2 Samuel 17
Pulpit Commentary
Moreover Ahithophel said unto Absalom, Let me now choose out twelve thousand men, and I will arise and pursue after David this night:
And I will come upon him while he is weary and weak handed, and will make him afraid: and all the people that are with him shall flee; and I will smite the king only:
And I will bring back all the people unto thee: the man whom thou seekest is as if all returned: so all the people shall be in peace.
Verse 3. - The man whom thou seekest is as if all returned; Hebrew, as the return of the whole is the man whom thou seekest. Both the amendments of the text and the various translations offered are innumerable, but nothing is really more satisfactory than the literal rendering of the words, virtually given us in the Authorized Version. Naturally, Ahithophel did not wish to parade David's death too openly. In his heart Absalom must have known that the safe possession of the kingdom could be assured him only by his father's death, but yet he might have shrunk from publicly avowing this, and having it talked of before his courtiers as a settled purpose. One reason why he adopted the counsel of Hushai may have been his reluctance to commit parricide: for plainly the one main purpose of Ahithophel was David's death. This thorough traitor may have seen even a tremor of alarm in Absalom's countenance when he spake out his purpose so frankly of "smiting the king only," and may have felt that, slumbering in the besom of the son, was something of that generous spirit which had made the father condemn the Amalekite to death for boasting that he had slain Saul. At all events, he was unwilling to dilate upon so ghastly a theme, and this general reference to David, as the man whom Absalom sought, without dwelling upon the subject, is in far better taste than the coarse open villainy so unreservedly expressed in ver. 2. The reading, however, of the Septuagint has many followers: "And I will bring back all the people to thee as a bride returns to her husband, excepting the life of the one man thou seekest; and for all the people there shall be peace." Ahithophel was bad enough, but scarcely so brutal as to compare to a bridal procession the sad return of David's mourning friends and companions in arms weeping round the corpse of their master murdered at the bidding of his own son.
And the saying pleased Absalom well, and all the elders of Israel.
Verse 4. - All the elders of Israel. Their presence seems to show that Absalom professed to act in an orderly and constitutional manner, and with the advice of those in authority. It was possibly this wish to keep up appearances which made him command Hushai to be summoned, as he was one whose advice would certainly have been asked had matters gone on in their ordinary channel. So again in vers. 14, 15, Absalom acts only with the popular consent. Very probably the royal power was gradually superseding that of the tribal authorities, and this may have made David unpopular with many of the great nobles. Absalom would thus gain many adherents by associating "elders" and "men of Israel" with him in his councils.
Then said Absalom, Call now Hushai the Archite also, and let us hear likewise what he saith.
And when Hushai was come to Absalom, Absalom spake unto him, saying, Ahithophel hath spoken after this manner: shall we do after his saying? if not; speak thou.
And Hushai said unto Absalom, The counsel that Ahithophel hath given is not good at this time.
Verse 7. - And Hushai said. Hushai gives his advice with much Oriental exaggeration, such as ought to have put Absalom on his guard. His main points are that David was too practised a soldier to let himself be surprised. In his adventures with Saul he and his men had been trained to hold large bodies of pursuers at bay, and evade them. The men, too, who were with him were warriors of desperate valour, whose first thought would be the king's personal safety, and to ensure this they would conceal him in some pit, some cave or ravine, safe and inaccessible by nature; or in some place (omit the inserted word "other"), that is, in some camping place, made strong with ramparts, so as to resist the first attack. "To smite the king only" is, therefore, an impossibility; and if the attack fail, and David's mighties, in their irritation, slaughter a large number of their assailants, and a panic be the result, men will hesitate before they attack such redoubtable champions a second time. A check is fatal to a rebellion, and Absalom, was staking his chance on one hasty encounter. Better leave the decision to all Israel. Their hearts were with Absalom, and, when there has been time for them to gather in their thousands, success is certain. Their numbers will be countless as the sands on the shore, or as the dew upon the grass; while David and his heroes will shrink to so small a body as to be scarcely able to man the walls of one small city. And fighting there will be none; for the myriads of Israel will drag city and fugitives with ropes down into the nearest torrent bed, where the next floods will wash all away. There was more in this than an appeal to Absalom's vanity. If all Israel did take his side, then David's cause would soon be hopeless, and there would be no need of parricide. David's death would be the act of Israel, and not of Absalom. Evidently Absalom believed that all Israel was on his side, and his success hitherto had been so rapid as almost to justify the assumption. To us this success is almost unaccountable, but it suggests that there were great faults in David's administration. Yet even so we wonder at the existence of such general dissatisfaction. At this time. A wrong translation. The Hebrew is, Ahithophel's counsel this time is not good, whereas last time, what he advised about the concubines was good.
For, said Hushai, thou knowest thy father and his men, that they be mighty men, and they be chafed in their minds, as a bear robbed of her whelps in the field: and thy father is a man of war, and will not lodge with the people.
Behold, he is hid now in some pit, or in some other place: and it will come to pass, when some of them be overthrown at the first, that whosoever heareth it will say, There is a slaughter among the people that follow Absalom.
Verse 9. - When some of them be overthrown at the first; Hebrew, in the falling on them; that is, at the first onslaught of David's champions. Even though overpowered finally by force of numbers, they are sure to make a large slaughter at first, which may easily lead to a panic.
And he also that is valiant, whose heart is as the heart of a lion, shall utterly melt: for all Israel knoweth that thy father is a mighty man, and they which be with him are valiant men.
Therefore I counsel that all Israel be generally gathered unto thee, from Dan even to Beersheba, as the sand that is by the sea for multitude; and that thou go to battle in thine own person.
Verse 11. - And that thou go to battle in thine own person; literally, and that thy presence go to the battle. The versions have preserved a much better reading, "And that thy presence go in the midst of them."
So shall we come upon him in some place where he shall be found, and we will light upon him as the dew falleth on the ground: and of him and of all the men that are with him there shall not be left so much as one.
Verse 12. - In some place; Hebrew, in one of the places; one of the fortified camps already described in ver. 9.
Moreover, if he be gotten into a city, then shall all Israel bring ropes to that city, and we will draw it into the river, until there be not one small stone found there.
Verse 13. - The river. The word does not signify a river, but a ravine or gorge worn away by the action of a torrent. Such ravines are common in Palestine, where the streams rush along with resistless fury after the rains, but in summer are dry (Job 6:17); and their desolate beds, bordered by precipitous cliffs, are described by Isaiah as favourite places for the cruel rites of Moloch (Isaiah 57:5). Dragged to the edge of one of these gorges, the city, with its few defenders, would topple over, and in the next rainy season be entirely swept away.
And Absalom and all the men of Israel said, The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel. For the LORD had appointed to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, to the intent that the LORD might bring evil upon Absalom.
Verse 14. - The counsel of Hushai is better. It seemed safer. Nothing in it was left to chance, and Absalom, already at the head of such numbers as to be able to select from them twelve thousand picked men, saw himself, in fancy, marching forward with all Israel at his feet. As a matter of fact, he did advance with so large an army that David was saved only by the skilful strategy of Joab. Like other king makers, Ahithophel had put himself too forward. He asked for twelve thousand men to be placed under his command, that he might smite David, and so be, not only Absalom's counsellor, but also his commander-in-chief. Amasa and the other commanders would be displeased at this, and Absalom would feel that he was himself placed in a very secondary position. Ahithophel may have asked for the command solely because no one's presence would so ensure success as his own, but he wounded the vanity beth of Absalom and Amasa, and made them ready to listen to any other advice that might be offered. The Lord had appointed; literally, and Jehovah had commanded to bring to nought, etc. So plain did it seem to the writer that Absalom's success depended upon rapid action, that nothing less than the direct interference of the Divine providence could account for the infatuation of Absalom and his counsellors.
Then said Hushai unto Zadok and to Abiathar the priests, Thus and thus did Ahithophel counsel Absalom and the elders of Israel; and thus and thus have I counselled.
Now therefore send quickly, and tell David, saying, Lodge not this night in the plains of the wilderness, but speedily pass over; lest the king be swallowed up, and all the people that are with him.
Verse 16. - Lodge not this night in the plains (at the fords) of the wilderness. The plan of Ahithophel made David's position so dangerous, that he must hesitate no longer, lest, on second thoughts, Absalom should still adopt it. Hushai had frustrated it for the present; but Ahithophel might urge it again, and get the necessary permission; and then David and all the people that were with him would be swallowed up, that is, destroyed utterly, and with ease.
Now Jonathan and Ahimaaz stayed by Enrogel; for they might not be seen to come into the city: and a wench went and told them; and they went and told king David.
Verse 17. - Stayed by En-rogel. The two youths were posted at En-rogel, that is, the "Fuller's spring," near Jerusalem (Joshua 15:7; 1 Kings 1:9), and probably the place now known as "Job's Well," situated at the point where the valleys of Jehoshaphat and Hinnom meet. They were placed there because, though they would have been admitted into the city, they would scarcely have been allowed to leave it. Instead of wench - a term less disrespectful when the Authorized Version was made than it is now - the Hebrew has the maidservant. Probably the maid is meant whose usual duty it was to fetch water for domestic purposes, and thus her journey to the well would excite no suspicion.
Nevertheless a lad saw them, and told Absalom: but they went both of them away quickly, and came to a man's house in Bahurim, which had a well in his court; whither they went down.
Verse 18. - A lad saw them. Probably Absalom had sent out spies to watch the route which David had taken, to prevent any friends totaling him from the city, who would give him information as to the progress of events there. The word "lad" does not mean a boy; more probably he was one of the young men who formed Absalom's body guard, like the ten "lads," translated "young men," in 2 Samuel 18:15, Who bare Joab's armour. It Would be his duty to seize them, but when he tried to approach them, they fled, and made their way at full speed to Bahurim, where they were saved by the shrewdness and fidelity of a woman. Two such fleet runners would have had no difficulty in outstripping a boy, but one of Absalom's young men would have roused the neighbourhood to join in the pursuit. The well in his court really signifies a cistern for storing rainwater; but it was at that time dry, and served as a convenient hiding place for the two messengers.
And the woman took and spread a covering over the well's mouth, and spread ground corn thereon; and the thing was not known.
Verse 19. - A covering; Hebrew, the cover; that is, the usual cover of the cistern, which had been taken off to let the young men descend into it. Over it she spread, not ground corn, but brayed or peeled corn (see Proverbs 27:22), probably barley groats. She was probably busy in removing the husks of the barley with a pestle in a mortar when Jonathan and Ahimaaz sought refuge with her; and thus her whole proceeding was so natural as to excite no suspicions.
And when Absalom's servants came to the woman to the house, they said, Where is Ahimaaz and Jonathan? And the woman said unto them, They be gone over the brook of water. And when they had sought and could not find them, they returned to Jerusalem.
Verse 20. - They be gone over the brook of water. The word michal, translated "brook," does not occur elsewhere, and probably it was a local name for some stream near Bahurim. It was, we may suppose, in the right direction, but when the pursuers had followed for some time, and caught no glimpse of the runners, knowing their swiftness of foot, they concluded that they had outstripped them. and, giving up the chase as hopeless, returned to Jerusalem. It was only when she had seen them far on their way back that she removed the cover and allowed the young priests to resume their journey. The delay, would have been fatal to David if vigorous counsel had been followed at Jerusalem; as it was, they reached David's camp without further incident, and acquainted him with Ahithophel's plan; and the king at once recognized his danger, and without more delay, commenced at once the passage of the Jordan, and carried it out so skilfully and rapidly, that by the morning every one of his company was safe on the other side.
And it came to pass, after they were departed, that they came up out of the well, and went and told king David, and said unto David, Arise, and pass quickly over the water: for thus hath Ahithophel counselled against you.
Then David arose, and all the people that were with him, and they passed over Jordan: by the morning light there lacked not one of them that was not gone over Jordan.
And when Ahithophel saw that his counsel was not followed, he saddled his ass, and arose, and gat him home to his house, to his city, and put his household in order, and hanged himself, and died, and was buried in the sepulchre of his father.
Verse 23. - Ahithophel...hanged himself. There is an old fancy, put down by Thenius as one of the curiosities of interpretation, that Ahithophel died of a quinsy; for the word might mean "was strangled or choked." But the act seems mentioned as a proof of Ahithophel's unerring judgment. Indignation at Absalom's folly, and at the slight. cast upon himself, is not a sufficient reason for so violent a deed. He must have foreseen the certain ruin of the conspiracy if David was allowed time; and he knew that upon its failure would follow his own punishment. It is proof also that he was a fierce and ill-tempered man, and animated for some reason or other with a malignant hatred of David. The parallel between Ahithophel and the traitor Judas must strike every one.
Then David came to Mahanaim. And Absalom passed over Jordan, he and all the men of Israel with him.
Verse 24. - Then (Hebrew, and) David came to Mahanaim. (On Mahanaim, see note on 2 Samuel 2:8.) It was now a fortified city, with walls and gates (2 Samuel 18:24), and its strength of position, which had made it a safe capital for Ishbosheth, who had probably added to its defences, made it also a safe retreat for David while gathering his forces. As it was only about fifty miles distant from the fords of the Jordan, David had not retreated far; and, meanwhile, Absalom was wasting time in gathering "all the men of Israel" for the attack. During this interval Absalom was anointed king (2 Samuel 19:10) by the priests, with all due solemnity.
And Absalom made Amasa captain of the host instead of Joab: which Amasa was a man's son, whose name was Ithra an Israelite, that went in to Abigail the daughter of Nahash, sister to Zeruiah Joab's mother.
Verse 25. - Ithra an Israelite. In 1 Chronicles 2:17 he is called "Jether the Ishmeelite." The first name is the same, Ithra being the emphatic form of Jether; and as it is difficult to find a reason for mentioning so ordinary a fact as that his father was an Israelite, we may conclude that "Ishmeelite" is the correct reading. Bishop Wordsworth, however, suggests that "Israelite" was in contrast to "Judahite;" but this distinction did not come into use until after the disruption of the kingdom. The Vatican text of the Septuagint has "Jezreelite," which is probably a conjecture to get rid of the obvious error of calling him an Israelite. Amasa was an illegitimate son, which confirms the reading "Ishmeelite" in 1 Chronicles 2:17, as a marriage between Abigail and a foreigner would be sure to be opposed by all the members of Jesse's family. Nahash. Jewish interpreters regard Nahash (equivalent to "serpent") as another name for Jesse, quoting in proof, "Out of the root of Nahash (the serpent) shall come forth the basilisk" (Isaiah 14:29), which in the Chaldee Paraphrase is explained as meaning, "out of the root of Jesse shall come forth the Messiah." This conceit would scarcely have deserved mention, had it not found a place in the margin of the Authorized Version. Some few commentators regard Nahash as a woman's name, and think that she was a wife of Jesse, and mother of Abigail and Zerniah, but not of David. But Nahash is so constantly a man's name that it is easier to believe that Nahash was the first husband of David's mother, and Abigail and Zerniah his half-sisters, not on the father's, but on the mother's side. Joab and his brothers are always described as sons of Zeruiah, both to mark their relationship to David, and also because the rank was on her side. Amasa was probably the Amasai mentioned in 1 Chronicles 12:18 as bringing a powerful reinforcement to David while at Ziklag; but the ambition of supplanting Joab made him now forget David's long friendship.
So Israel and Absalom pitched in the land of Gilead.
And it came to pass, when David was come to Mahanaim, that Shobi the son of Nahash of Rabbah of the children of Ammon, and Machir the son of Ammiel of Lodebar, and Barzillai the Gileadite of Rogelim,
Verse 27. - Shobi. It is evident that the most powerful chieftains in Gilead were on David's side, and supported him with men as well as with provisions. Adherents, too, would constantly cross the Jordan, and gather round the old king; and thus, when Absalom arrived, he found himself in face of an army estimated at about twenty thousand men. Among these chiefs it is interesting to find Shobi, son of Nahash, the Ammonite king, and David's friend (2 Samuel 10:2). When Hanun, the elder son, on succeeding to the throne, brought ruin upon himself by his misconduct to David's ambassadors, Shobi apparently remained faithful to David, and received the grant of a district in Gilead, where he settled with his followers. Some, with less probability, suppose that he had withdrawn to Gilead in the lifetime of his father, to be out of Hanun's way. Machir was the generous man who had given the crippled son of Jonathan a refuge (2 Samuel 9:4); and David's honourable treatment of Mephibosheth may have won his patron's heart. Of Barzillai, and his abode, Rogelim, nothing more is known than what is said here, and in the very interesting narrative in 2 Samuel 19:31, etc. David's lasting gratitude to him is shown by his care for his sons (see 1 Kings 2:7). A clan of priests called themselves "the children of Barzillai," and claimed to be the descendants of his daughter. They could not, however, produce their genealogy, and were therefore degraded from the priestly office (Ezra 2:61-63). Their claim, nevertheless, is a proof that Barzillai was a little king in Gilead, when thus a priestly race thought their alliance with him so honourable as to make them forget that they were of the lineage of Aaron.
Brought beds, and basons, and earthen vessels, and wheat, and barley, and flour, and parched corn, and beans, and lentiles, and parched pulse,
Verse 28. - Beds. These would be for the women and children, and were scarcely more than rugs and small carpets. Basons; pots of metal for cooking, while the earthenware would be vessels for holding their food. Parched (corn) ... and parched (pulse); Hebrew, kali... and kali. The word includes all kinds of parched grain. The Septuagint and Syriac rightly omit it in the second place, as it is probably a mere error of some ancient copyist; but for what word it has been substituted we have no means of ascertaining.
And honey, and butter, and sheep, and cheese of kine, for David, and for the people that were with him, to eat: for they said, The people is hungry, and weary, and thirsty, in the wilderness.
Verse 29. - Sheep. This is the only kind of flesh food mentioned. The change in the meaning of the word "meat," which still in America is used simply for "food," as in the Authorized Version, bears witness to the great change in our diet which has taken place in recent times. Cheese of kine. The word occurs only here, but the Syriac and the Targum both support the rendering of the Authorized Version. The Bedaween, after removing the butter, make a kind of cheese from the remaining milk. It is as hard as the cheese made from skimmed milk in Dorsetshire, but wholesome. It must, however, be soaked before eating, or softened with butter. Generally in the East, cow's milk is regarded as coarse, and camel's milk is used for drinking, while that of sheep and goats, and cheese made from it, holds the next place in general estimation. It is curious that "butter" literally means "cheese of kine."

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