2 Samuel Chapter 14


Absalom and David (14:1-19:43)

David Meets with Absalom

      • Now Joab, Zeruiah’s son, knew that the king’s mind was on Absalom. So Joab sent someone to Tekoa and had a wise woman brought from there. He told her, “Pretend to be in mourning. Wear mourning clothes and don’t anoint yourself with oil. Act like a woman who has been mourning for the dead for many days. Then go to the king and say these things to him.” Then Joab told her exactly what to say.

        • ESV Study Bible writes, “This does not necessarily imply that his [David’s] thoughts were positive, just that he was thinking about the matter. Joab recruited a wise woman and put the words in her mouth in an effort to push the king toward reconciliation with Absalom. (Later, however, Joab certainly does not seem to favor Absalom; cf 18:10-18.) Tekoa, hometown of Amos (Amos 1:1), is in the Judean hills about 10 miles south of Jerusalem, near Bethlehem.”

      • So the woman from Takoa went to the king, bowed with her face to the ground paying homage to him, and said, “O king, help me!” The king replied, “What is your trouble?” She answered, “I am a widow; my husband is dead. Your servant had two sons, and they got into a fight with one another in the field. There was no one there to separate them, and one struck the other and killed him. Now the whole family has risen up against your servant and is demanding, ‘Hand over the one who killed his brother so that we may put him to death to avenge the life of his brother that he killed. Then we will get rid of the heir!’ They want to extinguish the only burning coal I have left, and my husband’s name and posterity will disappear from the face of the earth.”

        • Guzik explains, “The woman of Tekoa referred to the custom of the avenger of blood. The avenger of blood had the responsibility of avenging the death of a member of the family.”

        • ESV Study Bible writes, “The woman, using a ‘parable’ as Nathan did (cf. 12:1-7), appeals to the king to set aside ordinary laws demanding the death of a murderer (e.g. Num 35:31), not because of any extenuating circumstances in the killing but for the good of the family. David must have first associated the woman’s account with the story of Cain and Abel, and then soon realized that it would apply to Absalom’s murder of Amnon.”

        • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible adds, “The paralleling of ‘heir’ and ‘burning coal’ is in keeping with the virtually universal use of the hearth-fire to symbolize family life. Not only in the Bible does light/lamp symbolize life and hope (e.g., 21:17; Job 18:5-6) but in the ancient Near East it does as well. Mesopotamian texts speak of family misfortune metaphorically as the oven or hearth-fire being extinguished. In Sumerian, the word used for ‘heir’ may connote ‘one who keeps the oil (lamp) burning.’”

        • One the woman’s reference to herself as “your servant,” NET Bible’s text critical notes supply this observation, “Here and elsewhere (vv. 7, 12, 15a, 17, 19) the woman uses a term which suggests a lower level female servant. She uses the term to express her humility before the king. However, she uses a different term in vv. 15b-16. See the note at v. 15 for a discussion of the rhetorical purpose of this switch in terminology.”

      • The king told the woman, “Go home and I will issue a command on your behalf.” And the Tekoan woman said to him, “My lord king, let the guilt be on me and on my father’s family; let the king and his throne be guiltless.”

        • Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary explains what exactly the woman is saying here, “that is, the iniquity [rendered ‘guilt’ above] of arresting the course of justice and pardoning a homicide, whom the Goel was bound to slay wherever he might find him, unless in a city of refuge. This was exceeding the royal prerogative, and acting in the character of an absolute monarch. The woman’s language refers to a common precaution taken by the Hebrew judges and magistrates, solemnly to transfer from themselves the responsibility of the blood they doomed to be shed, either to the accusers or the criminals (2Sa 1:16; 3:28); and sometimes the accusers took it upon themselves (Mt 27:25).”

      • The king replied, “If anyone says anything to you, bring him to me, and he won’t give you trouble again.” The woman replied, “May the king remember Yahweh your God, so that the avenger of blood may not kill anymore, and my son won’t be destroyed.” He answered, “As Yahweh lives, not one of your son’s hairs will fall to the ground.”

        • Benson Commentary explains what the woman means by asking David to “remember Yahweh your God,” “In whose presence thou hast made me this promise, to stay the avenger of blood from causing any further destruction in my family. She intended to draw him thus distantly and insensibly into the obligation of an oath: and her address had the desired effect; for the king, to convince her of the integrity of his intentions, immediately answered, As the Lord liveth, there shall not one hair of thy son fall to the ground.”

        • Pulpit Commentary elaborates further, “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, “Allow your servant to speak a word to my lord king.” He said, “Speak.” And the woman continued, “Why then have you planned such a thing against the people of God? In issuing this decision, the king has convicted himself, because he hasn’t brought back the one he banished. We all will die eventually. Our lives are like water spilled out onto the ground which can’t be gathered back up again. But God doesn’t take away a life. Instead, He devises ways for one who has been banished from Him to be restored. Now, I have come to say this to my lord the king because the people have made me afraid. Your servant thought, ‘I will speak to the king. Maybe the king will do what his female servant asks.’ The king will surely listen in order to rescue his female servant from the hand of this man who seeks to cut off both me and my son from the inheritance God has given us. Your servant thought, ‘May the word of my lord the king bring relief, because he is able to discern good and bad like an angel of God.’ May Yahweh your God be with you.”

        • Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary offers this clarification of the woman’s opening lines, “Her argument may be made clear in the following paraphrase:—You have granted me the pardon of a son who had slain his brother, and yet you will not grant to your subjects the restoration of Absalom, whose criminality is not greater than my son’s, since he killed his brother in similar circumstances of provocation. Absalom has reason to complain that he is treated by his own father more sternly and severely than the meanest subject in the realm; and the whole nation will have cause for saying that the king shows more attention to the petition of a humble woman than to the wishes and desires of a whole kingdom. The death of my son is a private loss to my family, while the preservation of Absalom is the common interest of all Israel, who now look to him as your successor on the throne.”

      • NET Bible’s text critical notes point out a difference in how the woman refers to herself in verses 15 and 16, “Here and in v. 16 the woman refers to herself as the king’s…(ʾamah), a term that refers to a higher level female servant toward whom the master might have some obligation. Like the other term, this word expresses her humility, but it also suggests that the king might have some obligation to treat her in accordance with the principles of justice.”

        • On the woman’s mention of our lives as water, Guzik remarks, “The woman of Tekoa wisely spoke to David about the urgency of reconciliation. ‘David, we all die and then the opportunity for reconciliation is over. Do it now.’”

        • Guzik adds, “The woman of Tekoa meant, ‘Find a way to do it, David. God finds a way to bring us back to Himself.’ It is true that God finds a way – but not at the expense of justice. God reconciles us by satisfying justice, not by ignoring justice…God has devised a way to bring the banished back to Him, that they might not be expelled from Him… The way is through the person and work of Jesus, and how He stood in the place of guilty sinners as He hung on the cross and received the punishment that we deserved.”

          • For I know the king is so wise and just, that I assure myself of audience and acceptation; which expectation of hers is cunningly insinuated here, that the king might conceive himself obliged to answer it, and not to disappoint her hope, nor to forfeit that good opinion which his subjects now had of him.”

        • To deliver his handmaid out of the hand of the man; to grant my request concerning my son, and consequently the people’s petition concerning Absalom.”

        • Me and my son; implying that her life was bound up in the life of her son, and that she could not outlive his death; (and supposing, it is like, that it might be David’s case also, and would therefore touch him in a tender part, though it were not proper to say it expressly;) and thereby suggesting that the tranquillity, safety, and comfort of the people of Israel depended upon Absalom’s restitution, and the settlement of the succession in him.”

          • Out of the inheritance of God, i.e. out of that inheritance which God hath given to me and mine; or out of that land which God gave to his people to be their inheritance and possession, and in which alone God hath settled the place of his presence and worship; whereby she intimates the danger of Absalom’s living in a state of separation from God and his house, and amongst idolaters.”

      • On the woman comparing David to an angel of God, NLT Illustrated Study Bible says, “This flattering expression is not used for anyone else in the Bible but appears four times to describe David (see also 14:20; 19:27; 1 Sam 29:9). The woman was expressing confidence that David would act with God-given wisdom and justice. This wise woman knew it was good policy to flatter a king rather than risk insulting him.”

      • Then the king said to the woman, “Do not hide any information from me when I question you.” The woman replied, “Let my lord the king speak.” The king asked, “Did Joab put you up to this?” The woman answered, “My lord king, as surely as you live, there is nothing on the right or on the left of what you have said. It was your servant Joab who commanded me and told your servant exactly what to say. Your servant Joab did this in order to change this situation. But my lord has wisdom like an angel of God- to know everything on the earth.”

        • Pulpit Commentary explains what the woman means by “there is nothing on the right or on the left of what you have said,” “His words had gone straight to the mark, without the slightest deviation on either side.”

      • Then the king said to Joab, “Very well, I will grant this. Go and bring the young man Absalom back.” And Joab fell with his face on the ground and payed homage to the king saying, “My lord the king, today your servant knows that he has found favor with you because the king has granted your servant’s request.”

      • Then Joab went to Geshur and brought Absalom back to Jerusalem. But the king said, “He may live in his own house, but he may not see my face.” So Absalom lived in his own house, but he didn’t see the king.

        • Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges writes, “To recall Absalom without giving him a full pardon was a most dangerous policy. It could not fail to irritate him. It may be inferred from 2 Samuel 14:29; 2 Samuel 14:31 that he was confined to his house by David’s order, for otherwise he would not have had to wait until Joab came.”

      • Guzik says, “David was overindulgent with his sons in the past (as when he got angry but did nothing against Amnon in 2 Samuel 13:21). Now David is too harsh with Absalom, refusing to see him after he had been in exiled in Geshur for three years (2 Samuel 13:38).”

Absalom Reconciled to David

      • Now Absalom was praised as the most handsome man in all of Israel. He was completely unblemished from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. When he cut the hair of his head- which he did every year because it was so heavy- he would weigh it, and it weighed 3 pounds according to the royal standard. Absalom had three sons, and one daughter named Tamar, who was a very beautiful woman.

        • Guzik writes, “This begins to explain why Absalom was popular in Israel. Israel was attracted to King Saul because he was a very good-looking man (1 Samuel 9:2)…Absalom was also a man of political destiny. He was the third son of David (2 Samuel 3:2-5). The firstborn Amnon was gone, and we hear nothing more of Chileab, the second born. It is likely that Absalom was the crown prince, next in line for the throne.”

        • On the weight of his hair, NET Bible’s text critical notes say, “Heb ‘two hundred shekels.’ The modern equivalent would be about three pounds (1.4 kg).”

      • ESV Study Bible notes, “Since the three sons are unnamed and Absalom says he had no sons (18:18), these sons probably died young.”

        • On the name of Absalom’s daughter, Guzik remarks, “Absalom was a man of deep and sympathetic feeling. He memorialized his wronged sister Tamar by naming a daughter after her.”

        • NET Bible’s text critical notes tell us about some additional information the LXX gives us about Tamar at the end of verse 27, “The LXX adds here the following words: ‘And she became a wife to Rehoboam the son of Solomon and bore to him Abia.’”

      • Absalom lived in Jerusalem two full years without ever seeing the king. Absalom sent for Joab, in order to send him to the king, but Joab refused to come to him. So Absalom said to his servants, “Look, Joab has a field right next to mine and he has barley there. Go set it on fire.” So Absalom’s servants burned it. Then Joab’s servants went to him with their clothes torn and said, “Absalom’s servants have set your field on fire.”

        • I have opted for the LXX and DSS reading of verse 38, as NET Bible’s text critical notes document, “The LXX adds here the following words: ‘And the servants of Absalom burned them up. And the servants of Joab came to him, rending their garments. They said….’”

      • Then Joab went to Absalom’s house and said, “Why did your servants set my field on fire?” Absalom explained, “Look, I sent a message to you saying, ‘Come here so that I can send you to ask the king, “Why have I come from Geshur? It would be better for me if I were still there!”’ Now, let me see the king. If I am guilty, let him kill me!”

        • Guzik notes, “Yet Absalom felt entirely justified in killing the man who raped his sister. His sense of justification made the bitterness against David more intense.”

        • Just to be honest, I tend to empathize with Absalom in this whole scenario. Furthermore, I tend to see David’s inaction as the true reason this entire situation devolved in the way it did. However, Absalom is not blameless even though his anger is righteous in my opinion. This is because, according to the law, the penalty for what Amnon did was not death. The options for how to handle this scenario are laid out in Exodus and Deuteronomy:

          • Exodus 22:16-17 (ESV):16“If a man seduces a virgin who is not betrothed and lies with her, he shall give the bride-price for her and make her his wife. 17If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the bride-price for virgins.”

          • Deuteronomy 22:28-29 (ESV): “28 If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, 29 then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days.”

          • As Deffinbaugh points out, “Tamar begged Amnon to ask David for her as his wife, and Amnon refused. At the very least, Amnon should have married Tamar after he raped her. This was, in fact, what the law prescribed. Only David’s refusal of such a marriage would have prevented it.”

          • However, Deffinbaugh goes on to argue that, in his view, Absalom is the reason this did not occur. He actually states that Absalom’s actions “prevented” David- that in telling Tamar to keep quiet and keep the matter within the family he actually tied David’s hands.

          • I personally do not find this argument compelling in the least. We know from the text that David was informed of what happened (2 Sam 13:21). We are never informed by the text that he made any attempt whatsoever to act in any way. In my opinion, it stretches credulity to imagine that David’s hands were tied by anyone in this situation. So, while Absalom is certainly not guiltless, neither are any of his actions inscrutable from a rational point of view. Rather, the question seems to me to be, “Could David have prevented this by acting in accordance with the law instead of shirking his responsibility?” Of course, we can never know the answer. But, it doesn’t seem far fetched to see the possibility that David’s intervention in the situation in accordance with the law could have gone a long way in assuaging Absalom’s justifiable anger and bitterness.

        • ESV Study Bible says, “Believing that Joab could orchestrate a long-awaited audience with the king, Absalom compels Joab’s attention by setting his field on fire. He finds his current status unsatisfactory and wants either restoration to the royal household or, if guilty, execution.”

      • So Joab went to the king and told him, and he summoned Absalom. Absalom came to the king and bowed low with his face to the ground before him. Then the king kissed Absalom.

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible makes the following observation, “Absalom bowed low, assuming a posture of respect and deference to the king’s majesty (see also 14:4, 22). The lack of conversation, hugging (cp. Luke 15:20), or weeping (cp Gen 33:4; 45:2, 14) suggests that this was a formal meeting rather than an affectionate reunion.”

Click here to go to chapter 15