The Woman of Tekoah
2 Samuel 14:1-20
Now Joab the son of Zeruiah perceived that the king's heart was toward Absalom.…

1. In David "the king" we hero see that fatherly affection may come into conflict with regal justice. He must have perceived the ill effects of sparing Amnon, and felt constrained to punish Absalom. But his grief and resentment were mitigated by the lapse of time (2 Samuel 13:39). Nevertheless, though prompted by natural affection to recall his son, he was deterred from doing so by political and judicial considerations. And to overcome his reluctance a stratagem was devised, which, as the sequel shows, was only too successful. For by his weakness towards Absalom "he became guilty of the further dissolution of the theocratic rule in his house and in his kingdom" (Erdmann).

2. In Joab "the son of Zerniah" (2 Samuel 3:39) we see that a man may promote another's interest out of regard for his own (2 Samuel 3:22-30; 2 Samuel 11:16-21). "He may have been induced to take these steps by his personal attachment to Absalom, but the principal reason no doubt was that Absalom had the best prospect of succeeding to the throne, and Joab thought this the best way to secure himself from punishment for the murder which he had committed. But the issue of events frustrated all such hopes. Absalom did not succeed to the throne, Joab did not escape punishment, and David was severely chastised for his weakness and injustice" (Keil). "Joab formed a project by which the king, in his very capacity of chief judge, should find the glimmering fire of parental love suddenly fanned into a burning flame" (Ewald).

3. In the "wise woman" of Tekoah we see that skilful persuasion may so work upon natural feeling as to induce a course which is neither expedient nor just. The cleverness, insight, readiness of speech, tact, boldness mingled with caution, and perseverance, which she displayed (under the direction of Joab, who perhaps "stood by at some distance whilst she addressed herself to the king," ver. 21) are remarkable. Such qualities may be employed for a good or an evil purpose. In contrast with the reproof of Nathan, her persuasion

(1) was inspired, not by God, but by man;

(2) was addressed, not to conscience, but to pity and affection;

(3) aimed, not to manifest the truth, but to obscure it;

(4) and "to give effect, not to the convictions of duty, but to the promptings of inclination" (Blaikie);

(5) sought to do this, not sincerely and openly, but insincerely and insidiously;

(6) and not by proper motives alone, and honest, though unpleasant speech, but by improper motives and "with flattering lips;" and

(7) produced, not a beneficial, but an injurious effect. In her persuasive address we notice, more particularly -

I. AN AFFECTING BUT FICTITIOUS APPEAL. (Vers. 4-11.) "And the woman of Tekoah came to the king," etc., making her appeal for help in an acted parable, like that of Nathan (2 Samuel 12:1-4). "Parables sped well with David; one drew him to repent of his own sin, another to remit Absalom's punishment" (Hall). This parable of the hapless son, or the avengers of blood, was intended, adapted, and employed:

1. To excite compassion toward the unfortunate: a son who had slain his brother "unawares" Numbers 35:11) in the field, and whose life was imperilled by the avengers, "the old family" (ver. 7); and his widowed mother, whose only stay and comfort he was, whose "live coal which is left" would be quenched, and whose husband's "name and posterity" would be destroyed. "The power of the discourse lies in the fact that they are represented as already doing what their words show to be their purpose."

2. To procure protection against the avengers; who, according to ancient custom, sought to take his life (2 Samuel 3:22-30); their conduct being portrayed as persistently pitiless (ver. 11), "and actuated, not so much by a wish to observe the Law, as by covetousness and a desire to share the inheritance among themselves" (Kirkpatrick); obscurely suggestive of the hostility exhibited toward Absalom. "Her circumstances (as a widow and living at some distance from Jerusalem, which rendered the case difficult to be readily inquired into), her mournful tale, her widow's weeds, her aged person, and her impressive manner, all combined to make one united impression on the king's heart" (A. Clarke). "In all this she intended to frame a case as like to David's as she could do; by determining which in her favour, he might judge how much more reasonable it was to preserve Absalom. But there was a wide difference between her case and his, however plausible soever their likeness might appear" (Patrick).

3. To obtain assurance of preservation from the king; which was given at first as an indefinite promise (ver. 8), afterwards (through her importunity) in a more definite engagement (ver. 10), and finally confirmed by an oath (ver. 11). "Had David first proved and inquired into the matter which with cunning and deceit was brought before him, he would not have given assurance with an oath" (Schlier). "We should learn from David's example to be more guarded over all our feelings and affections, even such as are in their proper degree essential to a religious character" (Lindsay). "Neither shalt thou countenance a poor man in his cause" (Exodus 23:3).

II. AN EFFECTIVE BUT FALLACIOUS ARGUMENT (vers. 13, 14); based upon the assumed resemblance between the case of the hapless son, of whom she had spoken, and that of Absalom, to whom she alluded as fully as she might venture. For her appeal had "a double sense," or twofold purpose - one clear, immediate, feigned, subordinate; the other dark, ultimate, real, supreme; and to the latter she now comes. "And why dost thou think [devise] such a thing as that of which I am now permitted to speak] against people of God? And by the king's speaking this word ['As Jehovah liveth,' etc., ver. 11] he is as one that is guilty [or, 'self-condemned'], in that the king does not bring back his banished one." "My banished one!" he must have thought, as the main object of the woman's appeal flashed upon him. But she went on: "For we must die ['shall surely die,' Genesis 2:17], and are as water poured out on the ground that is not gathered up. And God takes not away a soul [nephesh, equivalent to 'individual life'], but thinks thoughts [devises devices] to the end that he may not banish from him [utterly] a banished one." She thus sought to persuade the king to recall his son by:

1. The obligation of his oath, in which "he had acknowledged the possibility of an exception to the general rule of punishment for murder;" sworn to save her son, who had killed his brother under severe provocation; and was consistently bound to spare and restore his own son in similar circumstances. But the difference between them, here kept out of view, was fatal to the argument. Absalom's crime was deliberately planned, executed by his servants under his order, and seen by many witnesses.

2. The welfare of the people of God, involved in the preservation and return of the heir to the throne. Although the king's sons and the whole court were against Absalom (ver. 7), a large party of the people was in his favour. But the general welfare would have been more promoted by his just punishment, or continuance in exile, than by his restoration, as the subsequent history shows.

3. The mortality of men - the inevitable and irreparable decease of Amnon, Absalom, the king himself; the consideration of which should induce compassion and speedy help, lest it should be too late. But "even compassion, amiable as it is, will not justify our violation of the Divine Law, or neglecting the important duties of our station" (Scott).

4. The clemency of God; in forbearance and long suffering toward sinful men, and devising means for their restoration to his presence; such as David himself had experienced (2 Samuel 12:13; Psalm 51:11). His example should be imitated. But his forbearance is limited - he pardons only those who repent, and punishes the guilty; and for the king to spare the guilty on insufficient grounds, or pardon the impenitent, would be to harden the wicked in their wickedness, and to act contrary to the purpose, for which he is made "an avenger for wrath to him that doeth evil." The reasons assigned, though excellent in themselves, were inapplicable and fallacious. The noblest truths may be perverted to a bad purpose. A weak argument appears strong to one who is already disposed to accept its conclusion; and is a sufficient excuse for a course which he is inclined to pursue. By the manner in which her words were received by the king, the "wise woman" perceived that her point was practically gained; enough had been said, and leaving it to work its effect on his mind, she returned to the ostensible occasion of her petition for help; and "now she would go home happy (she said), as if this reference to the king's behaviour had been only the casual chatter of a talkative woman" (P. Thomson).

III. AN APPROPRIATE BUT FLATTERING APOLOGY for intrusion on the king (vers. 15-20); expressive of:

1. The anxious fear and hope with which she had been impelled to make her request (ver. 15).

2. The joyful anticipation and grateful assurance of rest which she now felt (vers. 16, 17).

3. Devout admiration and praise of the king, on account of his wisdom in judgment; with a prayer for his prosperity: "May Jehovah thy God be with thee!" Fully acknowledging that, as the king surmised, she had acted under the direction of Joab," in order to bring round the face [aspect] of the matter" (to alter Absalom's relation to his father), she again commends the discernment of the king: "My lord is wise," etc. (vers. 18-20). "When we are most commended for our discernment we generally act most foolishly; for those very praises cloud and pervert the judgment'" (Scott). "And the king said unto Joab, Behold now, I have done this thing: go and bring the young man Absalom back" (ver. 21). "The feelings of the father triumphed over the duty of the king, who, as supreme magistrate, was bound to execute impartial justice on every murderer, by the express Law of God (Genesis 9:9; Numbers 35:30, 81), which he had no power to dispense with (Deuteronomy 18:18; Joshua 1:8; 1 Samuel 10:25)" (Jamieson). Although neither the end of the woman's address nor some of the means are employed can be approved, yet much may be learnt from it concerning the art of persuasion; e.g. the importance of

(1) knowing the character and sentiments of those who are addressed;

(2) having a definite aim in view;

(3) arresting attention and awakening interest and sympathy;

(4) earnestness and fervency of manner;

(5) using argument and illustration adapted to present the matter in the most attractive light;

(6) saying enough and no more, especially on a difficult and delicate subject;

(7) advancing step by step with a]persistent determination to succeed. - D.

Parallel Verses
KJV: Now Joab the son of Zeruiah perceived that the king's heart was toward Absalom.

WEB: Now Joab the son of Zeruiah perceived that the king's heart was toward Absalom.

A Father's Tender Solicitude for His Son
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