2 Samuel Chapter 18

2 SAMUEL CHAPTER 18

Absalom’s Defeat and Death

      • David assembled the men who were with him and appointed commanders over thousands and commanders over hundreds. Then David divided the army up into three groups and sent them out: one third were under Joab’s command; one third were under Abishai’s command, Zeruiah’s son and Joab’s brother; and one third were under the command of Ittai the Gittite. The king said to the men, “Indeed, I will go out with you myself.”

      • But the people replied, “You must not march out! If we have to turn and run they won’t be concerned about us. Even if half of us die they won’t be concerned because you are worth 10,000 of us. So it’s better if you stay and send us support from the city.” The king answered them, “I’ll do whatever seems best to you.”

        • Commentators offer varying views on why the people wanted David to remain in the city:

          • ESV Study Bible writes, “David’s men believe that the success or failure of the rebellion depends on whether Absalom can kill David, an opinion that was also expressed by Ahithophel (17:3).”

        • Guzik says, “There were three reasons why they insisted on this: His life was more valuable (you are worth ten thousand of us); He could bring reserves if needed (you are now more help to us in the city); They understood that it would be hard for David to fight against his own son Absalom.”

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “Although David’s men flattered him, their insistence that he stay behind might actually suggest David’s advancing frailty (see 21:15-17).”

      • So the king stood beside the city gate while the army marched out in units of hundreds and thousands. The king gave this command to Joab, Abishai, and Ittai, “Deal gently with the young man Absalom for my sake.” Now all the people heard the orders the king gave to the commanders regarding Absalom.

        • Guzik notes, “David wanted it clearly known that Absalom was to be captured alive and should not be mistreated in any way. David gave this commandment in the presence of all the people so that the captains would feel greater pressure to do what David commanded.”

        • ESV Study Bible asks a very valid question, “Why did make this request? Was it out of pure fatherly love, or also a feeling of guilt toward Absalom?”

      • Then the army marched out to the field to fight Israel. The battle took place in the forest of Ephraim, and Israel’s army was defeated by David’s men. The loss there that day was great- 20,000 men were killed. The battle became scattered out over the entire region and the forest claimed more men than the sword.

        • ESV Study Bible points out, “The forest of Ephraim was actually not in Ephraim, but east of the Jordan in Gilead. Gilead was apparently known for its forests (Jer 22:6)…”

        • Pulpit Commentary notes, “The battle was there scattered. The word in the Hebrew is a noun, which the Massorites have changed into a participle. But the noun is right: ‘The battle became a scattering,’ that is, it was a series of disconnected encounters, in which David’s three divisions attacked and routed Absalom’s men, while still on the march, without giving them an opportunity of collecting and forming in order of battle.”

        • What does it mean that the forest claimed more lives than the sword?

          • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible writes, “Forests are recognized as places of danger par excellence in ancient Near Eastern texts, as is evident when Gilgamesh and Enkidu go hunting for Huwawa in the Gilgamesh Epic. Whether through temptation to desertion (which would be facilitated by the thick cover) or through advantages that savvy fighters can exploit in terrain where troop movement are impeded, the forest contributed to the success of David’s cause. Outnumbered but well-trained troops often fair best in difficult terrain.”

        • Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges says, “The explanation generally given is that they perished in the pits and precipices and morasses of the forest: but this seems unlikely. More probably it means that owing to the nature of the ground more were slain in the pursuit through the forest, than in the actual battle.”

      • Then Absalom happened to meet David’s men. As Absalom was riding his mule, it went under the tangled branches of a large oak tree. His head got caught in the oak, but the mule beneath him kept going, so he was left suspended in midair.

        • *** Time out*** I received a little surprise in reading this passage. I’ve always been taught that Absalom’s hair was the reason he got caught in the tree. In fact, much time is often spent belaboring the irony of Absalom’s pride in his hair being his downfall. How many illustrations have we seen of this guy hanging by his hair in the woods?

          • Needless to say, I’ve been a little annoyed to discover that the text literally says nothing about Absalom getting caught by his hair. Neither does it make any correlation between Absalom’s pride in his hair and his downfall, as far as I can tell. What’s worse, only the NIV and NLT actually say that he was caught by his hair- which is pretty astounding liberty taken. I mean, I know it’s an extremely minor issue. But, I’d prefer translators stick to the text where no reasonable grounds for conjecture exist. The NLT is a paraphrase so I expect some liberty taken there, but the NIV is not.

          • The NIV lists a verse reference (2 Sam 14:26) next to the word “hair,” which they have unnecessarily opted for in place of “head.” The problem is, that verse is absolutely irrelevant to the present issue. I’ve waded through the numerous commentaries that offer speculation regarding Absalom’s entrapment by his hair to offer the following two that do note there is absolutely no reason to assume he was caught by his hair. It appears to me that the primary motivation for this particular speculation is that certain individuals just want to use it as a sermon talking point to illustrate the truth of the proverb (Prov 16:18) which is, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (ESV) The problem is, the example is a fabricated one:

          • Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, “His head was caught in the forked boughs of the tree, and he hung there, stunned and helpless. Perhaps his long thick hair got entangled, but there is nothing to support the common idea that he was suspended merely by his hair.”

        • Pulpit Commentary, “Nothing is said about his hair having caused the accident, and apparently it was his neck which became fixed.”

      • One man saw this and reported to Joab, “I saw Absalom hanging in an oak.” Joab replied, “What! You saw him? Why didn’t you strike him to the ground right there? I would’ve given you ten pieces of silver and a belt!”

        • On the amount of money, NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible notes, “About four ounces; it represents approximately one year’s wages.”

        • On the belt, the same source says, “The Hebrew word here never designates a piece of military gear, but may indicate a ceremonial belt or sash worn on special occasions.”

      • The man answered Joab, “I wouldn’t raise my hand against the king’s son even if I received 1,000 pieces of silver. Within our very hearing the king commanded you, Abishai, and Ittai: ‘Protect the young man Absalom for my sake.’ If I had acted treacherously against his life (and nothing is hidden from the king), you would’ve abandoned me.”

      • Joab replied, “I won’t waste time with you like this.” He took three spears in his hand and thrust them into Absalom’s middle while he was still alive in the middle of the oak tree. Then the ten young men who were Joab’s armor bearers surrounded Absalom, struck him, and killed him.

        • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible mentions a criticism that has been levied at this text, “The standard translations of these two verses have raised questions; e.g., if three javelins were driven into Absalom’s heart (v. 14), how could it possibly be necessary that Joab’s men subsequently strike and kill him (v. 15)?

      • However, NET Bible’s text critical notes provide this explanation, “There is a play on the word ‘heart’ here that is difficult to reproduce in English. Literally the Hebrew text says ‘he took three spears in his hand and thrust them into the heart of Absalom while he was still alive in the heart of the oak tree.’ This figure of speech involves the use of the same word in different senses and is known as antanaclasis. It is illustrated in the familiar saying from the time of the American Revolution: ‘If we don’t hang together, we will all hang separately.’ The present translation understands ‘heart’ to be used somewhat figuratively for ‘chest’ (cf. TEV, CEV), which explains why Joab’s armor-bearers could still ‘kill’ Absalom after he had been stabbed with three spears through the ‘heart.’ Since trees do not have ‘chests’ either, the translation uses ‘middle.’”

      • Then Joab sounded the trumpet and the men broke off their pursuit of Israel because Joab held them back. They took Absalom, threw him into a large pit, then piled a huge mound of stones over him. Meanwhile, all Israel ran back to their homes.

          • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible says, “This was a form of burial often reserved for criminals or defeated enemies (e.g., Jos 7:26; 8:29).”

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “Absalom’s supporters (17:11) knew their lives were in danger (cp 19:8). They had backed a usurper whose coup d’etat had been thwarted.”

      • Now during his lifetime, Absalom had erected a pillar for himself in the King’s Valley because, he said, “I have no son to carry on the memory of my name.” He named the pillar after himself and it is still known as Absalom’s Monument to this very day.

        • Guzik writes, “Absalom did have three sons (2 Samuel 14:27). From this statement we surmise that they died before their father did.”

        • ESV Archaeology Study Bible points out that there actually is a monument known as “Absalom’s Tomb” today, which is located “in the Kidron Valley south of the Temple Mount.” However, ESV Study Bible notes that it “is a Hellenistic or Roman-period structure.”

David Learns of Absalom’s Death

      • Zadok’s son Ahimaaz said, “Let me run and bring the good news to the king that Yahweh has delivered him from the hand of his enemies.” But Joab replied, “You will not be a bearer of good news today. You may bring good news on another day, but today the news you carry won’t be good because the king’s son is dead.”

      • Then Joab said to a Cushite, “Go and tell the king what you have seen.” The Cushite bowed before Joab, then ran.” However, Zadok’s son Ahimaaz persisted, saying to Joab, “Whatever happens, let me run after the Cushite too.” Joab asked, “My son, why do want to run? You won’t have any reward for your news.” But he answered, “Whatever happens, I want to run.” Joab said, “Then run.” So Ahimaaz took the route by way of the plain and outran the Cushite.

        • ESV Study Bible remarks, “Joab does not seem to be hiding anything from David. But he apparently wants to protect Ahimaaz, son of Zadok the priest, from having to deliver bad news to David.”

        • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible provides this additional explanation, “Messengers were among the chief means of communication in the ancient Near East, including in battle situations…Of particular interest are the messengers whose task, it seems, was to deliver the good news of a military victory. In the present context, v. 27 suggests a correlation between the messenger chosen and the context of the message- whether good, bad, or mixed. Thus, Joab’s disinclination to send Ahimaaz may have been prompted not simply by concern for Ahimaaz’s safety, given David’s likely reaction to the news, but also by a desire not to appear as himself taking too much pleasure in Absalom’s demise (v. 22). In the end, Joab allows Ahimaaz to run, but only after releasing an earlier messenger. Ahimaaz, however, took a faster route by way of the plain- as distinct from a perhaps shorter but more treacherous route through the forest- and arrived first.”

      • Now David was sitting between the two gates, and the watchman went up to the roof over the gate at the wall. He looked out and saw a man running alone, so he called out and told the king. The king said, “If he’s by himself, he brings good news.” The runner came closer and closer.

        • ESV Archaeology Study Bible provides context for envisioning this scenario, “Outer and inner gates made the city much more secure. Double gates at the Judean Iron Age city of Lachish forced invading troops to make a 90-degree turn before passing through the second gate into the city- difficult to do with chariots or a large army. Further, multistoried and roofed gates and flanking guard towers provided excellent vantage points from which to view an approaching enemy and defend against an attack.”

        • The same sources continues, “A man running alone would be a messenger; a group of men would probably be fleeing.”

      • Then the watchman saw another man running alone and called out to the gatekeeper, “Look! There is another man running by himself.” The king said, “He is also bringing good news.” The watchman said, “It looks to me like the first man runs like Zadok’s son Ahimaaz runs.” The king said, “He’s a good man; he brings good news.”

      • Then Ahimaaz called out to the king saying, “Peace!” He bowed before the king with his face to the ground and said, “May Yahweh your God be blessed! He has delivered over the men who rebelled against my lord the king.”

      • The king asked, “Is the young man Absalom all right?” Ahimaaz replied, “I saw a big disturbance when Joab was sending the king’s servant, and me, your servant, but I don’t know what it was.” The king said, “Move aside and stand here.” So he obeyed.

        • Pulpit Commentary remarks, “And Ahimaaz saw the king’s distress, and gave an evasive answer. He understood now Joab’s unwillingness to let him carry such painful tidings…”

      • Then the Cushite arrived and said, “Good news for my lord the king! Yahweh has vindicated you today by delivering you from the hand of all those who rebelled against you!” The king asked the Cushite, “Is the young man Absalom all right?” The Cushite answered, “May what has become of the young man also happen to the enemies of my lord the king and all of those who rise up to harm you.”

        • Guzik writes, “Without saying it directly, the Cushite told David that Absalom was dead.”

      • And the king was deeply moved. He went up to the room over the gate and wept. As he walked he cried, “My son, Absalom! My son, my son, Absalom! If only I had died instead of you! Absalom, my son, my son!”

        • Pulpit Commentary describes the intense emotion portrayed by the Hebrew words employed in this passage, “The king was much moved. The Hebrew word properly refers to agitation of body. A violent trembling seized the king, and, rising, he went up to the guard chamber over the two gates, that he might give free course to his lamentation. The whole is told so vividly that we can scarcely doubt that we have here the words of one who was present at this pathetic scene, who saw the tremor which shook David’s body, and watched him as he crept slowly up the stairs, uttering words of intense sorrow. And it was conscience which smote him; for his own ‘sin had found him out.’ In Psalm 38, and 40. he has made the confession that it was his own iniquity which was now surging over his head.”

        • Guzik says, “David wanted to die in the place of his rebellious son. What David could not do God did by dying in the place of rebellious sinners.”

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