II Samuel 14
1 “Now Joab the son of Zeruiah perceived that the king’s heart was
toward Absalom.” The king’s heart was toward Absalom. Again there is a
diversity of view as to the right rendering. The preposition does not usually
mean “toward,” but “against,” and is so rendered in v. 13. The whole
phrase occurs again only in Daniel 11:28, and certainly there implies
enmity. The whole attitude of David towards Absalom is one of persistent
hostility, and, even when Joab had obtained his recall, for two full years he
would not admit him into his presence. What has led most commentators
to force the meaning here and in ch. 18:33 is the passionate burst
of grief when news was brought of Absalom’s death following upon the
anxious orders given to the generals to be careful of the young man’s life.
But David was a man of very warm affections, and while this would make
him feel intense sorrow for the death of a son by his brother’s hand, and
stern indignation towards the murderer, there would still lie deep in the
father’s heart true love towards his sinning child, and Absalom’s fall was
sad enough to cause a strong revulsion of feeling. David’s grief would be
not merely for the death of his son, but that he should have died so
miserably, and in an attempt so shameful. Was not, too, the natural grief of
a father made the more deep by the feeling that this was the third stage of
the penalty denounced on his own sin, and that the son’s death was the
result of the father’s crime?
2 “And Joab sent to Tekoah, and fetched thence a wise woman, and
said unto her, I pray thee, feign thyself to be a mourner, and put on
now mourning apparel, and anoint not thyself with oil, but be as a
woman that had a long time mourned for the dead: 3 And come to the
king, and speak on this manner unto him. So Joab put the words in
her mouth.” Tekoah. This town, famous as the birthplace of the Prophet
Amos, lay upon the borders of the great wilderness southeast of
As it was only five miles to the south of
had probably often heard tales of this woman’s intelligence; and, though he
contrived the parable himself, yet it would need tact and adroitness on the
woman’s part to give the tale with tragic effect, and answer the king’s
questions with all the signs of genuine emotion. If her acting was bad, the
king would see through the plot, and only by great skill would his heart be
so moved as to force him to some such expression of feeling as would
serve Joab’s purpose.
4 “And when the woman of Tekoah spake to the king, she fell on her
face to the ground, and did obeisance, and said, Help, O king.
5 And the king said unto her, What aileth thee? And she answered, I
am indeed a widow woman, and mine husband is dead.
6 And thy 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 slew him.” When the woman of Tekoah spake. All the versions and
several manuscripts read, as the sense requires, “when the woman of
Tekoah came.” There is an interesting article in De Rossi, fixing with much
probability the twelfth century as the date of this error. Though Absalom
subsequently (ch.15:4) complained of the lax administration of
justice in the realm, yet evidently this woman had the right of bringing her
suit before the king; and we may be sure that Joab would take care that
nothing unusual was done, lest it should awaken the king’s suspicions. But
possibly there was a want of method in judicial matters, and very much was
left in the hands of the tribal officers, such as we find mentioned in Joshua 24:1.
7 “And, behold, the whole family is risen against thine handmaid, and
they said, Deliver him that smote his brother, that we may kill him,
for the life of his brother whom he slew; and we will destroy the
heir also: and so they shall quench my coal which is left, and shall
not leave to my husband neither name nor remainder upon the
earth. 8 And the king said unto the woman, Go to thine house, and I will
give charge concerning thee.” The whole family. This does not mean the
kinsfolk, in whom such a disregard of the mother’s feelings would have been
cruel, but one of the great divisions of the tribe (see note on the mishpachah,
in I Samuel 20:6, and compare (ibid. ch. 10:21). In v. 15 she rightly calls
them “the people.” We have thus a glimpse of the ordinary method of
administering the criminal law, and find that each portion of a tribe
exercised justice within its own district, being summoned to a general
convention by its hereditary chief; and in this case the widow represents it
as determined to punish the crime of fratricide with inflexible severity, and
we may assume that such was the usual practice. The mother sets before
David the other side of the matter — her own loneliness, the wiping out of
the father’s house, the utter ruin of her home if the last live coal on her
hearth be extinguished. And in this way she moves his generous sympathies
even to the point of overriding the legal rights of the mishpachah. In
modern communities there is always some formal power of softening or
entirely remitting penalties required by the letter of the law, and of taking
into consideration matters of equity and even of feeling, Which the judge
must put aside; and in monarchies this is always the high prerogative of the
crown. And we will destroy the heir also. The Syriac has the third
person, “And they will destroy even the heir, and quench my coal that is
left.” This is more natural, but there is greater pungency in the widow
putting into the mouth of the heads of the clan, not words which they had
actually spoken, but words which showed what would be the real effect of
their determination. There is great force and beauty also in the description of
her son as the last live coal left to keep the family hearth burning. In another
allied sense David is called “the lamp of
9 “And the woman of Tekoah said unto 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. 10 And the king said, Whoever saith ought unto
thee, bring him to me, and he shall not touch thee any more.” The iniquity
be on me. The king had given a general promise to help the widow, but she
wants to lead him on to a definite assurance that her son shall be pardoned.
Less than this would not help Absalom’s case. Instead, therefore, of withdrawing,
she represents herself as dissatisfied, and pleads for full forgiveness; and as this
would be a violation of the letter of the Levitical Law, in order to remove David’s
supposed scruples, she takes upon herself the penalty.
11 “Then said she, I pray thee, let the king remember the LORD thy
God, that thou wouldest not suffer the revengers of blood to
destroy any more, lest they destroy my son. And he said, As the
LORD liveth, there shall not one hair of thy son fall to the earth.
12 Then the woman said, Let thine handmaid, I pray thee, speak one
word unto my Lord the king. And he said, Say on.”
I pray thee, let the king remember, etc. Thenius says that
the woman plays well the part of a talkative gossip, but really she was
using the skill for which Joab employed her in bringing the king to give her
son a free pardon. Nothing short of this would serve Absalom, who already
was so far forgiven as to be in no fear of actual punishment. It is
remarkable that David does not hesitate finally to grant this without
making further inquiry, though he must have known that a mother’s pleas
were not likely to be very impartial. Moreover, while in v. 9 she had
acknowledged that there might be a breach of the law in pardoning a
murderer, she now appeals to the mercy of Jehovah, who had himself
provided limits to the anger of the avenger of blood (see Numbers 35.). He
had thus shown himself to be a God of equity, in whom mercy triumphed
over the rigid enactments of law. The words which follow more exactly
mean, “That the avenger of blood do not multiply destruction, and that
they destroy not my son.” Moved by this entreaty, the king grants her son
full pardon, under the solemn guaranty of an oath.
13 “And the woman said, Wherefore then hast thou thought such a
thing against the people of God? for the king doth speak this thing
as one which is faulty, in that the king doth not fetch home again
his banished.” Against the people of God. Very skillfully, and so as for the
meaning only gradually to unfold itself to the king, she represents the
as the stern clan folk who will deprive her of a second though guilty child.
But now he is bound by the solemn oath he has taken to her to remit the
penalty; for literally the words are, and by the king’s speaking this word he
is as one guilty, unless he fetch home again his banished one. She claims
have spoken in the name of all
express their feelings, as Absalom was very popular, and the people saw in
Tamar’s wrong a sufficient reason for, and vindication of, his crime.
14 “For we must needs die, and are as water spilt on the ground, which
cannot be gathered up again; neither doth God respect any person:
yet doth He devise means, that His banished be not expelled from
Him.” Neither doth God, etc. This translation is altogether wrong.
What the woman says is, “God taketh not life [Hebrew, ‘a soul’] away, but
thinketh thoughts not to banish from Him His banished one.” Her argument
is that death is the common lot, and that there is no way of bringing back
the dead to life. But though death is thus a universal law, yet God does not
kill. Death is not a penalty exacted as a punishment, but, on the contrary,
He is merciful, and when a man has sinned, instead of putting him to death,
He is ready to forgive and welcome back one rejected because of his
wickedness. The application is plain. The king cannot restore Amnon to
life, and neither must he kill the guilty Absalom, but must recall his
banished son. The argument is full of poetry, and touching to the feelings,
but is not very sound. For God requires repentance and change of heart;
and there was no sign of contrition on Absalom’s part. The power of the
woman’s appeal lay in what she says of God’s nature. He is not intent on
punishing, nor bent on carrying out the sentences of the Law in their stern
literalness; but He is ready to forgive, and “deviseth devices” to bring home
those now separate from Him. There is also much that is worth pondering
over in the distinction between death as a law of nature, and death as a
penalty. The one is necessary, and often gentle and beneficial; but death as
a penalty is stern and terrible.
15 “Now therefore that I am come to speak of this thing unto my Lord
the king, it is because the people have made me afraid: and thy
handmaid said, I will now speak unto the king; it may be that the
king will perform the request of his handmaid. 16 For the king will hear,
to deliver his handmaid out of the hand of the man that would destroy me
and my son together out of the inheritance of God. 17 Then thine handmaid
said, The word of my Lord the king shall now be comfortable: for as an
angel of God, so is my Lord the king to discern good and bad: therefore
the LORD thy God will be with thee.” Now therefore that I am come, etc.
The woman now professes to return to her old story as the reason for her
importunity, but she repeats it in so eager and indirect a manner as to indicate
that it had another meaning. Instead, too, of thanking the king for fully granting
her petition, she still flatters and coaxes as one whose purpose was as yet
ungained. The king’s word is, for rest (see margin): it puts an end to
vexation, and, by deciding matters, sets the disputants at peace. He is as an
angel of God, as God’s messenger, whose words have Divine authority;
and his office is, not to discern, but “to hear the good and the evil,”
unmoved, as the Vulgate renders it, by blessing and cursing. His mission is
too high for him to be influenced either by good words or by evil, but
having patiently heard both sides, and calmly thought over the reasons for
and against, he will decide righteously. Finally, she ends with the prayer,
And may Jehovah thy God be with thee! By such words she hoped to
propitiate the king, who now could not fail to see that the errand of the
woman was personal to himself.
18 “Then the king answered and said unto the woman, Hide not from
me, I pray thee, the thing that I shall ask thee. And the woman said,
Let my Lord the king now speak. 19 And the king said, Is not the
hand of Joab with thee in all this? And the woman answered and said,
As thy soul liveth, my Lord the king, none can turn to the right hand or
to the left from ought that my Lord the king hath spoken: for thy servant
Joab, he bade me, and he put all these words in the mouth of thine handmaid:”
Is the hand of Joab with thee in all this? The “not,” inserted by the Authorized
Version, must be omitted, as it alters the meaning. The king really was uncertain,
and asked dubiously, whereas the Authorized Version admits only of an. affirmative
answer. David had seen the general drift of the woman’s meaning, but she had
involved it in too much obscurity for him to do more than suspect that she was
the mouthpiece of Joab, who was standing by, and whose face may have given
signs of a more than ordinary interest in the woman’s narrative. She now frankly
acknowledges the truth, but skillfully interweaves much flattery in her
answer. And her words are far more expressive than what is given in our
versions. Literally they are, By thy life, O my lord the king, there is
nothing on the right or on the left of all that my lord the king has spoken.
His words had gone straight to the mark, without the slightest deviation on
20 “To fetch about this form of speech hath thy 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.” To fetch about this form
of speech; correctly, as in the Revised Version, to change the face of the
matter hath thy servant Joab, etc. The matter was that referred to in v. 15,
which the king now understands to refer to Absalom. For in the earth,
translate in the land. The Hebrew has no means of distinguishing the wider
and narrower significations of the word; but while the king would be flattered
by the supposition that he knew all that happened in his dominions, the
assertion that he knew all that was done in all the world was too broad and
general to be agreeable. The Authorized Version has been misled by the thought
of what an angel might know; but while it was a compliment to ascribe to the
king an angel’s intelligence in his own sphere, it would have been bad taste
and unmeaning to ascribe to him omniscience. Nay, it is an assumption
without proof that even an angel knows “all things that are in the earth.”
21 “And the king said unto Joab, Behold now, I have done this thing:
go therefore, bring the young man Absalom again.” I have done this thing.
This is an Oriental form of assent, just as we say in English, “It is done,” that is,
as good as done, now that the order is given. A few manuscripts, nevertheless,
support a Massoretic emendation (K’ri), namely, “Thou hast done this: go
therefore,” etc. But both the Septuagint and Vulgate agree with the written
text (K’tib), and it is less flat and commonplace than the supposed emendation.
(The unauthoritative readings of something not in the text are called K’ri
and technically the written text is called K’tib.)
22 “And Joab fell to the ground on his face, and bowed himself, and
thanked the king: and Joab said, To day thy servant knoweth that I
have found grace in thy sight, my Lord, O king, in that the king
hath fulfilled the request of his servant. 23 So Joab arose and went to
brought Absalom to
fulfilled the request of his servant. Keil concludes from this that Joab had
often interceded for Absalom’s pardon, and that this had made the king suspect
him of being the prime mover in the affair. But this is to force the meaning,
Joab now stood confessed as the person who had brought the woman before
the king, and had employed her to gain a hearing. Had he been allowed to
plead freely, her intervention would not have been necessary. We have seen,
too, that the king’s suspicions have been made in the Authorized Version
much stronger than they really were. Many commentators also assume that
Joab had a friendship for Absalom, but there are few traces of it in his conduct,
and more probably Joab was chiefly influenced by political motives. It was
injurious to the well being of the nation that there should be discord and
enmity between the king and his eldest son, and that the latter should be
living in exile. The K’ri, thy servant, placed in the margin, is to be
decidedly rejected, with all other attempts of the Massorites to remove
little roughnesses of grammar.
24 “And the king said, Let him turn to his own house, and let him not see
my face. So Absalom returned to his own house, and saw not the king’s face.
But in all
for his beauty: from the sole of his foot even to the crown of his
head there was no blemish in him.” Let him turn to his own house, etc.
This half-forgiveness was unwise, and led to unhappy results. It seems even
as if Absalom was a prisoner in his house, as he could not leave it to visit Joab.
Still, we must not assume that even kind treatment would have made Absalom
a dutiful son, or weaned him from his ambitions purposes. The long plotted
revenge, carried out so determinately, gives us a low idea of his character,
and probably during these two years of waiting, he had brooded over David’s
criminal leniency, and regarded it as a justification for his own foul deed.
And now, when allowed to come home, but still treated unkindly, thoughts
condemnatory of his father’s conduct were cherished by him. It seems, too,
as if a protracted punishment is always dangerous to the moral character of
the criminal. And must we not add another reason? Absalom, we may feel
sure, saw with indignation the growing influence of Bathsheba over the
king. A granddaughter of Ahithophel, she was sure to be an adept in those
intrigues in which the women of a harem pass their time; and even if, upon
the whole, we form a favorable judgment upon her character, yet
undoubtedly she was a very able woman, and could have no affection for
26 “And when he polled his head, (for it was at every year’s end that he
polled it: because the hair was heavy on him, therefore he polled
it:) he weighed the hair of his head at two hundred shekels after the
king’s weight.” Two hundred shekels after the king’s weight. Unless the
royal shekel was smaller than the shekel of the sanctuary, the weight of
Absalom’s hair would be six pounds. But we cannot believe that the king’s
shekel was not full weight; for to imagine this is to suppose that the king
had tampered with the coinage; for the shekel was a coin as well as a
weight, being originally a fixed quantity of silver. As a matter of fact,
David had amassed too much silver to have need of resorting to what is the
expedient of feeble and impoverished princes. Nor can we grant an error in
the number; for the versions all agree with the Hebrew, so that any mistake
must, at all events, be of great antiquity. Josephus says that Solomon’s
body guard wore long hair powdered with gold dust, and undoubtedly
Absalom’s hair was something extraordinary (ch. 18:9). But six
pounds is so enormous a weight that it is just possible that some ancient
copyist has enlarged the number, to make it accord with a legend current
among the people, in which this feature of Absalom’s beauty had been
27 “And unto Absalom there were born three sons, and one daughter,
whose name was Tamar: she was a woman of a fair countenance.
28 So Absalom dwelt two full years in
king’s face.” Three sons. Their names are not given, because they died
early (see ch.18:18). Of his daughter Tamar, named after her
aunt, and, like her, possessed of great beauty, the Septuagint adds that she
became the wife of Rehoboam, and mother of Abijah. In I Kings 15:2
we are told that Abijah’s mother was “Maachah the daughter of
Abishalom;” and in II Chronicles 13:2 that her name was “Michaiah the
daughter of Uriel of Gibeah.” We thus gather that Tamar married Uriel,
and that it was the granddaughter of Absalom who became Rehoboam’s
queen. It is strictly in accordance with Hebrew custom to call Absalom’s
granddaughter his daughter, and, as Uriel was a man of no political
importance, he is passed over, as the narrator’s object was to show that
Abijah’s mother was sprung from the handsome and notorious son of
David (see also II Chronicles 11:20-21).
29 “Therefore Absalom sent for Joab, to have sent him to the king; but
he would not come to him: and when he sent again the second
time, he would not come.” Absalom sent for Joab. As Joab had been the
means of bringing him back, Absalom naturally regarded him as a friend.
But Joab had performed the former service for other reasons, and it does not
seem as if he really had any affection for Absalom.
30 “Therefore he said unto his servants, See, Joab’s field is near mine,
and he hath barley there; go and set it on fire. And Absalom’s
servants set the field on fire.” Go, and set it on fire. The Hebrew has,
Go, and I will set it on .fire. Absalom represents himself as doing in his
own person what his servants were to be his instruments in accomplishing.
The versions, however, agree with the Massorites in substituting the easy
phrase in the text. But few languages are so indifferent to persons and
numbers as the Hebrew.
31 “Then Joab arose, and came to Absalom unto his house, and said
unto him, Wherefore have thy servants set my field on fire?”
Then Joab arose. This high-handed proceeding forced Joab to
pay the wished for visit. But, while we cannot acquit Absalom of
petulance, we must not regard his act as one of angry revenge; had it been
so, Joab would have openly resented it, and he was quite capable of
making even the heir apparent feel his anger. It was probably intended as a
rough practical joke, which taught Joab better manners, and which he must
laugh at, though with inward displeasure.
32 “And Absalom answered Joab, Behold, I sent unto thee, saying,
Come hither, that I may send thee to the king, to say, Wherefore
am I come from Geshur? it had been good for me to have been
there still: now therefore let me see the king’s face; and if there be
any iniquity in me, let him kill me.” If there be (any) iniquity in me,
let him kill me. The word “any,” wrongly inserted in the Authorized
Version, is omitted in the Revised Version. It would have been monstrous
for Absalom to profess innocence, with the murder of Amnon fresh in his
memory; but the phrase, “if there be iniquity in me,” means, “if my offence
is still unpardoned.” If year after year he was to be treated as a criminal,
then he would rather be put to death at once. And Absalom’s plea succeeds.
Joab, who had been unwilling to visit the prisoner, now consents to act as
mediator, reports to David his son’s vexation at such long continued coldness,
and obtains full pardon.
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.”
The king kissed Absalom. The father’s kiss was, as in the
case of the prodigal son (Luke 15:20), the sign of perfect
reconciliation, and of the restoration of Absalom to his place as a son, with
all its privileges. But God’s pardon was immediate to David (ch. 12:13),
while David’s pardon to Absalom was unwilling, and wrung from him.
The kiss, we may feel quite sure, was preceded by a conversation between
David and his son, the record of which is omitted simply for the sake of brevity.
Evidently it satisfied the king, and ended in the kiss which gave the son all he
desired. But whatever may have been his professions, Absalom’s subsequent
conduct is proof that he still regarded Amnon’s death as a just retribution
for his conduct to Tamar, and secretly cherished a sullen anger against his
father for not having punished the wrong doer himself. It was the contrast
between his own five years of punishment and the mere verbal reproof
which was all that Amnon had to suffer for his shameless conduct, which
rankled in Absalom’s mind, and gave him an excuse for finally plotting his
Vers. 1-20. — The facts are:
1. Joab, observing that the king’s heart was still adverse to Absalom,
devised, in order to bring him round to a different feeling, that a wise
woman from Tekoah should appear before him and plead a cause.
2. The woman appears before the king, and narrates as facts certain
(1) that she was a widow, and that on two of her sons falling into strife,
one slew the other;
(2) that all the rest of the family connections were urging that the survivor
should be put to death, much to her grief.
3. David, touched with her story, undertakes to grant her request,
whereupon the woman, recognizing the usage in such cases, desires to
exonerate the king from blame in this exercise of his clemency.
4. The king giving her a renewed assurance of safety, should any reproach
her for thus trading on his clemency, she again, by a reference to God’s
presence and knowledge, dwells on the royal promise; whereupon he
swears most solemnly that the son shall be spared.
5. The woman then ventures to bring the royal concession to her to bear on
the case of Absalom, by suggesting that, in granting her request as a just
one, he virtually brings blame on himself for cherishing revengeful feeling
against a banished one, and he one of the people of God.
6. She fortifies her argument by alluding to man’s inevitable mortality and
to God’s way of dealing with wrong doers, namely, that he devises means
of restoring the exile.
7. Reverting to her own suit, she next pretends that the people’s desire for
vengeance has caused the fear which prompts this her request, believing, as
she does, in the king’s magnanimity and superior discrimination.
8. David, perceiving that she is presenting a parabolic case, now asks
whether Joab is not at the origin of it, which, with an Oriental compliment
to his discernment, she candidly admits.
Astuteness in human affairs.
There are a few facts which, put together, seem to warrant the conclusion
that David was hostile in mind to Absalom, and that therefore the
expression in ver. 1, rendered “toward,” should be “adverse to,” l[". These
facts are, his evident sorrow for Amnon; the related flight of Absalom and
absence for three years, but no mention of any messenger of peace being
sent to him; the necessity of the device of the wise woman to awaken
kindly interest in the king; and his unwillingness to see Absalom lot two
years after having yielded to the force of the argument for his restoration
(ver. 28). It was in the endeavour to overcome the king’s hostility that
Joab manifested the remarkable astuteness of his nature. Taking Joab’s
conduct in this instance as our exemplar, we may get an insight as to what
constitutes the astuteness in human affairs which then gave and always has
given some men an advantage over others.
I. THERE IS A SHREWD OBSERVATION OF EVENTS. Joab was not
a mere military man, whose range of observation was limited by his
profession. He had his eyes wide open to notice, in their bearing one on the
other, the various incidents in the history of Israel, embracing both the
private and public life, king and people. The remark that he perceived that
the king’s heart was adverse to Absalom is but an index of the man’s
character. Some generals would simply have confined their attention to
military duties, paying little or no heed to what passed in the mind of the
king, and what was the effect of his attitude on the nation. The widely and
minutely observant eye is a great blessing, and, when under the government
of a holy purpose, is a means of personal and relative enrichment. All men
astute in affairs have cultivated it with zeal, and its activity and range
account in part for the superiority they have acquired over their fellow
creatures. Human life is a voluminous book, ever being laid, page by page,
before us; and he who can with simple and steady glance note what is there
written, and treasure up the record for future use, has procured an
advantage, which, in days to come, will be converted into power. “The
wise man’s eyes are in his head; but the fool walketh in darkness”
II. THERE IS A CONSTANT LOOKING AHEAD. This characteristic of
Joab is seen in many instances (e.g. <101116>2 Samuel 11:16, 18-20; 12:28;
13:19). He was a man who sought to forecast the issue of events at present
transpiring, or conditions that might arise to modify his plans. He seemed
to see the complications that might arise should Absalom be kept in
perpetual exile, both on account of his fine manly bearing being popular
with the people, and of the possible strife should the king die, and the exile
then return to contend with a nominee of David’s. The prophetic forecast
is a vision of coming reality; the forecast of astuteness is the clever
calculation of the bearings of passing events on what may be, the tracking
out by anticipation the working on men and things of the various forces
now in operation. In so far as a man possesses this quality, he certainly is a
power in society, and his opinions with reference to contingencies, and the
provision wherewith to meet them, should have weight. The degree to
which some men injure themselves and others because they have no
prevision, no power of anticipating events, is often very painful. In so far as
this kind of prevision can be cultivated in early years, apart from the
cunning with which it is sometimes allied, so will be the gain for the entire
III. THERE IS A SEEKING OF PERSONAL ENDS COMBINED
WITH PUBLIC GOOD. Selfish cunning looks on, but looks only for self,
and cares not for general interests. Astuteness looks on, but seeks
deliberately to combine the personal and the general good. The former may
be a prominent consideration, but the latter has a real place sincerely given.
In Joab we have a striking example of this. Even in the killing of Abner
Joab probably felt that the presence of such a rival might bring on troubles
in Israel. When, by complicity with David’s sin (<101117>2 Samuel 11:17), he
advanced his own ambition by gaining power over David, he had an idea
that the country would be the stronger for king and general to be of one
mind. His sending for David to conquer Rabbah (<101226>2 Samuel 12:26-30)
promoted his own influence over the king, and at the same time gave the
nation the advantage of a regal triumph. No doubt he foresaw that, as
Absalom was now the eldest son, he might possibly come to the throne,
and hence it was important to secure his favour by being the instrument of
procuring his recall; at the same time, he saw it would be better for king
and people that this family quarrel should be adjusted. There is no
astuteness in pure benevolence, and there is no pure benevolence in
astuteness. Its characteristic is that it uses a knowledge of men and things,
and an anticipation of coming and possible events, in such a way as to
secure personal interests in promoting public good. There is too much
conscience for pure selfishness, and too little for pure benevolence. These
children of the world are certainly wise in their generation (<421608>Luke 16:8).
IV. THERE IS A SPECIAL KNOWLEDGE OF HUMAN NATURE,
AND OF THE MEANS OF ACTING ON IT. Joab knew men — their
foibles and their strength. He had acquired that kind of penetration which
comes of having much to do with men of divers temperaments and
preferences. He knew how to touch David’s natural ambition at Rabbah
(<101228>2 Samuel 12:28-30). He understood how he would feign displeasure
and sorrow at the assault which brought about the death of Uriah, and how
the courtiers could be put off suspicion (<101220>2 Samuel 12:20, 21). He knew
that a story appealing to generous, magnanimous feelings would be sure to
touch the king’s heart (ver. 2). This knowledge of men is an inestimable
treasure for practical purposes. Some persons never acquire it, and
consequently are at a great disadvantage in the struggle for life. Others
avail themselves of it for low, cunning purposes, which are more becoming
fiends than men. The astute man, whose character is toned by a moral aim,
uses his knowledge to avoid some and secure the favour of others, and also
to bring men round to the furtherance of the objects he has in hand. There
is not in such a quality the simplicity which sometimes passes for Christian
guilelessness; it may even seem, in some cases, to savour of cunning; but
there are instances in which it combines the wisdom of the serpent and the
harmlessness of the dove. The Apostle Paul was certainly an astute
Christian. He knew men, and how to deal with them on Christian
principles. His addresses before his judges and his Epistles bear witness.
1. All who wish to be effective in Christian service should endeavour to
extend their knowledge of human nature; for it is said of Christ that he
knew what was in man (<430225>John 2:25).
2. In seeking a more thorough knowledge of human nature, we should
avoid the risking the habitual feeling of distrust and suspicion which many
of the sad facts of life may well suggest; for our Saviour, who knew all that
is in man, the worst and the best, acted in his relations to them on the
principle of generous consideration.
3. We should see to it that the intellectual qualities of astuteness are allied
in us with Christian qualities that will save us from low cunning and mere
utilitarian motive, and make duty the guide of action.
4. It behoves us to make use of all innocent means — “wise women,” if
need be — parables, or direct argument, to bring others to act in
accordance with the will of God.
5. In dealing with men we should endeavour to touch the better springs of
action in their nature, and assume that they are prepared to do justly and
Means to bring back the banished.
The woman of Tekoah showed her wisdom in very deftly blending the
argument suggested by Joab with thoughts and pleadings designed to meet
the successive replies of the king. To gain her point, she proceeded from
the assumption of his natural sympathy with a distressed widow up to the
overwhelming argument derived from a consideration of God’s method in
dealing with his children when they are, by reason of their sins, banished
from his presence, There may seem to be a weakness in the parallel she
implies between the case of her sons and the case of Absalom and Amnon,
inasmuch as the death of Amnon was brought about by a deliberate design,
while the death of the other was a consequence of a sudden strife; but in
reality she was right. The strife of her sons was “in the field,” but there may
have been antecedents which led to that mortal conflict; and, so far as
concerned the sons of David, it was to all intents and purposes a family
quarrel, brought on by the wrong done to Absalom in the ruin of his sister,
and the wise woman evidently regarded the whole affair as a “strife in the
field.” Provocation had been given by Amnon, and the anger of Absalom,
thus aroused, occasioned his death. Amnon would not have died, but for
his attack on the honour of Absalom. Two things in the final argument
come home to David.
(1) The reference to the ways of God. David, as a pious man and as a
righteous ruler, rejoiced in the ways of the Lord; to him they were just and
true and wise; they were the professed model of his own conduct. This
moral argument to a good man is perfectly irresistible.
(2) The reference to God’s banished ones. David had of late been a
banished one. He had known the anguish of being far from his heavenly
Father, a spiritual exile, no longer permitted or inclined to the close and
blessed fellowship of former times. The widow’s word “banished” brought
back the sad remembrance, followed in a moment by the remembrance of
the mercy that had blotted out all his sins and restored him to the joys of
salvation. Wise woman, thus to touch the deepest and tenderest springs of
the heart! Consider what is implied in the blessed words, “He doth devise
means, that his banished be not expelled from him.”
I. MAN’S CONDITION BY REASON OF SIN IS ONE OF
BANISHMENT. As truly as Absalom was now banished from David as a
consequence of his transgressions, so man is separated from God. The
information given us of the fallen angels is slight, but it amounts to this —
that they are banished because of sin (<610204>2 Peter 2:4; <650106>Jude 1:6). Our
first parents were banished from Paradise because of sin. Those who are
not welcomed at last to heaven will have to refer the banishment to sin
(<400723>Matthew 7:23; 25:45, 46; <662127>Revelation 21:27). The state of
mankind, while sin is loved and followed, is one of alienation. The carnal
mind is not subject to the Law of God. We are as sheep going astray.
Apart from any positive decree, the fact of sin constitutes moral severance
from God. The child wanders, heedless of the Father’s love, and all the
moral laws of the universe combine with psychological laws to keep him,
while in that state, outside the blessed sphere of fellowship and rest. It was
instinctive for Absalom to flee from the face of the king. He banished
himself by his deed, and the king could not render it otherwise. It is
instinctive for one in sin to rice from the face of the holy God, and the
Eternal, though omnipotent, cannot render it otherwise. The constitution of
nature renders it inevitable. To suppose that it is an arbitrary arrangement
is to imagine an impossibility. No power can make sin equivalent to
holiness, and consequently no power can confer on sin the blessedness of
the Divine favour.
II. GOD NEVERTHELESS REGARDS THE BANISHED AS HIS.
Absalom was the son of David, though an exiled wanderer. David felt for
him the mingled sorrow and displeasure of a just and good parent. The
change of character and position does not destroy natural relationship.
Adam was God’s wandering child when, with sad heart, he turned his back
on Paradise. The prodigal son is represented as being a son, though
wasting his substance with riotous living. Our Saviour, in teaching us how
to pray, would have us think of God as our Father. The whole tenor of his
life on earth was to cause sinful men to feel that God the Father locks on
them as his, even while in rebellion against his will. Had he disowned us in
this respect, there would indeed have been no hope. It is much to know, in
our sins and errors and dreadful guilt, that we are God’s offspring, that he
has a proprietary right in us, and thinks of us as only a father can think of
his children (<263311>Ezekiel 33:11).
III. GOD MAKES PROVISION FOR BRINGING THE BANISHED
BACK TO HIMSELF. “He doth devise means, that his banished be not
expelled from him.” Wonderful words for that age, and from a widow! The
great and precious truth is the comfort of myriads all over the world, and
the occasion of wonder and joy in heaven. Such an incidental statement
reveals to us that the pious of Israel in those times possessed much fuller
and clearer knowledge concerning God and his salvation than they
sometimes get credit for, or would be inferred from the outlines of national
history contained in the Bible. The history is designed to trace the great
historic line along which Christ came, and the fact that God was, through
the Jewish people, working out a great purpose to be gradually revealed in
Christ. We are not told of all the detailed teaching of holy priests and
prophets. We may fairly regard this wonderful statement of the widow as
an index of truth widely possessed, distinct from the provision of such
means of blessing as the brazen serpent and the cities of refuge. There is a
twofold sense in which the expression may be understood.
1. God provides means for the redemption of the world. The Mosaic
economy was, in some of its institutions, a shadow of the provision that
centres in the cross of Christ. Our salvation is of God. If he does not find
means to cover sin and influence our evil hearts, there is no hope. We
cannot, and are unwilling. He deviseth means (<430316>John 3:16). There is an
intimation of the wisdom requisite. Sin produces such confusion in the
moral sphere, and runs so against the order of government, and lays so
strong a hold on the human heart, that only infinite wisdom could find out
the way by which we might come back to God. Hence the atoning sacrifice
of Christ, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the appointment of faith as the
condition and of preaching as the instrumentality, are all ascribed to the
wisdom and goodness of God. It is by the Church thus saved that the
wisdom of God is revealed to all ages (<450323>Romans 3:23-26; 4:16; 8:14;
<460121>1 Corinthians 1:21-30; <490310>Ephesians 3:10).
2. God provides means for the restoration of those who backslide from
him. By chastisements, by the voice of prophets and conscience, by the
pleading of the Spirit, by the varied events of providence causing the erring
child to feel how evil and bitter a thing it is to depart from God, he opens a
way by which they are brought back again. David knew this. “He restoreth
my soul” (<192303>Psalm 23:3). How wonderfully wise and gentle these means
often are is well known to many who once were as sheep going astray, and
had lost the blessedness of fellowship formerly known.
“Return!… O chosen of my love!
Fear not to meet thy beckoning Saviour’s view
Long ere I called thee by thy name, I knew
That very treacherously thou wouldst deal;
Now I have seen thy ways, yet I will heal.
Return! Wilt thou yet linger far from me?
My wrath is turned away, I have redeemed thee.”
(‘Life Mosaic,’ by F.R. Havergal, p. 72.)
IV. GOD’S WAYS IN DEALING WITH HIS BANISHED ONES ARE
A MODEL FOR US. The wise woman had spoken of the ways of God
with his banished ones in order to induce David to follow in the same
course with respect to Absalom — the implication being that, when once a
good man is reminded of the ways of God, he will without further urging
act in the same manner. The parallel between the relation of Absalom to
David and the relation of a sinner to God may not in every detail be
perfect; but there being a resemblance in the substantial facts —
banishment of a son because of high-handed deeds of wrong — it follows
that there should be a resemblance, in the bearing of the earthly father king
to his son, to that of God to his sinful child. The two features of God’s
bearing toward his own are:
(1) He does not take away life; but
(2) devises means by which those who deserve to die are brought
back to him (ver. 14).
The reference evidently is not to the legal code, which in several cases
recognizes capital punishment for certain offences, for ends civil and social,
but to the general principle and method of God’s dealing with sinful man in
his highest relations to himself. He desireth not the death of the sinner, and
therefore he, speaking after the manner of men, finds out some way of
bringing about a restoration to favour consistent with his own honour and
the claims of righteousness. In the New Testament this example is set forth
in strong and varied terms (<400543>Matthew 5:43-48; 6:14, 15; <490431>Ephesians
4:31, 32). The fact that there is a model in God’s bearing toward us is only
half the truth. It is our duty and privilege to act according to it. It is not
enough to be kindly disposed. We are to “devise devices” — take the
initiative — in seeking to restore those who may have done wrong and
merited our displeasure. This is the hard lesson taught by Christ, which
even his own people are so slow to learn. When will Christians be as Christ
was and act as Christ did? It is often easier to sing hymns, hear sermons,
and bow the knee in prayer.
1. The proper course for the poor and sorrowful and oppressed is, after the
example of this widow, to have recourse to him who sitteth as King in
Zion; for his ear is ever open to their cry, and there is an open way of
access to his throne.
2. In all our approaches to the supreme throne we may, with more
confidence than was displayed by this widow in David, act on the
assumption of a mercy and wisdom that never fail.
3. It is not only a solace to the weary heart, but a sure means of help in our
domestic cares, if we bring them before the notice of our God.
4. We see how often the best and most exalted of men, in their conduct and
feelings, come far short of the character they should manifest, and how
they may require even the teaching which comes from the spirit and deeds
of the poor and troubled to raise them to a higher level of life.
5. It is possible for good men to be kind and generous towards others, and
at the same time be unaware, till forced to see it, that there are features in
their personal conduct day by day not in accord with the general generosity
which they recognize and display.
6. We need to be reminded that the death of those we have cared for,
should it come about while we are not acting kindly toward them (ver. 14),
is an unalterable event, a change which renders acts of kindness impossible
— as water spilt on the ground cannot be gathered up again; and
consequently we should seize passing opportunities of blessing them.
7. The sinful state of man is as unnatural as is exile to a king’s son, and
should ever be so represented (<230102>Isaiah 1:2, 3).
8. All thanks and praise are due to God, in that he needed not any one to
procure our restoration; all is of his own eternal love and free grace.
9. We should distinguish between the human setting of a truth and the truth
itself. To “devise a means” is a human way of expressing the truth that
God, from the beginning, before the foundation of the world
(<490104>Ephesians 1:4; <661308>Revelation 13:8), ordained and arranged for our
salvation, but that we see the prearrangement coming into form subsequent
to the advent of sin, and think of it as being devised to meet that event
after its occurrence. We say, “the sun rises,” but it does not. Our forms of
expression consequent on the appearance of things to us is not the exact
utterance of absolute truth.
10. The force of a Divine example, when brought to bear on men who
recognize the government of God, will often compel conviction when other
Vers. 21-33. —
The facts are:
1. David, referring to the promise he had made, sends Joab to bring
Absalom from Geshur, Joab expressing in lowly form his thanks for the
king’s gracious attention to his request.
2. On Absalom’s return he is ordered to abide in his own house, and not to
see the king’s face.
3. The personal beauty of Absalom is famous throughout Israel, and of his
four children the only daughter is also reputed to be fair.
4. For two years Absalom remains in Jerusalem without seeing the king,
whereupon he becomes dissatisfied, and sends to Joab, hoping, to send him
to the king.
5. Joab, for some unexpressed reason, declines to give heed to the
message, and, as a consequence, Absalom orders his field of barley to be
6. This event bringing Joab to him, Absalom remonstrates with the king
through him against this semi-imprisonment, and demands to see the king.
7. The king yielding to the request, Absalom presents himself, and receives
his father’s kiss. Whatever may have been the secret causes operating on
both sides, the course of the narrative clearly shows us that, although Joab
seemed to have gained his point through the wise woman of Tekoah, yet
the restoration of Absalom to his father’s love and confidence was not
perfect. There are, in the account here given of the relation of David to his
son, illustrations of several important truths or recurring incidents of
I. CONCESSIONS WITH RESERVATIONS. In the interview with Joab
(vers. 21, 22) David distinctly intimated to him that he had “done this
thing” — consented to Absalom’s return in consequence of having been
caught within the coils of the parabolic pleadings of the wise woman whom
he had employed for that purpose. Apart from the force of the argument,
the king was no doubt willing in some degree to comply with the request of
so influential a man, especially as he knew more of his own life than was
comfortable to reflect upon. Joab regarded it as a work of special grace
that his wishes were thus considered; and most probably he went to Geshur
to fetch Absalom, with cheerful expectations of a speedy removal of family
difficulties. But although the king kept the letter of his concession in
Absalom’s permitted return, it is evident that he either repented of his
original decision or had made, when giving it, a private reservation that,
though returned, he should not give him a hearty welcome. Both Joab and
Absalom (ver. 24) appear to have reported themselves at the king’s house,
in expectation of full restoration, for he “returned to his own house.” Such
concessions as this are valuable in so far as they confer privileges otherwise
not attainable, but they lose much value in being extracted by pressure and
especially by the reservation which becomes subsequently known. It had
been well, perhaps, had conditions been stated from the first. If possible,
our agreements and promises should be expressed in terms that cover all
we think and intend. The mutual confidence of society depends on the
cultivation of frankness and candour. The first inconvenience is the least.
The promises of God are “yea and Amen.” There is no disappointing
reservation for us when we arrive at the palace of the great King.
II. EMBARRASSMENTS OF PATERNAL CONDUCT. Great
consideration is due to David when we endeavour to form an estimate of
his conduct. His position, brought on, it is true, by his own sad sin, was
most perplexing. On the one side there was
(1) the very natural and great displeasure against a son who could cherish
revenge for two whole years, and then presume to take upon himself the
vindication of justice, thus reflecting on royal authority;
(2) the absolute need of chastisement for a young man of violent spirit and
(3) the importance of maintaining influence over the people by not seeming
to palliate the violence of his own family;
(4) the temptation to which so handsome and attractive a young man
would be exposed were he to be prematurely welcomed into society again;
(5) the secret influence of his favourite wife, Bathsheba, who could not but
remind him of the claims on the succession of the son specially named by
the prophet as “beloved of the Lord” (<101224>2 Samuel 12:24, 25).
Then on the other side there was
(1) his natural yearning over a hitherto favourite son, the more so as he
feared lest he should fall a victim to evil ways;
(2) Joab’s evident interest in Absalom, and the expediency of conciliating
so powerful a man;
(3) the near connection of Absalom with the tribe of Judah, and the danger
of raising up a party should there be an appearance of harshness;
(4) the remembrance of the unqualified promise virtually given to the wise
woman of Tekoah, that he would regard God’s mercy to his banished ones
as his model;
(5) the reflection that, after his own dreadful sin in the case of Uriah, God
had restored him to personal favour. Under some such conflicting influence
David could not grant all that was desired. Happily modern parents have
not to decide on the doom of fratricides; but troubles do arise which place
them in most embarrassing circumstances. Much charity is needed in our
judgments on the action taken in cases of difficulty. There is much
unknown to the outward observer. It is important, in all these times of
perplexity, to cast our care on the Lord, and seek the special guidance
which he has promised. Divine influence alone can keep us from being
unduly biassed in either direction. Our decisions may mean perpetual weal
or woe to children.
III. THE DISCIPLINE OF PARTIAL PRIVILEGE. It is a severe but
wholesome discipline for Absalom to be kept two years without full
restoration. Possibly David may have ascertained from others that his
temper was not much improved, and that he did not show the signs of
penitence or regret becoming one who looked for full restoration to
paternal favour. Then, also, David could not but remember that, with his
own restoration to God, there was attached a temporal chastisement,
which, while it did not touch the reality of the Divine forgiveness, was
designed for public good; and possibly he may have thought that the
privilege of returning to Jerusalem only might be accepted as a sign of
actual personal forgiveness, and at the same time put Absalom under
wholesome restraints. This kind of discipline does exist in human affairs
and in Church life. Children and men are caused to feel that some
inconvenience has resulted from their conduct, even though they are no
longer punished. In so far as we fall in with the natural or designed
tendency of this discipline, we may turn its annoyances into a means of
recovery from the moral failings which have been our bane.
IV. THE PERILS OF PERSONAL ATTRACTIONS. The beauty of
Absalom is referred to in such a way as to suggest that he was not only
aware of it, but that it exercised a fascinating influence over others, and
tended to gather around him persons likely to be influenced by personal
appearances, and therefore not the most helpful to one who needs the
stimulus and support of high moral principles. Personal beauty is a gift of
God, and, were not sin in the world as a disturbing element in the physical
and moral development of the human race, the probability is that the
average beauty of form and expression would equal or surpass what is now
regarded as exceptional. Unfortunately, it is sometimes allied to a vain and
frivolous spirit, and in that case it becomes a snare. There are instances in
which beauty has been associated with the devout earnest spirit of religion,
and has been made tributary to obtaining a hallowed influence over others.
Special prayer and strong safeguards are required for our sons and
daughters whoso personal attractions may lay them open to the flatteries
and friendships of the unwise and unholy.
V. THE INTIMATIONS OF DANGEROUS TENDENCIES. It was
natural for Absalom to be restless under the restraint of two years, though,
had his spirit been very lowly and penitent, he would have kept it within
due limits. The treatment of Joab was an intimation that the daring temper
which slew Amnon was still there. He who could set a field of barley on
fire in order to get his messages attended to was capable, unless the
tendencies were checked, of producing a more serious conflagration. The
presence within a young man of strong passions, a violent temper, a hatred
of restraint or love of pleasure, is a sign of danger. It is in the nature of
forces to work their way outward. If we say, “the child is father to the
man,” we may also say that the moral forces within are the creators of the
life without. Unless strong counter-influences are brought to bear to
neutralize their action or to extirpate them, they will gain power by being
daily cherished, and a free, jovial, handsome Absalom may become the
notorious rebel, whose hand turns against his own father. Human life
exhibits such developments still. Young men should interrogate their own
nature, and fairly face the moral dangers that may lie there, before their
power renders introspection and suppression difficult if not impossible.
Those who have charge of the young should note signs of struggling
forces, and adapt the moral education according to the individual
HOMILIES BY B. DALE.
Vers. 1-20. — (JERUSALEM.)
The woman of Tekoah.
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 (<101339>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” (<100339>2 Samuel 3:39) we see that a man may
promote another’s interest out of regard for his own (<100322>2 Samuel 3:22-
30; 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
(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 (<101201>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” <043511>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
2. To procure protection against the avengers; who, according to ancient
custom, sought to take his life (<100322>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” (<022303>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, ‘selfcondemned’],
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,’ <010217>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 (<101213>2 Samuel 12:13; <195111>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
(<010909>Genesis 9:9; <043530>Numbers 35:30, 81), which he had no power to
dispense with (<051818>Deuteronomy 18:18; <060108>Joshua 1:8; <091025>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
(7) advancing step by step with a]persistent determination to succeed. —
Ver. 14. —
“As water spilt upon the ground.”
Water is a gift of God, very precious, especially in lands where it is scarce,
and often longed for as a means of quenching thirst, renewing strength, and
preserving life (<102315>2 Samuel 23:15; <196301>Psalm 63:1). But it may be thrown
away, poured out and lost, by design or accident, through the overturning
or fracture of the vessel in which it is contained. Human life, also, is a
Divine gift, precious beyond all earthly possessions. But it is contained in
“a body of fragile clay” <470407>2 Corinthians 4:7), which is sooner or later
destroyed like “the pitcher shattered at the well” <211206>Ecclesiastes 12:6);
and thus “we are as water,” etc. We have here —
I. AS IMPRESSIVE ASPECT OF DEATH.
1. It must take place in all, without exception. “It is appointed,” etc.
(<010319>Genesis 3:19; <450512>Romans 5:12; <580927>Hebrews 9:27).
2. It may occur to each of us at any moment (<091003>1 Samuel 10:3).
3. It puts an end to the useful service which might have been rendered.
Only while the water remains in the vessel can it be of immediate use.
4. It cannot by any possibility be repaired, or “gathered up again.” “As the
waters fail from the sea,” etc. (<181411>Job 14:11; 7:10); “as waters melt away,”
etc. (<195807>Psalm 58:7; 39:13; 49:7-10; 103:16). “Death is of all things the
most terrible, for it is the end” (Aristotle).
“What is your life? ‘Tis a delicate shell,
Cast up by Eternity’s flow;
On Time’s bank of quicksand to dwell,
A moment its loveliness show.
Returned to its element grand
Is the billow that brought it on shore;
See, another is washing the strand,
And the beautiful shell is no more.”
II. AN INSTRUCTIVE ADMONITION FOR LIFE. Is it so? Then:
1. Restrain immoderate indulgence in sorrow, “the grief that saps the mind,
for those on earth we see no more.” No weeping, anger, nor endeavour can
bring back Amnon (<101223>2 Samuel 12:23). Accept calmly what cannot be
2. Repress improper feelings of resentment toward others. Even though it
he just, it should not be perpetual (<490426>Ephesians 4:26). They and you alike
must die and pass away. “Be reconciled.”
3. Regard all around you with sympathy and kindly affection. Before
tomorrow they may be gone.
4. Redeem the rest of your time “in the flesh,” by prompt, diligent, zealous
use of every opportunity of serving God and doing good, according to the
pattern of long suffering and benevolence which he has set before you, in
“not taking away a soul,” etc. (latter part of the verse).
1. The death of the body is not the end of the man. He disappears here only
to appear elsewhere as water in the cloud; gathered “with sinners”
(<192609>Psalm 26:9; <401330>Matthew 13:30) or with saints (<012508>Genesis 25:8;
<122220>2 Kings 22:20; <530201>2 Thessalonians 2:1).
2. The life which a man leads “in the body” determines his condition in the
unseen and eternal world.
3. The conviction of these things makes the view of death more impressive,
and should make the course of life more just, merciful, and devout. — D.
Ver. 14. —
God’s restoration of his banished.
It is hardly possible for a father to be so completely estranged from his
child as to lose all affection for him. He may have just cause to feel angry
with him; but, with absence and the lapse of time, his anger dies away, and
his natural affection springs up afresh. It was thus with David in relation to
his son Absalom. Yet he hesitated to give way to his parental feelings, to
set aside the claims of public justice, and exercise his royal prerogative of
showing mercy toward the guilty. And to induce him to do this it was
urged (among the means devised for the purpose) that God, who has
ordained that men should die, permits them to live, and even devises means
for their restoration. Was not this an indication that Absalom should be
spared? Was not this an example which the king should imitate? It bus been
supposed that there is allusion to the cities of refuge (<043509>Numbers 35:9-
34; <051906>Deuteronomy 19:6; Joshua 20.), where the manslayer, “though
banished from his habitation for a time, was not quite expelled, but might
return again after the death of the high priest” (Patrick). The argument
used was not properly applicable to the particular instance, but the truth
expressed is profound and striking. Notice —
I. THE ALIENATED CONDITION OF MAN. “Banished;” estranged,
separated, “cast out of God’s presence,” away from his sanctuary,
fellowship, and inheritance (ver. 16), in “a far country” (<421513>Luke 15:13).
That this is the moral and spiritual state of man (naturally and generally) is
not only testified by the Scriptures, but also by his own heart and
conscience; his aversion and dread with respect to God. It is:
1. Voluntary. By his own free act Absalom broke the Law, incurred the
displeasure, fled from the face of his father, and continued in exile. So has
it been with man from the first.
“The nature with its Maker thus conjoin’d,
Created first was blameless, pure, and good;
But, through itself alone, was driven forth
From Paradise, because it had eschew’d
The way of truth and life, to evil turn’d?
(Dante, ‘Paradise,’ 7.)
Of his own accord he departs from God and seeks to hide himself from
2. Unhappy. Absalom found friendly associates and material comforts in
Geshur, but he could not have been at home there, and must have carried
in his breast a restless and troubled heart. And it is impossible for him who
departs from God, and tries to live without him, to possess inward rest and
peace. The soul is made for God: how can it be satisfied with anything
short of him? Oh the misery that multitudes at this moment endure because
they have forsaken the “Fountain of living waters,” and seek their
happiness where it can never be found!
3. Perilous. The sinner is under condemnation. The “avengers of blood”
are on his track. Life is precarious and must soon terminate, with all its
alleviations, privileges, and possibilities; “and after that the judgment,”
when voluntary exile becomes involuntary, partial unhappiness complete
wretchedness, temporary estrangement “everlasting destruction from the
presence of the Lord” (<530109>2 Thessalonians 1:9).
4. Not hopeless. Absalom was still a son, though a disobedient one; still “in
the land of the living;” and might entertain the hope that, through his
father’s affection, his banishment would not be perpetual. However far man
may have wandered from the Father’s house, he is still an object of the
Father’s love. “Behold, all souls are mine,” etc.; “I have no pleasure in the
death of him that dieth” etc. (<261804>Ezekiel 18:4, 32; 23. 11); “Turn you to
the stronghold, ye prisoners of hope” (<380912>Zechariah 9:12).
II. THE MERCIFUL MEANS DEVISED FOR HIS RESTORATION.
Man’s misery is from himself, but “salvation is of the Lord” (<190308>Psalm 3:8;
<320209>Jonah 2:9). It is effected by and through:
1. The long patience and forbearance which he shows toward the
transgressor; restraining the outgoings of wrath (<421307>Luke 13:7), sparing
forfeited life, affording space for repentance, “making his sun to rise,” etc.
(<400545>Matthew 5:45). “The long suffering of our Lord is salvation” (<610315>2
Peter 3:15; <450204>Romans 2:4).
2. An extraordinary provision, whereby the way of his return is opened,
consistently with the requirements of eternal righteousness, and his fatherly
love is revealed in the highest degree. By restoring Absalom without due
regard to the demands of justice, and even without repentance, David
weakened his own authority as king, contributed to a popular rebellion,
and well nigh lost his throne and life. But in the method which God in
infinite wisdom has “devised” for the restoration of man, justice and mercy
are alike manifested, an adequate ground or reason for forgiveness is
furnished, sinners are “put in the capacity of salvation” (Butler), and the
Law is magnified and “established” (<450319>Romans 3:19-31). “God
commendeth his own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners,
Christ died for us” (<450508>Romans 5:8); “redeemed us from the curse of the
Law, having become a curse for us” (<480313>Galatians 3:13); “suffered for sins
once, the Just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God” (<600318>1 Peter
Man in himself had ever lacked the means
Of satisfaction .... Then behoved
That God should by his own ways lead him back
Unto the life from whence he fell, restored;
By both his ways, I mean, or one alone.
But since the deed is ever prized the more,
The more the doer’s good intent appears;
Goodness celestial, whose broad signature
Is on the universe, of all its ways
To raise ye up, was fain to leave out none.
Nor aught so vast or so magnificent,
Either for him who gave or who received,
Between the last night and the primal day,
Was or can be. For God more bounty show’d,
Giving himself to make man capable
Of his return to life, then had the terms
Been mere and unconditional release.
And for his justice, every method else
Were all too scant, had not the Son of God
Humbled himself to put on mortal flesh.”
(Dante, ‘Paradise,’ 7.)
3. Numerous messages, efficient motives, and gracious influences, in
connection with that provision, to dispose him to avail himself thereof: the
Word, with its invitations, warnings, appeals to reason, affection,
conscience, hope and fear; messengers (ver. 31) — ministers and teachers
of the Word; above all, the Holy Spirit, striving with sinners, convicting of
sin, etc. (<431608>John 16:8), and renewing the heart in righteousness.
4. The end of all is reconciliation (ver. 33), filial fellowship, perfect,,
holiness, and endless blessedness in God. “Return;” “Be ye reconciled to
1. How wonderful is “the kindness of God our Saviour, and his love
toward man” (<560304>Titus 3:4)]
2. How entirely is man his own destroyer (<281309>Hosea 13:9)!
3. “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another;” and
to devise means in order that no “banished one” may be utterly banished
“Oh let the dead now hear thy voice;
Now let thy banished ones rejoice.”
Ver. 20. —
“My lord is wise, according to the wisdom of an angel of God,” etc.
Commendation is often proper and beneficial (<100205>2 Samuel 2:5-7). But
flattery (false, partial, or extravagant praise) is always improper and
pernicious. This language was not mere Oriental compliment, but a
flattering speech, intended to make the king pleased with himself in doing
what he was urged to do.
1. It is agreeable to most persons when skilfully administered. “Flattery
and the flatterer are pleasant; since the flatterer is a seeming admirer and a
seeming friend” (Aristotle, ‘Rhetoric’).
“When I tell him he hates flatterers,
He says he does; being then most flattered.”
“We believe that we hate flattery, when all which we hate is the
awkwardness of the flatterer” (La Rochefoucault).
2. It assumes various forms, and is usually obsequious and disingenuous; is
direct or indirect; is shown in praising personal qualities, advantages,
achievements, etc., giving “flattering titles” (<183203>Job 32:31-32), “good
Master” (<411017>Mark 10:17; 12:14), “my Lord,” etc. Making or suggesting
favourable comparisons, it may be, by detracting from the good name of
others (<100408>2 Samuel 4:8). It is sometimes sincere; but “people generally
despise where they flatter and cringe to those they would gladly surpass.”
3. It is commonly designed by those who employ it to serve some interest
of their own (ver. 22). Hence it is so frequently used to gain the favour of
kings, and such as possess authority, influence, or wealth (<650116>Jude 1:16).
When Alexander the Great was hit with an arrow in the siege of an Indian
city, and the wound would not heal, he said to his flatterers, “You say that
I am Jupiter’s ‘son, but this wound cries that I am but man.”
4. It blinds those who listen to it to their defects, ministers to their vanity,
and fills them with perilous self-complacency, “It’s the death of virtue.”
5. It also induces them to pursue erroneous and sinful courses, which they
might otherwise have avoided. “A man that flattereth his neighbour
spreadeth a net for his feet” (<202905>Proverbs 29:5; 26:28). “Ah! how good
might many men have been who are now exceedingly bad had they not sold
their ears to flatterers! Flatterers are soul murderers. Flattery is the very
spring and mother of all impiety. It put our first parent on tasting the
forbidden fruit. It put Absalom upon dethroning his father. It blows the
trumpet and draws poor souls into rebellion against God, as Sheba drew
Israel to rebel against David. It makes men call evil good and good evil,
darkness light and light darkness” (T. Brooks).
6. It is only less culpable in those who listen to it than in those who employ
it. They are willing captives. “As a wolf resembles a dog, so doth a flatterer
a friend. Take heed, therefore, that, instead of guardian dogs, you do not
incautiously admit ravening wolves” (Epictetus).
7. Its folly and guilt are sometimes discovered too late; when its ruinous
consequences cannot be repaired (<101513>2 Samuel 15:13; <191203>Psalm 12:3;
<441223>Acts 12:23). — D.
Ver. 25. — Physical beauty. “And in all Israel there was none to be so
much praised as Absalom for his beauty,” etc. (see <091607>1 Samuel 16:7, 12;
<101102>2 Samuel 11:2; 13:1; ver. 27).
“Of all God’s works, which do this world adorn,
There is no one more fair and excellent
Than is man’s body, both for power and form,
Whilst it is kept in sober government;
But none than it more foul and indecent,
Distempered through misrule anti passions base;
It grows a monster, and incontinent
Doth lose its dignity and native grace:
Behold, who list, both one and other in this place”
(Spenser, ‘The Faerie Queens,’ canto IX.)
It is —
I. AN ADMIRED ENDOWMENT; involuntarily conferred, without
personal effort and beyond human control (<400536>Matthew 5:36; 6:27); yet
one of the most personal and enviable of human possessions. “Beauty is a
thing of great recommendation in the correspondence amongst men; it is
the principal means of acquiring the favour and good liking of one another,
and no man is so barbarous and morose that does not perceive himself in
some sort struck with its attraction” (Montaigne). “Beauty is, indeed, a
good gift of God; but that the good may not think it a great good, God
dispenses it even to the wicked” (Augustine).
“A beautiful and fair young man is he;
In all his body is no blemish seen;
His hair is like the wire of David’s harp,
That twines about his bright and ivory neck;
In Israel is not such a goodly man.”
(Geo. Peele, ‘The Tragedy of Absolom:’ 1599.)
II. A SUPERFICIAL DISTINCTION; shadowing forth, indeed, beauty of
mind and character; and heightened by the latter, when present; but often,
in fact, disassociated from it; and covering, “skin deep,” dreadful moral
deformity (<201122>Proverbs 11:22). Absalom was beautiful externally, but not
“beautiful within,” Wisdom, truth, humility, modesty, purity, patience,
meekness, piety, mercy; charity, — these constitute inward, substantial,
spiritual beauty, “the beauty of holiness,” the product of the grace and the
reflection of the beauty and glory of the Lord (<199017>Psalm 90:17; 149:4); in
which he delights, and which all persons may acquire (<490424>Ephesians 4:24;
<480522>Galatians 5:22; <501405>Philippians 2:5). “Whatsoever things are lovely, etc.
(<500408>Philippians 4:8). “The graces of the Spirit are the richest ornaments of
the reasonable creature.”
III. A DANGEROUS INFLUENCE; on its possessors, making them vain
and presumptuous, and exposing them to many temptations; on its
beholders, directing undue attention to “the outward appearance,”
disposing to excuses for mental and moral defects, alluring to evil (<101501>2
Samuel 15:1-6). The beauty of Absalom was a snare to the people. “His
hair was his halter” (2 Samuel. 18:9).
“Where is the virtue of thy beauty, Absolon?
Will any of us here now fear thy locks,
Or be in love with that thy golden hair,
Wherein was wrapt rebellion ‘gainst thy sire,
And words prepared to stop thy father’s breath?”
IV. A TRANSIENT POSSESSION. Precarious, short lived, inevitably
turning to dust (ver. 14); “a fading flower” (<232804>Isaiah 28:4; 40:8;
<193911>Psalm 39:11), whose “root is ever in its grave.”
“A doubtful good, a gloss, a glass, a flower,
Lost, faded, broken, dead, within an hour.”
“So have I seen a rose newly springing from the clefts of its hood, and at
first it was fair as the morning, and full with the dew of heaven as a lamb’s
fleece; but when a ruder breath had forced open its virgin modesty, and
dismantled its too youthful and unripe retirements, it began to put on
darkness, and to decline to softness and the symptoms of a sickly age; it
bowed the head, and broke its stalk, and at night, having lost some of its
leaves and all its beauty, it fell into the portion of weeds and outworn
faces. The same is the portion of every man and every woman” (Jeremy
Taylor, ‘Holy Dying’). But goodness is immortal; it “fadeth not away”
(<600104>1 Peter 1:4). “Beauty belongs to youth and dies with it, but the odours
of piety survive death and perfume the tomb.”
“Only the actions of the just
Smell sweet and blossom in the dust.”
Vers. 28-33. —
Restored, but act reformed.
“Wherefore am I come from Geshur? it were better for me that I were
there still; and now I will see the king’s face; and if there be any iniquity in
me, let him put me to death” (ver. 31). While in Geshur Absalom showed
no repentance for his crime; sought no forgiveness of it; rather justified
himself in its commission. On this account, perhaps, David would not
permit him, when recalled, to see his face, but ordered him to remain at his
own house (ver. 24); testifying his abhorrence of the crime, and desiring
“to carry further the discipline of approval, to wait till his son was more
manifestly penitent.” If Absalom had been in a proper frame of mind, it
might have been beneficial; as it was, “this half forgiveness was an
imprudent measure, really worse than no forgiveness at all, and bore very
bitter fruit” (Keil). “The end showed how fatal the policy of expectation
was, how terribly it added bitterness to the sense of alienation that had
already been growing only too strong within him” (Plumptre).”A flash of
his old kingliness blazes out for a moment in his refusal to see his son. But
even that slight satisfaction to justice vanishes as soon as Joab chooses to
insist that Absalom shall return to court. He seems to have no will of his
own. He has become a mere tool in the hands of his fierce general; and
Joab’s hold upon him was his complicity in Uriah’s murder. Thus at every
step he was dogged by the consequences of his crime, even though it was
pardoned sin” (Maclaren). Yet immediate and full forgiveness might have
failed to subdue the heart of Absalom, and win filial confidence and
affection. “Let favour be showed to the wicked, yet will he not learn
righteousness,” etc. (<232610>Isaiah 26:10). In his spirit and conduct we
1. Ingratitude for the favour shown toward him. He estimated it lightly
(knowing little of the fatherly love from which it proceeded), save as a
means to his own honour and advancement. Than ingratitude nothing is
2. Impatience, fretfulness, discontent under restraint and chastisement;
which a true penitent would have endured humbly and cheerfully; increased
as time passed away (two years) and no further sign of royal favour
3. Presumption on account of the privilege already granted to him, but
which be repudiated as worthless, unless followed by other privileges, such
as became his royal birth and involved his reinstatement in his former
dignity. He looked upon himself as rightful heir to the throne. He may,
however, have suspected a rival in the youthful Solomon (now six or eight
years old), and feared the influence of Bathsheba on behalf of her son.
4. Resentment and revenge for the neglect, contempt, and wrong which (as
he conceived) he suffered (ver. 29). “See, Joab’s field is beside mine, and
he has barley there; go and set it on fire” (ver. 30). This appears to have
been an act of passion rather than of policy. Joab’s slackness, in contrast
with his former zeal (ver. 23), was doubtless due to his desire to make the
most of his influence with the king, to constrain Absalom humbly to entreat
his intercession, and so to increase his feeling of dependence and
obligation; it was only when he perceived that he had to deal with “a
character wild, impulsive, and passionate,” that he deemed it necessary
again to alter his tactics.
5. Wilfulness in seeking the attainment of his ambitious aims. “I will see the
king’s face.” His presence at court was essential to the accomplishment of
the daring design upon the crown, which he may have already formed; and
he would brook no denial. Possibly his bereavement (ver. 27; <101818>2 Samuel
18:18) intensified his determination. “The strongest yearning of an
Israelite’s heart was thrown back upon itself, after a short-lived joy, and his
feelings towards his own father were turned to bitterness and hate.”
6. Defiance of conviction of guilt. “If there be any iniquity in me,” etc.
“The manner in which he sought to obtain forgiveness by force manifested
an evident spirit of defiance, by which, with the well known mildness of
David’s temper, he hoped to attain his object, and in fact did attain it”
(Keil). He also doubtless relied on the support of a party of the people,
dissatisfied with the king’s severity toward him, and favourable to his
complete restoration. Even Joab yielded for the present to his imperious
and resolute demand.
7. Heartless formality. “He bowed himself on his face to the ground before
the king: and the king kissed Absalom” (ver. 33). His heart was not
humbled, but lifted up in pride; yet he openly received the pledge of
reconciliation; and herein David’s blindness and weakness reached their
culmination. “He did not kiss the ill will out of the heart of his son”
(Krummacher). “When parents and rulers countenance such imperious
characters, they will soon experience the most fatal effects.” (Here is
another “meeting of three remarkable men,” <091922>1 Samuel 19:22-24, Joab,
Absalom, David.) Remarks.
1. No hard and impenitent heart is prepared to receive and profit by
2. Such a heart is capable of turning the greatest benefits into means of
further and more daring rebellion; and “treasures up for itself wrath against
the day of wrath.”
3. Whilst “God is good and ready to forgive,” he grants forgiveness only to
those “who call upon him” in humility and sincerity, confessing and
forsaking their sins (<198605>Psalm 86:5; 138:6; 32:5; 51:17). — D.
HOMILIES BY G. WOOD
Ver. 11. —
Remembrance of God.
“Let the king remember the Lord thy God.” This passage occurs in a
singular bit of history, which illustrates, inter alia, the carefulness which
even the most favoured and powerful of the subjects of an Eastern
monarch must at times exercise in seeking to influence him; and, on the
other hand, the accessibility of such a monarch to the meanest subject
desirous of his interposition. Perhaps, however, this “wise woman” may
have belonged to a class which, like prophets, could (or would) take
special liberties with royal and other great persons (comp. <102016>2 Samuel
20:16-22, the only other passage in which the phrase, “wise woman,”
occurs in the same sense). This woman showed herself “wise” in her
management of the case which Joab had entrusted to her. It was after she
had succeeded in making a favourable impression upon David, that,
desirous of a more solemn and specific assurance, she addressed him in the
words of the text. This appeal had the desired effect: the king declared with
an oath that no harm should be done to her son, whom she had represented
as in danger of death from having killed his brother. The exhortation is
over suitable and seasonable.
I. THE REMEMBRANCE OF GOD WHICH SHOULD BE
PRACTISED. It includes mindfulness of:
1. His existence and perfections.
2. His relation to the universe and to ourselves — Creator, Sustainer,
Ruler, Redeemer, Father of spirits, etc.
3. His revelations and commands.
4. His goodness to us. What he has done, is doing, and has promised to do.
II. WHEN WE SHOULD REMEMBER HIM. When should we not? The
remembrance should be:
1. Habitual. “I have set the Lord always before me” (<191608>Psalm 16:8); “Be
ye mindful always of his covenant” (<131615>1 Chronicles 16:15).
2. At stated times. Without special remembrances the habitual will not be
maintained. Hence the value of the hours of devotion, private and public.
3. At times of special need. When duty is hard, temptation urgent, trouble
III. WHO ARE REQUIRED TO REMEMBER HIM. All — kings as well
as subjects. The higher men are raised above their fellow men, the more
they need to keep in mind him who is higher than they, and who will call
them to account. The greater the trust God has committed to any, and the
more they are independent of others in discharging it, the more they need
to look to God for help in discerning and practising what is right. In an
unlimited, or only. partially limited, monarchy, the king has peculiar reason
to keep the King of kings in mind, that he may be preserved from injustice,
partiality, and oppression. But people of all classes are bound to remember
God, and live as in his sight.
IV. WHY WE SHOULD CHERISH SUCH REMEMBRANCES.
1. It is our duty. From our relation to God, and from his commandments.
And it is no less absurd than impious to forget him “with whom we have to
do” (<580413>Hebrews 4:13) more than with any and all others.
2. It is greatly for our profit. It will be productive of:
(1) Piety and holiness. These spring from the knowledge of God, but only
as it is kept in mind. To have God in our creed, but not in our memory, is
much the same as to have no God at all. It is thought which stirs emotion
and nourishes moral principle.
(2) Strength and safety under temptation.
(3) Happiness. In ordinary life, and in times of trial and suffering.
Remembrance of God will sanctify all things, heighten all innocent
pleasures, turn duties into delights, afford consolation and support when all
3. It will save from the pangs of too late remembrances on earth or in hell.
(See <200511>Proverbs 5:11-14; <421625>Luke 16:25, “Son, remember.”)
Mindfulness of God is universal in the eternal world, for joy or sorrow.
V. THE NEED THERE IS TO REMIND MEN OF THIS DUTY. “Let
the king remember,” etc. Men are apt to forget God, even when the
memory of him is most desirable and incumbent. Such forgetfulness may
2. The pressure of other thoughts. The worldly. The anxious and troubled.
It is often a great kindness to remind troubled Christians of their God.
3. Dislike of God. Unwillingness that he should interfere with life and
4. Love of sin. The pleasure of sin, if not sin itself, would be impossible if
God were thought of.
5. Pride and self satisfaction (<050810>Deuteronomy 8:10-19).
1. Remembrance of God, spontaneously and lovingly cherished, is a good
evidence of sincere piety.
2. The compatibility or incompatibility of it with any act or habit furnishes
a safe guide when distinct precepts are wanting. — G.W.
Ver. 14. —
God fetching home his banished.
The “wise woman,” having succeeded in that which she pretended to be
her object in coming to David, skilfully approached the real purpose of her
visit. She insinuates, in general and guarded language, that he was
cherishing thoughts which were “against the people of God,” and that the
decision he had given in favour of her son was inconsistent with his not
fetching home again his own banished one. Then, in our text, she presents,
still in a general and indefinite way, reasons why the king should restore his
1. The universal mortality of mankind. “We must needs die,” etc. This may
contain a hint that it was useless longer to be grieved or angry about
Amnon’s death — nothing could restore him to life. Or, just as likely, it
may be mentioned as a reason for doing rightly (in this case, exercising
mercy) while we may, since we and those we can benefit will soon be alike
in the grave; and for doing nothing to embitter this brief life to any while it
lasts, or to shorten it needlessly by our conduct. Or it may be intended to
soften the king’s heart and prepare him to exercise compassion, as God is
said to pity us because “he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are
dust” (<19A313>Psalm 103:13, 14).
2. The long suffering of God. “Neither doth God take away life” (Revised
Version); i.e. He does not usually strike down the sinner at once in his sins,
but bears long with him, and gives him space for repentance. This may be a
skilful allusion to the mercy shown to David himself (<101213>2 Samuel 12:13,
“Thou shalt not die”).
3. The provision which God makes for the return of sinners to himself.
“He deviseth means, that he that is banished be not an outcast from him”
(Revised Version). In this also there may be an allusion to God’s treatment
of David, in sending to him Nathan to rouse his conscience, bring him to
repentance, and then assure him of pardon. Or the woman may have in her
mind the provisions of the Mosaic Law for restoring to the congregation
and the temple services those who had been separated from them through
contracting some uncleanness or committing some sin (see Leviticus 4., 5.,
6:1-7). Or she may, by a flash of inspiration, have had a glimpse of the
great principles underlying these legal and ceremonial appointments, and
which are more fully made manifest in Christ. We, at least, can hardly err in
interpreting her words in the light of the gospel. Thus regarded, they
suggest to us —
I. THE CONDITION OF SINNERS. That is, of mankind apart from
Christ. They are “banished,” and in danger of being “expelled,” from God,
and becoming utterly outcast.
1. “Banished;” self banished, like Absalom.
(1) Sin separates between man and God; severs from the Divine friendship
and favour; from the Father’s home, society, and blessing; from the family
of God, its occupations, privileges, and joys. Men may be externally
associated with the godly in worship and service, yet banished spiritually,
cut off from real communion. Two persons may sit side by side in the same
church, one holding converse with God and having fellowship with his
people in their worship, the other having no real participation in these
exercises, far from God even in his house. Of the banished there are two
classes — those who have never known God, and those who, having
known him, have turned away from him. The case of the latter is the
saddest (<610220>2 Peter 2:20, 21).
(2) Sin ever tends to produce increased separation from God. In heart, and
also outwardly. When the heart is alienated from God, distaste for the
forms of worship, and all that reminds of him, increases; and often ends in
the entire abandonment of them. As the prodigal son went “into a far
country” (<421513>Luke 15:13). “Banished.” It is a wretched condition. To
depart from God is to commit great sin; to be destitute of the highest
blessings and exposed to the worst miseries. To be without him is to be
without true life, solid happiness, and well grounded hope.
2. “Banished,” but not yet utterly outcast.
(1) Although they have forsaken God, he has not quite forsaken them. He
does the good continually in his providence; and, by the blessings he
bestows upon them, protests against their unnatural conduct, and urges
them to return to him.
(2) They are in constant peril of becoming entirely cud hopelessly outcast;
for the practice of sin hardens the heart increasingly, and threatens to
obliterate in the sinner’s nature whatever might leave a hope of repentance
and reconciliation. And “the wrath of God” ever “abideth on him”
(<430336>John 3:36), and may at any moment banish him “into the outer
darkness” (<400812>Matthew 8:12, Revised Version).
II. THE PURPOSE OF GOD. To secure “that his banished be not
expelled from him;” but be brought back, reconciled, restored to himself,
his family, and service. To “fetch home again his banished.” Whence this
1. The Divine knowledge of the nature and consequent worth of man. That
he is not as the brutes, but was “made after the similitude of God”
(<590309>James 3:9). That, though he “must needs die” and become as spilt
water, he must needs also live after death. Hence he is worthy of much
Divine expenditure in order to his salvation. The spiritual nature and the
immortality of man render him an object of intense interest to his Maker,
and to all who recognize them.
2. The desire of God that his purpose in the creation of mankind should
not be frustrated.
3. The abounding love of God. Though the sinner is banished from his
favour, he is not from his heart. He yearns over him while he expresses his
displeasure with his conduct. He expresses his displeasure as one step
towards his restoration. He desires the happiness of the sinner, but knows
he cannot be happy apart from himself. He is “not willing that any should
perish, but that all should come to repentance” (<610309>2 Peter 3:9).
III. THE MEANS HE DEVISED FOR THE ACCOMPLISHMENT OF
1. The incarnation and work of his Son Jesus Christ. He came “to seek
and save the lost” (<421910>Luke 19:10). By his personal manifestation of God,
his teaching, example, and especially his death, he became the Way to the
Father (<431406>John 14:6). He “suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust, that he
might bring us to God” (<600318>1 Peter 3:18).
2. The gospel. Which is God’s message to his banished ones, calling them
back to him, and showing the way of return.
3. The Church, its ordinances anal ministries. One main business of the
Church, its ministers, yea, of all its members, is to labour to “fetch home
again” God’s banished ones.
4. The events of life. The providence of God is subservient to his grace.
The Lord Jesus is “Head over all things,” that all may further the
accomplishment of the purposes for which he lived and died on earth, and
lives and reigns in heaven. Hence providential events, on the wide scale and
in individual life, are often rendered effectual unto salvation.
5. The gift of the Holy Spirit. To render all other means effectual in the
hearts and lives of men. To convince, incline, persuade, convert, sanctify,
IV. THE IMITATION OF GOD IN THIS RESPECT TO WHICH WE
ARE CALLED. The woman thus spoke that she might induce David to
recall his banished son, Absalom. So we are called to imitate God:
1. By a readiness to forgive and restore our own banished ones; those
who have forfeited our favour by misconduct. Some are implacable even
toward their own children, however penitent they may be; but this is
contrary to Christ, and quite unbecoming those who owe their own place
in God’s family to his forgiving mercy.
2. By hearty cooperation with God in the work of restoring those who have
departed from him. This is the most glorious purpose for which we can
live, the Divinest work in which we can engage. In this work we must bear
in mind that to be successful we must conform to the methods which God
has devised and furnished; as, in fact, in all departments of life, success
springs from learning the Divine laws, and acting in harmony with them.
There is no room for our own inventions, no possibility of independent
action. In such imitation and cooperation we should be impelled to
faithfulness and diligence by the consideration that both ourselves and
those we are to benefit “must needs die” (see <430904>John 9:4). And let the
same consideration lead those who have departed from God to return with
all speed (see <431235>John 12:35; <470601>2 Corinthians 6:1, 2). Let not all the
Divine thoughts and methods of mercy be, in your case, in vain. For all had
respect to you individually. This we may be aided to realize by the singular
number used here, “his banished one.” “It was for me that all this
movement of Divine love took place, add all these wonderful means have
been employed. For me the Saviour died; to me the Divine message is
sent,” etc. Let not your return, however, be like Absalom’s, in outward act
only, but in heart. “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous
man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy
upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (<235507>Isaiah
55:7). — G.W.
Ver. 17. —
An all-comprehensive blessing.
“The Lord thy God be with thee” (Revised Version). The “wise woman,”
in closing her address to David and taking leave, as she thought, of him,
pronounces this blessing upon him. It was a usual form of salutation
amongst the Israelites; and, like our similar forms (“Adieu,” equivalent to
“to God [I commend thee];” “Good-bye,” equivalent, perhaps, to “God be
with thee”), was doubtless often employed without thought or feeling as to
its significance. But in its full meaning it is the best blessing we can
pronounce on our friends, the most comprehensive prayer we can offer for
them. “The Lord Jesus be with thy spirit” (<550422>2 Timothy 4:22) is a similar
I. IT IS A PRAYER OF TRUE FRIENDSHIP. We can desire nothing
more or better for our friends than what these words express. For consider:
1. What is included in God being “with” men. Not simply his nearness,
(1) His favour. His presence as a Friend with friends. Not merely as he is
near to all men, the Upholder of their being and the Source of whatever
they enjoy; but as he is near to those who are reconciled to him, whom he
has forgiven and received into his spiritual family, who love him and delight
in his love.
(2) His constant help. To defend, uphold, guide, supply with all needed and
real good, temporal and spiritual; to impart to them wisdom, holiness,
strength, and happiness.
(3) His converse with them. The manifestation of his presence and loving
kindness; so that they discern his nearness, are conscious of his love and
care and cooperation.
2. Whose friendship is thus invoked. That of “Jehovah thy God.” The
living God, the Eternal, the Almighty, the All-wise, the All-good, etc.
Better to have him with us than all the world, all the universe. In fact, if
God is with us, all things are really with us (see <450828>Romans 8:28, 31-39;
<600313>1 Peter 3:13).
II. IT IS A PRAYER NATURAL TO A PIOUS MAN. Springing from his
personal experience of the blessedness of those who have God with them,
and his desire that all, and especially those in whom he feels the deepest
interest, should be partakers of the same blessedness.
III. IT IS A PRAYER ESPECIALLY SUITABLE TO BE OFFERED
ON CERTAIN OCCASIONS. To express feelings of friendship, gratitude,
(1) To benefactors, whose kindness we feel we cannot requite. “I cannot
repay you, but God can. May he be with you!”
(2) To needy persons, whose necessities we feel we cannot meet. Whether
the need be temporal or spiritual. The poor, the sick, the perplexed; friends
engaged in difficult enterprises or going into perilous circumstances; such
as are leaving home or country; friends from whom we are parting, not
knowing what may befall them or us.
(3) To dying friends, or those near us when we die.” I die, but God shall be
with you” (<014821>Genesis 48:21). It is a prayer that gives comfort and peace
to him who presents it, quieting the tumult excited by the combination of
strong desire with conscious helplessness.
IV. IT IS A PRAYER WHICH WILL BE FULFILLED TO THE
RIGHTEOUS. The unrighteous can only secure the blessing for themselves
by becoming righteous (see <141502>2 Chronicles 15:2), through repentance and
faith in Immanuel (equivalent to “God with us”). — G.W.
Ver. 25. —
This remark, thrown in by the way, has more to do with the main course of
the narrative than at first appears. The personal beauty of Absalom
accounts in part for the excessive fondness of David for him, for his vanity
and ambition, and for his powerful influence over others; and, so far as it
consisted in abundance of fine hair, appears to have been the immediate
occasion of his miserable end. It may serve us as the starting point of some
remarks on beauty of person.
I. ITS WORTH.
1. It is in itself good as a fair work and gift off God. A sober divine
(Manton) calls it “a beam of the majesty of God.”
2. It is pleasant to look upon.. Beautiful people are so many pictures
moving about in society for the innocent gratification of beholders, with
this superiority to other pictures, that they are alive and present continual
3. It may be off great advantage to its possessor. It attracts others; makes
it easier to secure friends. A comely face and form are an introduction to
notice and favour.
4. It may be a power for good to others. In a ruler, a preacher, any leader
in society, it is an element of influence. Is not, therefore, to be despised
either by its possessor or by others;
II. ITS PERILS.
1. It is apt to excite vanity and pride — themselves the parapets of many
2. When overvalued, it leads to the neglect of higher things — the culture
of mind, heart, and character.
3. In children it may awaken in their parents a foolish fondness which
hinders parental discipline. (Comp. <110106>1 Kings 1:6.)
4. It attracts flatterers and seducers, and thus often occasions moral ruin.
It was Tamar’s beauty that kindled Amnon’s lust (<101301>2 Samuel 13:1). It is
a very perilous endowment to young women, especially among the poor.
5. It may lead its possessor to become a tempter of others; and renders his
(or her) temptations all the more seductive. Lord Bacon (in his essay ‘On
Beauty’) says, “For the most part it makes a dissolute youth, and an age a
little out of countenance; but yet certainly again, if it light well, it maketh
virtues shine and vices blush.”
III. ITS INFERIORITY. In comparison with mental, moral, and spiritual
1. In essential nature. The latter belong to a far higher region, are a far
more valuable product of the Divine hand. The beauties of holiness are the
features of the Divine Father appearing in his children, and manifesting
2. In appearance. Moral loveliness is far more beautiful than physical in the
sight of God and the good (comp. <091607>1 Samuel 16:7), and it has the power
of rendering very plain faces interesting and attractive, if not beautiful.
3. In value to its possessor and to others. Beauty of character is a priceless
treasure (<600304>1 Peter 3:4), indicating one still more precious — the
character itself; it excites the deepest and best kind of admiration and
commendation (<203130>Proverbs 31:30); and it gives those in whom it appears
a power over others for their good which incalculably surpasses the
influence of mere beauty of person; and which “adorning the doctrine of
God our Saviour” (<560210>Titus 2:10) — the chief instrument of good to men
— wins for it a readier acceptance.
4. In facility of attainment. Beauty of person, if not a gift of nature, cannot
be acquired; but that of the soul can. The Lord Jesus came to earth to
make it possible for the ugly and deformed to become lovely; he lives to
effect this great transformation. Those who are in him become the subjects
of a new creation: “Old things are passed away; all things are become new”
(<470517>2 Corinthians 5:17). The Holy Ghost adorns the soul with heavenly
grace and attractiveness (<480522>Galatians 5:22, 23). And when the process is
complete on the whole
his beauteous bride, “a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any
such thing, but… holy and without blemish” (<490527>Ephesians 5:27). Faith in,
and habitual converse with, him who is “altogether lovely,” is the way to
experience for ourselves this wondrous change. “Beholding as in a mirror
the glory of the Lord, we are changed into the same image from glory to
glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (<470318>2 Corinthians 3:18). Even the
body will at length be beautified (<500321>Philippians 3:21).
5. In duration. The beauty which is of earth fades and passes away, but
that which is of heaven abides evermore. The former may vanish even in
youth through the ravages of disease; will almost certainly in afterlife,
unless heightened and ripened by sense and goodness; and certainly will
turn to corruption after death. But the latter will survive the decay and
destruction of all things, and adorn the “Father’s house” forever.
In conclusion, this subject appeals especially to the young. Let them seek
with all their heart the beauty which is spiritual and everlasting; and regard
as of small account that which is in itself of little value, and at best of short
duration; and which, if separate from moral excellence, is like the beauty of
a sepulchre, covering death and corruption. — G.W.
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