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Commentary on SAMUEL (or 1 & 2 Samuel) 12

By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD

David’s Great Sins And Their Consequences (11.1-20.26).

We now come to a crucially significant aspect of David’s reign which explains the dark side of that reign. Up to this point all has been pictured as success, and YHWH has been portrayed as with David in all that he has done (even though some of it came after this incident). But from this point on in the narrative we are faced with another aspect of David’s life, and it does not make pleasant reading, for it deals with a period of complacency in David’s life which resulted in heinous sins, and the great problems that then resulted from them. We are not to gather from this that YHWH ceased to bless David. Indeed some of the incidents previously described undoubtedly occurred after what happened here (e.g. his being granted a palace of cedar), and it is made clear in the narrative that YHWH is still active on David’s behalf (17.14). But there is a deliberate attempt in the following narratives to draw out how David did fail, and the consequences of that failure for at least some of what followed in the latter part of his reign. And what is even more significant is that the narratives appear to have come from records maintained under the authority of David himself (chapters 9 onwards have reasonably been seen as being selections from ‘The Court History Of David’).

This in itself is unusual in that reigning monarchs usually tended to ensure that all indications of failure in their reign were omitted from their records, or at least were altered in order to take the sting out of them. It is therefore an indication of David’s genuineness of heart before God, and of the writer’s intention of writing only to the glory of God, that they did not do the same.

Some have seen chapter 11 onwards as intended to explain how it was that Solomon came to the succession. That is certainly a very important aspect of these chapters, and was possibly in the writer’s mind. But had that been their sole main purpose much that was derogatory to David could have been omitted. So we must certainly add the fact that the writer was equally concerned to bring out how what followed was the result of David’s own weakness and failure as revealed in his adultery with Bathsheba and his cold-blooded murder of Uriah the Hittite. Together with the description of the consequences to the realm of David’s arrogant numbering of Israel (chapter 24), it was intended to bring out that even David was flawed. It was a deliberate reminder that we are to look forward to the coming of the righteous everlasting King of the everlasting kingdom (7.13, 16; 1 Samuel 2.10; Genesis 49.8-12; Psalm 2.7-12; Numbers 24.17-19; Isaiah 9.6-7; 11.1-4) who would be even greater than David.

In some ways David’s life story is very similar to that of Saul, for we saw how Saul’s story began with his success during his rise to power (1 Samuel 10-11), continued with success, even when accompanied by failings (1 Samuel 13-14), and culminated with a description of his success over all his enemies, because YHWH was with him (1 Samuel 14 47-48). This was then followed by a description of Saul’s great sin, and his resulting downfall (1 Samuel 15 on). What follows indicates that there was something similar in the pattern of David’s life. He too began with great success (1 Samuel 17-18), continued with success even when accompanied by failings, and was triumphant over all his enemies (3-10), only to find himself involved in sins so dire that it is almost beyond belief. For what now follows is a story of flagrant disobedience in respect of God’s Law, and despicable betrayal of those who trusted him, and both on a huge scale, although it must be admitted that they were in fact totally ‘out of character’ with the David usually portrayed to us. It is a reminder that such failure can happen even in those who seem most above it.

There are, of course, a number of differences between Saul and David which explain why Saul finished up in the shame of rejection, while David moved on from his sin to greater things. The first difference is that Saul’s sins were comprised of blatant disobedience to YHWH’s direct commands which had been made on him as YHWH’s Anointed, and were in fact in character in that they arose from his casual attitude towards crucial religious requirements concerning which he felt he could compromise (even though he was actually scrupulous concerning more minor ritual), while David’s sins, for all their enormity, were not a result of disobedience to YHWH’s direct commands given to him as YHWH’s Anointed, but were the consequence of failing in his general responsibility and (temporarily) in his response to God’s Law during a period of spiritual declension.

The second difference was that Saul sought to brush his failures off, and did not treat them seriously enough to fling himself down before YHWH crying for forgiveness, while David knew how to repent, and did precisely that. When David was faced with having failed and grieved YHWH he was distraught, and came directly to YHWH in humble repentance, seeking forgiveness (see Psalm 51).

This section could also equally be headed ‘The Consequences of Forgiven Sin’, for it reveals that even though David was forgiven, the consequences of his sins for others went on and on. Thus it commences with David committing adultery and murder (chapter 11), something which results in YHWH indicating what punishment will follow (12.10-14), and goes on to describe how that punishment actually came about (chapters 13-20). And yet that punishment is not simply to be seen as the arbitrary result of God carrying out His prophecy, for the sins of David’s sons are clearly to be seen as directly resulting from David’s progeny voluntarily following their father’s own example of sexual misbehaviour and betrayal. David was thus to learn through bitter experience that what we sow we reap, and we undoubtedly see the outworking of that process in the following chapters. And it all arose because David had become complacent and arrogant, and had slumped into a state of spiritual lethargy, thereby ceasing to fulfil his spiritual responsibilities towards YHWH This was brought out by the fact that, unlike the old David, he preferred to linger in Jerusalem in a state of boredom and spiritual emptiness rather than be out on the front line.

We must not be deceived. What David did with Bathsheba was not the momentary failure of a strongly tempted man. It was the direct result of his spiritual lethargy and growing royal arrogance. And the whole incident reveals what a sad condition he had fallen into, for it reveals the picture of a man who was saying to himself, ‘I am now the king. I can do what I like. Nothing can be withheld from me. I am master of all I survey.’ That indeed was why he was still in Jerusalem. It was because he no longer felt it necessary to fulfil his obligations towards YHWH and towards his people. That could now be left to others as he himself enjoyed a life of lazy indolence. After all, he no doubt argued to himself, he had earned it. But like Moses when he arrogantly and disobediently struck the rock in the Wilderness of Sin (Numbers 20.6-12), David too had become arrogant and disobedient, and like Moses would have to suffer the consequences of forgiven sin.

SECTION 7. David Falls Into Great Sin Whilst The Ammonites Are Being Defeated (11.1-12.31).

Having summarised the glories of David’s reign the writer now considers its dark side. Chapters 11-12 form a unit in themselves as is clear from their chiastic structure, and they cover both the final defeat of the Ammonites, which finalises David’s external conquests, and the great sins that he committed while in a state of spiritual lethargy.

Analysis.

  • a David sends Joab to besiege Rabbah (11.1).
  • b David lies with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, with the result that she becomes pregnant (11.2-5).
  • c David arranges for the death of Uriah the Hittite so as to cover up his sin (11.6-17).
  • d Joab sends David a message to let him know that Uriah is dead (11.18-27a).
  • e YHWH is displeased with David (11.27b).
  • d YHWH sends a message to David through Nathan the prophet in order to let him know that YHWH knows why Uriah is dead (12.1-14).
  • c David's infant son dies as a consequence of David’s sin (12.15-23).
  • b David lies with Bathsheba, who is now his wife, with the result that she becomes pregnant (12.24-25).
  • a Joab sends for David to come and besiege Rabbah (12.26-31).

The section then divides up into a number of smaller units.

David Sinks Into Spiritual Apathy Which Results In Mounting Sins Of The Most Serious Kind (11.1-17).

In this chapter we are brought face to face with a David who had clearly fallen out of touch with YHWH. Nothing else can explain why he so continually ignored YHWH’s clear commandments. It can in fact only be seen as resulting from the fact that he had fallen into a state of complete spiritual insensibility, totally unlike the picture that we have of him elsewhere, both in this book and in the Psalms. This is evidenced by his continual persistence in a course of action which no spiritually sensitive man could even have contemplated.

What then brought about this abject failure on David’s part? The answer provided by the writer would seem to be that it arose because, having been so successful for so long, he decided to rest on his laurels and leave the battles to others. He took a long break from his responsibilities so as to enjoy his royal privileges. He began to see himself as important and to forget that he was but a servant of YHWH. And the result was that he grew slack in his attitude towards YHWH and discovered that Satan would provide plenty of work for his idle hands to do. This is immediately and deliberately brought out by the writer when he points out that ‘in the time when kings go forth to battle’ David ‘stayed in Jerusalem’ and left the battles to others, something which the writer deliberately contrasts with the zeal of Uriah who insisted on remaining in combat readiness even when in Jerusalem, which was the place where he and his wife lived, and in the face of every attempt to make him do otherwise. The truth, of course, was that the king should have been out directing his troops unless he had other equally urgent business on hand. What he should not have been doing was idling in his palace. The list of David’s other failures which then result from this is quite frightening.

  • The first is that ‘he saw a woman bathing.’ Now in Israel women did not bathe in the open air, they did it in the privacy of their apartments. So what this tells us is that David had become a ‘peeping Tom’. Not that he probably set out to be. His first glance was probably quite accidental as he noticed through the window (unglazed) of the house opposite the palace a woman bathing. But what any decent Israelite would then have done would have been to ensure that he did not, by his interest, intrude on the woman’s privacy again. To deliberately look on a woman’s nakedness was considered to be a great sin unless you were married to her (even if she was herself unmarried) to a far greater extent than it is today. It was seen as a total betrayal of decency, and almost in terms of those days, a kind of rape, and was almost certainly punishable at law. (In Genesis 9.20-27 it was Ham’s lingering on the fact of his father’s nakedness that brought him under the curse of God). A bored David, however, decided to ignore God’s commands concerning the matter and take a longer look, gazing in at the window because he noticed that the woman was very beautiful. Indeed he deliberately sought to take it all in knowing in himself how distasteful and disreputable it was. It was inexcusable.
  • The next thing was that he enquired after the woman. He must have been quite well aware that the woman was of an age when she would be married. Indeed we get the impression from the speed at which he acted that he was not too concerned about the fact. He was idle. He had nothing to do. And he had a harem full of beautiful women. But he was looking for something more exciting, and what more exciting than eating forbidden fruit? So he deliberately continued on his downward path. (There can be no excuse. Even a king in Israel knew that he must marry a woman before having sexual relations with her, whilst this was clearly only intended to be a one night stand).
  • It is then stressed that he learned who she was, and that she was the wife of one of his own finest warriors who was away fighting for him in the war against Ammon, and yet he still did not hesitate. Indeed it seems that he even saw it as a bit of luck. His lusts had been aroused, and he had deliberately fed them. He was no longer thinking straightly. Sin had him in its grip. There are absolutely no grounds for excusing him. He deliberately intended to do what he knew to be wrong, engage in adultery with the wife of a loyal subject, and that as one who lived in a society where adultery was seen as a major crime against YHWH Himself. And he was himself fully aware of the law on the matter. Indeed seeing adultery as a crime was not simply limited to Israel. It was seen as a major crime in most societies. Thus the law code of Hammurabi says, ‘if the wife of a citizen is taken cohabiting with another male, they shall both be bound and cast into the water’ (the normal method of execution in that law code). The deliberate nature of David’s act is brought out by the writer. Having sent messengers to her explaining that the king wanted to see her, ‘he took her, and she came in to him, and he lay with her’. The threefoldness emphasises the deliberateness of the sin. And it all occurred because he was taking time off from serving YHWH.
  • The writer then delicately brings out the heinousness of David’s sin in YHWH’s eyes when he says, ‘for she was purified from her uncleanness’. This mention of being purified from a minor element of ritual uncleanness (suggesting that her bathing had been after she had had her period) stands in stark contrast to the blackness and evil of David’s sin. Here was a pure woman concerned to please YHWH, who, having become ritually ‘clean’, is to be dragged into the deepest possible level of uncleanness by David’s activity. The pure woman of Israel is to be despoiled.
  • Then, having despoiled the woman, and having almost dismissed it from his mind (after all what was the point of being a king if you could not have what you wanted?) David went on quite happily with his life. He saw it as just a brief and fleeting incident in his life, which could now to be forgotten, almost like eating a fig (he did not even have the excuse of a hopeless passion). He seems to have made no further attempt to see Bathsheba. After all, that might have caused a scandal, and he did not want to do that. But then two or three months later he received a note from Bathsheba which shook him to the core. She was pregnant at his hands, and that certainly would cause a scandal. However, he did not foresee any serious problem. All he had to do was cover it up by calling for the loyal and luckless Uriah to return from the battlefield and letting him sleep with his wife. Who then could prove for certain who the father was?
  • But there was one problem that he had not foreseen. Uriah was an upright man of great integrity and loyalty. Unlike David he could not forget that his comrades were on the battlefield facing death every day. Thus he remembered that he was on active service and refused (unlike David) to take time off. He slept in the guard room of the palace with the soldiery. Keeping oneself from women was seen as religiously important when undergoing serious missions (compare 1 Samuel 21.4-5), and he would not let his comrades, and David, down, even when David made him drunk hoping that it would change his mind.
  • Driven almost mad by the fear that the truth might come out David then recognised that his only hope was to arrange for Uriah’s speedy death. It was the only solution to the problem, for if Uriah was not there to testify who else would query the source of the baby? He was desperate. How sin clouds the mind. But in Israel even he could not arrange people’s deaths with impunity. So he recognised that there was only one thing to do, and that was to arrange for a ‘planned accident’. Accordingly he sent Uriah back to Joab a doomed man, bearing a note which made quite clear to Joab, under sealed military orders, what he wanted him to do. Make sure that Uriah died on the battlefield. After all, Joab was his nephew. He knew that he could trust Joab. Thus he was seeking to implicate Joab, as well as himself, in the murder. He was making his nephew, to whom he should have been an example, into a murderer. He no doubt felt sure that Joab, the ‘hard’ man (3.39), would do it without a qualm. (What dreadful things people will do when they are seeking to cover up for their sins).
  • Joab in fact appears to have had more of a conscience than David. He did not specifically follow out David’s cowardly orders. Nevertheless it was simple to arrange for Uriah to be put in the fiercest part of the battle, for, after all, someone had to be there, and Uriah was the kind of loyal soldier who would have volunteered for it. Even that did not work, however, until Joab or one of his officers made a tactical blunder and allowed the besieging troops to linger too close to the wall of the besieged city when they were dealing with a foray, (perhaps because Joab was so eager to see Uriah dead). And the consequence was that many of David’s faithful men died, as well as Uriah. It was multiple murder.
  • The final sin was that when David heard of the deaths of his loyal soldiers, instead of being angry he dismissed the matter, simply because it had resulted in his foul purpose being accomplished. And this from a man who had always in the past had the greatest concern and respect for his men! And all because of a one night stand which had resulted from his not fulfilling his duties as a king! But at least he was satisfied that the matter was now over. His secret sin was now quietly covered up and no one would ever know the truth. He could marry the woman and adopt the child. No one would ever guess. And after all he was only doing what other kings did all the time. It is a further indication of his sad state that he never even considered what YHWH would think about the matter. It emphatically brings out that he was in a state of sad spiritual declension.

Analysis.

  • a And it came about, at the return of the year, at the time when kings go out to battle, that David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel, and they destroyed the children of Ammon, and besieged Rabbah. But David stayed at Jerusalem (11.1).
  • b And it came about at eventide, that David arose from off his bed, and walked on the roof of the king’s house, and from the roof he saw a woman bathing, and the woman was very beautiful to look on (11.2).
  • c And David sent and enquired after the woman. And one said, ‘Is not this Bath–sheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?’ (11.3).
  • d And David sent messengers, and took her, and she came in to him, and he lay with her (for she was purified from her uncleanness), and she returned to her house. And the woman conceived, and she sent and told David, and said, “I am with child” (11.4-5).
  • e And David sent to Joab, saying, “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent Uriah to David (11.6).
  • f And when Uriah was come to him, David asked of him how Joab did, and how the people fared, and how the war prospered (11.7).
  • g And David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house, and wash your feet.” And Uriah departed out of the king’s house, and there followed him a mess of food from the king (11.8).
  • h But Uriah slept at the door of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and went not down to his house (11.9).
  • g And when they had told David, saying, “Uriah did not go down to his house,” David said to Uriah, “Have you not come from a journey? Why did you not go down to your house?” (11.10).
  • f And Uriah said to David, “The ark, and Israel, and Judah, abide in tents, and my lord Joab, and the servants of my lord, are encamped in the open field, shall I then go into my house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do this thing” (11.11).
  • e And David said to Uriah, “Remain here today also, and tomorrow I will let you depart.” So Uriah abode in Jerusalem that day, and on the following day (11.12).
  • d And when David had called him, he ate and drank before him, and he made him drunk, and at eventide he went out to lie on his bed with the servants of his lord, but did not go down to his house. (11.13).
  • c And it came about in the morning, that David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah. And he wrote in the letter, saying, “Set you Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle, and you retire from him, that he may be smitten, and die” (11.14-15).
  • b And it came about, when Joab kept watch on the city, that he assigned Uriah to the place where he knew that valiant men were (11.16).
  • a And the men of the city went out, and fought with Joab, and there fell some of the people, even of the servants of David, and Uriah the Hittite died also (11.17)

Note that the parallels bring out the contrast between the lazy indolence of David and the intense activity of those who were fighting for YHWH and Israel. In ‘a’ Joab went with all Israel and besieged Rabbah, while David was lingering at Jerusalem, and in the parallel the men of the city fought back, whilst Uriah was being killed. In ‘b’ David was watching a beautiful but forbidden woman while in the parallel Joab was watching the city and concentrating on the battle. In ‘c’ David enquires after the woman and discovers that she is the wife of Uriah the Hittite, and in the parallel he calls for Uriah’s death to be arranged. In ‘d’ David lay with the woman and she conceived, and in the parallel Uriah lay in the guard house with David’s servants, refusing to go home to her because he saw it as his duty. In ‘e’ David calls for Uriah to be sent to him in Jerusalem, and in the parallel he calls on him to remain in Jerusalem. In ‘f’ David discusses the war with Uriah, and in the parallel Uriah describes the details of the war. In ‘g’ David tells Uriah to go down to his house, and in the parallel he learns that he did not go down to his house. Centrally in ‘h’ the noble Uriah sleeps in the guard house and refuses to enjoy the luxury of his home and wife.

2.11.1 ‘And it came about, at the return of the year, at the time when kings go out (to battle), that David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel, and they destroyed the children of Ammon, and besieged Rabbah. But David stayed at Jerusalem.’

The return of the year was the period after the rains when men were relatively free from the requirements of the land, and when the roads were most suitable for travel. It was thus the time of the year when kings ‘go out’ (on looting expeditions or to battle). This is deliberately set in contrast with the fact that David did not ‘go out’. He ‘stayed at Jerusalem’ and sent Joab, together with his commanders and officers (his servants) and all Israel instead. He wanted to take it easy.

The purpose of their ‘going out’ was probably in order to avenge the insult described in 10.4-5, when David’s messengers had been shamed. The Aramaeans having finally been subdued it was now time for the Ammonites to get what they had asked for. And the result was that the Ammonites as a whole were ‘destroyed’. That is, their towns and villages were taken and put to the sword, with the result that large numbers of the people fled for refuge to the strong fortress city of Rabbah, the capital city of Ammon. Now it was a matter of reducing Rabbah.

2.11.2 ‘And it came about at eventide, that David arose from off his bed, and walked on the roof of the king’s house, and from the roof he saw a woman bathing, and the woman was very beautiful to look on.’

Meanwhile David was lounging in his bed, bored and with nothing to do. And when evening came he climbed to the roof of his palace for a stroll in the fading light. It was then that fate struck. For he saw through a window of a house opposite a woman bathing. This would be drawn to his attention because, as it was getting dark, the woman’s servants had lit her oil lamps with the result that attention was drawn to her window which was lit up in the gloom. And in the dim light he realised that she was very beautiful.

No respectable woman would have bathed in the open in those days, for such a woman would have kept herself covered up at all times. Being provocative was only for prostitutes. Thus David should immediately have recognised her innocence and respected her privacy, turning away before he even realised that she was beautiful. To look on a woman’s (even partial) nakedness in those days was a very serious matter, far more serious matter then than it is today. It was the equivalent of rape. David would have been aware of this, but he was bored and so he took advantage of the situation, thereby sinning deeply.

Others consider that ‘at eventide’ simply means after the mid-day siesta and that it was therefore afternoon, and that the woman was bathing in the enclosed courtyard of her house where there would be a fountain which she saw as private, but which was visible from the roof of the palace. This, however, suggests a laxity that would not have been likely in a respectable woman of that day, especially as, even if she ignored her own servants, she would surely be well aware that she could be seen from the upper part of the palace.

It is not really likely that she was seeking to catch the king’s attention, as she would have no reason to think that he might be interested, and may well have thought that such an austere king would only punish someone who was careless about revealing their own nakedness. After all, she would argue, he had available to him the most beautiful women of the land. Besides she would not know who might be on the roof of the palace. We really cannot turn the blame on Bathsheba.

2.11.3 ‘And David sent and enquired after the woman. And one said, “Is not this Bath–sheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” ’

But David not only sinned by gazing at her nakedness (even if she was partly dressed), he went even further. For he sent for his servants and enquired about the woman, and learned that she was the wife of Uriah the Hittite, one of his faithful military officers. That should certainly have quenched his interest, for otherwise he would be both contemplating forbidden adultery, which in any ordinary person was punishable by death, while at the same time being disloyal to one of his own officers, something which was contrary to his own deepest principles. It would thus be a heinous sin against YHWH, and an act of gross disloyalty and treachery as well. The fact that he even considered it demonstrated his sad spiritual condition.

1 Chronicles 3.5 has Bath-shua (daughter of opulence) for Bath-sheba (seventh daughter, or daughter of an oath) and Ammi-el (my people are of God) for Eli-am (the God of my people). It was not uncommon for people to have two names, and Bathsheba may well have been renamed on her marriage (compare Genesis 26.34 with 36.2-3). If Ahithophel was her grandfather she certainly came from a wealthy family, and she equally certainly became a ‘daughter of opulence’ when she married David. Uriah was the kind of man who may well have altered his wife’s name to Bathsheba in celebration of their marriage oaths, something which was commonly done. The change from Eli-am to Ammi-el simply results from switching the syllables round. Both names signify the same idea, ‘My people are of God’ or ‘the people of my God’, and both names were probably in use by him. If Eliam was the mighty man of 23.34 then Bathsheba was the granddaughter of Ahithophel, which may help to explain Ahithophel’s part in Absalom’s rebellion.

The fact that Uriah is called ‘the Hittite’ may indicate that he was descended from one of the mixed multitude in Exodus 12.38, or that he was descended from the ancient Hittites who had been in the land for generations and was a convert to YHWH, or that he came from a Hittite family which had come to sojourn in Israel after the demise of the Hittite Empire. Whichever is the case he had become a Yahwist (his name means ‘Yah is my light’), and had been integrated into Israelite society. He was one of David’s acknowledged mighty men (23.39).

2.11.4 ‘And David sent messengers, and took her, and she came in to him, and he lay with her (for she was purified from her uncleanness), and she returned to her house.’

But David was not to be denied his pleasure, whoever Bathsheba’s husband might be, and in his supreme royal arrogance he sent messengers and ‘took her, and she came into him, and he lay with her’. The threefold description brings out the completeness of his sin. Lust had conceived and had brought forth sin (James 1.15). The fact that she had just purified herself after her period only accentuates his crime. She was pure, and he took her in her purity and defiled her, and himself as well. And then ‘she returned to her house’ a despoiled woman. It was all over with the minimum of fuss. No one need ever know anything about it.

2.11.5 ‘And the woman conceived, and she sent and told David, and said, “I am with child.”

But unfortunately for David there was a problem that he had not foreseen, for the woman conceived. Notice the continued emphasis on her as ‘the woman’. There was nothing particularly personal about David’s action, it had just been a king misusing his position, having a fling and satisfying his lust. It was a one night stand, which ‘the woman’ could probably have done little about. You did not argue with the king. But the fact that she had conceived made all the difference. Now she could not just be overlooked. There were bound to be repercussions (her husband might well demand the death penalty for Bathsheba) and David’s name would be soiled. Because he was the law he himself, of course, would not be called to account for his adulterous act, which would normally be punishable by death, nor would Uriah be able to do anything about him. But Uriah could, and probably would, reject any child born and divorce his wife, or have her put to death, and either way great ignominy would undoubtedly come on David. He would thus be shunned by many of his men for what they would see as a despicable act and a betrayal of a loyal servant.

2.11.6 ‘And David sent to Joab, saying, “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent Uriah to David.’

The thought of all this was too much for David, so he conceived a simple plan. He would bring Uriah back to Jerusalem. Uriah would then make love to his wife, dates could be blurred, and who would then be able to say that the child was not Uriah’s? So David sent a messenger to Joab, saying, ‘Send me Uriah the Hittite,’ and naturally Joab did just that. No one had any cause to be suspicious.

2.11.7 ‘And when Uriah was come to him, David asked of him how Joab did, and how the people fared, and how the war prospered.’

When Uriah arrived he would report straight to David, and David enquired of him about the progress of the war. How was Joab doing? How were his people faring? How was the war going? They were simply the normal questions expected of a considerate king. Uriah probably felt honoured that David had called for him. (As one of David’s mighty men he had quite possibly shared his desert adventures and been with him in Philistia).

2.11.8 ‘And David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house, and wash your feet.” And Uriah departed out of the king’s house, and there followed him a present (mess of food and wine) from the king.’

Then David told Uriah to go home and wash his feet. That is, spruce himself up and make himself comfortable after his journey. Indeed reference to ‘the feet’ in Scripture regularly indicates more personal activities (see Exodus 4.25; Deuteronomy 28.57; Judges 3.24; 1 Samuel 24.3; Isaiah 7.20). And once Uriah had left the king’s presence, David sent after him some special delicacies in order to demonstrate his appreciation, no doubt not forgetting to include a skin of potent wine. He did all the things that a nice king would do. And it was all a lie.

2.11.9 ‘But Uriah slept at the door of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and went not down to his house.’

But unfortunately for David Uriah was of a different calibre than he had expected. For when he left the king’s presence, instead of going home he went to the officers’ mess and spent the night among the serving soldiers who were guarding the palace. In his view he was still on active service, and he did not want to let his men down by enjoying luxuries while they were camping out in the rough ground around Rabbah. Nor did he want to defile himself by lying with his wife, even if it was only a temporary defilement. It was not the soldierly thing to do (1 Samuel 21.5).

2.11.10 ‘And when they had told David, saying, “Uriah did not go down to his house,” David said to Uriah, “Have you not come from a journey? Why did you not go down to your house?” ’

We can imagine David’s chagrin when he learned from his servants that Uriah had not gone home to his wife. And, no doubt feeling a little annoyed, he sent for Uriah and asked him why, as he had come from a journey, he had not gone home in order to relax? Outwardly he still appeared to be the concerned king.

2.11.11 ‘And Uriah said to David, “The ark, and Israel, and Judah, abide in tents (booths), and my lord Joab, and the servants of my lord, are encamped in the open field, shall I then go into my house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do this thing.” ’

Uriah’s reply should have quickened his conscience. Indeed we can almost see Uriah standing stiffly to attention as he gives his reply. To him as a loyal officer it was inconceivable that he should enjoy the luxuries of home while the very Ark of God, and all Israel were living in tents (or more strictly ‘booths’ - in view of the length of the siege they may well have erected temporary booths), and Joab and his fellow-officers were encamped out in the open in rough surroundings. Indeed he felt so strongly about it that he asserted by an oath that there were no circumstances under which he would do it. His integrity, grit and loyalty stand in strong contrast with the king who had remained at home to enjoy his luxuries while his men went to battle.

The mention of the Ark and not lying with his wife may well also indicate a religious motive. He did not want to defile himself even for a day by lying with his wife, thus marring the total religious dedication of the Israelite forces. He was determined to maintain his total purity before YHWH. (How this must have stung at David’s conscience).

Although it may not be seen as strictly necessary, for the Ark did dwell in a tent all the time, the mention of the Ark in a tent in this context does suggest that the natural interpretation is that the Ark had gone with them to the battlefield, where it was in its own tent and under a cover. It was the symbol of YHWH’s presence with His people as YHWH of Hosts. Compare how it went into battle in 1 Samuel 4.4-9, and how Saul had considered requiring its presence in 1 Samuel 14.18 when about to make a major attack on the Philistines after Jonathan and his armourbearer had destroyed a Philistine garrison. See also Numbers 10.33-36 where the Ark leads the way for God’s people through the wilderness. Later the Arabs would regularly carry a similar ancient casket (although nor a covenant casket) into battle.

2.11.12 ‘And David said to Uriah, “Remain here today also, and tomorrow I will let you depart.” So Uriah abode in Jerusalem that day, and on the following day.’

Recognising that Uriah was obdurate David appeared to accept his argument and told him to remain ‘but another day’ and then he could return to his war duties. Uriah would probably think that the delay was due to the necessity to prepare despatches. There is absolutely no hint of any suspicion on his part. But the truth was that David still had another plan. He would get Uriah drunk, and then surely he would go home to his wife.

2.11.13 ‘And when David had called him, he ate and drank before him, and he made him drunk, and at eventide he went out to lie on his bed with the servants of his lord, but did not go down to his house.’

So later that day Uriah was invited to eat with the royal courtiers in the king’s palace, and there David ensured that he was plied with plenty of food and drink, so that he ended up at the end of the day drunk. But when night fell, drunk or not, Uriah simply returned to the guard-house with his fellow-officers. He did not go down to his house. He was probably very grateful to the king for his generosity. What a nice king. It would never have crossed his mind that by his failure to go home he was signing his own death sentence.

2.11.14 ‘And it came about in the morning, that David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah.’

The next day he reported to David in accordance with what had been agreed (verse 12) in order to receive the despatches that he would be required to take to Joab. And with them he received a personal letter to Joab, written by the king himself. (David would not want anyone to know what he had written).

2.11.15 ‘And he wrote in the letter, saying, “Set you Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle, and retire you from him, that he may be smitten, and die.” ’

Little did Uriah know what David had written. Indeed it is a sign of how kingship and luxury had for a short while dragged David down and seared his conscience. For what the letter required of Joab was a straightforward act of treachery and murder. He was to send Uriah to the hottest part of the battlefield, and then suddenly withdraw his supporting troops leaving Uriah exposed so that he would be smitten and killed. The sheer callousness of it can only make us grow cold. Indeed, as we shall see, even the hardened Joab shrank from doing it. He was prepared to send him where the battle was fiercest, after all someone had to be sent there, but he was not prepared to actually betray him on the battlefield. In fact he probably recognised how difficult it would be to persuade any of his men to do it. They would be totally unwilling to betray a good and loyal officer. How Joab must have sneered in his heart at David’s words. David had so often made him feel guilty, and now here was David doing something that even Joab shrank from. That was the trouble with these very religious men. In the end they turned out to be worse than anyone else.

2.11.16 ‘And it came about, when Joab kept watch on the city, that he assigned Uriah to the place where he knew that valiant men were.’

Joab obeyed half his instructions. Watching the course of the fighting carefully he sent Uriah into battle where the most valiant men were fighting because it was the most dangerous place to be. And that would have been in accord with Uriah’s own wishes. He had proved himself that kind of man. But even Joab would not betray his comrade-in-arms on the battlefield.

We may see these words as signifying that he placed him in a position where he would face the finest warriors inside the city as they came out on a sortie, or simply as putting him among the valiant men of Israel selected out for the most dangerous assignments. Indeed, it is difficult to see how there could be any particular spot where such valiant men could uniquely emerge, unless among a number of gates, one was known to be manned by an elite group.

2.11.17 ‘And the men of the city went out, and fought with Joab, and there fell some of the people, even of the servants of David, and Uriah the Hittite died also.’

The battle grew hot and a party came out of the city to engage with the Israelites, and there they fought with Joab and his men, before again withdrawing inside the city gates. One of their aims was to draw the opposing troops under the city wall where they could be shot at by the archers and slingers stationed on the walls. The valiant men of Israel then obliged, and pressed up to the gates, eager to pursue the enemy. And Joab, who should have stopped them, did not do so. It is doubtful if he ordered them to pursue the enemy up to the walls, for that would have counted against him, but it is very possible that he saw what was happening and knew that he should have sounded the retreat so that his men would not come under the threat of the arrows and missiles from the walls, but deliberately delayed, having in mind what David had asked of him, in the hope that Uriah would be killed. And sure enough that was what inevitably happened. Uriah was killed. But so were many of the valiant men who were fighting alongside him. The insidious plot had thus become multiple murder of some of Israel’s finest warriors. That is how sin goes.

Note how the writer finishes off with the indication that David’s dastardly plot had succeeded. ‘And Uriah the Hittite died also.’ He likes these succint added statements. Compare ‘and the thing which David had done displeased YHWH’ in verse 27. (See also ‘and Asahel’ in 2.30).

David Gladly Receives The News That Uriah Is Dead And Weds Bathsheba, But Is Blissfully Unaware Of The Dark Shadow That Is Hanging Over Him (11.18-27).

The writer now skilfully highlights the callousness of David in his present mood, a David who was no longer concerned for the lives of his men but was simply satisfied with the fact that, at the cost of a few men’s lives, he had managed to cover over his own sin so that there would be no repercussions. Whatever some may have suspected he was confident that no one knew anything for certain. Joab was aware that the king wanted Uriah punished by death, but he would not know the reason for it, although he no doubt took note of David’s subsequent marriage to Uriah’s wife. Even that, however, could have been an act of compassion, a taking of her under his protection because of Uriah’s past loyalty. David’s personal servants no doubt knew of his dalliance, but they would not know of what followed. They would just think that David had been ‘lucky’, and were possibly pleased for him. But as the writer draws out, there was One Who knew all, One Who had seen everything, and that was YHWH, and He was not pleased at all. The writer puts in one succint sentence the explanation for all the catastrophes that will follow, ‘But the thing that David had done displeased YHWH.’

Analysis.

  • a Then Joab sent and told David all the things concerning the war, and he charged the messenger, saying, “When you have made an end of telling all the things concerning the war to the king, it shall be that, if the king’s wrath arise, and he say to you, “Why did you go near to the city to fight? Did you not know that they would shoot from the wall? Who smote Abimelech the son of Jerubbesheth? Did not a woman cast an upper millstone on him from the wall, so that he died at Thebez? Why did you go so near the wall?” (11.18-21a).
  • b “Then shall you say, Your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also” (11.21b).
  • c So the messenger went, and came and showed David all that Joab had sent him for (11.22).
  • d And the messenger said to David, “The men prevailed against us, and came out to us into the open, and we were on them even to the entrance of the gate. And the archers shot at your servants from off the wall, and some of the king’s servants are dead, and your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also” (11.23-24).
  • c Then David said to the messenger, “Thus shall you say to Joab, ‘Do not let this thing upset you, for the sword devours one as well as another. Make your battle more strong against the city, and overthrow it,’ and do you encourage him” (11.25).
  • b And when the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead, she made lamentation for her husband (11.26).
  • a And when the mourning was past, David sent and took her home to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased YHWH (11.27).

Note that in ‘a’ Joab is concerned lest David is displeased with what he has done and might cite a woman as the cause of his displeasure, a woman who caused the death of Ahimelech, and in the parallel David takes a woman for himself, a woman who has caused the death of Uriah, and is no doubt pleased with what he has done, but causes YHWH great displeasure (and YHWH will later cite the woman as being the cause of His displeasure). In ‘b’ the news is to given that Uriah the Hittite is dead, and in the parallel Uriah’s wife hears that Uriah is dead and laments the fact. In ‘c’ the messenger comes to David with Joab’s message, and in the parallel he returns to Joab with David’s message. Central in ‘d’ comes the news that Uriah is dead, along with the description of what caused Uriah’s death.

2.11.18-21a ‘Then Joab sent and told David all the things concerning the war, and he charged the messenger, saying, “When you have made an end of telling all the things concerning the war to the king, it shall be that, if the king’s wrath arise, and he say to you, “Why did you go near to the city to fight? Did you not know that they would shoot from the wall? Who smote Abimelech the son of Jerubbesheth? Did not a woman cast an upper millstone on him from the wall, so that he died at Thebez? Why did you go so near the wall?”

Joab now sent a messenger to explain to David ‘all the things concerning the war’. In them he admitted that he had made a seeming tactical error in allowing the men to fight too close to the city wall with the result that a number of men were lost. And then he suggested to the messenger that David might be angry and might cite to him the example of the woman who hurled a millstone on Abimelech when he went too close to the wall at Thebez (see Judges 9.52-53). This would suggest either that that story was regularly used as an illustration in the training of troops for siege warfare (why otherwise would Joab expect it to be cited?), or that Joab suspected that David’s request had been to do with a woman, thereby indicating that just as Abimelech had been slain by a woman when he went too near the walls, so had these men basically been slain by a woman when they went too near the walls of Rabbah.

‘Abimelech the son of Jerubbesheth.’ Jerubbesheth is, of course, the same as Jerubbaal (Judges 8.35). Thus we have here another example of where ‘baal’ in a name is replaced by ‘bosheth’, as with Esh-baal and Meri-baal who became Ishbosheth and Mephibosheth. But it only occurs in Samuel. It is another trait of the writer.

2.11.21b “Then shall you say, Your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also.”

And then Joab told the messenger that if David was angry at the news of such deaths he was to tell him that “Your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also.” It is clear that Joab expected that that would allay the king’s anger, an anger which he anticipated, and which poignantly would not later be described as forthcoming. The messenger probably thought that Joab was simply pointing out that the officer who had made the error had also died, and had thus paid the price for his error, but Joab and David would know differently.

2.11.22 ‘So the messenger went, and came and showed David all that Joab had sent him for.’

The messenger accordingly did as he was commanded and came to David and showed him all that Joab had sent him to relate.

2.11.23-24 ‘And the messenger said to David, “The men prevailed against us, and came out to us into the open, and we were on them even to the entrance of the gate. And the archers shot at your servants from off the wall, and some of the king’s servants are dead, and your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also.” ’

He then explained what had happened. This explanation might be simply a summary of a more detailed conversation, for Joab had only told him to mention Uriah’s death if it proved necessary. On the other hand it may simply be that as a soldier the messenger considered it a necessary part of his message to indicate that the officer in charge had perished for his mistake. He would not realise how loaded the last few words were.

2.11.25 ‘Then David said to the messenger, “Thus shall you say to Joab, ‘Do not let this thing upset you, for the sword devours one as well as another. Make your battle more strong against the city, and overthrow it,’ and do you encourage him.” ’

The impression given is that David was so pleased at the news about Uriah’s death that he did not react to the news about the reason for so many fatalities. Instead he glided over the fact and treated it as a matter of course. What were a few lives if Uriah had been got rid of? This is brought out by his glibly citing a proverb, ‘the sword devours one as well as another’. Having then sent assurance to Joab, David exhorted him to intensify his attempts to take the city and to overthrow it. And he asked the messenger to ‘encourage Joab’, that is, assure him of the king’s pleasure at what he was doing, and had done.

2.11.26 ‘And when the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead, she made lamentation for her husband.’

When the news reached ‘the wife of Uriah’ of the death of her husband she went into the necessary period of mourning, and would no doubt have arranged for loud lamentations by professional mourners according to custom (compare Genesis 50.10; 1 Samuel 31.13). It may well be that her mourning was genuine. It should be noted that there is nowhere any suggestion that she was at fault. It is very questionable whether, once the king had given his commands, she would have dared to disobey them. She may genuinely have loved her husband.

We should note also that Bathsheba’s name is only mentioned once in the chapter, and that was when her identity was being explained in answer to the king’s request (verse 3), otherwise she has simply been described as ‘the wife of Uriah’. This may well have been because the writer was underlining all the way through that she was a married woman, either to accentuate David’s guilt or as an indication of her shame. She is not again spoken of by name (even on her marriage) until after the child has died (12.24).

2.11.27a ‘And when the mourning was past, David sent and took her home to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son.’

When her mourning period was over David sent for her and took her to his home and she became his wife, and bore a son (the child of adultery). This would, of course, be the necessary thing to do, in order that the son might become legitimately David’s son, and it would preserve her from her shame. It also prevented Bathsheba from breathing a word to anyone about what the true situation was. David could thus now relax, confident that his secret lapse was well covered up, and that no one would ever know. It must have been a huge relief. It had taken some manoeuvring, but now at last he could get on with his life.

Note the contrast with 1 Samuel 25.42-43 where when David’s first marriages were described the full details of the wife’s name and heritage were given. Here he has simply married ‘the wife of Uriah’. It has merely been a matter of convenience and adultery. There is no sense of pride here.

2.11.27b ‘And the thing that David had done displeased YHWH.’

Like a bombshell falling into the narrative the writer now tacks on a final clause. On one else knew what David had done, bur there was One Who did know. ‘The thing that David had done displeased YHWH.’ And yet David appears to have been oblivious, even to the possibility. It is a sad indication of David’s spiritual and moral state at this time that this thought seems never to have struck him. He had committed two crimes which according to the Law (and throughout most of the Ancient Near East) were punishable by death, and yet he appeared to be perfectly complacent. It is clear that this was not a matter of a temporary lapse. It was indicative of a backslidden state of his heart at the time. It revealed that he had become complacent, had begun to feel that as king he could do what he liked, and could sweep aside YHWH’s requirements, and that he felt that he was beyond the reach of any possible repercussions. How wrong he was now to be proved to be.

‘And the thing that David had done displeased YHWH.’ This sentence (in both senses of the term) will continue to govern his life from now on and will be reflected in the catastrophes that will fall on a number of his sons. The sins of the father will be visited on the children, not as a result of an arbitrary judgment, but because the father’s example will affect the behaviour of his children, bringing his sins upon them. Each would behave with the same arrogance as their father, and in the end would be able to say to their father, ‘we were only following your example’ as they suffered the consequences of their sins. And these men were intercessory priests of YHWH! (8.18). Oh David! What have you done to your own family?

Consider the nature of some of the consequences (all, apart from the first, resulting from the same royal arrogance as David had demonstrated towards Bathsheba and Uriah):

  • The son to be born will die (12.14).
  • Amnon, David’s firstborn, will rape his half-sister (David’s daughter) and then reject her (13.11-16).
  • Absalom, David’s third son, will arrange for the assassination of his brother Amnon (13.22-29).
  • Absalom, beloved of his father (18.33), will, partly because of his resulting estrangement from his father and recognition that he will probably no longer be allowed to succeed David, rebel against David and seek to take the throne (15.10-18.33).
  • Absalom will take over his father’s concubines and have sexual relations with them quite openly in the sight of the people (16.22)
  • Adonijah, David’s fourth son, no doubt having Absalom’s rebellion in mind, will surreptitiously seek to pre-empt the succession while his father is still alive (1 Kings 1.5-11), and will subsequently seek marriage to David’s bed-warmer, Abishag (1 Kings 1.1-4; 2.17), resulting in his own death.

Thus from this time on there would be no settled peace for the house of David in respect of which so much had been promised. It will be riddled with both sexual misbehaviour and violence. Some have suggested that the four sons represent the fourfold restitution that David had to make to YHWH for Uriah’s life as a result of his crime in accordance with his response to the parable in 12.6.

Through Nathan The Prophet YHWH Calls David To Account For His Sins (12.1-15a).

David should have been aware that YHWH knew his secret sins. He said so often enough in his Psalms. But it is a sign of how hardened even the most spiritual person can become to the truth about himself that David appears to have felt no qualms about the appalling behaviour in which he had been involved. After all, affairs were going well at Rabbah, he now had Bathsheba as his wife, he was looking forward to the birth of (hopefully) a new son, and all seemed well. Thus when he learned that Nathan the Prophet wanted to see him he probably felt quite at peace.

But he was soon to be disillusioned. For with a vivid and moving parable Nathan brought home to him the despicable nature of his sin, and that YHWH knew all about it. And he made him condemn himself, after which he was to learn of the judgment of YHWH that was to be upon him.

Analysis.

  • a And YHWH sent Nathan to David (12.1a).
  • b And he came to him, and said to him, “There were two men in one city, the one rich, and the other poor. The rich man had a great many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing, apart from one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up. And it grew up together with him, and with his children. It ate of his own morsel, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was to him as a daughter. And there came a traveller to the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man who was come to him, but took the poor man’s lamb, and dressed it for the man who was come to him” (12.1b-4).
  • c And David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As YHWH lives, the man who has done this is worthy to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity” (12.5-6).
  • d And Nathan said to David, “You are the man.”
  • e “Thus says YHWH, the God of Israel, I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul, and I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah, and if that had been too little, I would have added unto you such and such things” (12.7-8).
  • f “Why therefore have you despised the word of YHWH, to do what is evil in his sight? You have smitten Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife” (12.9-10).
  • e “Thus says YHWH, Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house, and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbour, and he will lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun” (12.11-12).
  • d And David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against YHWH” (12.13a).
  • c And Nathan said to David, “YHWH also has put away your sin. You will not die” (12.13b).
  • b “However, because by this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of YHWH to blaspheme, the child also which is born to you will surely die” (12.14).
  • a And Nathan departed to his house (12.15a).

Note that in ‘a’ YHWH sends Nathan to David, and in the parallel Nathan returns to his house having imparted the word of YHWH. In ‘b’ Nathan tells the story of the behaviour of the rich man who unscrupulously slew the lamb of the poor man, and in the parallel he declares that similarly David’s behaviour has given occasion to the enemies of YHWH to blaspheme. In ‘c’ David declares that the rich man deserves to die, and in the parallel Nathan confirms to David that YHWH has put away his sin so that, while he deserves to die, he will not. In ‘d’ Nathan says to David ‘you are the man’ and in the parallel David in return confesses, ‘I have sinned against YHWH’. In ‘e’ Nathan tells David how much of what was good YHWH had given him, including Saul’s wives and concubines, and in the parallel YHWH will give David what is evil, and David’s wives and concubines are to be taken from him in the sight of all. Centrally in ‘f’ his two great sins are described, he had smitten Uriah with the sword and had stolen his wife from him. The result is to be that his own house will similarly know the effects of the sword.

2.12.1a ‘And YHWH sent Nathan to David.’

In His displeasure YHWH sent Nathan the Prophet to David. The previous chapter has been full of the ‘sending’ of people. Now it was YHWH’s turn. This sending would appear to have been after the birth of the child (verse 14). Thus David had had a few months in which to consider his ways and repent. But instead he appears to have been impervious to the situation. The godly David of old had seemingly disappeared, and had been replaced by this arrogant stranger. How dangerous it is to be successful and to live at peace. For then it is not long before the conscience goes to sleep, unless we keep very close to God.

However, God was not only displeased, He was also gracious. He sent Nathan because He was concerned for David’s wellbeing. He wanted to bring David back to Himself. And so within the words of judgment we discover a core of mercy. David was not to receive the judgment that he was due to. He would not die. Nevertheless there had to be consequences.

We should acknowledge the courage of Nathan in coming boldly to confront the king. He would have been quite well aware that with David in the state that he was he might easily be executed. But we should also note that he did not just rush in like a bull at a gate. He approached him with great forethought. For the purpose of his coming was not in order to condemn, but in order to win him to repentance. So there was nothing thoughtless or arrogant about his approach. It was determined but carefully worked out. He was well aware that in order to win David ranting would be no good. He had to get him to condemn himself. (How careful we must be in our witnessing that we do not just blast people with our message, but think how we can approach them so as to lure them into condemning themselves)

2.12.1b-3 ‘And he came to him, and said to him, “There were two men in one city, the one rich, and the other poor. The rich man had a great many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing, apart from one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up. And it grew up together with him, and with his children. It ate of his own morsel, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was to him as a daughter.”

The beauty and applicability of this parable, comparing the position of the rich man in contrast with the poor man, cannot be denied, and it would especially appeal to the heart of David the shepherd. The rich man has a great many flocks and herds (wives and concubines) the poor man has only one little ewe lamb (Bathsheba). But because the poor man only had the one lamb he especially cherished it and loved it. It became the pet of the family and ate and drank with them and was like a daughter to him. Such treatment of pet lambs was quite common among pastoral people, especially those who had few possessions.

2.12.4 “And there came a traveller to the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man who was come to him, but took the poor man’s lamb, and dressed it for the man who was come to him.”

But when a traveller arrived at the rich man’s house the rich man did not want to spare any of his own lambs, and so he sent his servants to take the cherished lamb of the poor man, with the result that that little pet ewe lamb was killed and dressed to satisfy the traveller. The poignancy of the story can hardly fail to come over to us. Who with any heart would not have condemned the rich man? For the rich man’s act was clearly one of despicable arrogance and unforgivable callousness. Just like David’s.

2.12.5-6 ‘And David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As YHWH lives, the man who has done this is worthy to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.” ’

Not recognising that it was speaking about himself David was absolutely livid at what the rich man had done. Why, it was inexcusable. What kind of a man could do a thing like that? He was so incensed that he declared that such a man deserved to die (although if literally fulfilled that would have been against the Law), but as that was not permissible under the Law he should instead fulfil the Law and restore the lamb fourfold as the Law required of a thief (Exodus 22.1).

2.12.7-8 ‘And Nathan said to David, “You are the man. Thus says YHWH, the God of Israel, I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul, and I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah, and if that had been too little, I would have added unto you such and such things.” ’

And then to David’s total discomfort and horror Nathan looked him straight in the eye and declared, “YOU ARE THE MAN.” The words must have come crashing into David’s heart like a thunderbolt. He had thought that his sins had been covered up and now he realised that Nathan knew, and what was worse, it meant that YHWH knew, the YHWH Whom he had conveniently been forgetting. He felt totally ashamed. Oh yes, he had still attended regular worship, and had played his part as an intercessory priest. He had even no doubt been married in the presence of YHWH (for the umpteenth time). But his conscience had been carefully anaesthetised and he had probably convinced himself that for a king his action had not been so bad after all. But now he was being made to recognise the truth about himself.

Nathan then proceeded to give him a tongue-lashing from YHWH. He reminded him of all that YHWH, the God of Israel, had done for him. He had anointed him as king over Israel, He had delivered him from the hand of Saul, He had handed over to David the royal household that had been Saul’s and He had given him Saul’s wives and concubines (they naturally came with the crown. No king could allow a former king’s wives to be available to anyone else, for it could represent a threat to the throne. It did not necessarily mean that he treated them as wives on an intimate basis, only that he took them under his protection. But they were equally available to him if he wanted them). Indeed YHWH had given him the whole of Israel and Judah so that he could be king over them. And if that had not been enough He would have given him anything that he asked for, as long as it was within the Law. There was nothing that YHWH would not have done for him.

2.12.9 “Why therefore have you despised the word of YHWH, to do what is evil in his sight? You have smitten Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon.”

And what had David done in return? He had despised the word of YHWH by doing what was evil in His sight. He had caused to be smitten with the sword his faithful and loyal servant Uriah the Hittite, a man of the highest integrity, simply in order to hide his own sin. He had taken Uriah’s only beloved wife and, while Uriah was still alive, had committed adultery with her, and then he had finally taken her as his wife, after having arranged for Uriah to be slain with the sword of the children of Ammon, a victim to barbarians.

2.12.10 “Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.”

And now, because of what he had done, violent death and the sword would never depart from his house, and this was because he had despised YHWH and had taken Uriah’s wife to be his wife, in a way that was completely contrary to the Law.

It is a salutary lesson to us all that to sin is to ‘despise God’. Perhaps if we recognised more what sin is we would sin less. But the truth is that we despise God by assuming on His grace.

2.12.11 “Thus says YHWH, Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house, and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbour, and he will lie with your wives in the sight of this sun.”

And not only would his house be plagued with violent death, but YHWH would raise up evil against David himself. He would take his own wives before his eyes and give them to one who was close to him, and the one who was close to him would lie with them openly in the sight of the sun, where all could see,

2.12.12 “For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.”

And whereas David had taken Uriah’s wife secretly so that no one knew, his wives would be taken openly in such a way that everyone knew, both in earth and heaven (before all Israel and before the sun). This would be literally fulfilled when Absalom lay with David’s concubine wives in broad daylight and in the sight of all Israel (16.21-22).

2.12.13a ‘And David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against YHWH.”

Faced with the unexpected accusation and aware of how far he had fallen David made no denials. He had suddenly been brought to a halt in his wayward tracks, and was now turning back to his old allegiance, always a painful process. Nathan saw before him a broken man. He humbly acknowledged with a penitent heart that he had sinned deeply, and that against YHWH. This was the evidence of the spiritual greatness of David. Once he recognised what he had done he repented deeply and sought YHWH’s forgiveness, a repentance writ large in Psalm 51, ‘against You, You only, have I sinned’.

2.12.13b ‘And Nathan said to David, “YHWH also has put away your sin. You will not die.”

Then Nathan declared that in view of his repentance YHWH would not demand the death penalty that his sin deserved. He had indeed already put away his sin and would therefore not cause him to die.

2.12.14 “However, because by this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of YHWH to blaspheme, the child also which is born to you will surely die.”

Nevertheless he must not think that that was the end of the matter, for because what he had done had given occasion to YHWH’s enemies (the sceptics in the land as well as foreign enemies) to blaspheme and mock at believers, the son who had been born to him as a result of his adultery with Bathsheba would certainly die. That would be the first consequence of his sin. All would see that his sin was being punished. We do not need to see here that YHWH Himself struck a healthy child. The point was that in the course of nature this would happen to the child and YHWH would do nothing to prevent it. And yet in that mysterious way in which in the end all is of God, it was to be seen as YHWH’s judgment on David and his house, the firstfruits of premature death to a household which would from now on suffer premature deaths continually.

2.12.15a ‘And Nathan departed to his house.’

Having faithfully delivered his message Nathan strode from the palace leaving David to consider his ways, which we know from Psalm 51 he did thoroughly. David had now happily been shaken out of his religious complacency and had come back to YHWH. But at what a cost.

The Son Born Of Adultery Dies As YHWH Had Said (12.15b-23).

The first consequence of David’s sin was to be that the son born of his adultery would die. While it would be clear to all at the time that this was YHWH’s judgment on David, we do not need to see in this an indication that YHWH personally struck the child down in a direct act of judgment which would not otherwise have taken place. In fact we may probably presume that this death would actually have taken place in the natural course of events, for the writer in Samuel takes all natural events as resulting from YHWH’s activity as much as any other kind of events. To him YHWH had total control over all events in history which he saw as proceeding from His hand, no matter who or what was naturally responsible for it. All was under the sovereignty of God, even the nations who invaded Israel. Thus if anything happened the writer acknowledged that YHWH had done it. (The prophets had the same idea. ‘Shall evil come on a city, and YHWH has not done it?’ - Amos 3.6; compare also Isaiah 10.5-7 and often). For example, in chapter 24 it was in the writer’s view YHWH Who was said to have moved David to number Israel, whereas in 1 Chronicles 21.1 it was the Chronicler’s view that it was Satan. Both were, in fact, correct, but as seen from differing points of view. To the writer of Samuel anything that Satan did could only have occurred because YHWH permitted it, because YHWH is over all. To him YHWH is the cause of all that is and all that happens. He knows no second causes. The Chronicler sees the second cause. (The third cause was David’s renewed arrogance which was always an inevitable danger of greatness. If you would seek to be holy, do not seek to be great).

However, that the death of his son meant a great deal to David comes out in that he fasted and prayed and wept in the hope of persuading YHWH to keep the child from dying. He was genuinely concerned. But once the child had died he recognised that that was YHWH’s will and therefore humbly submitted himself to that will and accepted His punishment.

Analysis.

  • a And YHWH struck the child which Uriah’s wife bore to David, and it was very ill (12.15b).
  • b David therefore besought God for the child, and David fasted, and went in, and lay all night on the earth (12.16).
  • c And the elders of his house arose, and stood beside him, to raise him up from the earth, but he would not, nor did he eat bread with them (12.17).
  • d And it came about on the seventh day, that the child died. And the servants of David feared to tell him that the child was dead, for they said, “See, while the child was yet alive, we spoke to him, and he did not listen to our voice. How much will he then vex himself, if we tell him that the child is dead!” (12.18).
  • e But when David saw that his servants were whispering together, David perceived that the child was dead, and David said to his servants, “Is the child dead?” And they said, “He is dead” (12.19).
  • d Then David arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his clothing, and he came into the house of YHWH, and worshipped. Then he came to his own house, and when he required it, they set bread before him, and he ate (12.20).’
  • c Then his servants said to him, “What thing is this that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child, while it was alive, but when the child was dead, you rose and ate food” (12.21).
  • b And he said, “While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether YHWH will not be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ ” (12.22).
  • a “But now he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me” (12.23).

Note that in ‘a’ YHWH struck the child and he was very ill, and in the parallel the child was dead and would not return. In ‘b’ David prayed and fasted all night, and in the parallel he said that he had prayed and fasted hoping that the child may yet live. In ‘c’ the elders of his house tried to assist him and persuade him to eat, and in the parallel his servants wondered that he ate food now that the child was dead. In ‘d’ his servants feared that he would vex himself on knowing that the child was dead, while in the parallel in contrast he does the opposite. Centrally in ‘e’ it is confirmed that the child had died.

2.12.15b ‘And YHWH struck the child which Uriah’s wife bore to David, and it was very ill.’

As mentioned above any natural illness that struck the child would, to the writer and to those who surrounded David, have been seen as being from the hand of YHWH. Thus we need not see here a positive act of YHWH in striking down a healthy baby, while at the same time we can see it as an act of judgment. We may understand that the baby was born sickly and weak, which explains why it was very ill, and that what YHWH refrained from doing was hearing the prayer for healing. But to those living at that day it would be quite clear that ‘YHWH had smitten the baby’. It was obvious, for the baby was ‘smitten’ with illness and YHWH was to be seen as overall responsible for all that happened.

In the same way we may ourselves see certain events as indicating God’s judgment on us, while at the same time recognising that those events happen within the natural course of events. God’s judgments and natural happenings are often to be seen as intertwined. The earthquake may occur naturally, but what it signifies to us may well be that it is a sign of the judgment of God, for God has built His judgments into creation.

2.12.16 ‘David therefore besought God for the child, and David fasted, and went in, and lay all night on the earth.’

Recognising that the baby might die from its illness David went before YHWH and pleaded for the child’s life. And to that end he fasted, and prayed all night, lying on the earth before God. He was no longer the arrogant king, but the humble suppliant.

2.12.17 ‘And the elders of his house arose, and stood beside him, to raise him up from the earth, but he would not, nor did he eat bread with them.’

The leading servants in the household came to him to try to persuade him to rise up and eat some food, but he refused to do either and continued on in his attitude of prayer. He would not desist while the baby was alive and there was hope.

‘The elders of his house.’ These would be the older and wiser men among his servants who had known him for many years and were his trusted servants. They were probably the only ones who dared to approach David at such a time.

2.12.18 ‘And it came about on the seventh day, that the child died. And the servants of David feared to tell him that the child was dead, for they said, “See, while the child was yet alive, we spoke to him, and he did not listen to our voice. How much will he then vex himself, if we tell him that the child is dead!” ’

When therefore, after seven days, the baby died the servants were afraid to tell David because of what they feared that the news might do to him. In their view, as he had not listened to him while the baby was alive, he would be so distraught that the baby was dead he would be even less likely to listen to them. So they quietly discussed the matter among themselves, baffled as to what to do, and concerned for David’s reaction.

2.12.19 ‘But when David saw that his servants were whispering together, David perceived that the child was dead, and David said to his servants, “Is the child dead?” And they said, “He is dead.” ’

David, however, saw them whispering together, and probably saw them looking at him in a worried way, and it made him realise that it could only mean one thing, and that was that the baby was dead. And so he asked them straightly, ‘Is the baby dead?’ to which they replied, ‘Yes, he is dead.’

2.12.20 ‘Then David arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his clothing, and he came into the house of YHWH, and worshipped. Then he came to his own house, and when he required it, they set bread before him, and he ate.’

Then to their surprise instead of being so distraught that he collapsed, he arose, washed and anointed himself, changed his clothing and went into the house of YHWH and worshipped. Then he returned to his house, and when he required it they gave him food and he ate. To their great surprise he was behaving as though nothing had happened.

2.12.21 ‘Then his servants said to him, “What thing is this that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child, while it was alive, but when the child was dead, you rose and ate food.” ’

His servants were amazed. To them it all seemed the wrong way round. In their view he should have fasted and wept when the baby died. So they asked him why it was that he had fasted and wept for the baby while it was still alive, but then arose and ate food when he heard that it was dead.

2.12.22-23 ‘And he said, “While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether YHWH will not be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” ’

David’s reply was that while the baby had been alive he had hoped by his fasting and praying and weeping to cause YHWH to reveal His goodness and compassion towards him by allowing the baby to live. But once the baby had died that had lost its point. He knew then what YHWH’s will was. So what was the use of praying and fasting further? For he knew that he could not bring him back again by prayer. And he was then sure that while one day he would go to be with the baby, there was no way in which the baby would return to him on earth. He was simply referring to the grave, not to what lay beyond it. He would go to the grave just as his son had, but his son would not emerge from the grave (unlike his Greater Son Who would do just that).

It is a reminder that to David, once he was in his right mind, prayer was a meaningful exercise which he saw as being effective, not just a ritual to be gone through at the recognised times.

YHWH Demonstrates By Means Of The Birth Of Another Son Through Bathsheba That David Is Still Greatly Loved (12.24-25).

David might easily have begun to despair of the future as he remembered how sinful he had been and the dreadful things that he had done. Perhaps this would be the end of his hopes and of his success? But YHWH now graciously gave him two signs that his future in YHWH was secure, the first lay in the birth of another son, who was stated to be ‘the beloved of YHWH’, which convinced him that all was still well between him and YHWH, so much so that he called him Solomon, which means ‘peace’. The second lay in his personal success against the people of Ammon, which would prove that YHWH was still with him.

In this small passage he is assured that YHWH has set His love on Solomon, the son of David and Bathsheba, and has chosen him, and as evidence of that He sent Nathan to give the child a special name from Him. The name was Jedidiah, a name that meant ‘beloved of YHWH’. This was the special proof that, in spite of his sins, YHWH had not rejected the house of David as he had rejected the house of Saul.

Analysis.

  • a And David comforted Bath-sheba his wife, and went in to her, and lay with her, and she bore a son, and he called his name Solomon (12.24a).
  • b And YHWH loved him (12.24b).
  • a And he sent by the hand of Nathan the prophet, and he called his name Jedidiah, for YHWH’s sake (12.25).

Note that in ‘a’ David calls his son Solomon, and in the parallel YHWH calls him Jedidiah. Central in ‘b’ is that YHWH loved Solomon right from the cradle..

2.12.24a ‘And David comforted Bath-sheba his wife, and went in to her, and lay with her, and she bore a son, and he called his name Solomon.’

David comforted his wife Bathsheba after the death of their first baby. And he once again had sexual relations with her, and eventually she again bore a son, and David called his name Solomon, which meant ‘peace’ or ‘wellbeing’, for it demonstrated to him that God still looked on him in blessing.

2.12.24b ‘And YHWH loved him, and he sent by the hand of Nathan the prophet; and he called his name Jedidiah, for YHWH’s sake.’

And YHWH also loved Solomon from the day of his birth. This idea of being loved very much includes the idea of his being chosen (compare Deuteronomy 7.6-8). YHWH therefore sent His prophet Nathan to give the baby the extra name of Jedidiah, ‘beloved of YHWH’, a sign of His great love for him, and a sign that he was the chosen successor of David. It was also a further sign to David that he was truly forgiven, and a seal on the everlasting covenant. It was evidence that his royal house was to continue. It is interesting that the name Jedidiah is never again applied to Solomon. It was seen not as a name to be used, but as a sealing of his future by YHWH. From then on he was recognised by David as the chosen one, and therefore the guarantee of the fulfilment of YHWH’s everlasting covenant with David (7.9-16), which explains why David would finally choose him to be his heir. He was the chosen of YHWH.

As A Result Of His Forgiveness David’s Success Continues As He Reduces The City Of Rabbah (12.26-31).

The fact that David was a changed man is now brought out in that he left his palace and personally took charge of the siege of Rabbah, and the fact that he had truly been forgiven was confirmed in that he was now successful in taking Rabbah and bringing the whole of Ammon under his control, receiving the crown of Ammon and setting the people to forced labour. Thus alongside the grief that would come on his family his success continued. He too was still the chosen of YHWH.

That this incident is to be seen as significant in the light of what has gone before comes out in that it is stressed that:

  • 1). David ceased to rest in Jerusalem (the cause of his downfall) and went forth to battle. He had awoken from his spiritual lethargy (contrast 11.1).
  • 2). The capture of Rabbah would enhance his name and his greatness, thus confirming that YHWH was still fulfilling His promises for David. He was making his name great (12.28; compare 7.9).
  • 3). In accordance with His covenant David was once again seen to be successful against all his enemies (compare 7.9).

We are therefore here given the assurance that David, in spite of his sins, was still safely established within the promises that YHWH had given him (7.8-16), because he had truly repented and had received his initial punishment. The narrative will then go on to indicate the wider punishment that David will receive. But before doing so it gives us this assurance that YHWH was still with David.

Analysis.

  • a Now Joab fought against Rabbah of the children of Ammon, and took the royal city (12.26).
  • b And Joab sent messengers to David, and said, “I have fought against Rabbah, yes, I have taken the city of waters” (12.27).
  • c “Now therefore gather the rest of the people together, and encamp against the city, and take it, lest I take the city, and it be called after my name” (12.28).
  • d And David gathered all the people together, and went to Rabbah, and fought against it, and took it (12.29).
  • c And he took the crown of their king from off his head, and its weight was a talent of gold, and in it were precious stones, and it was set on David’s head (12.30a).
  • b And he brought forth the spoil of the city, a very great amount (12.30b).
  • a And he brought forth the people who were in it, and put them under saws, and under harrows of iron, and under axes of iron, and made them pass through the brick kiln, and thus did he to all the cities of the children of Ammon. And David and all the people returned to Jerusalem (12.31).

Note that in ‘a’ the royal city was subdued and taken, and in the parallel its people were set to forced labour. In ‘b’ the city is called ‘the city of waters’ and in the parallel great spoil flows from it. In ‘c’ the city is to be called after David’s name, and in the parallel its crown is placed on his head. Centrally in ‘d’ David turns from his former indolence and personally supervises the taking of Rabbah.

2.12.26 ‘Now Joab fought against Rabbah of the children of Ammon, and took the royal city.’

While what has been described above was going on Joab continued with the siege of ‘Rabbah of the children of Ammon’, and eventually took part of the city. The name Rabbah means ‘large’ or ‘main city’ and thus ‘the main city of the children of Ammon’. Today it is called Amman and is the capital city of Jordan. Remains have been discovered on its airfield of a storage building used for the storage of cremated remains and dating from 13th century BC. Many of the remains were of children and may well have been ‘passed through the fire to Molech’ (Leviticus 18.21; Deuteronomy 18.10; 2 Kings 16.3; 17.17; 21.6; 23.10; etc). Traces of ancient fortifications from the Middle Bronze and Iron Age have also been unearthed.

‘And took the royal city.’ This may refer to the whole city, the verse being in summary form before going into the detail of its gradual possession. Or it may indicate that section of Rabbah where the royal palace was, which was seemingly also called ‘the city of waters’ because it was where the main water sources were. Of course once that was taken the remainder would soon follow. No city could hold out long without a sufficient water supply.

2.12.27 ‘And Joab sent messengers to David, and said, “I have fought against Rabbah, yes, I have taken the city of waters.” ’

Once Joab had taken the section of the city containing its water supplies (the city of waters) he rapidly despatched messengers to David calling on him to come personally so that he could take the credit for capturing the whole city. This last was something regularly done by great kings, who would also often loose off a token arrow (compare 2 Kings 19.32; Isaiah 37.33) so that it could be recorded on inscriptions.

We should in fact note that large cities were often fortified in such a way that taking one part did not mean that the whole was taken. We can compare the Jebusite fortress of Jerusalem, which was only a section of Jerusalem and yet had remained independent of the remainder for hundreds of years. So there is nothing surprising in enjoying a pause after taking a part of the city.

2.12.28 “Now therefore gather the rest of the people together, and encamp against the city, and take it, lest I take the city, and it be called after my name.”

Joab’s aim was that David should gather ‘the rest of the people’, that is, the men of Israel who were not yet involved in the fighting, so that he could lead an army both in order to seize what remained to be taken of Rabbah and also in order to conquer the whole of Ammon. The importance of a great king being present when a city was forced to yield was widely recognised. Only then could he be seen as the victor. Joab was not suggesting that Rabbah would be renamed Joab, but that if David was not present the defeat of Rabbah would be remembered throughout the world as the work of Joab. Thus Joab, and YHWH, were ensuring that David’s name would be made great, just as YHWH had promised (7.9).

2.12.29 ‘And David gathered all the people together, and went to Rabbah, and fought against it, and took it.’

So David gathered ‘all the people’ who were not yet involved in the siege and went to Rabbah and completed its subjection. This personal activity of David was important as a further evidence of his change of heart. He was no longer lingering in Jerusalem.

2.12.30 ‘And he took the crown of their king from off his head, and its weight was a talent of gold, and in it were precious stones, and it was set on David’s head. And he brought forth the spoil of the city, a very great amount.’

Once the city was taken the ceremonial crown of the king of Ammon was taken ‘from off his head’, and set on David’s head. It was a crown of pure gold encrusted with jewels and was very heavy. It was thus probably a ceremonial crown and not for everyday usage. The ‘talent of gold’ was presumably a light talent of around 30 kilogrammes or 66 pounds. But it would still be excessively heavy. And as well as the crown a huge amount of spoil was taken from the city. It was openly apparent that YHWH had again caused David to prosper.

2.12.31 ‘And he brought forth the people who were in it, and put them to saws, and to harrows of iron, and to axes of iron, and made them pass through the brick kiln, and thus did he to all the cities of the children of Ammon. And David and all the people returned to Jerusalem.’

Then after their long resistance the people of Ammon were brought out and put to forced labour. It was common practise for the warriors of a city which had resisted a siege to be put to death (Deuteronomy 20.12-14). This was in order to encourage cities to surrender without a siege, and also so as to ensure that once the army had moved on to further conquests it could not be attacked from behind. The provision in Deuteronomy was actually merciful as well as being practical, for many conquerors would slaughter all the inhabitants, apart from those whom they took away as slaves. But David was powerful enough, and merciful enough, not to need to do either of these, and instead he set the inhabitants of the city to forced labour. They were set to using saws, iron harrows and iron axes, and to work in the brick kilns. To be ‘made to pass through the brick kiln (malben)’ was probably a standing joke among the Israelites in view of the well known custom of the Ammonites of ‘passing their children through the fire to Molech (milcom)’.

Some see the description as signifying that the warriors of Ammon suffered cruel deaths by various means, but there are no other Scriptural examples of using such diverse methods of execution, while the descriptions adequately fit the idea of forced labour. Even so their fate would not be a happy one. 1 Chronicles 20.1 says, ‘and he brought forth the people who were in it, and he/they cut with saws, and with harrows of iron and with axes.’ The verb ‘cut’ is singular and might indicate David, but ‘people’ is also singular and it could therefore refer to what the people were made to do. But even if we do refer it to David it could signify that he did his cutting by means of the Ammonites

The Direct Consequences Resulting From David’s Sins (13.1-20.22).

Having confirmed YHWH’s acceptance of David as a forgiven sinner following on his great sins, an acceptance which was confirmed by YHWH’s naming of Solomon and by David’s victory over the Ammonites, the writer will now go into some depths to make clear what the consequences nevertheless were of David’s sins. For what David had done inevitably affected his sons, who were vividly aware of his sin while at the same time not sharing with him in his repentance. David’s sad period of arrogance bred in them a similar royal arrogance and an inevitable carelessness in respect of sexual matters and of violence towards others, which they began to see as a royal prerogative. ‘After all,’ they would say, ‘we are only behaving like our father did, and what other role model do we have? He is the only royal example that we know.’ Thus while David still had authority over his kingdom, he had lost his personal parental authority over his own sons because of his own bad example. It was one of the great disadvantages of polygamy that the children tended to receive their personal training from their mothers, and from servants, with their father being a distant father figure, so that what they learned from him was usually conveyed by his outward behaviour generally, something which was of crucial importance as an example to his children. (It is a reminder to all parents that they should keep in mind that what they are speaks far louder than what they say).

Sadly the next eight chapters in Samuel will deal with the direct consequences of David’s sins, and is an illustration of how the sins of the fathers can affect their offspring. The chapters cover a period of sexual misbehaviour and violence that will now plague the house of David, presented in the most vivid form:

  • The sexual misbehaviour of David’s firstborn, Amnon, because of his royal arrogance, the ravishing of David’s beautiful daughter (13.1-22).
  • The subsequent death of Amnon at the hands of Absalom, David’s third son (13.23-39).
  • The subsequent estrangement of Absalom from his father (14.1-20).
  • Absalom’s partial restoration and his successful plotting against David with the intention of seizing the throne (14.21-15.6).
  • Absalom’s rebellion against his father and his sexual misbehaviour with David’s concubines (15.7-16.23).
  • The subsequent warfare that resulted finally in the death of Absalom at the hands of David’s servants, to the great grief of his father (16.24-18.33).

This will then be followed by:

  • The re-establishing of David’s kingship and his mercy shown or rewards given to those who had behaved ill or well towards him (19.1-39).
  • The disenchantment of a part of Israel because they considered that David had favoured Judah during the restoration of the kingship, and the subsequent further rebellion which was in the end defeated (19.40-20.22).

But even with these consequences the overall picture given is one of YHWH’s faithfulness to David. Because he had truly repented He would see him through it all and bring him through triumphantly.

SECTION 8. The Causes Of Absalom’s Rebellion Which Results In His Final Breach With David (13.1-15.9).

This section deals with the causes of Absalom’s disaffection, something which subsequently results in his rebellion against David and his final defeat and death. It commences with Amnon’s sexual misbehaviour in the raping of Absalom’s half-sister Tamar, followed by Absalom’s delayed response, a response which results in Amnon’s assassination. As a consequence of his action Absalom has to flee to his grandfather, the king of Geshur. Eventually due to the good offices of Joab Absalom is restored to Jerusalem but not to the king’s favour. Consequently he makes a successful attempt to gain popularity among the people, something which will eventually result in an attempted coup.

One of the main emphases of this particular section is the fact that everyone involved was acting under false pretences. It was an indication that David’s own false actions with regard to Bathsheba and Uriah were coming home to roost.

Analysis.

  • a The sexual misbehaviour of David’s heir apparent, Amnon, because of his royal arrogance, under the pretence of seeking comfort, something which results in his father’s great anger (13.1-22).
  • b Absalom invites the king’s sons to the sheepshearing celebrations under false pretences (13.23-27).
  • c Amnon’s subsequent death at the hands of Absalom, David’s third son, an act of treason against David which results in Absalom’s flight from Jerusalem to Geshur (13.28-39).
  • d Joab arranges for Absalom’s restoration to Jerusalem through a wise woman who obtains an oath from David under false pretences (14.1-21).
  • c Joab restores Absalom to Jerusalem but not into the king’s favour (14.22-33).
  • b Absalom wins the favour of the people under false pretences (15.1-6).
  • a The political misbehaviour of David’s heir apparent, Absalom, because of his royal arrogance, under the pretence of worshipping YHWH (15.7-12).

Note that in ‘a’ Amnon is involved in sexual misbehaviour under false pretences, while in the parallel Absalom is involved in political misbehaviour under false pretences. In ‘b’ Absalom invites the king’s sons to his sheepshearing celebrations under false pretences, and in the parallel Absalom woos the people under false pretences. In ‘c’ Absalom has to flee from Israel to Geshur, and in the parallel he is brought back from Geshur. Centrally in ‘d’ Joab acts surreptitiously through a wise woman to invoke an oath from David under false pretences.

The Unacceptable And Unscrupulous Behaviour Of David’s Firstborn Son Amnon And His Ravishing And Then Rejection Of David’s Beautiful Daughter (13.1-22).

The first consequence of David’s sins had been seen in the death of David’s baby son. Now the next consequence would be seen in the behaviour of his firstborn, Amnon. He too, like his father, saw a woman and lusted after her, and then took her and lay with her. Like father, like son. And then he too would callously desert her in order to go about his own affairs. It is difficult to decide whose behaviour was most despicable, that of David or that of Amnon. But while he had learned his behaviour from his father, Amnon did not have David’s spirituality, nor had he learned to repent. Watch, then, O David, and be ashamed.

Analysis.

  • a And it came about after this, that Absalom the son of David had a fair sister, whose name was Tamar, and Amnon the son of David loved her (13.1).
  • b And Amnon was so vexed that he fell sick because of his sister Tamar, for she was a virgin, and it seemed hard to Amnon to do anything to her (13.2).
  • c But Amnon had a friend, whose name was Jonadab, the son of Shimeah, David’s brother, and Jonadab was a very cunning man. And he said to him, “Why, O son of the king, are you thus lean (peakish) from day to day? Will you not tell me?” And Amnon said to him, “I love Tamar, my brother Absalom’s sister”. And Jonadab said to him, “Lay yourself down on your bed, and pretend that you are ill, and when your father comes to see you, say to him, “Let my sister Tamar come, I pray you, and give me bread to eat, and dress the food in my sight, so that I may see it, and eat it from her hand” (13.3-5).
  • d Amnon lay down, and pretended that he was ill, and when the king was come to see him, Amnon said to the king, “Let my sister Tamar come, I pray you, and make me a couple of cakes in my sight, that I may eat from her hand.” Then David sent home to Tamar, saying, “Go now to your brother Amnon’s house, and dress him food” (13.6-7).
  • e So Tamar went to her brother Amnon’s house, and he was lying down. And she took dough, and kneaded it, and made cakes in his sight, and baked the cakes. And she took the pan, and poured them out before him. But he refused to eat (13.8-9a).
  • f And Amnon said, “Have out all men from me.” And they went out every man from him (13.9b).
  • g And Amnon said to Tamar, “Bring the food into the other room, that I may eat from your hand.” And Tamar took the cakes which she had made, and brought them into the other room to Amnon her brother (13.10).
  • h And when she had brought them near to him to eat, he took hold of her, and said to her, “Come, lie with me, my sister” (13.11).
  • i And she answered him, “No, my brother, do not force me, for no such thing ought to be done in Israel. Do not do this folly. And as for me, where shall I carry my shame? And as for you, you will be as one of the fools in Israel. Now therefore, I pray you, speak to the king, for he will not withhold me from you” (13.12-13).
  • h However he would not listen to her voice; but being stronger than she, he forced her, and lay with her. Then Amnon hated her with a very strong hatred, for the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her (13.14-15a).
  • g And Amnon said to her, “Arise, be gone”. And she said to him, “Not so, because this great wrong in putting me forth is worse than the other that you did to me.” But he would not listen to her (13.15b-16).
  • e Then he called his servant who ministered to him, and said, “Put now this woman out from me, and bolt the door after her” (13.17).
  • d And she had a garment of varied colours on her, for with such robes were the king’s daughters who were virgins dressed. Then his servant brought her out, and bolted the door after her (13.18).
  • c And Tamar put ashes on her head, and tore her garment of varied colours which was on her, and she laid her hand on her head, and went her way, crying aloud as she went. And Absalom her brother said to her, “Has Amnon your brother been with you? But now hold your peace, my sister. He is your brother. Do not take this thing to heart.” So Tamar remained desolate in her brother Absalom’s house (13.19-20).’
  • b And when king David heard of all these things, he was exceedingly angry (13.21).
  • a And Absalom spoke to Amnon neither good nor bad, for Absalom hated Amnon, because he had forced his sister Tamar (13.22).

Note that in ‘a’ Amnon loved Absalom’s sister and in the parallel Absalom hated Amnon because of what he had done to his sister. In ‘b’ Amnon was deeply emotionally upset as a result of thwarted love that it made him ill, and in the parallel David was deeply emotionally angry when he heard what Amnon had done. In ‘c’ Amnon told his cunning friend about his love for his sister Tamar and plotted her downfall, and in the parallel we learn of the result of that plotting of her downfall at the hands of Amnon her brother. In ‘d’ David the king sent Tamar to Amnon’s apartments in order that she might prepare cakes for Amnon, and in the parallel Amnon locked her out of his apartments as one who had come to him wearing the apparel of the king’s daughters. In ‘e’ Amnon refused to eat of what she had prepared for him, and in the parallel he refused to have his sister in his room with him because he had partaken of her and did not want her any more. In ‘f’ Amnon thrust out all the servants, and in the parallel he thrust out Tamar. In ‘g’ Amnon made her enter his inner room, and in the parallel he thrust her from his inner room. In ‘h’ he pleaded with Tamar to lie with him, and in the parallel he forced her to lie with him. Centrally in ‘i’ she pleaded with him not to deflower her and suggested that he ask the king for her hand, (only to be refused).

2.13.1 ‘And it came about after this, that Absalom the son of David had a fair sister, whose name was Tamar, and Amnon the son of David loved her.’

Following on the previous events of chapters 11-12 we now discover that Absalom, the king’s third son, had a sister named Tamar who was very beautiful, so much so that Amnon, the firstborn son of David loved her. It is stressed that both Absalom and Amnon were sons of David, which indicates that Tamar was the king’s daughter and Amnon’s half-sister, and as such she was forbidden to him by the Law (Leviticus 20.17). All were therefore part of David’s household, that household that should have been so blessed as a result of YHWH’s covenant, but would now face tragedy because of what David had done. David had laid down the markers, and now it was his children who would suffer as a result, and this in spite of the fact that David quite evidently loved his children.

As David did not marry Maacah, the mother of Absalom and Tamar, until after he had been made king at Hebron (see 2 Samuel 3.3), these events cannot have taken place before the twentieth year of his reign.

2.13.2 ‘And Amnon was so constrained that he fell sick because of his sister Tamar, for she was a virgin, and it seemed hard to Amnon to do anything to her.’

Amnon loved his half-sister so intensely that it was making him sick. As a result he was ‘made narrow’ or ‘hemmed in by anxiety’ because of his love for his half-sister and it caused him to be ill.

‘It seemed hard to Amnon to do anything to her.’ He longed to take her and win her affection and make love to her, but found it impossible, partly because of her maidenly modesty and unwillingness to engage in anything wrong, partly because she would be regularly chaperoned, and partly because he knew that it was illegal. While it was true that Abraham had married his half-sister, such a marriage was now no longer allowed (Leviticus 20.17).

2.13.3 ‘But Amnon had a friend, whose name was Jonadab, the son of Shimeah, David’s brother, and Jonadab was a very cunning man.’

But Amnon had a close friend who was his cousin, whose name was Jonadab. He was the son of David’s brother Shimeah (Shammah). He was a very cunning man (it is not the same word as the one which described the cunning of the serpent in Genesis 3, but the idea is the same). It is a reminder of how careful we should be about the kind of people with whom we make close friends.

2.13.4 ‘And he said to him, “Why, O son of the king, are you thus lean (peakish) from day to day? Will you not tell me?” And Amnon said to him, “I love Tamar, my brother Absalom’s sister.” ’

Jonadab, seeing how peakish Amnon was getting, persistently asked him what his problem was. And in the end Amnon admitted that he loved with great intensity his half-sister Tamar, Absalom’s sister. Note the writer’s emphasis on ‘O son of the king’. This was the problem. Amnon was following in the train of his father and copying David’s mid-life arrogance. It was because he saw himself as the son of the king that he felt able to do what he did without regard to anyone.

2.13.5 ‘And Jonadab said to him, “Lay yourself down on your bed, and pretend that you are ill, and when your father comes to see you, say to him, “Let my sister Tamar come, I pray you, and give me bread to eat, and dress the food in my sight, so that I may see it, and eat it from her hand.” ’

Jonadab then suggested to him how he could obtain what he wanted. All he had to do was pretend that he was ill and ask his father to send Tamar to him in order that she might specially prepare food in his presence. Then the rest would be up to Amnon.

2.13.6 ‘So Amnon lay down, and pretended that he was ill, and when the king was come to see him, Amnon said to the king, “Let my sister Tamar come, I pray you, and make (telabeb) me a couple of cakes (lebiboth) in my sight, that I may eat from her hand.” ’

Following Jonadab’s advice Amnon, who was consumed with desire, lay down and pretended that he was ill, and when ‘the king’, his concerned father, came to him he requested that his sister Tamar be allowed to come and make cakes in front of him in order to tempt his appetite. Note the double reference to ‘the king’. What was to happen was the result of royal arrogance.

The word for ‘make’ and the word for ‘cakes’ both come from the Hebrew root lbb from which comes the noun for heart, which is connected with the life principle. We could thus translate ‘love-cakes’ or ‘life-cakes’. The play on meaning is deliberate.

Had David been astute he would have realised what was afoot, he was after all well familiar with bedroom affairs, but like many a father he would find it impossible to believe that his son could be capable of such villainy. He did not realise how much his own example had made them arrogant in their attitudes because they were ‘the king’s sons’.

2.13.7 ‘Then David sent home to Tamar, saying, “Go now to your brother Amnon’s house, and dress him food.” ’

So David sent a message to Tamar calling on her to go to her brother Amnon’s living quarters and dress some food for him. He would expect the servants to be present. It came to her, of course, as a royal command so that there was little that she could do but obey.

2.13.8-9a ‘So Tamar went to her brother Amnon’s house, and he was lying down. And she took dough, and kneaded it, and made cakes in his sight, and baked the cakes. And she took the pan, and poured them out before him. But he refused to eat.’

So Tamar went to Amnon’s living quarters where he was lying down, presumably on cushions. But she would sense no danger, for all the servants were present. And there she took dough and kneaded it, and moulded it into cakes in front of him, and baked the cakes. Note the long drawn out description which is building up the tension of the story. It is all so deliberate, and the listener all the time knew what was going on in Amnon’s mind.

Then when the cakes were baked she presented them to Amnon. But he refused to eat them. This was another sign of his arrogance, but it probably touched her sisterly heart as suggesting how ill Amnon was. It was insidiously clever (just as David had been insidiously clever in arranging the death of Uriah).

2.13.9b ‘And Amnon said, “Have out all men from me.” And they went out every man from him.’

Then Amnon ordered all the servants out of the room and they all left, leaving the two alone together. Poor Tamar. She was still innocent of men, and she loved her brother chastely. She was seemingly unafraid and unaware of her danger. And he was after all the king’s firstborn.

2.13.10 ‘And Amnon said to Tamar, “Bring the food into the innermost room, that I may eat from your hand.” And Tamar took the cakes which she had made, and brought them into the innermost room to Amnon her brother.’

Amnon then called on Tamar to bring the food into the innermost room where he would eat it from her hand. And because she was fond of him, and because he was the crown prince apparent, she did what he requested. As a loving and sympathetic sister she suspected nothing.

2.13.11 ‘And when she had brought them near to him to eat, he took hold of her, and said to her, “Come, lie with me, my sister.” ’

But when she did approach him with the food he became violent and seized her, demanding that she have sexual relations with him. Tamar must have been deeply horrified. She had never dreamed that her brother could behave like this. But this was all the result of the arrogance that David had bred into his sons by his own example. What he was suggesting was contrary to all that she had been brought up to believe. Unlike Amnon she was not experienced in such matters.

2.13.12 ‘And she answered him, “No, my brother, do not force me, for no such thing ought to be done in Israel. Do not do this folly. And as for me, where shall I carry my shame? And as for you, you will be as one of the fools in Israel. Now therefore, I pray you, speak to the king, for he will not withhold me from you.” ’

So she pleaded with him, and begged him not to rape her, pointing out that it was not the kind of thing that was acceptable in Israel, especially as she was his half-sister. It was contrary to God’s Law. She asked him not to behave so foolishly, and to consider how as a result of any such action she would be shamed in the sight of all, so much so that she would have nowhere to hide. She would no longer be a chaste virgin. And as for him he would be seen as ‘one of the fools in Israel’. The implication behind the word ‘fool’ was that he would be seen as godless and rebellious against YHWH (Psalm 14.1).

Thus she begged him to ask the king for her hand in marriage, assuring him that she was sure that the king, who doted on his sons, would not withhold her from him. She may well not have known about ‘the forbidden degrees’ (Leviticus 20.17), for parents arranged marriages, and she had led a sheltered life, or alternatively she may simply have been devising any means of getting way from him with her virginity intact. She was in fact saying to him, ‘let the king decide what we should do’. It was basically an appeal to the king that Amnon should have listened to.

2.13.14 ‘However he would not listen to her voice, but being stronger than she, he forced her, and lay with her.’

But Amnon was not listening. He was too possessed with lust to take notice of anything reasonable. Poor Tamar had never seen her brother like this before, as, mad with lust, he refused to listen to her pleas and violently raped her where she was. It was an act of total callousness and depravity, which nevertheless aped the behaviour of his father.

2.13.15 ‘Then Amnon hated her with exceeding great hatred, for the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her. And Amnon said to her, “Arise, be gone.” ’

But having had his way with her his desire for her suddenly turned to hate. For there had been no real love in his heart, just an awakened sexual desire that happened to have fallen on Tamar, and now that it was satisfied his guilt for what he had done was turned on his innocent sister. The result was that he curtly and callously dismissed her from his room, saying, ‘Arise, be gone.’

Such a turning from passion to dislike is not uncommon in sexual affairs where the person is not loved for their own sake, and his extreme sense of guilt made him want to get rid of her from his sight.

2.13.16 ‘And she said to him, “Not so, because this great wrong in putting me forth is worse than the other that you did to me.” But he would not listen to her.’

The tumult in poor Tamar’s mind must have been awful in the extreme. She had been gently brought up and taught the horror of sexual behaviour outside marriage. And now she realised that the worst thing that could happen to any Israelite woman had happened to her. She had been deflowered outside the marriage bed. She was no longer a chaste virgin. And what was more the beast who had done it to her, whom she had always looked on as a loving brother, was now rejecting her. Unable to believe it she begged him with tears to reconsider. Raping her had been bad enough, but turning her away after what he had done was worse even than the act itself. However, he would not listen. Why should he? He was the king’s eldest son.

2.13.17 ‘Then he called his servant who ministered to him, and said, “Put now this out from me, and bolt the door after her.” ’

Revealing his utter callousness and arrogance he then called on this close servant to take his young sister whom he called ‘this’ and throw her out, bolting the door behind her. O David, what have you done to your children?

2.13.18 ‘And she had a garment of varied colours on her, for with such robes were the king’s daughters who were virgins dressed. Then his servant brought her out, and bolted the door after her.’

And so the beautiful daughter of the king, still wearing the clothes which were the badge of the king’s virgin daughter, but now cruelly deflowered and raped by the king’s own son, was thrust out from Amnon’s rooms, with the door bolted behind her. The servant probably did not know what was going on, and did his master’s bidding.

2.13.19 ‘And Tamar put ashes on her head, and tore her garment of varied colours which was on her, and she laid her hand on her head, and went her way, crying aloud as she went.’

But Tamar knew. It is impossible for us to have any conception of how distraught Tamar must have felt. She was a young immature girl who had experienced a sexual nightmare. She must have been totally bewildered and devastatingly upset. She would not have been able to believe that her own half-brother whom she had trusted and looked up to, had done to her what to any woman was unimaginable. Her life was in ruins. She put ashes on her head as a sign of mourning for her lost virginity, and tore her virginal garments of many colours, an act which indicated both deep emotion and the tearing away of her virginity, and she put her hand to her head as a sign of her distress and despair (compare Jeremiah 2.37). Then she went her way weeping and crying in her distress. All in a moment her life had been torn apart, while Amnon no doubt lay callously on his cushions, totally unconcerned. For Amnon had learned his lesson well from David. He had learned callousness and an arrogant disregard for others, because he was a king’s son and could do whatever he wanted, just as the king had done, without any likelihood of repercussions (if his father said anything he would simply say, ‘What about Bathsheba and Uriah?’.

2.13.20 ‘And Absalom her brother said to her, “Has Amnon your brother been with you? But now hold your peace, my sister. He is your brother. Do not take this thing to heart.” So Tamar remained desolate in her brother Absalom’s house.’

But when Absalom, her blood brother, who loved her dearly, learned what had happened it bit deep into his soul. Indeed this act of Amnon’s understandably changed Absalom from being a loyal son and brother into a creature determined on revenge. He would have the evidence of Amnon’s deed ever before him. Even so he lovingly tried his best to assuage her grief, and to put the best light on things. So Amnon her brother had forced her to lay with him? Let her not take it too badly. After all he was her brother. She must not take it too deeply to heart, for surely David his father would ensure that the right thing was done by her? Poor Absalom. He did what he could. But he was only a man. How could he even begin to conceive what it meant to Tamar. And he still did not as yet know his father.

But even more we must say, poor Tamar. She remained desolate in her brother’s house. Her life was devastated and lay in ruins around her. The lovely young princess who had gone to Amnon with such innocence and sisterly love had grown almost immediately inward looking and old before her time, seeing herself as a thing despoiled and being totally ashamed.

2.13.21 ‘But when king David heard of all these things, he was very angry.’

When king David heard of all that had happened he was very angry. Well done David!! However, what about putting things right, at least as far as possible? He should, of course, have sentenced Amnon to death for incest. But he did not do that, and he also probably did not want his firstborn married to a disgraced woman, especially when she was within the forbidden degrees. So he probably ranted and raged, and then did nothing. Once again we are faced with a clear flaw in David’s character. He should have exerted himself to behave justly, but when it came to family matters he was weak, made even weaker because of his own bad example. In his eyes what his sons did could not really be wrong. In his eyes they were above the Law. David’s obedience to YHWH was flawed when it came to his sons. But it was a flaw that was to cost him dear, for Absalom had learned from his father how to dispose of what got in your way.

2.13.22 ‘And Absalom spoke to Amnon neither good nor bad, for Absalom hated Amnon, because he had forced his sister Tamar.’

And as for Absalom he said nothing to his brother. In fact he simply never spoke to him again, and presumably ostracised him. But in his heart he was nursing hatred and a desire for vengeance, a desire no doubt continually fed by what he saw of his sister and what she had become, for she would be no longer bright and lively but totally withdrawn into herself. Amnon had not killed her, but he may as well have done so, for he had ruined her life completely. And it would seem that Absalom’s anger was not only directed at Amnon, but at the king himself, because he had not given Tamar justice. Whatever would follow, David had brought on himself. He had only himself to blame.

Absalom Invites The King And His Sons To The Sheepshearing celebrations At Baal-Hazor (13.23-27).

Two years went by and Amnon was no doubt feeling that his slight aberration had been almost forgotten. Neither David nor Absalom had actually done anything, and he was not too concerned about Absalom’s refusal to talk with him. He no doubt felt that things had settled down. But within Absalom’s apartments there was a beloved sister who, while she had no doubt recovered slightly from her ordeal, lived out her life in desolation and distress. All her hopes in life had vanished. Absalom had not forgotten.

And when the time came for sheepshearing on Absalom’s land, (sheepshearing was an event that was always accompanied by wild celebration. Compare 1 Samuel 25.2-4; Genesis 31.19-20; 38.12-13), Absalom invited to it all the king’s sons, and he put as much pressure as he could on David to bid his sons to go to Absalom’s sheepshearing (as David had bidden Tamar to go to Amnon’s rooms), for he had plans of his own

Analysis.

  • a And it came about after two full years, that Absalom had sheep-shearers in Baal-hazor, which is beside Ephraim, and Absalom invited all the king’s sons (13.23).
  • b And Absalom came to the king, and said, “See now, your servant has sheep-shearers. Let the king, I pray you, and his servants go with your servant” (13.24).
  • c And the king said to Absalom, “No, my son, let us not all go, lest we be burdensome to you.” And he pressed him. However, he would not go, but blessed him (13.25).
  • b Then Absalom said “If not, I pray you, let my brother Amnon go with us.” And the king said to him, “Why should he go with you?” (13.26).
  • a But Absalom pressed him, and he let Amnon and all the king’s sons go with him (13.27).

Note that in ‘a’ Absalom invited all the king’s sons to sheepshearing and in the parallel David let all the king’s sons go to the sheepshearing. In ‘b’ Absalom asked that the king and his servants might go to sheepshearing, and in the parallel he asked that if the king himself would not go he would send his eldest son. Centrally in ‘c’ the king would not go, even at Absalom’s insistence, but blessed Absalom.

2.13.23 ‘And it came about after two full years, that Absalom had sheep-shearers in Baal-hazor, which is beside Ephraim, and Absalom invited all the king’s sons.’

Two full years had passed. The furore over Amnon’s unacceptable behaviour had seemingly died down, and contrary to the Law Amnon was still alive to tell the tale. But there was one man who was not satisfied with the situation, and that was Tamar’s brother, Absalom.

Sheepshearing was always a time of wild celebration as the harvest of wool was celebrated, and thus invitations to a sheepshearing ceremony were not unusual. Had David thought back he would have remembered the sheepshearing celebrations of Nabal to which he was not invited (1 Samuel 25). That too had ended in a death. But he had no cause to think that any such thing would happen at Absalom’s sheepshearing, for in his complacency he no doubt thought that all was again at peace within his family.

The sheepshearing was to take place at Baal-hazor. This is generally identified with a mountain 9 kilometres (5 miles) north north east of Bethel. This may have been land granted by David to his wife Maacah when he married her. She was the daughter of the king of Geshur, an Aramaean kingdom where sheep were considered to be very important. But for Absalom’s purpose its advantage lay in the fact that it was a good way from Jerusalem, and that the men involved with the sheep were his own employees.

2.13.24 ‘And Absalom came to the king, and said, “See now, your servant has sheep-shearers. Let the king, I pray you, and his servants go with your servant.” ’

So with the annual sheepshearing celebrations in view Absalom sought the king’s presence. he pointed out that it was the time for celebration of sheepshearing among his shepherds and that as he was attending it he was issuing an invitation to the king and his sons to attend with him, and let their hair down.

2.13.25 ‘And the king said to Absalom, “No, my son, let us not all go, lest we be burdensome to you.” And he pressed him. However, he would not go, but blessed him.’

However, David was unwilling to go. Perhaps the thought of sheepshearing celebrations stirred his conscience when he thought of Nabal. So he made the excuse that he did not want all of them to go and be a burden on Absalom. And in spite of the fact that Absalom pressed him strongly he continued with his refusal. He did, however, not hesitate to give him his king-priestly blessing and thank him for his offer.

2.13.26 ‘Then Absalom said “If not, I pray you, let my brother Amnon go with us.” And the king said to him, “Why should he go with you?” ’

We do not know whether at this time Absalom had in mind any threat against the king’s person, for he would undoubtedly still be angry at the king’s failure to give justice to Tamar. Probably not, for he later spared all the king’s sons but one. It would appear that his target all along was Amnon, and that his sole aim was to ensure that Amnon was present.

So when the king himself refused to attend the sheepshearing Absalom was not put out, he simply requested him to send Amnon so that as the eldest son he could represent the royal family. This request for representation by royalty would generally be understood, for the host, Absalom, was after all royal on both sides of the family, being a son of David, and grandson of the king of Geshur. The king, however, wanted to know why he was so keen for Amnon to attend. He would know of the rift between Amnon and Absalom. Perhaps he hoped that this was a sign that the rift was healing.

2.13.27 ‘But Absalom pressed him, and he let Amnon and all the king’s sons go with him.’

Absalom pressed him so hard that in the end he let Amnon and all the king’s sons go with him, for he loved Absalom dearly and wanted to please him. As with Amnon, David had a rosy view of all his sons. Thus he trusted them all, not recognising what havoc his own behaviour had wrought in their moral attitudes.

Absalom Slays Amnon As Revenge For His Raping Of Tamar And Flees To His Grandfather’s Kingdom in Geshur (13.28-39).

Whilst David refused to carry out the death sentence that Amnon’s sin demanded, Absalom had other ideas. Strictly speaking, in fact, in executing Amnon he was carrying out the sentence of the Law, and at the same time avenging the stain that Amnon had brought on the royal family of Geshur. In this he was justified. For Tamar was not only David’s daughter, she was also the granddaughter of the king of Geshur. Thus in Geshur his action would undoubtedly have been seen as just and right, and he may well have seen himself as a prince of Geshur justly acting as the representative of his people in avenging what had been done to their princess.

That David later recognised that justice was on Absalom’s side comes out in that he made no real attempt to have Absalom extradited. While the king of Geshur might certainly initially have refused to hand his grandson Absalom over, contending that he had only been obtaining justice for Geshur, there is little doubt that David could have made him do so had he wished. But instead he held his peace. But he had now lost two of his beloved sons. He was paying a heavy price for his own sins.

Analysis.

  • a And Absalom commanded his servants, saying, “Mark you now, when Amnon’s heart is merry with wine, and when I say to you, “Smite Amnon,” then kill him. Do not be afraid, have not I commanded you? Be courageous, and be valiant” (13.28).
  • b And the servants of Absalom did to Amnon as Absalom had commanded. Then all the king’s sons arose, and every man mounted himself on his mule, and fled (13.29).
  • c And it came about, while they were in the way, that the news came to David, saying, “Absalom has slain all the king’s sons, and there is not one of them left” (13.30).
  • d Then the king arose, and tore his garments, and lay on the earth, and all his servants stood by with their clothes torn.
  • e And Jonadab, the son of Shimeah, David’s brother, answered and said, “Let not my lord suppose that they have killed all the young men, the king’s sons, for Amnon only is dead” (13.31-32a).
  • f “For by the appointment of Absalom this has been determined from the day that he forced his sister Tamar” (13.32b).
  • e “Now therefore let not my lord the king take the thing to his heart, to think that all the king’s sons are dead, for Amnon only is dead” (13.33).
  • d But Absalom fled. And the young man who kept the watch lifted up his eyes, and looked, and, behold, there came many people by the way of the hill-side behind him. And Jonadab said to the king, “Look, the king’s sons are come. As your servant said, so it is” (13.34-35).
  • c And it came about, as soon as he had made an end of speaking, that, behold, the king’s sons came, and lifted up their voice, and wept, and the king also and all his servants wept very bitterly (13.36).
  • b But Absalom fled, and went to Talmai the son of Ammihur, king of Geshur. And David mourned for his son every day. So Absalom fled, and went to Geshur, and was there three years (13.37-38).
  • a And the soul of king David longed to go forth to Absalom, for he was comforted concerning Amnon, seeing he was dead (13.39).

Note than in ‘a’ we read of the death of Amnon, and in the parallel David no longer mourned Amnon, recognising that he was dead. In ‘b’ the king’s sons fled from Absalom, and in the parallel Absalom fled from the king. In ’c’ news came to David that all his sons were dead, and in the parallel his sons came back to him In ‘d’ David mourns the loss of his sons, and in the parallel Jonadab points out that there is no need to mourn because his sons are coming. In ‘e’ Jonadab assures the king that all his sons have not been killed, and in the parallel he declares the same. Centrally in ‘f’ Jonadab confirms that the death of Amnon had been determined by Absalom from the moment that he had raped his sister.

2.13.28 ‘And Absalom commanded his servants, saying, “Mark you now, when Amnon’s heart is merry with wine, and when I say to you, “Smite Amnon,” then kill him. Do not be afraid, have not I commanded you? Be courageous, and be valiant.” ’

Once the king’s sons had arrived at sheepshearing they would begin to make merry, but Absalom had already instructed his servants that as soon as Amnon was sufficiently drunk he would give the order for them to kill him. At that point, he said, they should act bravely and do what he had commanded them without fear because he would take full responsibility. These may well have been servants connected with his mother Maacah who owed allegiance to Geshur.

2.13.29 ‘And the servants of Absalom did to Amnon as Absalom had commanded. Then all the king’s sons arose, and every man mounted himself on his mule, and fled.’

And when the time came, and the sign was given, Absalom’s servants did precisely what Absalom had commanded them and slew Amnon. The result was that the remainder of the king’s sons panicked, and fled on their mules. Thus was the raping of a princess of Geshur avenged, and thus had Amnon been executed in accordance with the Law forbidding incest. Absalom had acted justly as a prince of Geshur, but that was not how David would see it. But it was how Geshur would see it,, for the Geshurites were a sheep-breeding nation who almost certainly had strong ideas about tribal honour, who would thus have been deeply offended by what had happened to one of their princesses, especially when she was supposed to be under the protection of David. Absalom would therefore undoubtedly have had their support for his action.

2.13.30 ‘And it came about, while they were in the way, that the news came to David, saying, “Absalom has slain all the king’s sons, and there is not one of them left.” ’

It is clear that someone must have left the sheepshearing celebrations fairly quickly, indeed almost as soon as the execution had taken place, for before the sons on their mules could even come within sight of Jerusalem, false news had already reached David that all his sons had been killed.

2.13.31 ‘Then the king arose, and tore his garments, and lay on the earth, and all his servants stood by with their clothes torn.’

The king was understandably devastated by the news and ritually tore his clothes, an evidence of deep feeling, and fell on the earth before YHWH, while all his servant around him also tore their clothes, sharing with him in his anguish.

2.13.32 ‘And Jonadab, the son of Shimeah, David’s brother, answered and said, “Let not my lord suppose that they have killed all the young men, the king’s sons, for Amnon only is dead, for by the appointment of Absalom this has been determined from the day that he forced his sister Tamar.” ’

Jonadab, however, who was David’s nephew and was the man who had advised Amnon in his evil deed, seems to have known what was going to happen, for he assured the king that only Amnon was dead, and that his other sons had not been harmed. This would suggest that in some way he was in Absalom’s confidence, at least sufficiently to have been let into the secret. It may well be that he had honestly been disgusted at the way that Amnon had treated Tamar after he had raped her and had from then on sided with Absalom. He had probably expected that once Amnon had had his way with Tamar he would marry her. Abandoning the young girl in her misery had not been a part of what he had suggested.

2.13.33 “Now therefore let not my lord the king take the thing to his heart, to think that all the king’s sons are dead, for Amnon only is dead.”

So Jonadab assured the king not to think that all his sons were dead, because he knew that it was only Amnon who had been affected.

2.13.34 ‘But Absalom fled. And the young man who kept the watch lifted up his eyes, and looked, and, behold, there came many people by the way of the hill-side behind him.’

Meanwhile, having assured himself that Amnon was really dead, and that his sister had been avenged, Absalom fled. He would recognise that in Israel he would be seen as having committed high treason against the person of the king’s firstborn, and that if he remained he could be impeached for murder. It would be seen differently in Geshur. On the other hand the young man who was the watchman in Jerusalem looked round from his watchtower and saw behind him, on the hillside in the distance, a number of people flocking towards Jerusalem. They were fleeing one way, while Absalom was fleeing the other.

2.13.35 ‘And Jonadab said to the king, “Look, the king’s sons are come. As your servant said, so it is.” ’

Once the news reached the palace Jonadab pointed out to David that it meant that his sons had returned, just as he had said.

2.13.36 ‘And it came about, as soon as he had made an end of speaking, that, behold, the king’s sons came, and lifted up their voice, and wept, and the king also and all his servants wept very bitterly.’

Even while he was giving the assurance the king’s sons arrived on their mules, and entering the palace lifted up their voices and wept in mourning for Amnon. And the king and his servants also joined in. For all now knew that David’s firstborn son was dead.

2.13.37 ‘But Absalom fled, and went to Talmai the son of Ammihur, king of Geshur. And David mourned for his son every day.’

Meanwhile Absalom fled to his grandfather Talmai, the son of Ammihur, king of Geshur, while David mourned the fact that he had lost Absalom as well as Amnon. He no doubt recognised the justice of what Absalom had done. He had carried out the execution that David himself should have arranged. This second mention of Absalom fleeing is in direct contrast with the sons arriving and telling David what had happened. They all came to the king, apart from Absalom, who fled. David had lost two sons in one go. And David felt the loss, for he mourned the loss of his son every day (just as Uriah’s mother had no doubt mourned the loss of her son every day).

2.13.38 ‘So Absalom fled, and went to Geshur, and was there three years.’

This third repetition of the fact of Absalom fleeing stands on its own as a specific statement, confirming what had happened. Such repetition was common in ancient literature. The threefold mention stresses the completeness of his successful escape. And once he had arrived in Geshur Absalom was there for ‘three years’. This could signify one and a half years upwards, with part years counting as a year. It basically signifies ‘a number of years’. In Geshur Absalom’s act would have been seen as just revenge for a slight to their royal family.

2.13.39 ‘And king David left off going forth after Absalom, for he was comforted concerning Amnon, seeing he was dead.’

Meanwhile after a suitable time king David had recovered from his grief at the death of Amnon, simply because he was dead and there was no point in constantly thinking of the dead. And the result was that he “left off going forth after Absalom”. ‘To go forth’ in this case must be seen as in a hostile sense. Presumably messengers had passed between the two courts arguing the case from the point of view of two royal families, The emphasis is thus on the fact that David did not continue to pursue his attempts to have Absalom brought back for punishment because he had got over the death of Amnon, and recognised that Absalom had had justice on his side. This suggests that the king of Geshur did not find David’s arguments convincing and was defending what Absalom had done as having been necessary to revenge the slight on his family. Either way around three years passed and David did nothing conclusive about the situation.

Some translations, taking into account their own translation of 14.1, and David’s later strong affection revealed towards Absalom (18.33) read, ‘And the soul of David longed after Absalom’ . But that is not the obvious meaning of the words, and is contradicted by the fact that even when he returned David would not see him or permit him into his presence.

In Accordance With What He Sees To Be The King’s Desire, Joab Successfully (But Unwisely) Works To Bring About The Return Of Absalom Through a Wise Woman (14.1-21).

As so often throughout David’s reign Joab, who otherwise was totally loyal, felt that he had in this instance a right to interfere in the affairs of David when he considered that it might be to his own benefit. He had done it in the case of Abner, when it had seemed that Abner might usurp his position as commander-in-chief, even though he had some justification in that case, in that he was exacting blood vengeance on behalf of his family (3.27). He will later do it in the case of Amasa, another commander chosen by David, ostensibly because of his failure to carry out military orders, but no doubt also because he too had usurped his position as commander-in-chief (19.13; 20.10). He will later even do it by seeking to promote Adonijah’s claims to the throne as the eldest surviving son, over against Solomon, possibly because he knew that he was not popular with Solomon (see 1 Kings 2.5-6). Yet he was certainly steadfastly loyal to David in every other way, at least while David was still active, and he had shared with him his wilderness years. What he probably did have in mind was that as Absalom was the eldest son, and therefore heir presumptive, if he could put Absalom in his debt, then once Absalom succeeded to the throne after David’s death he would remember what he owed to Joab.

But his interference here, while possibly with the best of intentions because as David’s cousin he knew David’s thoughts better than most, would undoubtedly bring catastrophe on Israel. We should remember that by his actions Absalom had already rebelled against the throne once. It should therefore have been clear to all that he was not to be trusted. Yet Joab, by the use of deceit, persuaded David to let him return to Jerusalem against David’s own better judgment, thus eventually doing David great harm. The truth was that if Absalom was to return he should really have returned to enter a City of Refuge, where his case could be decided. Alternatively he should not have been allowed to return at all. What was not right on any account was to gloss over his sin in accordance with Joab’s suggestion through the wise woman. (It is ironic that the one whose only defence in the case of his killing of Abner was that he was obtaining blood vengeance, should in the case of Absalom take up a different position). So as a result of Joab’s interference David allowed himself to be jockeyed into the unacceptable position of allowing Absalom to return under safe conduct, while being unwilling to have dealings with him because of his sin, both factors which undoubtedly led to Absalom’s rebellion.

We must recognise that the only reason why Absalom should want to return from his honoured position in the court of the king of Geshur would be in order to establish his right to succeed to the throne of Israel, so that once he became aware of how David felt about him he would have recognised that his succession was unlikely to be approved by David. We can see why, in his view, this would leave him with only one alternative, an attempted coup. There was no way that Absalom would have been willing to live peacefully under Solomon’s rule, or even Adonijah’s. He would therefore have been best left in Geshur, which he would have been had it not been for Joab’s intrigues.

One important lesson, therefore, that comes out of this narrative is that we should be wary as to whose advice we listen to, especially if it conflicts with our own conscience, and even though it tends to be in line with our inclinations. In this case we have YHWH on the one hand secretly acting on David’s behalf and protecting him against the full consequences of his own sin, and on the other we have Joab secretly acting against David’s best interests, although not fully aware of it, because he primarily had in mind his own best interests.

Analysis.

  • a Now Joab the son of Zeruiah perceived that the king’s heart was against/toward Absalom (14.1).
  • b And Joab sent to Tekoa, and fetched from there a wise woman, and said to her, “I pray you, feign yourself to be a mourner, and put on mourning apparel, I pray you, and do not anoint yourself with oil, but be as a woman who has for a long time mourned for the dead, and go in to the king, and speak on this manner to him.” So Joab put the words in her mouth (14.2-3).
  • c And when the woman of Tekoa spoke to the king, she fell on her face to the ground, and did obeisance, and said, “Help, O king” (14.4).
  • d And the king said to her, “What ails you?” And she answered, “Of a truth I am a widow, and my husband is dead. And your handmaid had two sons, and they two strove together in the field, and there was none to part them, but the one smote the other, and killed him. And, behold, the whole family is risen against your handmaid, and they say, ‘Deliver him who smote his brother, that we may kill him for the life of his brother whom he slew, and so destroy the heir also.’ Thus will they quench my coal which is left, and will leave to my husband neither name nor remainder upon the face of the earth” (14.5-7).
  • e And the king said to the woman, “Go to your house, and I will give charge concerning you.” And the woman of Tekoa said to the king, “My lord, O king, the iniquity be on me, and on my father’s house, and the king and his throne be guiltless.” And the king said, “Whoever says anything to you, bring him to me, and he shall not touch you any more” (14.8-11).
  • f Then she said, “I pray you, let the king remember YHWH your God, that the avenger of blood destroy not any more, lest they destroy my son.” And he said, “As YHWH lives, there shall not one hair of your son fall to the earth” (14.11).
  • e Then the woman said, “Let your handmaid, I pray you, speak a word to my lord the king.” And he said, “Say on.” And the woman said, “Why then have you devised such a thing against the people of God? For in speaking this word the king is as one who is guilty, in that the king does not fetch home again his banished one. For we must necessarily die, and are as water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again, neither does God take away life, but devises means, so that he that is banished continue not as an outcast from him” (14.12-14).
  • d “Now, therefore, seeing that I am come to speak this word to my lord the king, it is because the people have made me afraid, and your handmaid said, ‘I will now speak to the king, it may be that the king will perform the request of his servant. For the king will hear, to deliver his servant out of the hand of the man that would destroy me and my son together out of the inheritance of God” (14.15-16).
  • c “Then your handmaid said, ‘Let, I pray you, the word of my lord the king be comfortable, for as an angel of God, so is my lord the king to discern good and bad, and YHWH your God be with you” (14.17).
  • b Then the king answered and said to the woman, “Do not hide from me, I pray you, anything that I shall ask you.” And the woman said, “Let my lord the king now speak.” And the king said, “Is the hand of Joab with you in all this?” And the woman answered and said, “As your soul lives, my lord the king, none can turn to the right hand or to the left from anything that my lord the king has spoken, for your servant Joab, he bade me, and he put all these words in the mouth of your handmaid. To change the face of the matter has your servant Joab done this thing, and my lord is wise, according to the wisdom of an angel of God, to know all things that are in the earth” (14.18-20).
  • a And the king said to Joab, “Behold now, I have done this thing. Go therefore, bring the young man Absalom back” (14.21).

Note that in ‘a’ Joab perceives David’s attitude towards Absalom, and in the parallel David gives Joab permission to bring Absalom back. In ‘b’ Joab calls on the wise woman of Tekoa to go to David and puts words into her mouth, and in the parallel she admits that Joab sent her and that what she has spoken have been words put into her mouth by Joab. In ‘c’ she pleads to David for help, and in the parallel she is grateful for his ‘helpfulness’. In ‘d’ she tells the story of her son who has slain his brother and is in danger of blood vengeance, pleading his cause, and in the parallel she speaks of David as having given his assurance that he will deliver her son out of the hands of the avenger of blood. In ‘e’ she prays that the king might be guiltless in respect of his concession, and in the parallel she draws out that he is guilty because in giving the concession he has demonstrated his inconsistency. Centrally in ‘f’ the woman deals with the main issue, the setting aside of the right of blood vengeance.

2.14.1 ‘Now Joab the son of Zeruiah perceived that the king’s heart was against (or ’toward’) Absalom.’

How we translate and interpret this verse will depend on our view of 13.39. The ancient Aramaic translation preserved in the Targum, which probably dates back to before the time of Christ, translates as ‘and Joab the son of Zeruiah knew that the heart of the king was to go out against Absalom’ (the verb being read in from 13.39. Apart from ‘perceived’ there is no verb in the Hebrew text). It will be observed that the Targum agrees with the way that we have translated 13.39 (and incidentally disagrees with the Rabbinic ideas). Thus we have the alternatives of either seeing this as referring to David’s antagonism towards Absalom in view of what he had done, possibly including attempts to have him extradited, or as seeing it as referring to his yearning love for Absalom, a love which is certainly revealed later. But the latter does not sit well with David’s being unwilling to allow Absalom into his presence even when he had been allowed to return to Jerusalem. Indeed had he yearned for him so affectionately he could undoubtedly have arranged a reconciliation a good time before, instead of waiting for a few years.

So our view is that what the text means is that Joab perceived the anger and antagonism that was still in David’s heart towards Absalom because he had slain Amnon, with the result that Absalom was still under the threat of blood vengeance from David and his family, while aware that in his heart David still had genuine affection for Absalom. And that he acted on that basis for his own interests, seeing Absalom as a possible heir to the throne, but never dreaming that Absalom would openly rebel.

2.14.2-3 ‘And Joab sent to Tekoa, and fetched from there a wise woman, and said to her, “I pray you, feign yourself to be a mourner, and put on mourning apparel, I pray you, and do not anoint yourself with oil, but be as a woman who has for a long time mourned for the dead, and go in to the king, and speak on this manner to him.” So Joab put the words in her mouth.’

In the course of carrying out his plan Joab sent for a wise woman from Tekoa. It is noteworthy that while David would have sent for a prophet, Joab sent for a secular wise woman. He was not concerned for YHWH’s will but for his own. Such women were seen as wise women because they were old and experienced and had gained a reputation for behaving and speaking wisely (compare 20.16). The fact that Solomon was noted for ‘wisdom’ might point to the fact that David encouraged such people, something of which Joab would be well aware. Her being seen as a ‘wise woman’ was probably by popular opinion rather than there being at this time a class of ‘wise men and women’. They would follow later.

He called on the woman to pretend to be a mourner, one who was in long term mourning for the death of a long dead husband. Thus she was to wear recognised mourning clothes, and was not to anoint herself with oil, as most Israelite women would do on approaching the king. The aim was in order to move David’s tender heart in her favour (Joab knew his man).

Then he gave her the gist of what he wanted her to say. The fact that Joab ‘put words into her mouth’ is stressed twice (see also verse 19). The woman was not necessarily therefore coming forward with the truth. She was putting forward Joab’s case.

2.14.4 ‘And when the woman of Tekoa spoke to the king, she fell on her face to the ground, and did obeisance, and said, “Help, O king.” ’

We should note here that the wise woman appears to have had no difficulty in approaching the king with her request, which gives the lie to Absalom’s claim later on that David was not open to being approached by his people (15.3-4). Such a right of approach to Israel’s leading figure had long been a principle of Yahwism (and in fact was practised by many other kings who, even when very cruel, paradoxically liked to be seen as the ‘father’ or ‘shepherd’ of their people). Consider for example Exodus 18.15-16; Judges 4.4-5; 1 Samuel 7.15-16.

When she approached she made the usual obeisance to the king, falling on her face before him. This was a requirement for all who approached the king. Joab had to act similarly (verse 22). (It would be the same for all who approached David when he was sitting in state, even though it is often not mentioned. The exception may have been the royal family, although even they would have had to make some act of deference). Then she made to the king a plea for his assistance, crying, ‘Give me your help, O king’.

2.14.5-7 ‘And the king said to her, “What ails you?” And she answered, “Of a truth I am a widow, and my husband is dead. And your handmaid had two sons, and they two strove together in the field, and there was none to part them, but the one smote the other, and killed him. And, behold, the whole family is risen against your handmaid, and they say, ‘Deliver him who smote his brother, that we may kill him for the life of his brother whom he slew, and so destroy the heir also.’ Thus will they quench my coal which is left, and will leave to my husband neither name nor remainder upon the face of the earth.”

When the king asked her what her problem was she claimed that she was a widow with two sons, one of whom had accidentally killed the other in a fight. The result was that the whole family were demanding blood vengeance against the surviving son, reminding themselves at the same time that he was the heir to his father’s property. In other words their thoughts were more of taking over the dead man’s inheritance, than of really wanting justice. Justice and blood vengeance were simply the excuse. We can see how cleverly Joab’s words, put into the woman’s mouth, were designed to move the king’s sense of justice and fairplay.

And then the wise woman pointed out what this would mean for her. She would lose her one hope in life, the one thing that she lived for, the one desirable ‘burning coal’ that was left to her. His life would be snuffed out and quenched. And the further result would be that her husband’s name would not be preserved in Israel. Note that every new element that she introduced was describing what was seen in Israel as the most important things in life, indeed as every Israelite’s right; land inheritance, a son to support and care for his widowed mother, and the maintenance of a man’s name through his descendants. And they were all being threatened by greedy men who were making justice their excuse.

2.14.8 ‘And the king said to the woman, “Go to your house, and I will give charge concerning you.”

The wise woman’s words had won David over to her side (as Joab had known they would) and so he informed her to be afraid no longer. He assured her that he himself would issue a royal decree that the son should not be harmed. The son would then be under royal protection and to harm him would then be a direct affront to the king. (It would be the equivalent of being in a City of Refuge). This decision was, in fact, to go against established precedent and the laws of the land, but possibly David had Cain in mind in making his decision, which was a case where YHWH Himself had set aside the recognised principle of blood vengeance (the setting aside of which was of course the point to be made later).

2.14.9 ‘And the woman of Tekoa said to the king, “My lord, O king, the iniquity be on me, and on my father’s house, and the king and his throne be guiltless.” ’

The woman then nobly took on herself and her son all the guilt that might accrue from the decision, thereby acknowledging that she recognised that an ancient and sacred right was being set aside for her sake. This would impress the king with her clear intention of goodwill towards him, even if it was beyond her power to grant it. It would also remind the listener how serious the request was that she was making.

It is indicative of the authority that David felt that he now had, and even to some extent of his new royal arrogance, that he felt able to so override a longstanding principle of justice in such a case. It is apparent from this that he was becoming more and more despotic.

2.14.10 ‘And the king said, “Whoever says anything to you, bring him to me, and he shall not touch you any more.” ’

The king then assured the woman that all that she had to do if her relatives caused trouble, was refer her adversaries to the king. If they had anything further to say she was to bring them to him. Then she could be sure that they would not touch her any more, (if they wanted to live).

2.14.11 ‘Then she said, “I pray you, let the king remember YHWH your God, that the avenger of blood destroy not any more, lest they destroy my son.” And he said, “As YHWH lives, there shall not one hair of your son fall to the earth.” ’

Following up on this the woman now drew attention to and emphasised the main point, and that was that David was setting aside the right of blood vengeance. And apparently wanting him to realise what a serious thing that was to her, she called on David to recognise that he had made his promise in the presence of YHWH his God. Let him remember this in any action he took in the future.

Aware that the woman still appeared to be in need of assurance, David gave her what she sought, his solemn oath before YHWH that not one hair of her son’s head would fall to the earth (there is no doubt a poignancy in this phrase in the writer’s mind in that Absalom’s death would later be caused by his hair, which was one of his main features).

2.14.12 ‘Then the woman said, “Let your handmaid, I pray you, speak a word to my lord the king.” And he said, “Say on.” ’

Acknowledging the king’s goodness the woman then asked if she could put a further request to the king for a boon. And David replied, ‘Say on.’

2.14.13 ‘And the woman said, “Why then have you devised such a thing against the people of God? For in speaking this word the king is as one who is guilty, in that the king does not fetch home again his banished one.” ’

The woman then carefully put her new point as though it was a kind of aside, brought to her mind by what David has done for her ‘son’ (it was in order to make this new point appear as secondary that she shortly returned to speaking again about her own supposed case. She wanted to keep up the deception). She asked why, if he could make such a decision about setting aside blood vengeance in the case of a son of hers, he did not do the same in the case of his own banished son Absalom? Did he not realise that by being so obstinate he was actually harming the people of God who longed for Absalom’s presence once again among them? So while the king was not to be held guilty for what he has done for her ‘son’, he was definitely to be seen as ‘like one who is guilty’ for not fetching home his ‘banished one’. (Note how she carefully avoided actually describing him as guilty. He was merely ‘like one who is guilty’. He was after all the king).

2.14.14 “For we must necessarily die, and are as water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again, nor does God take away life, but devises means, so that he that is banished continue not as an outcast from him.”

She then pointed out that while we must all necessarily die, becoming like water spilled on the ground which is gone for ever, nevertheless God holds life as precious, and thus, rather than taking away people’s lives, devises means by which they may come once more into His presence, and no longer be banished outcasts (i.e. through offerings and sacrifices). The implication was that David should be God-like and devise means for bringing back his own banished outcast, Absalom, without seeking his life, because life is precious.

2.14.15-16 “Now, therefore, seeing that I am come to speak this word to my lord the king, it is because the people have made me afraid, and your handmaid said, ‘I will now speak to the king, it may be that the king will perform the request of his servant. For the king will hear, to deliver his servant out of the hand of the man that would destroy me and my son together out of the inheritance of God.’ ”

Recognising that her request might appear somewhat forward she then hastily pointed out that the reason that she had made the request was because when people had heard that she was approaching the king they had put pressure on her to bring up Absalom’s case, so much so that they had ‘made her afraid’. And that was why, confident that the king would hear her concerning her son, as he now graciously had, she had assured the people that perhaps he might also be willing to hear their request on Absalom’s behalf. The impression that she intended give was that she was very grateful indeed for what David had done for her, but that Absalom had won the hearts of the people as the king’s handsome son, and that it was due to their longing for his return that she had added this further request, a request which she hoped he would also hear.

2.14.17 “Then your handmaid said, ‘Let, I pray you, the word of my lord the king be comfortable, for as an angel of God, so is my lord the king to discern good and bad, and YHWH your God be with you.”

She then expressed her hope that David’s response would be ‘comfortable’, that is, comforting to his people, having in mind that they all saw him as like a messenger (angel) of God (compare 1 Samuel 29.9), one who discerned what was really good and really bad (or ‘discerning everything’, that is, everything that lay between two extremes). And she closed off with the prayer that YHWH his God would be with him, especially in his making the right decision.

2.14.18 ‘Then the king answered and said to the woman, “Do not hide from me, I pray you, anything that I shall ask you.” And the woman said, “Let my lord the king now speak.” ’

The cleverness of the woman’s approach is evident. By her story she had persuaded the king to abrogate the principle of blood vengeance in the case of her dead husband’s son and heir, and she wanted him to think that her approaching the king had meanwhile been taken advantage of by his concerned people in order to persuade him to abrogate the principle of blood vengeance in the case of Absalom. That, of course, being only a secondary reason for her visit. But she was thereby ‘pulling his strings’ and making him feel guilty for behaving unjustly towards Absalom, in that he could show mercy towards the son and heir of another, but not to his own son and heir

David, however, was a very shrewd man, and he was beginning to recognise behind her approach the hand of another who had also seemingly been trying to persuade him to bring Absalom back. So he challenged her not to hide from him anything that he should ask of her, to which she basically agreed.

2.14.19-20 ‘And the king said, “Is the hand of Joab with you in all this?” And the woman answered and said, “As your soul lives, my lord the king, none can turn to the right hand or to the left from anything that my lord the king has spoken, for your servant Joab, he bade me, and he put all these words in the mouth of your handmaid. To change the face of the matter has your servant Joab done this thing, and my lord is wise, according to the wisdom of an angel of God, to know all things that are in the earth.”

He then challenged her as to whether it was Joab who was behind her words. The woman was taken totally by surprise, for she had thought that she had duped David into accepting her account as true, and that all was going well. We may see it as very probable, therefore, that she suffered some trepidation, for to lie to the king was a serious offence. Thus she recognised that her best plan was to confess all, pinning the blame squarely on Joab. Perhaps by that means, she hoped, he would spare her life.

So she expressed her deep admiration at the way that the king knew everything that was going on, discerning even which way people turned, whether to left or right, and admitted that it was indeed ‘his servant Joab’ who had ordered her to approach the king and what was more had ‘put the very words into her mouth’ (it was thus his fault not hers). Then she went on to point out that Joab’s aim had been to ‘change the face of the matter’ (in other words alter the king’s mind), but that the king was ‘wise, according to the wisdom of an angel of God’, and clearly knew everything that was on earth. Even David was not immune to this kind of excessive flattery, the kind of flattery so often offered to kings in those days.

2.14.21 ‘And the king said to Joab, “Behold now, I have done this thing. Go therefore, bring the young man Absalom back.” ’

The writer then loses interest in the woman and proceeds to what resulted from her intervention. It appears from what follows that David felt bound by the decision that he had made on oath, even though it had been obtained by false pretences, and therefore felt that he must act on it, for he now recognised that what he had promised the woman applied to Absalom, and him alone. The result was that ‘the king’ called Joab into his presence and informed him somewhat abruptly that he could go and bring Absalom back. He was clearly acknowledging by this that he felt that he had committed himself by his promise and oath to the woman and must therefore honour what he had promised, even though it was against his inclination. This is brought out by the fact that later he would not acknowledge Absalom or allow him into his presence. It indicated that he was not at all pleased about having been manipulated in this way.

It is this fact that he felt reluctantly bound by the decision that he had reached, even though he had been duped into it, that explains why he acted so against his inclinations in allowing Absalom back, and then would not acknowledge him when he did arrive. Joab had, in fact, served him a very bad turn, something which would rebound on him in the future. Note that he described his decision so obtained as ‘this thing’. So his instruction to Joab that because he (David) had ‘done this thing’ he (Joab) could go and bring Absalom back, must be seen as very reluctantly given. He was learning that kings should be very careful before they made oaths about something which set aside the Law, even when it appeared relatively unimportant. For a king was bound by his sworn word.

(We today would not feel bound by a promise obtained under false pretences, but things were seen differently in those days (compare Joshua 9.3-27). Once a promise was made by a king on oath it was seen as totally binding, and it would appear that David recognised that his oath related to what the woman had really wanted, which was to bring back Absalom and not execute on him blood vengeance, and that in fact that was the only thing that she had wanted This interpretation is the only real explanation of his behaviour in calling Absalom back but not acknowledging him. While it is true that Absalom had not slain his brother by accident, nevertheless he had seen himself as carrying out the just sentence of the Law on someone who had committed incest. Thus it was open to him to argue that as the king’s son with responsibilities for ensuring the carrying out the Law (8.18), and as the grandson of the king of Geshur whose granddaughter had been humiliated, he was only doing his duty. Of course, what David mainly had against him was that he had slain his own firstborn in this way. Had it been anyone else he would have approved of Absalom’s action).

Joab Brings Absalom Back To Jerusalem, But, To Absalom’s Chagrin, Not Initially Into The King’s Favour (14.22-33).

As a result of the scheming of Joab, and the folly of David in his dealings with the wise woman of Tekoa, Absalom was allowed to return to Jerusalem, inviolate. But he was unforgiven, and thus he was not restored to his former status as the acknowledged son of the king. This augured well for no one, for Absalom had the pride that came from descent from two royal families, and he found his position intolerable, and he had probably returned with the expectation of being reinstated as the heir apparent. It is in fact probably from this time that we are to date the growth of his hatred of his father, the hatred which resulted in his rebellion, and which was possibly stoked up even further by the fact that he may well now have been living in the same house as the shadow of what remained of his sister, Tamar, the royal princess of Geshur. Both he and his sister had genuine cause to be aggrieved. Had David dealt rightly with Amnon none of this, apart from the rape, would have happened, and Amnon’s execution might well have assisted Tamar in coping with her problem, dealing with her shame and putting her on the road to recovery. Much therefore lay at David’s door.

Finally Absalom could stand the situation no longer. It was not for this that he had returned from Geshur. His expectancy had been that he would be restored to his former position and be seen as in line for the throne. He would feel that David should not have summoned him back otherwise. And now he was rather being treated as a leper. So when Joab would not respond to his appeals for help he took drastic action, the kind of action that should have acted as a warning for the future, which eventually resulted in a reconciliation with the king, . But it is probable that he now suspected that the throne would not be his on David’s death,

Analysis.

  • a And Joab fell to the ground on his face, and did obeisance, and blessed the king, and Joab said, “Today your servant knows that I have found favour in your sight, my lord, O king, in that the king has performed the request of his servant” (14.22).
  • b So Joab arose and went to Geshur, and brought Absalom to Jerusalem (14.23).
  • c And the king said, “Let him turn to his own house, but let him not see my face.” So Absalom turned to his own house, and saw not the king’s face (14.24).
  • d Now in all Israel there was none to be so much praised as Absalom for his beauty, from the sole of his foot even to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him (14.25).
  • e And when he cut the hair of his head (now it was at every year’s end that he cut it, because it was heavy on him, therefore he cut it), he weighed the hair of his head at two hundred shekels, after the king’s weight (14.26).
  • d And to Absalom there were born three sons, and one daughter, whose name was Tamar. She was a woman of a fair countenance (14.27).
  • c And Absalom dwelt two full years in Jerusalem, and he did not see the king’s face (14.28).
  • b Then Absalom sent for Joab, to send him to the king, but he would not come to him, and he sent again a second time, but he would not come. Therefore he said to his servants, “See, Joab’s field is near mine, and he has barley there. Go and set it on fire.” And Absalom’s servants set the field on fire. Then Joab arose, and came to Absalom to his house, and said to him, “Why have your servants set my field on fire?” And Absalom answered Joab, “Behold, I sent to you, saying, ‘Come here’, that I may send you to the king, to say, ‘Why am I come from Geshur? It were better for me to be there still. Now therefore let me see the king’s face, and if there be iniquity in me, let him kill me’ ” (14.29-32).
  • a So Joab came to the king, and told him, and when he had called for Absalom, he came to the king, and bowed himself on his face to the ground before the king, and the king kissed Absalom (14.33).

Note that in ‘a’ Joab fell to the ground and did obeisance, and was grateful for a benefit received from the king, and in the parallel Absalom bows himself on his face to the ground and receives the king’s favour. In ‘b’ Joab brings Absalom home from Geshur, and in the parallel Absalom wants to know from Joab what the point was of bringing him home from Geshur if he could not see the king’s face. In ‘c’ Absalom returned but was not allowed to see the king’s face, and in the parallel he dwelt in Jerusalem for two years but did not see the king’s face. In ‘d’ Absalom was without blemish in his appearance, and in the parallel he was fruitful and his daughter was fair to look upon. Central in ‘e’ was the length and weight of his hair, a sign of extreme manliness and comeliness, both attributes desirable in a king.

2.14.22 ‘And Joab fell to the ground on his face, and did obeisance, and blessed the king, and Joab said, “Today your servant knows that I have found favour in your sight, my lord, O king, in that the king has performed the request of his servant.” ’

When Joab learned that David was fulfilling his oath to the wise woman as though he had made it to Joab himself (he also may have been feeling apprehensive of what repercussions might be forthcoming), he came into David’s presence and fell on his face to the ground and did obeisance, expressing his gratitude in great humility because he had ‘found favour in David’s sight’ sufficient for him to grant his request. He was probably also secretly relieved.

2.14.23 ‘So Joab arose and went to Geshur, and brought Absalom to Jerusalem.’

Then following up on David’s permission he arose and went to Geshur and brought Absalom home to Jerusalem, presumably with great pomp. No doubt both Joab and Absalom were expecting Absalom’s full reinstatement. They would have felt that otherwise David should not have agreed to his coming. What both probably did not recognise was that David was only doing it because he felt himself bound by his oath made in the name of YHWH to the woman of Tekoa (4.11), whose ‘son’ had turned out to be Absalom, an oath that had been tricked out of him.

2.14.24 ‘And the king said, “Let him turn to his own house, but let him not see my face.” So Absalom turned to his own house, and saw not the king’s face.’

The king was therefore obdurate. Absalom must turn for shelter to his own house. He was not to be allowed to see the king’s face. It may well be that David’s guilt feelings for not having done more than he had, had caused him to harden his own heart. He would have known that he should have done more about what Amnon had done, and his contacts with the king of Geshur would undoubtedly have emphasised the fact. But what he could not forget or forgive was that Absalom had raised his hand against a royal personage in the person of Amnon, without his permission. He had deeply offended the king. It is quite clear that David did not really want Absalom back in Jerusalem. Joab had thus served him a bad turn.

2.14.25 ‘Now in all Israel there was none to be so much praised as Absalom for his beauty, from the sole of his foot even to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him.’

But to a king’s son, who was also famed for his looks and for his virility (as revealed by his hair) this situation was unbearable. For while David wanted nothing to do with him Absalom was the idol of all Israel. None was so much praised for his handsome face, and for his overall beauty in that there was no blemish on him anywhere.

2.14.26 ‘And when he cut the hair of his head (now it was at every year’s end that he cut it, because it was heavy on him, therefore he cut it), he weighed the hair of his head at two hundred shekels, after the king’s weight.’

And his hair (which would eventually be the death of him) was a sight to behold. It grew so luxuriously that he had to have it cut once a year because it became too heavy for him (compare Ezekiel 5.1). And when he had cut it, it was found (by him) to weigh ‘200 shekels after the king’s weight’. We are not sure what a shekel weighed although it has been suggested that it may have been up to 13 grams, which would give 2.6 kilograms or 6 pounds. But the royal shekel may have been less. The weight would, of course, have included the extra weight caused by oils added to the hair over the year. This act of weighing the hair may have been connected with the practise of the giving of gold or silver to the poor based on the weight of the hair, a custom certainly practised later by the Arabs, and possibly familiar among the Geshurites. Such giving would have been typical of Absalom in his bid to find favour.

(Note that the weight given is as assessed by him. It is always possible that he and his servants actually overstated the real weight of his hair so as to make a more powerful impression on all who learned of it).

It would appear to have been normal for Israelite men to have shoulder length hair, and some fierce warriors appear to have let their hair hang loose (although not untidily) when they went into battle (see for example Judges 5.2 Hebrew text; Deuteronomy 32.42 Hebrew text). So the idea behind the mention of Absalom’s hair may have been with the purpose of indicating his manliness and soldier-like qualities, combined with his generosity. In other words he was overall to be seen as a splendid kind of man.

2.14.27 ‘And to Absalom there were born three sons, and one daughter, whose name was Tamar. She was a woman of a fair countenance.’

Furthermore not only did he have luxurious hair but Absalom was also fruitful, and had three sons, three being seen as signifying completeness. Sadly it would appear that the sons died young, which is probably why their names are not given, and that would explain why he later raised a pillar because he had no sons to carry on his name (18.18). Such infant deaths were by no means uncommon, and would not have been seen as diminishing his reputation for fruitfulness. Furthermore his daughter Tamar did survive and her beauty was seen as a credit to him, so that he received added praise through his daughter. Overall then he is depicted as a magnificent kind of person. However, such a description in Samuel regularly acts as a warning of someone outwardly suitable, but who may in the end turn out not to be suitable. Compare the descriptions of the magnificence of both Saul and Eliab (1 Samuel 9.2; 16.6-7) neither of whom proved suitable in the end. For while man looks at the outward appearance, YHWH looks at the heart.

It would appear that Absalom named his daughter Tamar after his sister. However, in 2 Chronicles 11.21 a daughter of ‘Absalom’ is apparently called Maacah. (On the other hand 1 Kings 15.2 says that Maacah was the daughter of Abi-shalom). It may therefore be that there were two Absaloms, one of whom was better known as Abi-shalom. Alternatively Maacah (the name also of Absalom’s mother) may have been a second name given to Tamar on her marriage, (or at birth), linking her with the royal house of Geshur and with her royal grandmother. Giving a new name on marriage was a common practise in the Ancient Near East (compare Genesis 26.34 with 36.2), and having two names was not uncommon. A third alternative is that Maacah was a daughter born to Absalom in Geshur, who remained there with her grandparents and is thus not mentioned in this narrative.

2.14.28 ‘And Absalom dwelt two full years in Jerusalem, and he did not see the king’s face.’

With all his beauty and ability Absalom was not acceptable to the king. The contrast is deliberate. Men saw his outward appearance, David saw his heart. Thus Absalom lived two full years in Jerusalem and never saw the king’s face. In other words for two years he was excluded from court, and from meeting the king. Such treatment began to gnaw at his heart, for in his view he was the heir-presumptive, and he knew himself to be a king’s son through both of his parents, and had learned to be treated as such. Better then to be in Geshur and be treated royally with honour, than to be spurned in Jerusalem, with seemingly no entry to the court and no hope of the succession. He became more and more bitter as the months went by.

2.14.29 ‘Then Absalom sent for Joab, to send him to the king, but he would not come to him, and he sent again a second time, but he would not come.’

In the end he felt that enough was enough and he called for Joab with a view to asking him to intercede for him to the king. But to his chagrin he discovered that now even Joab would not come to him. Joab, following his usual tactic, had recognised that Absalom was not in full favour, and was therefore someone to be avoided. This would have annoyed Absalom even further. He was not used to being treated in this way.

2.14.30 ‘Therefore he said to his servants, “See, Joab’s field is near mine, and he has barley there. Go and set it on fire.” And Absalom’s servants set the field on fire.’

However, ensuring that Joab came to see him was not too difficult. He did it by means of the strategy of getting his servants to set Joab’s fields on fire. It is possible that he tried to make it look accidental, for setting fire to someone else’s barley deliberately would have been seen as a serious offence. But Joab would probably not have been in any doubt about the situation. It was the kind of thing that he would have done himself.

But the writer’s purpose in giving this detail was in order to bring out that while Absalom was an outwardly splendid man, underneath he had a ruthless streak. It is already a warning of what is to follow. It demonstrated that if Absalom did not get his own way he was prepared to use violence in order to obtain it. To set alight a person’s barley was a major crime in which few would have indulged (compare the consequences to Samson’s family in Judges 15.4-6).

2.14.31 ‘Then Joab arose, and came to Absalom to his house, and said to him, “Why have your servants set my field on fire?” ’

Meanwhile the strategy worked. It inevitably brought Joab to Absalom’s house in order to complain that Absalom’s servants had set his fields on fire and in order to discover the reason for it.

2.14.32 ‘And Absalom answered Joab, “Behold, I sent to you, saying, ‘Come here’, that I may send you to the king, to say, ‘Why am I come from Geshur? It were better for me to be there still. Now therefore let me see the king’s face, and if there be iniquity in me, let him kill me.’ ”

Absalom admitted nothing, but simply pointed out that he had already called on Joab to visit him so that he could send him to the king to ask him, if he did not intend to allow him to see his face, what the point had been of bringing him from Geshur. In such circumstances he would have been far better off in Geshur where he was treated with all honour. Let Joab therefore tell the king that he was prepared to stand trial and take whatever sentence was passed, but that he could no longer stand being ostracised.

‘If there be iniquity in me, let him kill me.’ His words suggest that if he was arraigned he considered that he had a good defence. After all Amnon had committed incest with his sister, a princess of Geshur, and thus in accordance with the Law (and certainly by the laws of Geshur), had been doomed to die. He could have argued therefore that he had merely been carrying out the necessary sentence, acting as the king’s son and representative, as well as acting on behalf of the royal court of Geshur, to avenge their wrong. It was a case to which David would have little answer, for he should have dealt with Amnon himself. David did, of course, see it differently, but he would probably not want it to be argued out openly in court, even in one presided over by himself.

2.14.33 ‘So Joab came to the king, and told him, and when he had called for Absalom, he came to the king, and bowed himself on his face to the ground before the king, and the king kissed Absalom.’

So when Joab came to David and informed him of the words of Absalom, David’s resistance seems to have crumbled, and he called for Absalom to come to him. And when Absalom came to him and bowed himself on his face to the ground before him, David received him with a royal kiss of reconciliation and forgiveness. It appeared that all was set fair for the future for both parties.

Absalom Wins For Himself The Loyalty Of The People (15.1-6).

Absalom had by now probably caught on to the fact that if he waited for David to die the throne would be given to someone else. and that would explain why he began to plan a coup. Initially his activity would only appear to be that of a rather vain king’s son, but gradually it built up into something more insidious as he began to convince the people that ‘if only he was in power’ all would get justice. And yet even that might have been looked on by David with some amusement as he saw it as being with the intention of building up support for when David died. He had overlooked the traits that indicated that when Absalom wanted anything, he was willing to do anything to obtain it.

At first sight all appears to go well for Absalom. Judah and Israel will be won over, Ahithophel the Wise will join him in Hebron in order that together they might commence the rebellion, and David will have to flee from Jerusalem for his life, leaving the way wide open for Absalom into the capital. It is all part of YHWH’s chastening of David for his great sins. But it will be made clear that YHWH has not rejected David, and that because David’s heart is still right towards him. Though he will chastise him severely (7.14) he will then enable him to retain the kingship, and the remainder of the account will indicate how it is YHWH Who will be instrumental in defeating and humiliating Absalom, and thwarting all his plans.

Thus:

  • It is YHWH Who, when David learns that Ahithophel is aligned against him and prays for help, sends him Hushai the Archite who will confound the wisdom of Ahithophel (15.31).
  • It is YHWH who causes Absalom to prefer the counsel of Hushai to that of Ahithophel, even though Ahithophel’s counsel is almost like that of God (16.23; 17.14).
  • It is YHWH who sends to David assurance of His goodwill, not only through the coming of Hushai, but also through the determined loyalty of Ittai the Gittite, through the Ark of God supervising his departure from Jerusalem, and through provisions being brought to him by Ziba the Saulide (15.19-16.4).
  • Even the forest itself fights against Absalom and Israel (18.8), and it is the forest which will take Absalom captive and make him ready for the slaughter (18.9).

So Absalom’s defeat will finally be due to YHWH. On the other hand Absalom is also depicted as defeated by his vanity, as well as because he has rebelled against the anointed of YHWH. Thus:

  • He listened to Hushai because whereas Ahithophel offered him sound wisdom, Hushai offered him great glory (17.11).
  • In striking contrast with David, he went into battle in person in order that the glory might be his (17.26; 18.3-4; 18.9).
  • He entered the forest riding on a royal mule, a factor which led to his downfall (18.9).
  • It was his flowing hair, of which he was so proud, that finally sealed his fate (18.9-10).

So, as so often in history, it is God’s sovereign activity and man’s rebellion and folly which go hand in hand in order to accomplish God’s purposes, which was in this case the chastening of David because of his gross sins and complacency, and the destruction of those who rebelled against His Anointed.

Analysis of 15.1-6.

  • a And it came about after this, that Absalom prepared him a chariot and horses, and fifty men to run before him (15.1).
  • b And Absalom rose up early, and stood beside the way of the gate, and it was so, that, when any man had a suit which should come to the king for judgment, then Absalom called to him, and said, “Of what city are you?” And he said, “Your servant is of one of the tribes of Israel”. And Absalom said to him, “See, your matters are good and right, but there is no man deputed of the king to hear you” (15.2-3).
  • c Absalom said moreover, “Oh that I were made judge in the land, that every man who has any suit or cause might come to me, and I would do him justice!” (15.4).
  • b And it was so, that, when any man came near to do him obeisance, he put forth his hand, and took hold of him, and kissed him. And in this manner did Absalom to all Israel who came to the king for judgment (15.5-6a).
  • a So Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel (15.6b).

Note that in ‘a’ Absalom puts on a show of splendour and in the parallel he steals the hearts of the men of Israel. In ‘b’ he seeks to subvert those who come for justice to Jerusalem, and in the parallel he seeks to win their heart’s response. Centrally in ‘c’ he declares what a good ruler he would be.

2.15.1 ‘And it came about after this, that Absalom prepared him a chariot and horses, and fifty men to run before him.’

Absalom’s first move was to increase his reputation in the popular mind by travelling in a chariot and horses preceded by fifty runners. This display of pomp, common with many kings of the day, was intended to indicate to the people how important he was (compare 1 Kings 1.5-6; 1 Samuel 8.11). It underlined to them his supreme royal status. (Ordinary people are often impressed by great display).

2.15.2 ‘And Absalom rose up early, and stood beside the way of the gate, and it was so, that, when any man had a suit which should come to the king for judgment, then Absalom called to him, and said, “Of what city are you?” And he said, “Your servant is of one of the tribes of Israel.” ’

But he went further. Every day he would go down to the city gate (which was where justice would normally be exercised) early in the morning and when anyone came by, who had come to see the king in order to seek justice, he would begin to chat with him and find out who he was and what his case was all about.

2.15.3 ‘And Absalom said to him, “See, your matters are good and right, but there is no man deputed of the king to hear you.” ’

And once he knew the details he would point out to the man that his case was good and right, but that there did not appear to be anyone there, deputed by the king to hear it. Thus everyone got the impression that Absalom would certainly have ensured that their case was heard and that if only Absalom had heard their case they would have succeeded in their bid for justice.

We know in fact from the case of the wise woman of Tekoa that the court of David was open to such suppliants, but those who came (somewhat pensively because they were not sure what to expect, and knowing that justice was usually dispensed at the city gate) were no doubt soon persuaded that there was no opportunity of justice available because there was no one at the gate to dispense it, but that had Absalom been king it would have been very different. It is probable that in Jerusalem justice was not dispensed at the numerous gates of the city, but at a place appointed by the king. But the ordinary people visiting from other cities would not necessarily know that.

2.15.4 ‘Absalom said moreover, “Oh that I were made judge in the land, that every man who has any suit or cause might come to me, and I would do him justice!” ’

Having given his assurance to each one who came that had he been ruler they would have succeeded in their case, Absalom would then proclaim for all within hearing to hear that if only he were king in the land every man would be able to come to him and would obtain justice, in other words would win his case.

2.15.5 And it was so, that, when any man came near to do him obeisance, he put forth his hand, and took hold of him, and kissed him.’

And he not only assured each person that they would each obtain justice (as they saw it) from him, but when they approached him to do obeisance to him as the king’s son, he would wave it aside, put out his hand, take hold of them and kiss them as though they were his best friends.

2.15.6 ‘And in this manner did Absalom to all Israel who came to the king for judgment. So Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel.’

This was the way in which Absalom behaved towards all in Israel who came to the king seeking justice. It was the way by which he ‘stole the hearts of all Israel’. Soon the word would get around which would convince the people of what a wonderful king Absalom would make. David was about to learn that if you invite a snake into your bed you should not be surprised if you are bitten.

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Commentary on Samuel - Contents

1 Samuel 1.1-4.1a The Birth of Samuel And His Subsequent Career

1 Samuel 4.1b-8.22 The Movements of the Ark of God and the Judgeship of Samuel

1 Samuel 9.1-12.25 Saul Becomes King

1 Samuel 13-15 The Downfall Of Saul

1 Samuel 16.1-18.4 David Is Anointed And Slays Goliath

1 Samuel 18.5-20.42 The Rise Of David And Jealousy Of Saul

1 Samuel 21.1-22.23 The Murder of The Priests, David Builds a Private Army

1 Samuel 23.1-26.25 Saul Constantly Harasses David, David And Nabal, David Twice Spares Saul’s Life

1 Samuel 27.1-30.31 David Defeats The Amalekites Who Had Sacked Ziklag, Saul and Jonathan Die On Mount Gilboa

2 Samuel 1.1-5.5. David Is Anointed As King of Judah, Civil War In Israel, David Is Anointed As King Of Israel

2 Samuel 5.6-10.19 David Captures Jerusalem, Defeats The Philistines, Receives The Promise Of The Everlasting Kingship, Captures Rabbah

2 Samuel 15.7-20.26> Absalom’s Rebellion And Its Quelling, Controversy Between Israel and Judah, Sheba’s Rebellion

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THE PENTATEUCH --- GENESIS ---EXODUS--- LEVITICUS --- NUMBERS --- DEUTERONOMY --- THE BOOK OF JOSHUA --- THE BOOK OF JUDGES --- THE BOOK OF RUTH --- SAMUEL --- KINGS --- EZRA---NEHEMIAH--- ESTHER--- PSALMS 1-50--- PROVERBS---ECCLESIASTES--- SONG OF SOLOMON --- ISAIAH --- JEREMIAH --- LAMENTATIONS --- EZEKIEL --- DANIEL --- --- HOSEA --- --- JOEL ------ AMOS --- --- OBADIAH --- --- JONAH --- --- MICAH --- --- NAHUM --- --- HABAKKUK--- --- ZEPHANIAH --- --- HAGGAI --- ZECHARIAH --- --- MALACHI --- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW ---THE GOSPEL OF MARK--- THE GOSPEL OF LUKE --- THE GOSPEL OF JOHN --- THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES --- READINGS IN ROMANS --- 1 CORINTHIANS --- 2 CORINTHIANS ---GALATIANS --- EPHESIANS--- PHILIPPIANS --- COLOSSIANS --- 1 THESSALONIANS --- 2 THESSALONIANS --- 1 TIMOTHY --- 2 TIMOTHY --- TITUS --- PHILEMON --- HEBREWS --- JAMES --- 1 & 2 PETER --- JOHN'S LETTERS --- JUDE --- REVELATION --- THE GOSPELS & ACTS