THE BOOK OF 2 SAMUEL
Lesson 6: Chapters 17-20
Absalom's Defeat and David's Victory
You establish Your relationship with Your people through Your holy covenants. The eternal covenant with Your chosen one David of Bethlehem became the blueprint for the New Covenant in David's son, Your Chosen One, Jesus of Nazareth. It is an eternal covenant in which Jesus has fulfilled the Davidic covenant as the eternal Davidic King and through which He has made us His heirs and has given us the promise of eternal life. We are grateful for Your great gift to humanity and the victory Your Son has given us over sin and death. We pledge our eternal loyalty to Your Son in the continuing struggle between good and evil, knowing that Your promises to us, like Your promises to David, can never be broken. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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You have stripped him of his splendid
scepter, and toppled his throne to the ground. You have aged him before his
time, enveloped him in shame. How long, Yahweh, will you remain hidden?
Forever? Is your anger to go on shouldering like a fire? Remember me; how long
have I left? [...] Lord, what of those pledges of your faithful love? You
made an oath to David by your constancy.
Psalm 89:44-46, 49
David has suffered through his fourfold penance for his past sins in fulfillment of God's judgment in 2 Samuel 12:9-12. He has not resisted nor has he made excuses for himself, but he has submitted to his penance and trusted in God's promise that He will not withdraw from David as He withdrew from Saul (2 Sam 7:15-16). Even though many of the tribes have openly declared for Absalom, most of David's friends and personal troops remain loyal to him and far more of these men are named as remaining faithful to David than those close to David who are named as having defected to Absalom:
David's loyal friends who are mentioned by name:
David's traitorous former friends who are named:
Chapter 17: Absalom's Plans to Defeat David's Army
deprived me of my friends, made me repulsive to them, imprisoned, with no
escape; my eyes are worn out with suffering. I call to you, Yahweh, all day I
stretch out my hands to you.
2 Samuel 17:1-4 ~ Absalom Consults Ahithophel
1 Ahithophel said to Absalom, "Let me choose twelve thousand men and set off this very night in pursuit of David. 2 I shall fall on him while he is tired and dispirited; I shall strike terror into him, and all the people who are with him will run away. I shall kill only the king, 3 and I shall then bring all the people back to you, like a bride returning to her husband. You seek the life of one individual only; the people as a whole will have peace." 4 The suggestion seemed a good one to Absalom and all the elders of Israel.
Ahithophel's first word of advice to Absalom was to take sexual possession of David's concubines (2 Sam 16:20-23) as evidence of his power over his father and proof to his supporters that there was no chance of reconciliation between father and son.
Question: What is the second advice that
Ahithophel gives Absalom?
Answer: The second advice he gave Absalom was to let him set out immediately that night to come upon an unprepared David and his supporters and their families while they were still weary from their forced march out of Jerusalem.
Question: Why is the plan to kill only David?
Answer: The plan is to kill David and then all the people will turn to Absalom. Both Absalom and Ahithophel see this as the necessary act that will give Absalom the throne, make him king over Israel, and end the civil war.
2 Samuel 17:5-16 ~ Hushai Thwarts Ahithophel's Plans
5 Then Absalom said, "Now call Hushai the Archite, for us to hear what he too has to say." 6 When Hushai had come to Absalom, Absalom said, "This is what Ahithophel says. Are we to do as he suggests? If not, suggest something yourself." 7 Hushai said to Absalom, "On this occasion the advice given by Ahithophel is not good. 8 You know," Hushai went on, "that your father and his men are great fighters and that they are now as angry as a wild bear robbed of her cubs. Your father is a man of war: he will not let the army rest during the night. 9 At this moment he is concealed in some hollow or other place. If at the outset there are casualties among our troops, word will go round that the army supporting Absalom has met with disaster. 10 And then even the valiant, the truly lion-hearted, will be demoralized; for all Israel knows that you father is a champion and that the men with him are valiant. 11 For my part, I offer this advice: Summon all Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, to rally to you, as numerous as the sand on the seashore, and you take the field in person with them. 12 We shall reach him wherever he is to be found; we shall fall on him as the dew falls on the ground, and not leave him or any one of the men with him. 13 Should he retire into a town, all Israel will bring ropes to that town, and we shall drag it into the river-bed until not a pebble of it is to be found." 14 Then Absalom and all the people of Israel said, "Hushai the Archite's advice is better than Ahithophel's," Yahweh having resolved to thwart Ahithophel's shrewd advice and so bring disaster on Absalom. 15 Hushai then told the priests Zadok and Abiathar, "Ahithophel gave such and such advice to Absalom and the elders of Israel, but I advised so and so. 16 Send with all speed to David and say, "Do not camp in the desert passes tonight, but get through them as fast as you can, or the king and his whole army may be annihilated."
Question: What are the two parts to Hushai's plan to discourage
Absalom from accepting Ahithophel's plan to attack David that night?
It is partly Hushai's rhetorical skill and psychological insight that achieves the rejection of Ahithophel's plan. Hushai's plan appeals to Absalom's vanity with him leading the army instead of Ahithophel and driving the victorious attack against David's forces. The elders, knowing David's reputation as a warrior, are convinced it is safer to not attack David without more troops, and so they approve of Hushai's plan over Ahithophel's plan. This is the turning point in David's fourfold penance because God is once again with David, protecting him and directing his success against his enemies. From now on, all developments in the narrative move in David's favor.
Question: What advantage has Hushai given David?
Answer: Hushai plan is to buy David some time to organize his army and to take his supporters across the Jordan River into the Transjordan to safety.
2 Samuel 17:17-23 ~ David is warned and Crosses the
Jordan River into Transjordan
17 Jonathan and Ahimaaz were posted at the Fuller's Spring; a servant-girl was to go and warn them and they in turn were to warn King David, since they could not give themselves away by coming into the city themselves. 18 A young man saw them nonetheless and told Absalom. The pair of them, however, made off quickly, reaching the house of a man in Bahurim. In his courtyard was a storage-well and they got down into it. 18 The woman took a piece of canvas and, spreading it over the mouth of the storage-well, scattered crushed grain on it so that nothing showed. 20 When Absalom's servants reached the woman at the house, they said, "Where are Ahimaaz and Jonathan?" The woman said, "They have gone further on, towards the water." They searched but, having found nothing, went back to Jerusalem.
21 When they had gone, the men climbed out of the storage-well and went to warn King David.
"Set out!" they told David. "Cross the water quickly, for Ahithophel has given such and such advice against you!" 22 So David and all the troops with him set off and crossed the Jordan. By dawn no one was left, all had crossed the Jordan. 23 When Ahithophel saw that his advice had not been followed, he saddled his donkey and set off and went home to his own town. Then, having set his house in order, he hanged himself. He was buried in his father's tomb.
David's two spies seek sanctuary at a house in Bahurim were a woman, probably the wife of the man in Bahurim, cleverly hides them and lies about their whereabouts to Absalom's men and misdirects their search. This is the third time the town of Bahurim on the northeast side of the Mount of Olives has figured in the narrative:(1)
The sons of the two chief priests have successfully warned David to get his people across the Jordan River and into the Transjordan before Absalom's army can cut them off.
2 Samuel 17:23 ~ When Ahithophel saw that his advice
had not been followed, he saddled his donkey and set off and went home to his
own town. Then, having set his house in order, he hanged himself. He was
buried in his father's tomb.
Ahithophel realizes that Absalom's army has lost the advantage and that now David will likely succeed in putting down the rebellion and will execute him as a traitor. He decides arrange his affairs and will be buried in his father's tomb instead of submitting to a traitor's death and the refusal of an honorable burial. Ahithophel's death is the only suicide mentioned in the Old Testament apart from the deaths of soldiers killing themselves to avoid capture (Judg 9:54; 1 Sam 31:3-4; 1 Kng 16:18; 2 Mac 14:41-46) or the case of Samson where he killed his enemies by collapsing a temple that also killed him (Judg 16:28-30).
Question: What does Ahithophel's treachery and betrayal
of David prefigure in the New Testament? See 1 Sam 16:12-13; 2 Sam 17:1-2, 23
compared to Mt 3:16-17; 26:47-48; 27:5; Lk 6:13-16; Jn 18:1-3;
10:38, and name four points of comparison.
Answer: David's betrayal by his friend and advisor Ahithophel prefigures Judas Iscariot's betrayal of the Son of David, Jesus Christ:
2 Samuel 17:24-29 ~ Absalom crosses the Jordan and
David and his Men reach the Stronghold at Mahanaim
24 David had reached Mahanaim by the time that Absalom crossed the Jordan with all the men of Israel. 25 Absalom had put Amasa in command of the army in place of Joab. This Amasa was the son of a man called Ithra the Ishmaelite, who had married Abigail, daughter of Jesse and sister of Zeruiah, mother of Joab. 26 Israel and Absalom pitched their camp in the territory of Gilead. 27 When David reached Mahanaim, Shobi son of Nahash from Rabbah-of-the-Ammonites, Machir son of Ammiel from Lo-Debar, and Barzillai the Gileadite from Rogelim 28 brought bedding, rugs, bowls and crockery; and wheat, barley, meal, roaster grain, beans, lentils, 29 honey, curds and cows cheese and sheep's cheese, which they presented to David and the people with him for them to eat. "The army," they said, "must have been hungry, tired and thirsty in the desert."
You will recall that Mahanaim was a stronghold in Gilead
(Transjordan) that was the last refuge of Saul's son Ishbaal (2 Sam 2:8).
Question: What important event happened at Mahanaim in Genesis 32:2-3 (in some translations 32:1-2) and 32:8-11. Also see Genesis 3:24 for the significance of what happened.
Answer: It was where Jacob-Israel was about the cross over to the west side of the Jordan River into Canaan (the Promised Land) and encountered two angels of God. He gave the place the name "camp of God" until he divided his family into "two camps," in Hebrew Mahanaim. The angels were guarding the border of the "Promised Land" in the same way they guarded the border of Eden.
Question: Who is Amasa? See 1 Chr 2:13-17.
Answer: He is the son of David's other sister Abigail; therefore, he is David's nephew and the cousin of Joab, Abishai, and Absalom.
David's nephew, who is listed as the leader of David's thirty champions in 1 Chronicles 12:19/18 and who served under the command of his cousin Joab, has abandoned his uncle to become the commander of his cousin Absalom's rebel forces. It must have been another bitter blow to David to hear of Amasa's defection.(2)
The defection of David's nephew is now contrasted with three wealthy men who remain loyal to David and who bring supplies to his army:
Once again we see a mixture of both Israelites and Gentiles supporting David.
Chapter 18: The End of the Civil War
A Prayer of
David: Arrogant men, God, are rising up against me, a brutal gang is after my
life; in their scheme of things you have no place. But you, Lord, God of
tenderness and mercy, slow to anger, rich in faithful love [hesed = covenant
love] and loyalty, turn to me and pity me. Give to your servant your strength,
to the child of your servant your saving help; give me a sign of your kindness.
2 Samuel 18:1-8 ~ David's Victory over Absalom's Army
1 David reviewed the troops who were with him and appointed commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds to lead them. 2 David divided the army into three groups, one under the command of Joab, another under the command of Abishai son of Zeruiah and brother of Joab, and the third under the command of Ittai the Gittite. David then said to the troops, "I shall take the field in person with you." 3 But the troops replied, "You are not to take the field. No one will bother about us if we run away, they will not even bother about us if half of us are killed, but you are ten thousand times more valuable. So it is better if you stay inside the town, in case we need reinforcements." 4 David said, "I will do what you think best." And the king stood beside the gate as the troops marched out by their hundreds and their thousands. 5 The king gave orders to Joab, Abishai and Ittai, "For my sake, treat young Absalom gently!" And the troops all heard the king give all the commanders these orders about Absalom. 6 So the troops marched out into the open to engage Israel, and the battle took place in the Forest of Ephraim. 7 There, the army of Israel was beaten by David's retainers; it was a great defeat that day, with twenty thousand casualties. 8 The fighting spread throughout the region and that day the forest claimed more victims than the sword.
For a second time the soldiers tell David he is too valuable to Israel for him to risk his life. It was earlier in his career as king, after David was almost killed in the battle with the Philistines, that his soldiers made him swear to give up accompanying them into battle (2 Sam 21:15-17). David's men understand that David will be the target of the rebels and his death will decide the battle.
David divides his army into three parts. Two of David's
commanders are his nephews Joab and Abishai but the third is Ittai the
Philistine from Gath.
Question: What is David's one request to his three commanders?
Answer: Not to harm Absalom if he is captured.
The location of the Forest of Ephraim is unknown. That the "forest claimed more victims than the sword" probably means many of the wounded were not immediately killed but died of their wounds, hidden in the thick growth of the forest. There is also a suggestion of God's intervention in the battle on behalf of David's army, with the forest taking an active part in the defeat of the rebel soldiers.
2 Samuel 18:9-18 ~ The Death of Absalom
9 Absalom happened to run into some of David's guards. Absalom was riding his mule and the mule passed under the thick branches of a great oak. Absalom's head got caught in the oak and he was left hanging between heaven and earth, while the mule he was riding went on. 10 Someone saw this and reported to Joab, "I have just seen Absalom hanging from an oak." 11 Joab said to the man who had informed him, "If you saw him, why did you not strike him to the ground then and there? I would have made it my business to give you ten silver shekels and a belt!" 12 The man replied to Joab, "Even if I could feel the weight of a thousand silver shekels in my hand, I would not lift my hand against the king's son. In our own hearing, the king gave you and Abishai and Ittai these orders, 'For my sake, spare young Absalom.' 13 Even if I had deceived myself, nothing stays hidden from the king and you would have dissociated yourself from me." 14 Joab then said, "I cannot waste time arguing with you!" And, taking three darts in his hand, he planted them in Absalom's heart, while he was still alive, deep in [the heart of] the oak tree. 15 Ten soldiers, Joab's armor-bearers, then came in close, struck Absalom and killed him. 16 Joab then had the trumpet sounded, and the troops left off pursing Israel, since Joab held the troops back. 17 They took Absalom, flung him into a deep pit in the forest and raised a huge cairn over him. All the Israelites had fled, dispersing to their homes.
18 Now, during his lifetime, Absalom had made and erected a pillar to himself, which is in the Valley of the King. "I have no son," he said, "to preserve the memory of my name." He gave his own name to the pillar, and today it is still called Absalom's Monument. [..] = IBHE, vol. I, page 853-54.
Absalom has long, thick hair (2 Sam 14:26). He apparently either lost his helmet or was only wearing a crown so he could be identified by his men by his great mane of hair. You may recall that he was very proud of his hair (2 Sam 14:26). As he was riding fast on his mule through a thickly forested area, his hair was flying out around his head and got caught in the low branches of an oak tree, pulling him off his mule. It was God's providence at work that Absalom was caught up in the tree, unable to free himself and completely vulnerable to the enemy. It was his pride in his long hair that was his undoing.
There are six symbolic aspects of Absalom's death (six is the symbolic number of rebellion in Scripture):
Question: What curse is associated with the death
of someone hanging from a tree? See Dt 21:22-23; quote the passage.
Answer: A man who dies hanging from a tree is said to be accursed by God: If a man guilty of a capital offence is to be put to death, and you hang him from a tree, his body must not remain on the tree overnight; you must bury him the same day, since anyone hanged is a curse of God, and you must not bring pollution on the soil which Yahweh your God is giving you as your heritage
Question: Why didn't the soldier who reported
Absalom's whereabouts to Joab take the initiative to kill Absalom?
Answer: He heard the king's command not to harm the king's son and knew there would be consequences if he ignored David's command. He also didn't trust Joab to intercede for him.
Joab struck Absalom in the heart with three metal-tipped
throwing sticks and his men finished him off. Absalom died, hanging from the
Question: Why does Joab kill Absalom even though David ordered him to spare his son?
Answer: He despised Absalom for betraying his father and bringing civil war to Israel. He was also personally betrayed by Absalom. He was responsible for arranging to have Absalom brought back from exile, and then he helped to bring about the reconciliation between David and his son.
Question: How will this peculiar form of death in
being hung from a tree be important to us in the New Testament? See Jn 19:31
and Gal 3:13.
Answer: Jesus will be crucified by being hung on a tree (the wooden cross) for the sins of man, redeeming mankind from the curse of the Law by being cursed for our sake. The difference is that Absalom was guilty but Jesus was entirely innocent.
2 Samuel 18:16-17 ~ Joab then had the trumpet sounded, and the troops left off
pursing Israel, since Joab held the troops back. 17 They took Absalom, flung him into a deep pit
in the forest and raised a huge cairn over him. All the Israelites had fled,
dispersing to their homes.
Throwing Absalom's body into a pit instead of giving him a proper burial was a sign of contempt. The only memory of him will not be an honorable grave in the tomb of his forefathers but the pillar he erected to himself (18:18).
Question: After killing Absalom, why did Joab sound
the trumpet to stop his men from pursuing the rebels?
Answer: With Absalom dead there is no reason for the civil war to continue with Israelite killing Israelite.
2 Samuel 18:18 ~ Now, during his lifetime, Absalom had
made and erected a pillar to himself, which is in the Valley of the King. "I
have no son," he said, "to preserve the memory of my name." He gave his own
name to the pillar, and today it is still called Absalom's Monument.
2 Samuel 14:27 records that Absalom had three sons and one daughter. The pillar must have been erected either prior to the birth of his sons or they did not survive infancy, which may be why the sons are unnamed but his daughter's name is recorded. When the inspired writer composed this history, the monument was still standing.
2 Samuel 18:19-32 ~ David's Bitter Victory
19 Ahimaaz son of Zadok said, "Let me run and tell the king the good news that Yahweh has vindicated his cause by ridding him of his enemies." 20 But Joab said, "Today you would be no bearer of good news, some other day you may be; but today you would not be bringing good news, since the king's son is dead." 21 Joab then said to the Cushite, "Go and tell the king what you have seen." The Cushite prostrated himself to Joab and ran off. 22 But Ahimaaz son of Zadok persisted. "Come what may," he said to Joab, "please let me run after the Cushite." "My son," Joab said, "why run? You will get no reward for your news." 23 But he replied, "Come what may, let me run!" And Joab said "Run, then!" So Ahimaaz ran off along the road through the Plain, outrunning the Cushite.
24 David was sitting between the two gates. The sentry, having gone up to the roof of the gate, looked out from the ramparts and saw a man running alone. 25 The sentry called down to the king and told him. The king said, "If he is alone, he is bringing good news." 26 As the man drew steadily nearer, the lookout man saw another man running, and the sentry above the gate shouted, "Here comes another man, running alone!" David said, "He too is a bearer of good news." 27 The sentry said, "I recognize the way the first man runs; Ahimaaz son of Zadok runs like that." "He is a good man," said the king, "and comes with good news."
28 Ahimaaz went up to the king, "All hail!" he said, prostrating himself on the ground before the king. "Blessed be Yahweh your God," he said, "who has handed over the men who rebelled against my lord the king!" 29 "Is all well with young Absalom?" the king asked. Ahimaaz replied, "I saw a great commotion when Joab the king's servant, sent your servant off, but I do not know what it was." 30 The king said, "Go and stand over there." He stood to one side and waited. 31 Then the Cushite arrived, "Good news for my lord the king!" the Cushite shouted. "Today Yahweh has vindicated your cause, by ridding you of all who had risen up against you." 32 "Is all well with young Absalom?" the king asked the Cushite. "May the enemies of my lord the king," the Cushite answered, "and all who rise up to harm you, share the fate of that young man!"
The young chief priest, Ahimaaz son of Zadok, is anxious to bring David what he considers the "good news" that he is victorious. The bearer of the news of victory is generously rewarded, but Joab understands that this will be a bitter victory for David since he has lost his son and tells the young man there will be no reward. He may also be trying to protect the young man since David has executed messengers in the past (2 Sam 1:2-16; 4:5-12). Instead, Joab sends a Cushite mercenary to give David the news both of the victory and his son's death. When Ahimaaz still insists on carrying the news of victory to David, Joab lets him go. His insistence may be because he wants the bearer of the news of victory to be an Israelite instead of a Gentile. You will recall that Ahimaaz son of Zadok has served David faithful as one of his spies in Jerusalem and with his kinsman Jonathan carried the warning to David that he needed to cross the Jordan before the rebel army caught up with David and his men on the west side of the river (2 Sam 17:17-22).
2 Samuel 18:24-25 ~ 24 David
was sitting between the two gates. The sentry, having gone up to the roof of
the gate, looked out from the ramparts and saw a man running alone. 25 The sentry called down to the king and told
him. The king said, "If he is alone, he is bringing good news."
Cities in the ancient world often had two gates, one after another, which were connected by a short fortified passageway. David was sitting between the two gates anxiously waiting for news from the battle. He interprets a lone messenger as a sign of good news since a group of soldiers would signal a retreat and defeat.
The detailed account of the two runners allows the narrator to focus attention on David's reaction to the new of the death of his son. Ahimaaz enthusiastically delivers news of the victory, but all David cares about is his son. Ahimaaz loses courage and is evasive about the fate of Absalom. The Cushite (from a region south of Egypt) soldier's reply to David's question is a little indirect but still unambiguous. Refusing to say Absalom's name, he declares that the "young man" and the other rebels are dead. In spite of what his son did to him, David loved Absalom dearly and he is now overcome with grief at the news of his death.
Chapter 19: David Works to Reunite Israel
than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child!
Shakespeare: King Lear, Act I, scene 4
2 Samuel 19:1-5 ~ David's Grief
In some translations the verses are listed as 18:33-19:4
1 The king shuddered. He went up to the room over the gate and burst into tears; and, as he wept, he kept saying, "Oh, my son Absalom! My son! My son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you! Oh, Absalom my son, my son!" 2 Word was brought to Joab, "The king is weeping and mourning for Absalom." 3 And for the entire army that day, victory was turned to mourning, the troops having learnt that the king was grieving for his son. 4 And that day the troops came furtively back into town, like troops creeping shamefacedly away when deserting in battle. 5 The king had covered his face and kept crying aloud, "My son Absalom! Oh, Absalom my son, my son!"
David is paralyzed with grief and the soldiers of his army, who should have been celebrating their victory, are now feeling their king's sorrow.
2 Samuel 19:6-9 ~ Joab Intervenes
In some translations the verses are listed as 19:5-19:8
6 Joab went inside to the king and said, "Today you have made all your servants feel ashamed; today, when they have saved your life, the lives of your sons and daughters, the lives of your wives and the lives of your concubines, because you love those who hate you and hate those who love you. 7 Today you have made it plain that commanders and soldiers mean nothing to you, for today I can see that you would be content if we were all dead, provided that Absalom was alive! 8 Now get up, come out and reassure your soldiers; for if you do not come out, I swear by Yahweh, not one man will stay with you tonight; and this will be a worse misfortune for you than anything that has happened to you from your youth until now!" 9 The king got up and took his seat at the gate. An announcement was made to the whole army: "The king is sitting at the gate." And the whole army assembled in front of the king.
Question: When Joab discovers that David is in
isolation, consumed with his personal grief what does Joab do and why?
Answer: Joab is furious and accuses David of ingratitude to his loyal followers who risked their lives for him. He demands that David get up and fulfill his public duty to his men before he loses their loyalty.
2 Samuel 19:6b-7 ~ ... because you love those who hate
you and hate those who love you. 7 Today
you have made it plain that commanders and soldiers mean nothing to you, for
today I can see that you would be content if we were all dead, provided that
Absalom was alive!
Joab has made an interesting comment about David from his perspective. David mourns the son who didn't love him and betrayed him, even after David forgave him and reconciled with him. Now, in showing such grief for the one who betrayed him, David is treating his loyal soldiers who love him and risked their lives for him as though their loyalty and sacrifices do not matter to him. Joab also knows that that he has shown his love for David by risking his life for his king many times, but David will never forgive him for killing Absalom and for that act of loyalty David will come to hate him.
2 Samuel 19:8 ~ Now
get up, come out and reassure your soldiers; for if you do not come out, I
swear by Yahweh, not one man will stay with you tonight; and this will be a
worse misfortune for you than anything that has happened to you from your youth
Finally, to motivate David to action, Joab tells him if he does not come out and speak to his soldiers, they will all return home to their families and David's position will be worse than before the victory.
2 Samuel 19:9 ~ The king got up and took his seat at
the gate. An announcement was made to the whole army: "The king is sitting at
the gate." And the whole army assembled in front of the king.
David comes out to sit at the gate to review the troops. The contrast is between Absalom energetically courting and seducing Israel at the gate to Jerusalem (15:2-6) and David passively sitting at the gate. In his grief he is unable to even muster the strength to stand and so his loyal warriors must come to him.
2 Samuel 19:10-15 ~ David Reconciles with the Rebels
In some translations the verses are listed as 19:9-14.
10 Israel had fled, dispersing to their homes. Throughout the tribes of Israel all was dissension and people began saying, "The king, having freed us from the clutches of our enemies, having saved us from the clutches of the Philistines, has himself had to flee the country to escape from Absalom; 11 and now Absalom, whom we had anointed to reign over us, has died in battle. Why does no one suggest that the king should be brought back?"
12 What was being said throughout Israel reached the king. King David then sent word to the priests Zadok and Abiathar, "Say to the elders of Judah, 'Why should you be the last to bring the king home? 13 You are my brothers; you are my own flesh and bone: why should you be the last to bring the king back?' 14 And say to Amasa, 'Are you not my own flesh and bone? May God bring unnamable ills on me and worse ills, too, if you do not become my permanent army commander instead of Joab!'" 15 Thus he rallied the hearts of the men of Judah to a man and, as a result, they sent word to the king, "Come back, you and all who serve you."
David is weary of war and death and is anxious to
reconcile with his enemies. David uses the language of kinship in speaking to the
elders of Judah and to his nephew Amasa in verses 13-14. It is the same phrase
Adam used for his relationship with Eve (Gen 2:33) and which the elders of
Judah used when they made David their king (2 Sam 5:1).
Question: David has a complicated relationship with his nephew Joab. What two reasons might David have for replacing Joab with his formerly rebellious nephew Asama who was the commander of the rebel forces (17:25)?
2 Samuel 19:16-24 ~ David Reconciles with Shimei of
In some translations the verses are listed as 19:15-23.
16 So the king started home and reached the Jordan. Judah, coming to meet the king to escort him across the Jordan, had arrived at Gilgal. 17 Shimei son of Gera, the Benjaminite of Bahurim, hurried down with the men of Judah to meet King David. 18 With him were a thousand men from Benjamin. Ziba, servant of the House of Saul, with his fifteen sons and twenty servants, arrived at the Jordan before the king 19 and worked manfully ferrying the king's family across and doing whatever he required. While the king was crossing the Jordan, Shimei son of Gera fell at the king's feet 20 and said to the king, "I hope my lord does not regard me as guilty of a crime! Forget about the wrong your servant did on the day my lord the king left Jerusalem. Let my lord not hold my guilt against me. 21 For your servant is aware of having sinned, and that is why I have come today, the first member of the whole House of Joseph to come down to meet my lord the king." 22 At this Abishai son of Zeruiah spoke up and said, "Does Shimei not deserve death for having cursed Yahweh's anointed?" 23 To which David replied, "What concern is my business to you, sons of Zeruiah, that you should oppose my wishes today? Could anyone be put to death in Israel today? Today I know for sure that I am king of Israel?" 24 "Your life is spared," the king said. And the king gave him his oath.
Question: David is met by what three groups of
David's tribe of Judah has responded to the message David sent them with the appeal of kinship (verse 12-13). They have come to escort David back to Jerusalem as a sign of their support. Ziba, the ever the practical and able steward, is there to meet David and is prepared to ferry David and his men across the Jordan River. It was Ziba who met David as he was fleeing out of Jerusalem with donkeys and provisions in 16:1-2. Shimei is the kinsman of Saul who had cursed David as he was fleeing from Jerusalem but is now trying save his skin by asking forgiveness for his past act of humiliating the king. His reference to the "House of Joseph" refers to the northern tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh whose ancestors were the sons of Joseph son of Jacob-Israel. He says he is the first of any of these northern tribes to welcome David back.
2 Samuel 19:23-24 ~ To
which David replied, "What concern is my business to you, sons of Zeruiah, that
you should oppose my wishes today? Could anyone be put to death in Israel
today? Today I know for sure that I am king of Israel?" 24 "Your life is spared," the king said. And the
king gave him his oath.
David's nephews, Joab and Abishai, think Shimei deserves to die for his offense against the king. David is tired of death, rebukes his nephews, and grants Shimei his pardon. David uses the expression "son/s of Zeruiah" when he is irritated with his nephews (see 2 Sam 3:39; 16:10).
2 Samuel 19:25-31 ~ David Reconciles with Meribbaal
In some translations the verses are listed as 19:24-30.
25 Meribbaal son of Saul also went down to meet the king. He had not cared for his feet or hands, he had not trimmed his moustache or washed his clothes from the day of the king's departure till the day of his peaceful return. 26 When he arrived from Jerusalem to greet the king, the king asked him, "Why did you not come with me, Meribbaal?" 27 "My lord king," he replied, "my retainer deceived me. Your servant said to him, "Saddle the donkey for me to ride, so that I can go with the king," your servant being lame. 28 He has slandered your servant to my lord the king. My lord the king, however, is like the Angel of God, so do as you think right. 29 My father's entire family deserved no better than death from my lord the king, and yet you admitted your servant to the ranks of those who eat at your table. What right have I to make a further appeal to the king?" 30 The king said, "You need say no more. I rule that you and Ziba divide the property between you." 31 "Let him take it all," Meribbaal said to the king, "since my lord the king has come back home in peace!"
When Ziba brought David provisions as he was fleeing out of Jerusalem, David asked Ziba why his master Meribbaal had not come with him. It was at that point that Ziba told David that Meribbaal had ambitions for the throne of Israel returning to the House of Saul. At that time, David gave all Meribbaal's lands to his steward Ziba. Now that David has returned victorious to Jerusalem, Meribbaal has come to declare his allegiance.
Question: What is Meribbaal's excuse for not
accompanying the king when he left Jerusalem?
Answer: He tells David that it was Ziba who refused saddle a donkey for him to ride.
Question: Why does David divide the estate that
had once been Meribbaal's between Ziba and Meribbaal that he had earlier given
entirely to Ziba in 16:4?
Answer: There are two possible reasons:
It is difficult to know which man is telling the truth. Ziba twice demonstrated his loyalty by his actions: coming all the way from Gibeah to bring provisions when David departed from Jerusalem and then coming to provide transportation across the Jordan River when David and his supporters returned. Meribbaal did demonstrate mourning by failing to care for himself, but that may have been a calculated maneuver in case David was victorious. Meribbaal very cunningly comments to David concerning the death of all his family members in verse 29, reminding David of his oath to Jonathan to protect his son. His protest that he doesn't care if Ziba has all his property could also be a ploy to convince David that he is sincere. He uses the same flattering language comparing David to the "Angel of God" (verse 28) as the woman from Tekoa who was presenting a false story to David (2 Sam 14:17 and 20). They are the only two people in the Book of Samuel who flatter David using this expression.
2 Samuel 19:32-40 ~ Barzillai Declines David's
In some translations the verses are listed as 19:31-39.
32 Barzillai the Gileadite had come down from Rogelim and accompanied the king towards the Jordan, intending to take leave of him at the Jordan. 33 Barzillai was a man of great age; he was eighty years old. He had kept the king in provisions during his stay at Mahanaim, being a very wealthy man. 34 "Come with me," the king said to Barzillai, "and I will provide for you at my side in Jerusalem," 35 Barzillai replied to the king, "How many years have I left to live, for me to go up to Jerusalem with the king? 36 I am not eighty years old; can I tell the good from the bad? Has your servant any taste for his food and drink? Can I still hear the voices of men and women singers? Why should your servant be a further burden to my lord the king? 37 Your servant will go a little way across the Jordan with the king; by why should the king reward me so generously for that? 38 Please allow your servant to go home again, so that I can die in my own town near the grave of my father and mother. But here is your servant Chimham; let him go with my lord the king; treat him as you think right." 39 The king said, "Let Chimham come along with me then; I shall do whatever you wish for him, and anything you request I shall do for your sake." 40 The people then all crossed the Jordan, and the king, having crossed, kissed Barzillai and blessed him, and the latter went home.
Barzillai is a wealthy, elderly man from the tribe of Gad on the eastern side of the Jordan River who came with supplies for the army when David was at the stronghold at Mahanaim (2 Sam 17:27-29). Chimham is probably Barzillai's son who will become a member of David's household in gratitude for his father's service to David in his time of need (see 1 Kng 2:7). David always remembers to reward those who are loyal to him.
2 Samuel 19:41-44 ~ The Dispute between Judah and
41 The king went on to Gilgal and Chimham went with him. All the people of Judah accompanied the king, and also half the people of Israel. 42 All the men of Israel then came to the king, "Why," they asked the king, "have our brothers, the men of Judah, carried you off and brought the king and his family across the Jordan, and all David's men with him?" 43 All the men of Judah retorted to the men of Israel, "Because the king is more closely related to us. Why do you take offence at this? Have we been eating at the king's expense? Have we taken any position of ourselves?" 44 The men of Israel replied to the men of Judah, "We have ten shares in the king and, what is more, we are your elder brothers, so why have you slighted us? Were we not the first to suggest bringing back our king?" The men of Judah's words were even more intemperate than those of the men of Israel.
David and his army apparently crossed the Jordan River at the same ford used by Joshua and the Israelites when they crossed into the Promised Land and camped at Gilgal (Josh 4:19). The other tribes are suspicious that David will favor his own tribe of Judah to their detriment. The tribes that claim superiority over Judah as "elder brothers" would have to be the tribes of Reuben and Simeon and perhaps the Levites. Judah was the fourth son of Jacob-Israel. The reason David has asked his own tribe to come and bring him back is because he doesn't know who he can trust at this point and his own tribe is less likely to turn against him. This accusation of favoritism will lead to another rebellion. The incident illustrates that one of David's chief obstacles in turning Israel into a nation. It is necessary to bring the people to think of themselves as citizens of the nation of Israel instead of a confederation of twelve tribes where tribal loyalty comes first.
Chapter 20 ~ Sheba's Revolt
I shall not
violate my covenant; I shall not withdraw the word once spoken. I have sworn
in my holiness, once and for all, never will I break faith with David. His
dynasty shall endure forever, his throne like the sun before me, as the moon is
established forever, a faithful witness in the skies.
2 Samuel 20:1-3 ~ Sheba's Revolt
1 Now there happened to be a scoundrel there called Sheba son of Birchri, a Benjaminite, who sounded the trumpet [ram's horn= shofar] and shouted: "We have no share in David, we have no heritage in the son of Jesse. Every man to his tents, O Israel!" 2 At this all the men of Israel deserted David and followed Sheba son of Bichri. But the men of Judah stuck close to their king, from the Jordan all the way to Jerusalem. 3 David returned to his palace in Jerusalem. The king took the ten concubines, whom he had left to look after the palace, and put them under guard. He provided for their upkeep but never went near them again; they were shut away until the day they died, widows, as it were, of a living man. [..] = IBHE, vol. II, page 862.
Every man to his tents, O Israel! The sounding of the ram's horn and the expression "Every man to his tents" was used as a call to battle (also see 1 Kng 12:16) in which the men are called to return to the houses to gather up their weapons. Most of the Israelites no longer live in tents, but it is a saying that goes back to the years of living in tents during the forty years in the wilderness. It is Sheba's intention to continue the civil war, probably in the hopes of restoring the House of Saul. This time David's own tribe of Judah remained loyal. The sad fate of the ten concubines is a result of their defilement by David's son Absalom (16:22). They will live in comfortable confinement until their deaths.
2 Samuel 20:4-13 ~ The Death of Amasa
4 The king said to Amasa, "Summon me the men of Judah and be here yourself within three days." 5 Amasa went off to summon Judah, but he took longer than the time fixed by David. 6 David then said to Abishai, "Sheba son of Bichri is now in a position to do us more damage even than Absalom. Take your master's retainers and be after him, before he can reach any fortified towns and elude us." 7 [The men of] Joab, the Cherethites, the Pelethites and all the champions took the field under Abishai, setting off from Jerusalem in pursuit of Sheba son of Bichri. 8 They were near the great stone at Gibeon when Amasa met them, coming the other way. 9 Joab was wearing his uniform, over which he had buckled on a sword hanging from his waist in its scabbard; the sword came out and fell. Joab said to Amasa, "Are you well, brother?" and, with his right hand, took Amasa by the beard to kiss him. 10 Amasa paid no attention to the sword, which Joab had now picked up, and Joab struck him with it in the belly, spilling his entrails all over the ground. He did not need to strike a second blow; and Amasa died, while Joab and Abishai hurried on in pursuit of Sheba son of Bichri. 11 One of Joab's men stood on guard beside Amasa, shouting, "Whoever is on Joab's side, whoever is for David, follow Joab!" 12 Amasa meanwhile lay wallowing in his blood in the middle of the road. Seeing that everyone was stopping, the man dragged Amasa off the road into the field and threw a cloak over him, having realized that everyone passing would stop. 13 Once Amasa had been taken off the road, the men all carried on, following Joab in pursuit of Sheba son of Bichri. [..] = IBHE, vol. II, page 862.
David demotes Joab and makes Amasa, his traitorous nephew and the former commander of Absalom's army with whom he has reconciled, his commanding general. David sends him to mobilize the tribe of Judah. David gives him three days to report back to Jerusalem for his orders.
2 Samuel 20:6-7 ~ David
then said to Abishai, "Sheba son of Bichri is now in a position to do us more
damage even than Absalom. Take your master's retainers and be after him,
before he can reach any fortified towns and elude us." 7 [The men of] Joab, the Cherethites, the
Pelethites and all the champions took the field under Abishai, setting off from
Jerusalem in pursuit of Sheba son of Bichri.
When Amasa fails to report in three days, David realizes that precious time is being lost and that he must move quickly against the rebels. David gives Abishai, Joab's younger brother, command of the army and sends him north to put down the revolt and capture Sheba. David is still angry with Joab for killing Absalom and removes him from command of the army. It is interesting that David calls the men he is sending "his servants/retainers," but they are still called "Joab's men" (see verse 7 in the Hebrew text) and it is obvious that it is Joab who they are following under Abishai's command. Abishai sets out immediately with Joab in command of David's Gentile bodyguard.
2 Samuel 20:8-9 ~ They
were near the great stone at Gibeon when Amasa met them, coming the other way. 9 Joab was wearing his uniform, over which he
had buckled on a sword hanging from his waist in its scabbard; the sword came out
and fell. Joab said to Amasa, "Are you well, brother?" and, with his right
hand, took Amasa by the beard to kiss him. 10
Amasa paid no attention to the sword, which Joab had now picked up, and
Joab struck him with it in the belly, spilling his entrails all over the
Amasa has not reported back to the king as he was told (20:4) but is moving from the southwest to the north with his force. Joab and Abishai' s men are en route to northern Israel to track down Sheba. Only about five and a half miles (9 km) northwest of Jerusalem, their forces intercept Amasa and his men at the rock of Gibeon. It is the very site where the first battle between the House of Saul took place against David and his men in 2 Samuel 2:12-13. Sheba is leading a revolt of Benjaminites who still support the House of Saul.
The Israelite sword was more like a long dagger and was customarily strapped against the outside of the right thigh by a right-handed warrior. It is interesting that the narrative records that Joab had the fastened the sword in its scabbard to his waist instead. Perhaps he did this on purpose so the sword would slip out of the scabbard as he leaned forward to bow and then embrace Amasa. In Antiquity of the Jews, the first century AD Jewish priest and military leader who became a historian, Flavius Josephus, writes that Joab deliberately allowed his sword to slip to the ground as he bent forward and then snatched it up with his left hand while his right hand grasped Amasa's beard (Antiquities of the Jews, 7.11.7 [284-5]). Joab uses a military maneuver against Amasa that is similar to that which was used by the Israelite combatants at that encounter between Joab and the warriors of Judah and Abner's men at the pool near the rock of Gibeon (2 Sam 2:14-16).
Question: Why does Joab kill his cousin Amasa?
Answer: David may want to extend his forgiveness to those who betrayed him but Joab does not. He kills Amasa for the same reason he killed Absalom, and he may have suspected Asama of treachery.
Joab kills his cousin Amasa, a traitor in his eyes, in the same deceptive manner that he used to kill Abner (2 Sam 3:27). He murdered Abner for killing his younger brother but also because he believed Abner could not be trusted (2 Sam 3:24-25, 30). He obviously did not believe Amasa could be trusted, possibly because of Amasa's delay in raising an army in Judah and the fact that he continued north without first reporting to David as he was ordered to do to receive David's instructions as to how he should proceed. Was Amasa planning to join forces with Sheba and to betray David a second time? In Josephus' opinion, Joab killed Amasa out of jealousy because David had given Amasa command of the army, but it must be a significant development that Asama did not report to David before continuing north.
2 Samuel 20:11 ~ One
of Joab's men stood on guard beside Amasa, shouting, "Whoever is on Joab's
side, whoever is for David, follow Joab!"
Question: Once Amasa's body has been taken off the road, what happens? See verse 13.
Answer: All the men Amasa had gathered from Judah willingly follow Joab.
David may have removed Joab from command of the army of Israel, but it is obvious that his men still consider him to be their commander, even putting his name before David's.
2 Samuel 20:14-22 ~ The End of the Rebellion
14 Sheba crossed all the tribes of Israel as far as Abel Beth-Maacah, and the Bichrites all ... [end of the sentence has been lost from the text]. They formed up and followed him. 15 Laying siege to him in Abel Beth-Maacah, they threw up a ramp against the outer wall of the town, 16 while the whole army accompanying Joab undermined the wall to bring it down. A quick-witted woman shouted from the town, "Listen! 17 Listen! Say to Joab, 'Come here, I want to speak to you.'" He came forward, and the woman said, "Are you Joab?" "I am," he replied. She said, "Listen to what your servant says." "I am listening," he replied. 18 She then spoke as follows, "In olden days people used to say, 'Abel and Dan are where you should enquire 19 whether a tradition established by the faithful of Israel has finally died out.' And yet you are trying to destroy a town, a metropolis of Israel. Why do you want to devour Yahweh's heritage?" 20 "The last thing I want to do," said Joab, "is either to devour or to destroy. 21 This is not the issue; a man from the highlands of Ephraim, called Sheba son of Bichri, has revolted against the king, against David. Hand that one man over and I will raise the siege of the town." "Very well," the woman said to Joab, "his head will be thrown over the wall to you." 22 The woman went and spoke to all the people as her wisdom dictated. They cut off the head of Sheba son of Bichri and threw it down to Joab. He had the trumpet [ram's horn= shofar] sounded and they withdrew from the town and all went home [every man to his tent], while Joab himself went back to the king in Jerusalem. [..] = IBHE, vol. II, page 863-64.
David's army tracks Sheba to Abel Beth-Maacah, a double-walled city at the foot of Mount Hermon in northern Israel and about four miles northwest of the city of Dan. They put the city under siege and set about having the warriors build a ramp against the outer city wall while the rest of the army sets about to undermine the wall. The usual practice was to dig a tunnel under part of the wall, filling it with logs and setting the logs on fire to cause the earth and the wall above to collapse.
Notice that the woman of Abel Beth-Maacah asks for Joab and not his brother. The wise woman who speaks to Joab reminds us of the important role women play in the Biblical narrative, as we have seen from several examples in the story of David:
She challenges Joab, asking why he wants to destroy her town. The saying she quotes to Joab: "In olden days people used to say, 'Abel and Dan are where you should enquire 19 whether a tradition established by the faithful of Israel has finally died out,'..." alludes to the ancient Israelite traditions that remain alive in the northernmost towns of Israel and should be preserved.
Question: In the exchange between Joab and the
wise woman what mutual decision is reached to save the city?
Answer: The rebel leader Sheba must die.
2 Samuel 20:22 ~ The woman went and spoke to all the
people as her wisdom dictated. They cut off the head of Sheba son of Bichri and
threw it down to Joab. He had the trumpet sounded and they withdrew from the
town and all went home [every man to his tent], while Joab himself went back to
the king in Jerusalem.
The woman convinces her people to behead Sheba and throw his head over the wall. True to his promise, Joab then leaves the city in peace. The words "blew the trumpet" and "every man to his tent" echo the words used in 20:1 that were used to report the beginning of Sheba's rebellion and now are used again to conclude the episode.
2 Samuel 20:23-26 ~ David's Officials
Joab commanded the whole army; Benaiah son of Jehoiada commanded the Cherethites and Pelethites; Adoram was in charge of forced labor; Jehoshaphat son of Shilud was herald; Shiya was secretary; Zadok and Abiathar were priests; also: Ira the Jairite was David's priest.
The list of David's royal bureaucracy is similar to the list in 8:16-18. After returning victoriously from suppressing Sheba's revolt, Joab is restored by David to command of the army and the man who was probably his second in command after his brother Abishai is given command of David's personal body guard. Adoram, the supervisor of the corvee, does not appear in the earlier list but he will play a role in Solomon's and Rehoboam's (or perhaps his son, spelled Adoniram) building projects (1 Kng 12:18; 2 Kng 4:6). Zadok and Abiathar are probably co-high priests, while Ira is either David's personal chaplain or the Sanctuary administrator since he is said to be a Jairite from the villages of Jair of the tribe of Manasseh in Gilead (Num 32:41; Dt 3:14; Josh 13:30) and not a Levitical priest. It might be that the title "priest" is being used loosely for anyone associated with the Sanctuary, like the role David's sons in 2 Samuel 8:18. He may be the same Ira the Jairite who is listed as a member of David's bodyguard (2 Sam 23:38).
David has survived the fourfold judgment he unknowingly
pronounced against himself (2 Sam 12:2) and which God promised to carry out (2
Question: How has God also remained loyal to His covenant with David and His covenant promises in 2 Samuel 7:11b-17?
Answer: God has remained loyal to his covenant promised to punish the wrongs of the "House of David" with temporal judgments, and He has kept His promise that He will never withdraw His favor from the "House of David" as He withdrew from the "House of Saul" (2 Samuel 7:11b-17).
Questions for reflection or group discussion:
All of us have experienced both successes and failures in our lives. How do those successes and failures affect our relationship with God? How can a failure or a personal tragedy either damage our relationship with God or deepen our relationship and move us forward on our journey to salvation? What promise does God give us through St. Paul in Romans 8:28-30? How can we apply these verses to our lives?
We can all be comforted by what Pope Francis counseled to those who are grieving: "Weep not for what you have lost, fight for what you have. Weep not for what is dead, fight for what was born in you. Weep not for the one who abandoned you, fight for who is with you. Weep not for those who hate you, fight for those who want you. Weep not for your past, fight for your present struggle. Weep not for your suffering, fight for your happiness. With things that are happening to us, we begin to learn that nothing is impossible to solve, just move forward."
1. The town is mentioned in 2 Samuel 19:17/16 and 1 Kings 2:8 as the home of Shimei the Benjaminite, and in 23:31 as the home of Azmaveth (one of David's mighty warriors).
2. The Hebrew text of 2 Sam 17:25 refers to Amasa's father as Ithrah [Yitra] the Ishmaelite; however, 1 Chr 2:17 lists his father as Jether [Yeter] the Ishmaelite. Some versions of the Greek text identifies Amasa's father as Jether [Yeter] an Israelite while other versions have Jezreelite (one from a town in the Valley of Jezreel). The names Ithrah [Yitra] and Jether [Yeter] are probably both correct and may be forms of the same Hebrew name that was originally only written in the consonants ytr. Amasa's mother, Abigail, is either a sister or half-sister of Joab and Abishai's mother Zeruiah and a daughter of David's father Jesse of Bethlehem (1 Chr 2:13-17).
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