THE BOOK OF 2 SAMUEL
Lesson 5: Chapters 14-16
Saint John Paul II wrote that in its deepest mystery the Most Holy Trinity is a family. God the Father loves the Son, God the Son loves the Father, and God the Holy Spirit is the love that binds the Triune God into an eternal family whose children in the world are guided by Mother Church. Lord, in Your love for mankind You have given us earthly families to image the love and unity of the Most Holy Trinity and to serve as our refuge in a heartless world. Families are to offer love and support to their members. Parents are to set moral examples for their children, and children are to honor their parents by living up to the standards of moral behavior they have been taught. Give us the will as parents, Lord, to provide the kind of examples our children need, and as children help us to be grateful for the sacrifices our parents made for us. Send Your Holy Spirit to guide us Lord in today's lesson of a family that failed, a father who loved but did not guide, and a son who rebelled against his father's love and inflicted his family with suffering and tragedy through his actions. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen
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My child, do
not scorn correction from Yahweh, do not resent his reproof; for Yahweh
reproves those he loves, as a father the child whom he loves.
While there is
hope for him, chastise your child, but do not get so angry as to kill hm. The violent
lays himself open to a penalty; spare him, and you aggravate his crime. Listen
to advice; accept correction, to be the wiser in the time to come.
Sin has consequences. There is an old Irish saying that "old sins cast long shadows." David's sins of adultery and murder reverberated beyond his relationship with Bathsheba. His sins affected his entire family as his son and heir followed his example of sexual sin by defiling his own sister, Tamar. David's failure to give his daughter justice created a resentment that festered in her brother Absalom until he sought revenge against both his brother and his father. He murdered his sister's rapist and made his father an accomplice to the act. That was the third step in the tragedy that followed David's family in the fourfold penance that God pronounced on David for his sins. There was one more family tragedy for David to endure.
Chapter 14: Absalom's Return
gone to Talmai son of Ammihud, king of Geshur. The king [David] mourned
for his son every day. When Absalom had gone to Geshur, he stayed there for
three years. Once the king was consoled over Amnon's death, his anger against
2 Samuel 13:37-39
David's son Absalom ordered the murder of his brother, the crown prince, Amnon. Since the time of Noah, the penalty for murder was death (Gen 9:6), and under the Law of the Sinai Covenant, the collaborative testimony of at least two witnesses was necessary for a death penalty conviction (Num 35:30; Dt 17:6). In the case of Amnon's murder, there was no problem finding witnesses since the assassination took place at a banquet in the presence of all the royal princes. However, Absalom could have felt he was justified in acting as his sister's kinsman/blood redeemer (Go'el Haddam), a family member who takes on the responsibility for seeking justice for a close relative. Under the Law, a rapist who violated a betrothed woman or committed incest with a sister was to be condemned to death. The people may have thought Absalom's killing of Amnon was honorable and justified in the role of a Go'el Haddam (Num 35:19) since they apparently did not hold the crime against him, as we shall see later in the narrative.(1)After murdering his brother, Absalom, who is now the next in line as Israel's crown prince, escaped to his grandfather's Aramaean kingdom of Geshur that was northeast of the Galilee.
2 Samuel 14:1-3 ~ Joab's Plan to Arrange for Absalom's
1 Now, Joab son of Zeruiah observed that the king was favorably inclined to Absalom. 2 Joab therefore sent to Tekoa for a wise woman. "Pretend to be in mourning," he said. "Dress yourself in mourning, do not perfume yourself; act like a woman who has long been mourning for the dead. 3 Then go to the king and say this [speak] to him." And Joab put the words into her mouth which she was to say. [..] " IBHE, vol. II, page 838.
Tekoa is a town that is about ten miles south of Jerusalem and about five miles south of Bethlehem. It is the home of one of David's commanders, Ira son of Ikkesh (2 Sam 23:26; 1 Chr 27:9), and will become the home of the 8th century BC prophet Amos (Amos 1:1). Following the Prophet Nathan's example (2 Sam 12:1-7), Joab (David's nephew and army commander) uses an imaginary judicial case to set before David to get the king to reconcile with Absalom and to bring him back from exile. He uses a "wise woman," an expression that probably refers to a woman who is skilled in rhetoric (as in 2 Sam 20:16). The key word in this narrative is the Hebrew verb "speak" that is used nine times (verses 3, 10, 12 twice, 13, 15 twice, 18 and 19) in the Hebrew text and which demonstrates that the entire episode involves manipulation through the use of language. Notice that Joab gave the woman the outline, but she brilliantly improvises in her responses to David's comments to move forward the plan.
2 Samuel 14:4-11 ~ The Woman from Tekoa and David's
4 So the woman of Tekoa went to the king and, falling on her face to the ground, prostrated herself. "Help [rescue/save], my lord king!" she said. 5 The king said, "What is the matter?" "As you see," she replied, "I am a widow; my husband is dead. 6 Your servant had two sons and out in the fields, where there was no one to intervene, they had a quarrel. And one of them struck the other one and killed him. 7 And now the whole clan has risen against your servant. Give up the man who killed his brother,' they say, so that we can put him to death, to atone for the life of the brother whom he has murdered; and thus we shall destroy the heir as well.' By this means, they will extinguish the ember still left to me, leaving my husband neither name nor survivor on the face of the earth." 8 Then the king said to the woman, "Go home; I myself shall give orders about your case." 9 The woman of Tekoa said to the king, "My lord king! May the guilt be on me and on my family; the king and his throne are innocent of it." 10 [Whoever speaks to you] Bring me the man (who threatened you)," the king replied, "and he shall never hurt you again." 11 She then said, "Let the king be pleased to pronounce the name of Yahweh your God, so that the avenger of blood [Go'el Haddam] may not do greater harm and destroy my son." "As Yahweh lives," he said, "not one of your son's hairs shall fall to the ground!" [..] " IBHE, vol. II, page 838-39. (..) not in the Hebrew translation but implied.
It was the king's duty to be available to hear judicial cases that were referred to him by Israelites seeking justice. He had the power to overturn decisions made by lower, local courts, and he could grant royal pardons even in death penalty cases. The woman approaches the king with reverence, dressed as a widow in mourning, and says: "Help [rescue/save], my lord king!" It is a formulaic plea used by petitioners for royal justice and is the same appeal made to God the Great King (see Ps 3:7; 20:9; 54:1; 69:1; 106:47; 109:31; 118:25, etc.). We use the same formula when we call out to Yahweh, "Hosanna in the highest."
Joab is attempting to make a case for Absalom by using
the fictitious story of a widow whose one son was killed by the other; however,
there are a number of differences between the murder of Amnon by Absalom and
the scenario in the woman's story.
Question: What are the differences that should be taken into account in the woman's case as opposed to what happen in Amnon's murder ordered by his brother Absalom?
|Amnon's Murder||The Woman's Story|
|Amnon was killed in front of many witnesses.||In the woman's story, the brothers were alone in a field with no witnesses and so the death penalty cannot be applied.*|
|The obvious motive was revenge. The murder was premeditated homicide.||No motive is known. The death could have been a result of self-defense and therefore could be judged as manslaughter.|
|Absalom is one of many brothers.||The woman's surviving son is the only heir.|
|David's kingdom is not threatened by the absence/punishment of Absalom.||The woman will lose her ancestral lands if her surviving son is put to death.|
* In any case of homicide, the evidence of witnesses will determine whether the killer must be put to death; but a single witness is not enough to sustain a capital charge (Num 35:30; also see Dt 17:6).
Question: The fictitious story that Joab told the
woman to use is very similar to what other story of the murder of one brother
by another from the Book of Genesis and what was the outcome of God's justice
in that case? See Gen 4:8-16.
Answer: It is similar to the murder of Abel by his brother Cain that took place out in the field. In God's judgment, Cain is banished but not sentenced to death, and is he is given a sign to protect him from blood vengeance.
David would not have missed the comparison and the woman's subtle point is: if God, the Divine King, can pardon a man who killed his brother and protect him from blood vengeance then David who is Israel's king can also pardon her "son" to protect him from blood vengeance. Of course the flaw in her comparison is that the death penalty wasn't established for homicide at that time. God commanded the death penalty for intentional murder after the Flood in Genesis 9:5-6 and the penalty is repeated in the Law of the Sinai Covenant: Anyone who by violence causes a death must be put to death. If, however, he has not planned to do it but it comes from God by his hand, he can take refuge in a place which I shall appoint for you. But should any person dare to kill another with deliberate planning, you will take that person even from my altar to be put to death (Ex 20:12-14; also see Lev 24:17; Num 35:16-34). It is only in the case of unintentional homicide that the perpetrator is to be protected from the kinsman blood avenger: If, however, he has manhandled his victim by chance, without malice, or thrown some missile at him not meaning to hit him or, without seeing him, dropped on him a stone meant for killing and so killed him, so long as he bore him no malice and wished him no hard, then the community will decide in accordance with these rules between the one who struck the blow and the avenger of blood, and will save the killer from the clutches of the avenger of blood (Num 35:22-25).
2 Samuel 14:7 ~ "And now the whole clan has risen
against your servant. Give up the man who killed his brother,' they say, so
that we can put him to death, to atone for the life of the brother whom he has
murdered; and thus we shall destroy the heir as well.' By this means, they
will extinguish the ember still left to me, leaving my husband neither name nor
survivor on the face of the earth."
According to the woman, her son needs to be protected from the Go'el Haddam, the kinsman in her clan who has taken on the responsibility for seeking justice for the murdered man but whose real motive is to inherit her ancestral lands since there is no other heir. Unlike our laws in the United States in which only the state takes the responsibility for seeking justice in a homicide, under the Law of the Sinai Covenant the family was very much involved. However, the Law of the Covenant took into account that sometimes a Go'el Haddam might not wait for a trial and attempted to avenge a death himself and in those cases six cities of refuge were established in which an accused person could seek asylum until his case could be brought to trial (see Joshua Lesson 9 Handouts ).
The woman's point is that her son needs to be protected because she cannot get a fair trial for her one remaining son whose death "will extinguish the ember still left to me" and will be the end of her family line. Her kinsmen in her village are covetous of his inheritance which will revert to them since she had no other son to inherit her ancestral lands. She says the motive of the Go'el Haddam for killing her son is not justice for the dead brother but greed.
2 Samuel 14:9-8 ~ Then the king said to the woman, "Go
home; I myself shall give orders about your case." 9 The woman of Tekoa said to the king, "My lord
king! May the guilt be on me and on my family; the king and his throne are
innocent of it."
The issue is blood guilt and the legal claim of the Go'el Haddam to seek justice for the murdered man. From the vagueness of David's reply in verse 8 that leaves the issue unresolved until some future date, she infers that he is hesitant to intervene on her behalf because by doing so he, and his throne, would take on the guilt of allowing the killing to go unavenged. Her declaration that she and her father's house will bear the guilt for allowing the killer to live encourages David to declare that he will absolutely protect her against the vengeful kinsmen who are intent on killing her only surviving son and he responds: 10 [Whoever speaks to you] Bring me the man (who threatened you)," the king replied, "and he shall never hurt you again."
2 Samuel 14:11 ~ She
then said, "Let the king be pleased to pronounce the name of Yahweh your God,
so that the avenger of blood [Go'el Haddam] may not do greater harm and destroy
my son." "As Yahweh lives," he said, "not one of your son's hairs shall fall
to the ground!"
The woman mentions the Go'el Haddam who is seeking justice for her murdered son. In ancient Israelite society, under the Law of the Sinai Covenant, there were well defined legal obligations assumed by the next of kin, called the Go'el Haddam, the kinsman/blood redeemer.
Question: What were the responsibilities of a
Go'el Haddam? See Lev 25:23-34; Num 27:8-11; 35:9-21; Dt 25:5-10.
Answer: Those responsibilities included:
The Go'el, as the family protector, was also responsible for preventing the alienation of the family's ancestral lands that were deeded to the clan/family as God's representatives/tenants in the Promised Land (Lev 25:23-25; Rt 4:3ff). In marrying the childless widow of a kinsman whose lands might pass out of the family to another heir, any children from the union were considered the decease's children and heirs of his lands that remained within the family/clan.(2) This is the problem presented by the woman. The Go'el in her clan is not acting in her interests but his own. If her only son is killed, since there is apparently no widow, the lands would pass to the Go'el and she will lose her ancestral lands. A woman could only inherit ancestral lands if her father had no sons and if she married within the tribe or clan (Lev 27:1-11; Num 36:6-9). Yahweh is called the Go'el of Israel (Ps 19:14; Is 41:14; Jer 50:34).
The assurance David gave in verse10 is still not enough
for the woman because he only mentioned the threat and did not mention her son.
Question: What does she ask David to do in verse 11?
Answer: The woman wants to extract an explicit declaration from David that he will protect the life of her son. She asks David to bind himself to saving her son by swearing an oath in God's name, which he does.
With David's oath in the Divine Name to protect the life of the fictional son, she now has what she wants and is prepared to shut the fictional trap by linking her story to David and his son Absalom, just like Nathan with the parable of the poor man's ewe in chapter 12 (see the previous lesson: Samuel 2 Lesson 4.
2 Samuel 14:12-18 ~ The Woman's Second Petition
12 Then the woman said, "Permit your servant to say [speak] something else [a word] to my lord the king." "[Speak] Go on," he said. 13 The woman said, "Why then has the king, who by giving [speaks] this verdict has condemned himself, conceived the idea, against God's people's interests, of not bringing home the son whom he has banished? 14 We are all mortal; we are like water split on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again, nor does God raise up a corpse; let the king therefore make plans for his banished son not to remain far away from him in exile. 15 Now, the reason why I came to speak about this to my lord the king is that I was being intimidated, and your servant thought, I shall speak to the king; perhaps the king will do what his servant asks. 16 Surely the king will consent to save his servant from the clutches of the man who is trying to cut both me and my son off from God's heritage. 17 Let a word from my lord the king, restore the peace!' your servant thought, for my lord the king is like the Angel of God in understanding good and evil.' May Yahweh your God be with you!"
[..] = IBHE, vol. II, page 839
Now the woman releases the rhetorical trap by asking David why gave her this verdict that her son deserves to live and yet is prepared to condemn the son who is his heir with the right to inherit the throne and whose banishment is not in the interest of Israel. The key concept is "inheritance." The woman knows she is on dangerous ground and is proceeding carefully; notice that she does not mention Absalom's name.
2 Samuel 14:14 ~ We
are all mortal; we are like water split on the ground, which cannot be gathered
up again, nor does God raise up a corpse; let the king therefore make plans for
his banished son not to remain far away from him in exile.
She then speaks about human destiny. The split water is an image of human mortality and is an effective counter point to her earlier image of the death of her son as extinguishing "the ember" still left to her (verse 7). Her point that noting more can be done for David's dead son and that "God does not raise up a corpse" is reminiscent of David's statement about the death of his son with Bathsheba in 12:23. She urges David not to wait but to bring back his living son. She implies that God will not want to punish the father who brings back his banished son even though blood guilt remains unavenged.
2 Samuel 14:15-16 ~ Now, the reason why I came to speak
about this to my lord the king is that I was being intimidated, and your
servant thought, I shall speak to the king' perhaps the king will do
what his servant asks. 16 Surely
the king will consent to save his servant from the clutches of the man who is
trying to cut both me and my son off from God's heritage.
Having risked the subject of the king's son, the woman now retreats back to fictitious story.
2 Samuel 14:17 ~ Let a word from my lord the king,
restore the peace!' your servant thought, for my lord the king is like the
Angel of God in understanding good and evil.' May Yahweh your God be with
There is a double meaning to her words concerning the king's power restore the peace. She seems to be talking about peace within her clan but she is really speaking about peace in Israel being restored through resolving Absalom's exile. Finally, she resorts to flattery by comparing David's wisdom to the Angel of God. The "Angel of God" is God Himself in visible form in which He appears to men on earth (as in Scripture passages like Gen 16:7; 21:17; 31:11; Ex 14:19). She is according David the gift of divine wisdom.
2 Samuel 14:18-24 ~ David Becomes Aware of Joab's Plan
18 Replying to the woman, the king said, "Now do not evade the question which I am going to ask you." The woman said, "Let my lord the king ask his question [speak]." 19 "Is not Joab's hand behind you in all this?" the king asked. The woman replied, "As you live, my lord king, I cannot escape what my lord the king speaks, either to right or to left. Yes, it was your servant Joab who gave me my orders; he put all these words into your servant's mouth. 20 Your servant Joab did this to approach the matter indirectly, but my lord has the wisdom of the Angel of God; he knows everything that happens on earth!"
21 The king then said to Joab, "Very well, the suit is granted. Go and bring the young man Absalom back." 22 Joab fell on his face to the ground, prostrated himself and blessed the king. "My lord king," Joab said, "today your servant knows that he has won your favor, since the king has done what his servant asked." 23 Joab then set off, went to Geshur, and brought Absalom back to Jerusalem. 24 The king, however, said, "Let him retire to his own house; he is not to appear in my presence." So Absalom retired to his own house and was not received by the king.
[..] " IBHE, vol. II, page 840.
2 Samuel 14:19-20 ~ "Is not Joab's hand behind you in
all this?" the king asked. The woman replied, "As you live, my lord king, I
cannot escape what my lord the king speaks, either to right or to left.
Yes, it was your servant Joab who gave me my orders; he put all these words
into your servant's mouth. Your servant Joab did this to approach the matter
indirectly, but my lord has the wisdom of the Angel of God; he knows everything
that happens on earth!"
David rightly guesses that a village woman would have no motive of her own for undertaking such a rouse and immediately suspects his nephew Joab. The woman admits the plan was Joab's but for all the king has spoken, she says, using the verb "to speak" a ninth time, David, "with the wisdom of the Angel of God," has committed himself by his own speech to protecting his fratricidal son and he cannot now permit himself to continue his son's banishment. She flatters David but the irony is that David will demonstrate a lack of wisdom in bringing Absalom back and making him the crown prince and David's heir.
2 Samuel 4:21-24 ~ 21 The
king then said to Joab, "Very well, the suit is granted. Go and bring the
young man Absalom back." 22 Joab
fell on his face to the ground, prostrated himself and blessed the king. "My
lord king," Joab said, "today your servant knows that he has won your favor,
since the king has done what his servant asked." 23 Joab then set off, went to Geshur, and
brought Absalom back to Jerusalem. 24 The
king, however, said, "Let him retire to his own house; he is not to appear in
my presence." So Absalom retired to his own house and was not received by the
The woman's fictitious judicial case gives David what he needs to justify allowing himself to bring Absalom back from exile. However, he will resist full reconciliation and it will lead to greater troubles for David's family.
2 Samuel 14:25-33 ~ Absalom Obtains His Pardon
25 In all Israel there was no one more praised for his beauty than Absalom; from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head, he could not be faulted. 26 When he cut his hair (he shaved it once a year because his hair got too heavy), he would weigh the hair: two hundred shekels, king's weight. 27 To Absalom were born three sons and one daughter called Tamar; she was a beautiful woman. 28 Absalom lived in Jerusalem for two years, without being received by the king. 29 Absalom then summoned Joab, intending to send him to the king, but Joab would not come to him. He sent for him a second time, but still he would not come. 30 At this, Absalom said to his retainers, "Look, Joab's field is next to mine and he has barley in it; go and set it on fire." Absalom's retainers set fire to the field. 31 Joab then stirred himself, went to Absalom in his house and asked, "Why have your retainers set my field on fire?" 32 Absalom replied to Joab, "Look, I sent word to you: Come here, so that I can send you to the king to say, Why come back from Geshur? Better for me to have been there still!' Now I want to be received by the king, and if I am guilty, let him put me to death!" 33 Joab went to the king and told him this. He then summoned Absalom, who prostrated himself with his face to the ground before the king. And the king kissed Absalom.
Notice the connection between David's oath to the woman from Tekoa in 14:11 concerning the royal pardon for her fictitious son: "As Yahweh lives," he said, "not one of your son's hairs shall fall to the ground!" and the mention of David's son's luxurious hair in verse 25 which was cut in some kind of public ceremony annually. A full head of hair was considered a sign of health and beauty. Absalom's beauty was one of the reasons David loved him and found it hard to discipline him. Absalom's beauty will also be part of the reason he "stole the hearts of the people of Israel" (2 Sam 15:6). However, Absalom was denied real reconciliation with his father for two years. During that time he lived with his family in Jerusalem; he had three sons and a daughter he named after his sister.(3)
Absalom tried to enlist Joab's support to bring about a full reconciliation with his father which would mean David would acknowledge him as his heir, but Joab evidently felt he had done his part and did not want to push his luck by interceding at court on Absalom's behalf if David was not prepared to receive him. Absalom burnt Joab's fields to get his attention. It is another example of manipulation in the game of power and it demonstrates that Absalom is willing to use violence to achieve his objectives.
2 Samuel 14:32 ~ Absalom replied to Joab, "Look, I
sent word to you: Come here, so that I can send you to the king to say, Why
come back from Geshur? Better for me to have been there still!' Now I want to
be received by the king, and if I am guilty, let him put me to death!"
Absalom knows he has killed Amnon, but he sees it as something other than guilt because he did it to avenge the defilement of his sister which was a crime David left unpunished.
2 Samuel 14:33 ~ Joab went to the king and told him
this. He then summoned Absalom, who prostrated himself with his face to the
round before the king. And the king kissed Absalom.
Absalom has submitted himself to the king his father and his father as king has pardoned him and welcomed him back into the family which also implied that Absalom is now recognized as David's heir and the future king. As we shall see the reconciliation is only on David's part. Absalom has other plans.
Chapter 15: Absalom's Plan to seize David Throne
These are the
sons of David who were born to him in Hebron: the first-born Amnon, by Ahinoam
of Jezreel; second, Daniel, by Abigail of Carmel; third Absalom son of Maacah,
daughter of Talmai king of Geshur; fourth, Adonijah son of Haggith; fifth,
Shephatiah by Abital, sixth, Ithream by his wife Eglah. Six, therefore were
born to him in Hebron, where he reigned for three years and six months.
1 Chronicles 3:1-4
David became king of Judah at Hebron when he was 23 years old. Six sons were born to David and his wives at Hebron. Absalom was the third son but David's son Daniel probably died in childhood since he is never mentioned again which made Absalom the second son in line for the throne after Amnon. David became king of Israel when he was 30 years old and took his family to Jerusalem after he conquered the city. In Jerusalem he had four sons by Bathsheba (1 Chr 3:5) and nine other sons by other wives. When the rape of Tamar occurred, David was probably at least 45 years old and he was at least 52 years old when Absalom began to formulate a plan to take his father's throne two years after the return from his three years of exile in Geshur. David has failed to discipline his sons because he loved them, but Absalom only sees David's failure to discipline not as love but as weakness.
2 Samuel 15:1-6 ~ Absalom's Intrigues
1 After this, Absalom procured a chariot and horses, with fifty men to run ahead of him. 2 He would get up early and stand beside the road leading to the city gate; and whenever a man with some lawsuit had to come before the king's tribunal, Absalom would call out to him and ask, "Which town are you from?" If he answered, "Your servant is from one of the tribes of Israel," 3 then Absalom would say, "Look, your case is sound and just, but not one of the king's deputies will listen to you." 4 Absalom would say, "Oh, who will appoint me judge in the land? Then anyone with a lawsuit or a plea could come to me and I should see he had justice!" 5 And whenever anyone came up to him to prostrate himself, he would stretch out his hand, draw him to him and kiss him. 6 Absalom acted like this with every Israelite who appealed to the king's tribunal, and so Absalom won [stole]* the Israelites' hearts. [..] = IBHE, vol. II, page 842. *The same Hebrew prime root, ganab, meaning "to carry away by stealth, to steal," is used in Gen 31:20, 26, 32, 39; Ex 22:7, 12; Josh 7:11; 2 Sam 19:41; 21:12; 2 Kng 11:2; 2 Chr 22:11; etc. in the context of taking away something that is not one's own.
Absalom begins to use his position at court to ingratiate himself with the people of Israel. The flamboyant use of chariot and outriders is to remind whoever saw Absalom of his royal status as the crown prince of Israel and to encourage the people to think what a fine figure of a king he will make.
2 Samuel 15:2a ~ He
would get up early and stand beside the road leading to the city gate ...
The city gate was where the marketplace was located, where official business was conducted, and where the leaders of the city met to hold court. The city gates of larger cities had several rooms where the city elders met to decide civil cases or where kings held audiences and heard petitions. Absalom is standout outside the city gate on the road to intercept Israelites with petitions and lawsuits.
2 Samuel 15:2b-4 ~ "...and whenever a man with some
lawsuit had to come before the king's tribunal, Absalom would call out to him
and ask, "Which town are you from?" If he answered, "Your servant is from one
of the tribes of Israel," then Absalom would say, "Look, your case is sound and
just, but not one of the king's deputies will listen to you." 4 Absalom would say, "Oh, who will appoint me
judge in the land? Then anyone with a lawsuit or a plea could come to me and I
should see he had justice!"
Question: Why does Absalom ask what town and what tribe the man is from in Israel? Why is this significant?
Answer: He does not care about the Gentile residents of Israel who have legal cases and are provided the same protections under the Law; he only cares about Israelites. It is significant because it demonstrates he has no real interest in justice but in only securing influence for himself with Israelites who will support him and increase his influence with other Israelites
Absalom is telling all the petitioners that if he had supreme judicial authority that he would rule in their favor. He is acting like the typical politician enlisting support by flattering the people's special interests, promising to cut taxes, to increase their benefits, etc. He is also undermining confidence in David's government by telling the people "but not one of the king's deputies will listen to you" and that he would see that they had justice if he had the power. He has a sympatric audience with all the changes David is making in taking Israel from a loose confederation of tribes and forming, for the first time in Israel, a strong centralized government that imposes taxes and corvees as well as military conscription like their neighbor states and is imposing its authority over the tribal elders.
1 Samuel 15:5-6 ~ And
whenever anyone came up to him to prostrate himself, he would stretch out his
hand, draw him to him and kiss him. 6 Absalom
acted like this with every Israelite who appealed to the king's tribunal, and
so Absalom won [stole] the Israelites' hearts.
He is seducing the people with his kisses and treating every man like a brother/kinsman. Absalom's strategy is to win the hearts and minds of the people. The heart was considered to be the seat of intellect as well as the center of emotions and the true moral content of the person. Rather than simply winning the affection of the Israelites, Absalom "stole the hearts" of the people by duping their minds.
2 Samuel 15:7-12 ~ The Beginning of the Rebellion
7 When four years had gone by, Absalom said to the king, "Allow me to go to Hebron and fulfil the vow which I have made to Yahweh; 8 for, when I was in Geshur, in Aram, your servant made this vow, If Yahweh brings me back to Jerusalem I shall pay my devotions to Yahweh in Hebron.'" 9 The king said to him, "Go in peace." So he set off and went to Hebron.
10 Absalom sent couriers throughout the tribes of Israel to say, "When you hear the trumpet sound, you are to say, Absalom is king at Hebron!'" 11 With Absalom went two hundred men from Jerusalem; they had been invited and had gone in all innocence, unaware of what was going on. 12 Absalom sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David's counsellor, from Giloh his town, and had him with him while offering sacrifices. The conspiracy grew in strength, since Absalom's supporters grew in number.
The four years in Jerusalem plus the three years spent in Aramaean Geshur in exile means seven years had passed since Absalom murdered his brother Amnon. Jewish Biblical scholar Haim Gevaryahu proposes that the vow Absalom made is to offer an exculpatory sacrifice for the killing of his brother. There is some evidence to support this theory from other ancient documents that suggest a period of seven years of penance might have applied to the crime of manslaughter (Alter, Anceint Israel, page 514). The other possibility is that a high priest has died which also releases all men charged with manslaughter from exile in a city of refuge and allows the return to ancestral lands, which for Absalom was probably near Hebron (Num 35:25-28).
Another suggestion by Haim Gevaryahu is that since Absalom hadn't completed his penance for manslaughter in the murder of his brother that he was not permitted to worship at Yahweh's Sanctuary in Jerusalem (Alter, Anceint Israel, page 514). If that was the case, the next best place then to fulfill a vow was the capital city of his father's tribe of Judah at Hebron. Of course, the whole plan is not to fulfill a vow but to start a revolution and civil war. He has ties to Hebron as the capital of the tribe of Judah and his birthplace (2 Sam 3:3), and the Judahites of Hebron may resent that David has abandoned Hebron, his capital for seven and a half years (2 Sam 5:5), to make his capital in Jerusalem.
2 Samuel 15:11-12 ~ With Absalom went two hundred men
from Jerusalem; they had been invited and had gone in all innocence, unaware of
what was going on. 12 Absalom sent
for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David's counsellor, from Giloh his town, and had
him with him while offering sacrifices. The conspiracy grew in strength, since
Absalom's supporters grew in number.
Absalom shrewdly enlists two hundred men to accompany him to fulfil his vow in Hebron. The two hundred men who accompanied Absalom to Hebron did not know his intentions, but their very presence with him encouraged others to assume Absalom has a large following and to encourage them to join the revolt. As for the two hundred their participation, innocent or not, will mark them as rebels. The offering of sacrifices outside of the Sanctuary in Jerusalem is problematic.
Question: Who is Ahithophel? See 2 Sam 11:3; 23:34
and 1 Chr 27:33.
Answer: He is probably the same Ahithophel who is the father of David's commander Eliam, the father of Bathsheba, which would make him Bathsheba's grandfather and one of David's most trusted advisors.
2 Samuel 15:13-23 ~ David's Flight from Jerusalem
13 A messenger came and told David, "The men of Israel have shifted their allegiance to Absalom." 14 David said to all his retinue then with him in Jerusalem, "Up, let us flee, or we shall not escape from Absalom! Leave as quickly as you can, in case he mounts a sudden attack, overcomes us and puts the city to the sword." 15 The king's retinue replied, "Whatever my lord the king decides, we are at your service." 16 The king set out on foot with his whole household, leaving ten concubines to look after the palace. 17 The king set out on foot with everyone following, and they halted at the last house. 18 All his officers stood at his side. All the Cherethities and all the Pelethites, with Ittai and all the six hundred Gittites who had come in his retinue from Gath, marched past the king. 19 The king said to Ittai the Gittite, "You, why are you coming with us? Go back and stay with the king, for you are a foreigner, indeed an exile from your homeland. 20 You arrived only yesterday; should I take you wandering with us today, when I do not know myself where I am going? Go back, take your fellow countrymen with you, and may Yahweh show you mercy and faithful love (hesed = covenant love)!" 21 Ittai replied to the king, "As Yahweh lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king may be, for death or life, your servant will be there too." 22 David then said to Ittai, "Go ahead, march past!" And Ittai of Gath marched past with all his men and with all his children too. 23 The entire population was weeping aloud as the king stood in the bed of the Kidron and everyone marched past him, making for the desert.
Hebron is only twenty miles south-southwest of Jerusalem. The danger of a sudden attack by Absalom's rebels makes the situation extremely serious. The question most commentators ask is did David lose his nerve in abandoning Jerusalem so quickly without a fight or was he sick and/or senile? Abandoning Jerusalem may simply have been good strategy on David's part. If he and his supporters came under siege in the city, he would lose the mobility of his army and would not be able to secure additional support. It was wiser to stay mobile and out of reach of Absalom's forces. David leaves the city by crossing the Kidron Valley to the east of the city. The Valley and its stream separate Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. It is twice mentioned that David left "on foot," emphasizing his hasty departure. The mention of ten of David's concubines being left behind in verse 16 looks ahead to the events in 2 Samuel 16:21-22.
The Cherethities and Pelethites are Philistine mercenaries who served as David's royal bodyguard and whose families David rescued from the Amalekites (2 Sam 30:1, 14). The Gittites are citizens of the Philistine city of Gath who are now vassals of Israel. David may have won their loyalty when he was a young outlaw in the service of the king of Gath ( 1 Sam 27; 29). Ittai is probably the Gittite commander.
2 Samuel 15:19-21 ~ The
king said to Ittai the Gittite, "You, why are you coming with us? Go back and
stay with the king, for you are a foreigner, indeed an exile from your
homeland. 20 You arrived only
yesterday; should I take you wandering with us today, when I do not know myself
where I am going? Go back, take your fellow countrymen with you, and may
Yahweh show you mercy and faithful love (hesed = covenant love)!" 21 Ittai replied to the king, "As Yahweh lives,
and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king may be, for death or
life, your servant will be there too."
David urges Ittai and his men from the Philistine city of Gath to return to their king, but the Gentile commander refuses. The exchange between David and Ittai in which David tries to convince him to return and Ittai's profession of covenant loyalty to David and insistence on remaining with David is reminiscent of the dialog between the Gentile Moabites Ruth and her Israelite mother-in-law Naomi in Ruth 1:8-17. In his profession of loyalty and considering the dire circumstances of which he is well aware, this loyal soldier swears an oath in Yahweh's name and bravely puts death before life in the two alternatives that he faces with David instead of the reverse. Ittai remains loyal to David and will command a third of David's army in the battle against Absalom's army (2 Sam 18:2).
Question: What is ironic about those who remain
loyal to David in the face of the rebellion?
Answer: The irony is that David's Gentile allies that have remained loyal to him while, with the exception of most of his servants and close relatives, the Israelites have abandoned him for Absalom.
2 Samuel 15:24-29 ~ David leaves the Ark of the
Covenant in Jerusalem
24 Zadok was there too, and all the Levites with him, carrying the Ark of God. They set the Ark of God down beside Abiathar until everyone had finished marching out of the town. 25 The king then said to Zadok, "Take the Ark of God back into the city. Should I win Yahweh's favor, he will bring me back and allow me to see it and its tent once more. 26 But should he say, You displease me,' here I am: let him treat me as he sees fit." 27 The king said to Zadok the priest, "Look, you and Abiathar go back, quietly into the city, with your two sons, your own son Ahimaaz and Jonathan son of Abiathar. 28 You see, I shall wait in the passes of the desert plain until word comes from you bringing me news." 29 So Zadok and Abiathar took the Ark of God back to Jerusalem and stayed there.
Zadok and Abiathar are chief priests who are the descendants of Aaron, Israel's first High Priest. You may recall that Abiathar was the sole survivor of the massacre of the chief priests at Nob (1 Sam 22:18-23). Considering the difficulty David had in bringing the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem and the danger the Ark could face on the battlefield, it is understandable that he wants to leave the Ark in Jerusalem. David also places his destiny in the hands of God, as has always been his practice in difficult times in his life.
2 Samuel 15:30-37 ~ David's Spy in Jerusalem
30 David then made his way up the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went, his head covered and his feet bare. And all the people with him had their heads covered and made their way up, weeping as they went. 31 David was then informed that Ahithophel was among the conspirators with Absalom. David said, "I beg you, Yahweh, turn Ahithophel's advice to folly." 32 As David reached the summit, where God is worshipped, he saw Hushai the Archite, his friend, coming to meet him with his tunic torn and with earth on his head. 33 David said, "If you go along with me, you will be a burden to me. 34 But if you go back to the city and say to Absalom, I am at your service, my lord king; once I was in your father's service, but now I shall serve you,' you will be able to thwart Ahithophel's advice for me. 35 Surely the priests Zadok and Abiathar will be with you? Anything you hear from the palace you must report to the priests Zadok and Abiathar. 36 You see, their two sons are there with them, Zadok's son Ahimaaz, and Abiathar's son Jonathan; through these, you will send me word of everything you hear." 37 Hushai, David's friend, entered the city just as Absalom was reaching Jerusalem.
David's retreating men were a pitiful site to behold. Everyone is weeping and their covered heads are an expression of their grief. David walking in bare feet may be a sign of penance in accepting everything that is happening as part of God's judgment for his sins. When he probably thought things couldn't get any worse, David is informed that his trusted friend and advisor, Ahithophel, has betrayed him and joined the conspirators. David immediately cries out to God to turn his former friend's advice to Absalom into folly. It is a petition God will grant.
2 Samuel 15:32 ~ As
David reached the summit, where God is worshipped, he saw Hushai the Archite,
his friend, coming to meet him with his tunic torn and with earth on his head.
As David nears the summit of the Mount of Olives near a shrine to Yahweh he sees a dear friend (also see 1 Chr 27:33 and 1 Kng 4:16). Hushai has covered his head with dirt as a sign of mourning. The Archite clan of which Hushai is a member was part of the tribe of Benjamin and lived in the area southwest of Bethel (Josh 16:2). Hushai is identified as a "Friend/Companion of the king," which was an official title and may mean something like "privy councilor" as it was used in the Egyptian court (see 1 Chr 27:33). He wants to accompany David, but the king refuses to take him, probably because he is elderly and cannot keep up with the march; hence David's statement to his friend: you will be a burden to me.
Question: How does David suggest that Hushai
might better serve him?
Answer: He asks Hushai to return to Jerusalem, to offer his services to Absalom, to be his spy, and to send him information.
Chapter 16: David's Friends and Enemies
2 Samuel 16:1-4 ~ Ziba's Loyalty
1 When David had passed a little beyond the summit, Meribbaal's retainer, Ziba, met him with a pair of donkeys, saddled and laden with two hundred loaves of bread, a hundred bunches of raisins, a hundred of the season's fruits, and a skin of wine. 2 The king said to Ziba, "What are you going to do with that?" "The donkeys," Ziba replied, "are for the king's family to ride, the bread and the fruit for the soldiers to eat, the wine is for drinking by those who get exhausted in the desert." 3 The king asked "and where is your master's son?" Ziba replied to the king, "Why, he has stayed in Jerusalem because, he says, today, the House of Saul will give me back my father's kingdom.'" 4 Then the king said to Ziba, "Everything owned by Meribbaal is yours." Ziba said, "I prostrate myself! May I be worthy of your favor, my lord king!"
A little beyond the summit of the Mount of Olives David
meets Ziba who has come from the estate he manages north of Jerusalem to bring
supplied for David and his men. David put Ziba in charge of the estate of King
Saul's grandson and Jonathan's son Meribbaal (2 Sam 9:2-3, 9-11). Ziba is
expressing his loyalty to David in a practical way that is appreciated. However,
David is suspicious about the absence of Ziba's master. Meribbaal is crippled
but he could still ride a mule and could have come with Ziba to express his
support for David in the civil war.
Question: When questioned concerning Meribbaal, what is Ziba's reply to David and what is David's reaction?
Answer: Ziba tells David that Meribbaal is hoping to regain Saul's lost kingdom in David's defeat and has stayed in Jerusalem. David gives Ziba the estate he managed for Meribbaal.
If Ziba's account is correct, it would appear that Meribbaal sees the political upheaval as an opportunity for those who supported the House Saul to put another member of Saul's family back on the throne; for example Meribbaal's son Micah. The account is probably true since Ziba did not volunteer the information but only repeated Meribbaal's sentiments when asked by the king.
2 Samuel 16:5-14 ~ Shimei curses David
5 David was reaching Bahurim, out came a man of the same clan as Saul's family. His name was Shimei son of Gera and, as he came, he uttered curse after curse and threw stones at David 6 and at all King David's retinue, even though the whole army and all the champions formed an escort round the king on either side. 7 The words of his curse were these, "Off with you, man of blood, scoundrel! 8 Yahweh has paid you back for all the split blood of the House of Saul whose sovereignty you have usurped; and Yahweh has transferred the sovereign power to Absalom your son. Now your wickedness has overtaken you, man of blood that you are." 9 Abishai son of Zeruiah said to the king, "Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and cut his head off." 10 But the king replied, "What concern is my business to you, sons of Zeruiah? Let him curse! If Yahweh has said to him, Curse David!' what right has anyone to say, why have you done so?'" 11 David said to Abishai and all his retinue, "Why, the son sprung from my own body is now seeking my life; all the more reason for this Benjaminite to do so! Let him curse on, if Yahweh has told him to! 12 Perhaps Yahweh will look on my wretchedness and will repay me with good for his curses today." 13 So David and his men went on their way, and Shimei kept pace with him along the opposite mountainside, cursing as he went, throwing stones and flinging dust. 14 The king and all the people who were with him arrived exhausted at ...... and there they drew breath.
This is undoubtedly the lowest time in David's life; probably even lower than when he was a lonely outlaw on the run because of the distance he has fallen from a powerful warrior king to an old man seeking refuge and cursed by his enemies.
2 Samuel 14:6 ~ David
was reaching Bahurim, out came a man of the same clan as Saul's family. His
name was Shimei son of Gera and, as he came, he uttered curse after curse and
threw stones at David...
Bahurim is believed to be a site on the northeastern slope of the Mount of Olives. Shimei is a kinsman of the House of Saul from the clan of Matri of the tribe of Benjamin (1 Sam 10:21). He probably blames David for the massacre of Saul's remaining sons by Saul's concubine Rizpah and Saul's grandsons that is recorded in 2 Samuel 21:1-14. He may also blame David for the deaths of Saul and his son by the Philistines since it was known that David was a vassal to the Philistine king of Gath as well as the deaths of Abner and Ishbaal/Ishboseth (all deaths of which David was innocent).
1 Samuel 14:9-10 ~ Abishai
son of Zeruiah said to the king, "why should this dead dog curse my lord the
king? Let me go over and cut his head off." 10 But the king replied, "What concern is my business to you,
sons of Zeruiah? Let him curse! If Yahweh has said to him, Curse David!'
what right has anyone to say, why have you done so?'"
Verse 10 suggests that Joab and Abishai were with David. They are David's nephews and the sons of his elder sister Zeruiah. David reins in the avenging anger of his nephews toward the man who has cursed their kinsman and their king. It is an astonishing reaction of David to the Benjaminite who is cursing him. The proud David now resigns himself to the acceptance of being humiliated.
Question: Why does David tell his nephews he is willing to accept the humiliation?
Answer: In his fatalism, he reasons if someone commits such a sacrilegious act against the man who is God's anointed, it must be because God has decreed it. He endures the man's curses as a sign of his penitential submission.
Behind David's fatalism is probably a sense of guilt in that he is responsible for everything that has happened: for his adultery with Bathsheba, for Uriah's death, for the death of his child by Bathsheba, for his inaction in Tamar's rape and failure to punish Amnon, for his failure to punish Absalom for Amnon's murder, and for not doing something to prevent the murder of Saul's sons and grandsons by the Gibeonites (already taken place but recorded in 2 Sam 21:1-14). His guilt is coupled with his despair as he adds: "Why, the son sprung from my own body is now seeking my life; all the more reason for this Benjaminite to do so! Let him curse on, if Yahweh has told him to! 12 Perhaps Yahweh will look on my wretchedness and will repay me with good for his curses today." He recognizes that God's judgment in 12:10-12 is being fulfilled.
1 Samuel 14:14 ~ The
king and all the people who were with him arrived exhausted at ...... and there
they drew breath.
The name of the site they reached has dropped out of the text, but it was on the west side of the Jordan River as one version of the Septuagint supplies: arrived exhausted at the Jordan River and there they drew breath. David will not cross the Jordan River with his men and his family until which includes Bathsheba and their four sons until 17:21-22.
2 Samuel 16:15-19 ~ Absalom enters Jerusalem
15 Absalom entered Jerusalem with all the men of Israel; with him was Ahithophel. 16 When Hushai the Archite, David's friend, reached Absalom, Hushai said to Absalom, "Long live the king!" 17 Absalom said to Hushai, "Is this your faithful love for your friend? Why didn't you go away with your friend?" 18 Hushai replied to Absalom, "No, the man whom Yahweh and his people and all the men of Israel have chosen, he is the man for me, and with him will I stay! 19 Besides, whom should I serve, if not his sons? As I served your father, so shall I serve you."
Absalom and his army take possession of Jerusalem.
David's spy successfully convinces Absalom of his support and this will set up
the clash between Ahithophel and Hushai. God will take mercy on David and God's
providence will bring Absalom to accept Hushai's counsel over that of Ahithophel.
Question: How might Hushai's declaration "Long live the king!" not mean what Absalom thinks it means?
Answer: It is significant that Hushai does not say "Long live King Absalom." Hushai is sincere in his declaration but the king that Hushai is referring to is David.
2 Samuel 16:20-23 ~ Absalom and David's Concubines
20 Absalom said to Ahithophel, "Think carefully. What shall we do?" 21 Ahithophel replied to Absalom, "Go to your father's concubines whom he left to look after the palace; then all Israel will hear that you have thoroughly antagonized your father, and the resolution of all your supporters will be strengthened." 22 So a tent was pitched for Absalom on the flat roof and, with all Israel watching, Absalom went to his father's concubines. 23 At the time, whatever advice Ahithophel gave was treated like a decision obtained from God; as by David, so by Absalom, was all Ahithophel's advice regarded.
Royal women played an important political role in ancient Near Eastern societies. Sexual relations with a king's wife, concubine, or daughter constituted a claim on the throne in the pagan kingdoms of the ancient Near East, as in the case of David's marriage to Saul's daughter Michal and then after many years of separation demanding her return. Absalom's possession of David's concubines constitutes a claim to the throne (see 2 Sam 3:7, 12:8).
Question: What other reason does Ahithophel give
for Absalom taking possession sexually of David's concubines?
Answer: Absalom's supporters need to know that Absalom will not turn back and reconcile with his father, leaving them open to David's vengeance. Possessing David's women will be an act that will demonstrate there is no going back for Absalom and no possibility of David reconciling with his son.
Question: What law of the Sinai Covenant is broken in this act and what is the penalty?
See Lev 20:11 and what is the exception in this case.
Answer: Absalom has committed incest by sexually violating his father's wives/concubines and under the law the penalty is death. The women were forced and therefore would not be held in violation of the sin.
Question: What part of God's judgment against
David for his sins in 12:10-12 is fulfilled by Absalom's despicable act?
Answer: God told David, "Before your very eyes I shall take your wives and give them to your neighbor, who will lie with your wives in broad daylight. You have worked in secret, but I will work this for all Israel to see, in broad daylight." This prophecy is now fulfilled.
2 Samuel 16:23 ~ 23 At
the time, whatever advice Ahithophel gave was treated like a decision obtained
from God; as by David, so by Absalom, was all Ahithophel's advice regarded.
For the time being, Absalom has complete confidence in Ahithophel's counsel. The question whether Ahithophel is the same man who is the father of Bathsheba's father Eliam who is listed in 2 Samuel 11:3 and is he the same man listed in 23:34 as the son of Ahithophel? If Ahithophel is Bathsheba's grandfather, why would he support Absalom? Wouldn't this be contrary to the interests of Bathsheba and her sons? It is possible that he secretly hated David for Uriah death, but that seems unlikely since Bathsheba's marriage to David has elevated his family to royal status. It is also possible that Ahithophel's ambitions included eventually usurping Absalom in favor of his grandsons and taking the real power for himself. He may have even arranged for David to see and desire his beautiful granddaughter whose marriage made him David trusted counselor. His real motives are unknown, but like all acts of betrayal by a trusted friend or loved one, this betrayal, like Absalom's betrayal, was especially bitter for David to endure.
Questions for reflection or group discussion:
An old saying goes "the more things change the more they remain the same."
Question: What glimpses of modern politicians do you recognize in Absalom's actions to win the support of the people? How were the people duped by a glib, a good-looking candidate with a winning personality who made promises that appealed to them? What are the qualifications that should recommend a candidate politically and morally?
Question: Have you ever been betrayed by someone you loved and trusted? What did you do to help you get through the emotionally wrenching experience?
1. The Go'el Haddam, the "kinsman (literally "blood") redeemer," was the victim's nearest relative who was responsible for seeking justice for his relative; to take up the responsibility of Go'el was seen as especially honorable. In the case of Amnon's rape of Tamar, Absalom was his sister's nearest kinsman.
2. In the Book of Ruth, Boaz offers himself as Ruth and Naomi's Go'el Haddam to secure Naomi's ancestral lands by marrying Ruth. Their first born son, Obed, inherited the lands that would have belonged to Ruth's first husband. These are the lands that eventually were inherited by David's father, Jesse, Obed's first born son (see Rt 4:21-22).
3. Maacah was the name of Absalom's mother who was a princess from the Aramaean kingdom of Geshur; the name will become a frequently used name among Absalom's descendants (2 Sam 3:3). Absalom's granddaughter, Maacah, will become the wife of King Solomon's heir King Rehoboam (930-913 BC) and the mother of Abijam (913-911 BC) the next king of Judah (1 Kng 15:2, 2 Chr 11:20-22). The text calls her a "daughter" but the term is used as "daughter" in the sense that she is Absalom's descendant. A second granddaughter of Absalom, also named Maacah, will become the wife of Jeroboam of Israel (930-910 BC). The mother of the next king, Asa (911-870 BC) king of Israel was also a descendant of Absalom named Maacah (1 Kng 15:10; 2 Chr 15:16). Asa's mother and grandmother were named Maacah (1 Kings 15:9-13). Asa finally deposed his mother from her position as Queen Mother (Gebirah) because of her involvement in idolatry (2 Chr 15:16).
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