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Deeper Commentary

2Sa 18:1 David numbered the people who were with him, and set over them captains over thousands and captains over hundreds-
This would imply David had major support. However, "thousands" and "hundreds" are often not to be read literally, but refer rather to regiments or military divisions.

2Sa 18:2 David sent forth the people, a third part under the hand of Joab, a third part under the hand of Abishai the son of Zeruiah, Joab’s brother, and a third part under the hand of Ittai the Gittite-
We note how David had come to trust Ittai to lead his troops, having only recently doubted his loyalty (2 Sam. 15:21,22). He was persuaded of his sincerity and not disappointed. We marvel at the power of God's truth. A Philistine, from Goliath's home town, had accepted covenant relationship with Yahweh and therefore accepts His anointed king, David. Even though David had lied to the men of Gath and later slain them, and had recently disgraced himself again over Bathsheba. The power of God's truth was greater than all the disadvertisments for that truth in Yahweh's chosen representative. And this is a powerful challenge to those who turn away from God because of the bad examples of His representatives.

The king said to the people, I will surely go forth with you myself also-
The significance of this is that David is harking back to how he had not gone out to war with his armies at the time of 2 Sam. 11:1, and it had led him into the sin with Bathsheba. At every point we find him repentant and playing along with how God too was referring him back to previous points in his life. It seems that after the sin, David insisted on going out with his troops to battle even when he was too old to effectively do so (2 Sam. 21:17).


2Sa 18:3 But the people said, You shall not go forth; for if we flee away, they will not care for us; neither if half of us die, will they care for us-
They had been informed of the reasoning of Ahithophel and Hushai. They realized that Absalom wanted David personally dead, and they reflect their loyalty to David by reasoning as they do. Hence his forces at this time are called "the servants of David".

But you are worth ten thousand of us. Therefore now it’s better that you are ready to help us from out of the city-
It had became a kind of proverb in Israel that David was worth ten thousand, after the words of the women at the time of David's victory over Goliath in his youth (1 Sam. 18:7); it was said right towards the end of his life, and contributed towards the jealousy felt toward him. People failed to perceive that the whole conflict was about the glory of God and not the human channel through which that was achieved. 

 
2Sa 18:4 The king said to them, I will do what seems best to you. The king stood beside the gate, and all the people went out by hundreds and by thousands-


2Sa 18:5 The king commanded Joab, Abishai and Ittai, saying, Deal gently for my sake with the young man, even with Absalom. All the people heard when the king commanded all the captains concerning Absalom-
These are terms of endearment. "Young man" is literally 'boy' or 'child', and "deal gently" means to be 'soft', as one would deal with a baby. David comes over as besotted and out of touch with reality to ask that this murderer be treated delicately like a baby.


2Sa 18:6 So the people went out into the field against Israel: and the battle was in the forest of Ephraim-
Although Absalom was of Judah, his army is described as "Israel", as if David's men were the true Judah. By making this assault it would see that Absalom had not taken Hushai's advice, and had rushed ahead to try and remove David as soon as possible, so as to cement his power. The tragedy for Ahithophel was that his advice was more or less followed; his suicide in protest at Hushai's being thought better was therefore premature and rooted in hurt pride.


2Sa 18:7 The people of Israel were struck there before the servants of David, and there was a great slaughter there that day of twenty thousand men-
"Were struck" could imply there was some Divine involvement and striking down of Absalom's forces, which David's servants followed up on. This could explain the rather strange statement that the forest ate up more of Absalom's men than David's men killed with the sword (:8).


2Sa 18:8 For the battle was there spread over the surface of all the country; and the forest devoured more people that day than the sword devoured-
This is what David had prayed for in the Psalms; that his enemies at the time of Absalom's rebellion would be "consumed" (e.g. Ps. 71:13). David's desire was heard in that the sword and the forest devoured or consumed Absalom and his forces (2 Sam. 18:8). But when the prayer was answered, David wept bitterly for the loss of Absalom. We are thereby warned to be careful what we pray for, lest we receive it- which in some form we will. The forest would have been full of steep gorges leading down to the Jordan. But as suggested on :7, there may be reference here to some supernatural destruction of men. Or the idea may be that more perished whilst being chased in the forest, than in the actual battle.


2Sa 18:9 Absalom happened to meet the servants of David. Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick boughs of a great oak, and his head caught hold of the oak, so that he was taken up between the sky and earth; and the mule that was under him went on-
It is stressed that Absalom had a mule, which was also the animal used by him to escape at the time he slew Abner. It was appropriate that at his death, he was also on a mule. And even more so, because the mule was a crossbred animal, which was against the Mosaic law. All through, Absalom comes over as a man who paid no respect to God's law in matters great or apparently small.


2Sa 18:10 A certain man saw it and informed Joab and said, Behold, I saw Absalom hanging in an oak-
Contrary to pictures in children's Bibles, the idea is not that Absalom was suspended by his long hair. It seems rather that his head hit the forked boughs of the oak tree, and he was stunned and left hanging. His head and not his hair "caught hold of the oak" (:9).


2Sa 18:11 Joab said to the man who told him, Behold, you saw it, and why didn’t you strike him there to the ground? I would have given you ten pieces of silver, and a belt-
The belt may refer to a military rank; Joab says he would have promoted the man and given him money, unless the "ten pieces of silver" also refers to some kind of badge of office. 


2Sa 18:12 The man said to Joab, Though I should receive a thousand pieces of silver in my hand, I still wouldn’t put forth my hand against the king’s son; for in our hearing the king commanded you and Abishai and Ittai saying, ‘Beware that none touch the young man Absalom’-
The incident shows the intense loyalty of this anonymous man. David had a way of inspiring such deep loyalty; and this looks ahead to how we should be inspired by the Lord Jesus, refusing all material advantage for the sake of obedience to His word and wish, even if those wishes appear nonsensical to us.


2Sa 18:13 Otherwise if I had dealt falsely against his life (and there is no matter hidden from the king), then you yourself would have set yourself against me-
David's soul was broken as a result of his own mistakes and his general experience of life. David's depression resulted in him manifesting all the classic characteristics of the highly strung person. But it led him to his great sensitivity and almost telepathic ability to enter into other's problems was legendary throughout Israel, and this was one of the things which endeared him to his people (1 Sam. 22:22; 2 Sam. 14:17,20; 18:13)- and there is a powerful similarity here with our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.  

The Hebrew seems to mean that the man knew that had he killed Absalom, then Joab would have been the first in saying that he must be killed for having slain the king's son. Perhaps David had implied there would be the death penalty for doing this. And yet as with Amnon and Absalom, he refuses to carry out the death penalty against Joab for slaying Absalom. And again, this lead to further problems for him in that finally Joab too would revolt against him. David didn't carry out these death penalties because he realized he must reflect the grace shown to him in not having to die for what he had done to Uriah. And yet reflecting grace is not cheap; for David, in each of these cases, it meant long term suffering. Yet we marvel at God's way; for the promise that David not die but instead would suffer huge grief in his family life was a result of his subsequently responding to the grace shown him. We see here how God's word comes true through the faithful response of His people to His grace.


2Sa 18:14 Then Joab said, I’m not going to wait like this with you. He took three darts in his hand, and thrust them through the heart of Absalom, while he was yet alive in the midst of the oak-
Heb. 'in the heart of the terebinth', possibly implying that this oak was associated with idolatry, and Absalom died caught up in his own idolatry, both literally and in terms of worshipping his own ego and obsession with the throne. The "darts" were likely sharpened sticks, for he grabbed whatever was at hand. "The heart" would refer to the trunk of his body, seeing Joab didn't actually succeed in killing Absalom with them (:15).


2Sa 18:15 Ten young men who bore Joab’s armour surrounded and struck Absalom, and killed him-
The only other reference to "ten young men" is to the ten young men of David in 1 Sam. 25:5. We wonder if David had used this group of ten young men in murdering others, and now a similar group were used to slay his beloved son.


2Sa 18:16 Joab blew the trumpet, and the people returned from pursuing after Israel; for Joab held back the people-
"The people" could possibly refer to the followers of Absalom. I say this because the Proverbs are full of allusion to David's history, as David sought to ever glorify his father David and set him up as the parade example of wisdom. And Prov. 24:16 uses the same word for 'holding back' people from destruction. We get the impression that the possible translation "Joab wished to spare the people" may be valid, according to the context. Joab didn't want there to be bloodshed. It recalls the situation in 2 Sam. 2:28 where again Joab had blown a trumpet to restrain civil war. We see the mixture of spirituality and unspirituality in Joab. He genuinely wished to stop the bloodshed, and yet he slew Absalom. Again the record leaves us wondering as to his motives. He had apparently initially supported Absalom's bid for the throne; was he trying to show for all time that he didn't support Absalom? Was he so loyal to David that he realized Absalom had to be slain, and anyway, Absalom was worthy of death for having slain Amnon? Or was he simply wanting revenge for Absalom burning down his barley field? Surely all these elements featured in his thinking. Human motivation is so complex, and therefore God alone can judge it.


2Sa 18:17 They took Absalom, and cast him into the great pit in the forest, and raised over him a very great heap of stones. Then all Israel fled everyone to his tent-
Josh. 7:26 describes the covering of Achan with a cairn likewise; for he too was the troubler of Israel. Again we see the mixture of thinking in the characters before us; Biblical allusion mixed with disobedience to David. Raising a heap of stones was another way of saying that the people were stoning the dead person; and stoning was the punishment for the disobedient son (Dt. 21:20,21).


2Sa 18:18 Now Absalom in his lifetime had taken and reared up for himself the pillar, which is in the king’s vale; for he said, I have no son to keep my name in memory. He called the pillar after his own name; and it is called Absalom’s monument, to this day-
Perhaps his three sons of 2 Sam. 14:27 had died in their youth or childhood. for infant mortality was high in those times. Or maybe he had fallen out with them, and they had disowned each other. "The king's vale" is that of Gen. 14:17. Having built the memorial there, Absalom had thereby again hinted at how he considered himself fit to be a king. His vanity was clearly expressed. The pillar to his own glory is contrasted with the heap of stones of :17, which was his true memorial- casting him in the inglorious role of Achan the troubler of Israel.


2Sa 18:19 Then Ahimaaz the son of Zadok said, Let me now run and bear the king news, how that Yahweh has avenged him of his enemies-
David had prayed that God would judge and avenge him of his enemies (Ps. 43:1 and often). But we must be careful what we pray for; because we do receive the answers. Those angry prayers of David were not mixed with grace, and so he now received their answer- when it was not what he wanted.


2Sa 18:20 Joab said to him, You shall not be the bearer of news this day, but you shall bear news another day. But today you shall bear no news, because the king’s son is dead-
See on :21,22. There was in Hebrew an association between carrying tidings, and good news. You didn't carry tidings if there was no good news. This is the background for the Greek word evangelion  translated 'Gospel' which means, strictly, 'good news that is being passed on'; for example, the good news of a victory was passed on by runners to the capital city. Once it had been spread around and everyone knew it, it ceased to be evangelion; it was no longer news that needed to be passed on. But in that time when there was a joyful urgency to pass it on, it was evangelion. Notice, heralding is not the same as lecturing. Our community for far too long equated preaching , good newsing, with lecturing. Lecturing seeks no result; whereas the herald of God has an urgency and breathlessness about his message. There must be a passion and enthusiasm in us for the message of Christ and His Kingdom. More to be feared than over emotionalism is the dry, detached utterance of facts as a droning lecture, which has neither heart nor soul in it. Man’s peril, Christ’s salvation…these things cannot mean so little to us that we feel no warmth or passion rise within us as we speak about them.


2Sa 18:21 Then Joab said to the Cushite, Go, tell the king what you have seen! The Cushite bowed himself to Joab, and ran-
Bearers of good news were often given presents (:22), and bearers of bad news could be punished. Joab wanted to save Ahimaaz from this, so again we see a level of decency in the mixed character of Joab. Messengers of low rank were often sent with bad news (:27), and so Joab sends a Cushite, an Ethiopian servant, to carry the news.

 

2Sa 18:22 Then Ahimaaz the son of Zadok said yet again to Joab, But come what may, please let me also run after the Cushite. Joab said, Why do you want to run, my son, since that you will have no reward for the news?-
As discussed on :21, good news was rewarded with a gift. Joab appears to want to save Ahimaaz from the shame of bringing bad news. He already realizes that the victory is going to be bad news for David.


2Sa 18:23 But come what may, he said, I will run. He said to him, Run! Then Ahimaaz ran by the way of the Plain, and outran the Cushite-
The kikkar, or Jordan valley. The battle had been fought on the east of Jordan. Ahimaaz ran up the valley and then turned inland, whereas the Cushite took the more direct route through the forests, which ended up being slower.

2Sa 18:24 Now David was sitting between the two gates-
David was sitting in the space between the inner and outer gates. Over this was a room (:33), and the watchman was over the outer gate. It was in this kind of space that Joab had murdered Abner, and David may have been thereby prepared for news that Joab had committed yet another murder he disapproved of. We marvel at the sensitivity of the record, which can only be Divine, and is quite different to contemporary historical writings which are always grossly exaggerated and pay no attention to such details.  

And the watchman went up to the roof of the gate to the wall, and lifted up his eyes, and looked, and, behold, a man running alone-
The word for "watchman" here is that used in Ps. 5:3, where David says he "will watch expectantly" for the answer to his prayer. We must be careful what we pray for. Because we will likely receive it in some form. If indeed the context of Ps. 5  is that of Absalom's rebellion, then we have to note that this same word for 'watching expectantly' is used repeatedly of the expectant watching for news of the battle with Absalom (2 Sam. 18:24-27); and the news was not what David wanted to hear. Absalom had been slain. But he had asked God to save him from Absalom's rebellion, and promised to "watch expectantly" for the answer.


2Sa 18:25 The watchman cried, and told the king. The king said, If he is alone, there is news in his mouth. He came closer and closer-
David's under his breath comments of millennia ago are recorded here, so that we might enter into the stress of the situation. Those comments are absolutely credible as what he would have muttered as the news is about to break for him. The messenger was alone, not accompanied by a host of fleeing people. Being alone might be read as good news. And David was clutching at any straw which might mean good news for him.

2Sa 18:26 The watchman saw another man running; and the watchman called to the porter, and said, Behold, a man running alone! The king said, He also brings news-
"To the porter" is LXX "into the gate"; he was calling to David who was sitting in between the gates. It is obvious that a messenger running was bringing news. But David's muttered comment is noted because of the scale of detail this scene is being recorded at. And such comments are absolutely typical of someone nervously awaiting highly significant news.


2Sa 18:27 The watchman said, I think the running of the first one is like the running of Ahimaaz the son of Zadok. The king said, He is a good man, and comes with good news-
This kind of throw away comment is typical of people in great anxiety. The record has every reason to be believed. These words were really said, these things truly happened. As noted on :21,22, good news was carried by men of higher standing than those who carried bad news. Therefore David's hopes were raised, thinking that this must mean there was "good news". Although he realized that "good news" to those around him might be bad news for him, i.e. the death of his son.


2Sa 18:28 Ahimaaz called and said to the king, All is well. He bowed himself before the king with his face to the earth and said, Blessed is Yahweh your God, who has delivered up the men who lifted up their hand against my lord the king!-
Ahimaaz could not bring himself to tell David the bad news about Absalom. Surely he knew that he was dead. Like Joab, he knew David would be saddened by this, but focused upon the bigger picture- David's side had won, thanks to Yahweh's help. "Delivered up" is literally 'shut up' (s.w. Ps. 31:8), which could mean they had been conquered and taken captive. The intensity builds, as David clings to the hope that Absalom has been captured and not killed.


2Sa 18:29 The king said, Is it well with the young man Absalom? Ahimaaz answered, When Joab sent the king’s servant, even me your servant, I saw a great tumult, but I don’t know what it was-
David knew from 2 Sam. 12:10 that the sword would not depart from his house. He had seen Amnon slain, and he obviously sensed Absalom must also die. But he was quite naturally praying and hoping against hope that somehow the predicted consequences of his sin with Bathsheba might be limited. Surely he must have asked himself multiple times "Why, why ever did I do that?". The huge consequences of that brief period of sin remain as a warning to us all.


2Sa 18:30 The king said, Turn aside, and stand here. He turned aside, and stood still-
After such a long run, it would have been hard to stand, let alone to stand still. He did so in reflection of his deep respect for David.


2Sa 18:31 Behold, the Cushite came. The Cushite said, News for my lord the king; for Yahweh has avenged you this day of all those who rose up against you-
David in the Psalms records how he hated those who 'rose up' against him, and that includes Absalom. Saul 'rose up' against David (s.w. 1 Sam. 25:29; 26:2), and  then evil men 'rose up' against David out of his own family (2 Sam. 12:11 s.w.), especially Absalom who rose up against his father (2 Sam. 18:31,32 s.w.). But David had prayed too quickly in his Psalms against those who rose up against him; and now he will have his answer. We must be careful what we pray for, for in a sense we will receive it.


2Sa 18:32 The king said to the Cushite, Is it well with the young man Absalom? The Cushite answered, May the enemies of my lord the king, and all who rise up against you to do you harm, be as that young man is-
See on :31. "Enemies... who rise up against you" is a quotation from Dt. 28:7. This was to be the blessing for obedience to the covenant, and the curse upon those outside of the covenant. The Cushite had likely thought hard about how he was going to express the news, and he chose a Biblical quotation through which to do so- perhaps a good pattern for us in such difficult situations. And indeed he was correct; Absalom had indeed despised the covenant, and David [for all his sins] had been faithful to it. And the Cushite servant perceived that; David's out of character failures didn't mean he had been unfaithful to the covenant. And that is how we too must consider those who fail in out of character ways.


2Sa 18:33 The king was much moved, and went up to the room over the gate, and wept. As he went, he said, My son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! I wish I had died for you, Absalom, my son, my son!
-
This situation is a repeat of when David had anxiously waited for news of the commotion caused at Absalom's party when he slew Amnon (2 Sam. 13:34). Now again he will weep bitterly for the death of a son. Situations repeat in our lives, and even if we cannot attach meaning to event at the time, we at  least have the comfort that they bear the same hallmark of Divine involvement in our lives, according to some plan- even if we may not discern it.