alteration at 2 Samuel 17:16. But the substitution is uncalled for and mischievous; for David would not halt indefinitely in the plain, the Arabah (of which Arboth is the plural), but would press on to the fords, where some delay must take place, and where the king's presence would be important in giving instructions for what was by no means an easy operation (comp. 2 Samuel 19:18). At the river, moreover, David could be assailed only in front, where his "mighties" would make a strong defence, while in the Arabah they might be surrounded; and, encumbered as they were with women, their line must be so extended as to be weakened. We find, too, in Judges 3:28 that the fords of the Jordan formed a good military position. In 2 Samuel 17:22 it is expressly said that the fording of the river did not take place until Jonathan and Ahimaaz came with their reports; and their words there, in ver, 21, show that David was on the bank when they arrived, with his preparations so complete, that, in the next few hours, all his company were safely carried over to the other side. Ahimaaz was a famous runner (see 2 Samuel 18:27), and, if David was ready, the time gained by him upon any body of troops leaving Jerusalem at the same hour, would have enabled the king to get his people across; but if he had still some miles to march, with a number of women and children, Ahimaaz's fleetness would have been rendered useless.
Zadok therefore and Abiathar carried the ark of God again to Jerusalem: and they tarried there.
And David went up by the ascent of mount Olivet, and wept as he went up, and had his head covered, and he went barefoot: and all the people that was with him covered every man his head, and they went up, weeping as they went up.
Verse 30. - The ascent of mount Olivet; Hebrew, the ascent of the olive trees. The hill never was called Olivet, which is a word formed from the Latin mons oliveti, the mount of the olive grove. David had his head covered. This was a sign of grief among the Persians, Egyptians, and Romans, as well as the Hebrews (for whom see Ezekiel 24:17), it being originally a natural movement to conceal an outburst of tears. So we in great sorrow bury our faces in our hands. In this mark of mourning all joined, but David added the going barefoot as a sign of deeper humiliation. According to the Jewish Midrash, it was upon the Mount of Olives that David composed the third psalm. More probably it was at the fords of the Jordan, after David, wearied with the fatigues of the march, had enjoyed a short refreshing slumber, and while he was waiting for his two young friends, that he comforted himself by this outpouring of his heart to God.
And one told David, saying, Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom. And David said, O LORD, I pray thee, turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness.
Verse 31. - And one told David. The Hebrew literally is, and David told. But we cannot suppose that David had previously known of Ahithophel's defection. The text is evidently corrupt, and the Authorized Version gives the right sense. On hearing of the defection of a man so famous for practical sound judgment, David prays to God to frustrate his counsel, and the opportunity for devising means for this end quickly follows.
And it came to pass, that when David was come to the top of the mount, where he worshipped God, behold, Hushai the Archite came to meet him with his coat rent, and earth upon his head:
Verse 32. - Where he worshipped God; more correctly, where God was worshipped, and so the Revised Version. The summit of the Mount of Olives was one of the many bamoth, or high places, situated on the top of hills, where, in the old Canaanitish time, men had worshipped their heathenish deities. They were still regarded as consecrated places, but the worship had now been transferred to Elohim, the true God. They continued to be hallowed spots, with Levitical priests to minister at them, until the stricter times of Josiah (2 Kings 23:8), when such worship was forbidden; but even then these priests seem to have retained considerable privileges, though their position was inferior to that held by the priests of the temple. It was at this hallowed spot that David's old friend and privy counselor (ver. 37), Hushai, met him, with his coat rent - not the upper garment, but the kuttoneth, the under tunic, the rending of which was a sign of deeper sorrow. We read of "the border of the Archites" (so the Revised Version, rightly) in Joshua 16:2, near Bethel, in the tribe of Manasseh; and Hushai's birthplace was probably there.
Unto whom David said, If thou passest on with me, then thou shalt be a burden unto me:
Verse 33. - A burden unto me. Host likely because Hushai was old and infirm. Others, with less probability, think that it was because of his rank, which would demand special attendance.
But if thou return to the city, and say unto Absalom, I will be thy servant, O king; as I have been thy father's servant hitherto, so will I now also be thy servant: then mayest thou for me defeat the counsel of Ahithophel.
Verse 34. - Then mayest thou for me defeat the counsel of Ahithophel. David was thus meeting treachery by treachery, and we cannot approve of it, even granting that Ahithophel's conduct was base and selfish, while Hushai was risking his life for his master. Still, he was sent back to tell a falsehood, and his excuse was necessity; for Ahithophel was so sagacious that, if his counsel were not upset, David's cause was lost. It was not Christian morality, but yet it has a sort of nobleness about it in Hushai's devotion to his king. And even now, in war and diplomacy, such acts are not uncommon, and a distinction is unhappily drawn between political and social morality. Even in common life immoral doings are often sanctioned by use. Thus many customs of trade are frauds, considered legitimate because generally practised. Even among ourselves Christian morality is far below the level of our Master's teaching; and the Old Testament must not be taken as approving all that it records. Similar blame does not attach to Zadok and Abiathar. They were known to be David's friends, and had even tried to go with him, bearing with them the ark. They professed no friendship for Absalom, and returned for no covert purpose, looking for protection, not to guile, but to their sacred office. And Absalom would be glad to have them in his power, and would make them continue the customary sacrifices, and, if his rebellion proved successful, would force them to anoint him, and so give his usurpation a religious sanction. But he would tell them none of his plans, nor would they try to insinuate themselves into his confidence. They would have a perfect right to be useful in any way they could to their true master, but would do so at the risk of severe punishment. Hushai's way of defeating Ahithophel was treacherous; but there was no deceit in the young men carrying a message from him, for they were openly David's friends.
And hast thou not there with thee Zadok and Abiathar the priests? therefore it shall be, that what thing soever thou shalt hear out of the king's house, thou shalt tell it to Zadok and Abiathar the priests.
Behold, they have there with them their two sons, Ahimaaz Zadok's son, and Jonathan Abiathar's son; and by them ye shall send unto me every thing that ye can hear.
So Hushai David's friend came into the city, and Absalom came into Jerusalem.
Verse 37. - Absalom came into Jerusalem. Absalom had evidently pushed rapidly forward from Hebron, in hopes, perhaps, of surprising David in the city. Evidently he entered it on the day of David's flight (ch. 17:1), and Ahithophers proposal to select twelve thousand men from Absalom's followers shows how very powerful the conspiracy was. Had this advice been followed, the decisive battle would have been fought that evening at the fords of the Jordan, a few miles only from Jerusalem.