Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
2 Kings (2 Samuel)
A woman of Tekoah, by the advice of Joab, comes to the king; and by a fictitious story persuades him to recall Absalom, vv. 1-20. Joab is permitted to go to Geshur, and bring Absalom from thence, Sa2 14:21-23. Absalom comes to Jerusalem to his own house, but is forbidden to see the king's face, Sa2 14:24. An account of Absalom's beauty, and the extraordinary weight of his hair, Sa2 14:25, Sa2 14:26. His children, Sa2 14:27. He strives to regain the king's favor, and employs Joab as an intercessor, Sa2 14:28-32. David is reconciled to him, Sa2 14:33.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 14:2
Joab sent to Tekoah - Tekoah, according to St. Jerome, was a little city in the tribe of Judah, about twelve miles from Jerusalem.
There are several circumstances relative to this woman and her case which deserve to be noticed: -
1. She was a widow, and therefore her condition of life was the better calculated to excite compassion.
2. She lived at some distance from Jerusalem, which rendered the case difficult to be readily inquired into; and consequently there was the less danger of detection.
3. She was advanced in years, as Josephus says, that her application might have the more weight.
4. She put on mourning, to heighten the idea of distress.
5. She framed a case similar to that in which David stood, in order to convince him of the reasonableness of sparing Absalom.
6. She did not make the similitude too plain and visible, lest the king should see her intention before she had obtained a grant of pardon. Thus her circumstances, her mournful tale, her widow's needs, her aged person, and her impressive manner, all combined to make one united impression on the king's heart. We need not wonder at her success. See Bishop Patrick.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 14:5
I am indeed a widow woman - It is very possible that the principal facts mentioned here were real, and that Joab found out a person whose circumstances bore a near resemblance to that which he wished to represent.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 14:7
The whole family is risen - They took on them the part of the avenger of blood; the nearest akin to the murdered person having a right to slay the murderer.
They shall quench my coal which is left - A man and his descendants or successors are often termed in Scripture a lamp or light. So, Sa2 21:17, the men of David said, when they sware that he should no more go out with them to battle, That thou Quench not the Light of Israel. See also Psa 132:17. And to raise up a lamp to a person signifies his having a posterity to continue his name and family upon the earth: thus, quench my coal that is left means destroying all hope of posterity, and extinguishing the family from among the people. The heathens made use of the same similitude. The few persons who survived the deluge of Deucalion are termed ζωπυρα living coals, because by them the vital flame of the human race was to be rekindled on the earth.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 14:8
I will give charge concerning thee - This would not do, it was too distant; and she could not by it bring her business to a conclusion: so she proceeds: -
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 14:9
The iniquity be on me - She intimates that, if the king should suppose that the not bringing the offender to the assigned punishment might reflect on the administration of justice in the land, she was willing that all blame should attach to her and her family, and the king and his throne be guiltless.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 14:10
Whosoever saith aught unto thee - Neither did this bring the matter to such a bearing that she could come to her conclusion, which was, to get the king pledged by a solemn promise that all proceedings relative to the case should be stopped.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 14:11
Let the king remember the Lord thy God - Consider that when God is earnestly requested to show mercy, he does it in the promptest manner; he does not wait till the case is hopeless: the danger to which my son is exposed is imminent; if the king do not decide the business instantly, it may be too late.
And he said, As the Lord liveth - Thus he binds himself by a most solemn promise and oath; and this is what the woman wanted to extort.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 14:13
Wherefore then hast thou thought such a thing - The woman, having now got the king's promise confirmed by all oath, that her son should not suffer for the murder of his brother, comes immediately to her conclusion: Is not the king to blame? Does he now act a consistent part? He is willing to pardon the meanest of his subjects the murder of a brother at the instance of a poor widow, and he is not willing to pardon his son Absalom, whose restoration to favor is the desire of the whole nation. Is that clemency to be refused to the king's son, the hope of the nation and heir to the throne, which is shown to a private individual, whose death or life can only be of consequence to one family? Why, therefore, dost thou not bring back thy banished child?
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 14:14
For we must needs die - Whatever is done must be done quickly; all must die; God has not exempted any person from this common lot. Though Amnon be dead, yet the death of Absalom cannot bring him to life, nor repair this loss. Besides, for his crime, he justly deserved to die; and thou, in this case didst not administer justice. Horrible as this fratricide is, it is a pardonable case: the crime of Amnon was the most flagitious; and the offense to Absalom, the ruin of his beloved sister, indescribably great. Seeing, then, that the thing is so, and that Amnon can be no more recalled to life than water spilt upon the ground can be gathered up again; and that God, whose vicegerent thou art, and whose example of clemency as well as justice thou art called to imitate, devises means that those who were banished from him by sin and transgression, may not be finally expelled from his mercy and his kingdom; restore thy son to favor, and pardon his crime, as thou hast promised to restore my son, and the Lord thy God will be with thee. This is the sum and sense of the woman's argument.
The argument contained in this 14th verse is very elegant, and powerfully persuasive; but one clause of it has been variously understood, Neither doth God respect any person; the Hebrew is, ולא ישא אלהים נפש velo yissa Elohim nephesh, "And God doth not take away the soul." The Septuagint has it, Και ληψεται ὁ Θεος την ψυχην; And God will receive the soul. This intimates that, after human life is ended, the soul has a state of separate existence with God. This was certainly the opinion of these translators, and was the opinion of the ancient Jews, at least three hundred years before the incarnation; about which time this translation was made. The Vulgate has, Nec volt Deus perire animam, "Nor does God will the destruction of the soul." God is not the author of death; neither hath he pleasure in the destruction of the living; imitate him; pardon and recall thy son.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 14:20
According to the wisdom of an angel of God - This is quite in the style of Asiatic flattery. A European is often addressed, "Saheb can do every thing; we can do nothing; none can prevent the execution of Saheb's commands; Saheb is God." See Ward.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 14:21
And the king said unto Joab - It appears that Joab was present at the time when the woman was in conference with the king, and no doubt others of David's courtiers or officers were there also.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 14:24
Let him not see my face - He would not at once restore him to favor, though he had now remitted his crime; so that he should not die for it. It was highly proper to show this detestation of the crime, and respect for justice.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 14:25
None to be so much praised as Absalom - It was probably his personal beauty that caused the people to interest themselves so much in his behalf; for the great mass of the public is ever caught and led by outward appearances.
There was no blemish in him - He was perfect and regular in all his features, and in all his proportions.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 14:26
When he polled his head - Not at any particular period, but when the hair became too heavy for him. On this account of the extraordinary weight of Absalom's hair, see the observations at the end of this chapter, Sa2 14:30 (note).
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 14:27
Unto Absalom there were born - These children did not survive him; see Sa2 18:18.
Tamar - The Septuagint adds, And she became the wife of Roboam, the son of Solomon, and bare to him Abia; see Mat 1:7. Josephus says the same. This addition is not found in the other versions.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 14:30
Go and set it on fire - This was strange conduct, but it had the desired effect. He had not used his influence to get Absalom to court; now he uses it, and succeeds.
Additional observations on Sa2 14:26 : -
"And at every year's end, he (Absalom) polled his head; and he weighed the hair at two hundred shekels."
The very learned Bochart has written a dissertation on this subject (vide Bocharti Opera, vol. iii., col. 883, edit. Lugd. 1692) in a letter to his friend M. Faukell. I shall give the substance in what follows.
There is nothing more likely than that corruptions in the Scripture numerals have taken place. Budaeus de Asse (lib. ii., p. 49 and 51, also lib. iii., p. 67 etc). complains loudly of this.
This might easily have happened, as in former times the numbers in the sacred writings appear to have been expressed by single letters. The letter ר resh stands for two hundred, and might in this place be easily mistaken for ד daleth which signifies four; but this may be thought to be too little, as it would not amount to more than a quarter of a pound; yet, if the two hundred shekels be taken in the amount will be utterly incredible; for Josephus says, (Antiq. lib. vii., cap. 8), Σικλους διακοσιους, οὑτοι δε εισι πεντε μναι, i.e., "Two hundred shekels make five minae," and in lib. xiv., cap. 12. he says, Ἡ δε μνα παρ' ἡμιν ισχει λιτρας β' και ημισυ; "And a mina with us (i.e., the Jews) weighs two pounds and a half." This calculation makes Absalom's hair weigh twelve pounds and a half! Credat Judaeus Apella!
Indeed, the same person tells us that the hair of Absalom was so thick, etc., ὡς μολις αυτην ἡμεραις αποκειρειν οκτω, "that eight days were scarcely sufficient to cut it off in!" This is rabbinism, with a witness.
Epiphanius, in his treatise De Ponderibus et Mensuris, casts much more light on this place, where he says, Σικλος ὁ λεγεται και κοδραντης τεταρτον μεν εστι της ουγκιας, ἡμισυ δε του στατηρος, δυο δραχμας εχων; "A shekel, (i.e., a common or king's shekel, equal to half a shekel of the sanctuary), which is called also a quarter, is the fourth part of an ounce, or half a stater; which is about two drachms." This computation seems very just, as the half-shekel, (i.e., of the sanctuary), Exo 30:13, which the Lord commanded the children of Israel to give as an offering for their souls, is expressly called in Mat 17:24, το διδραχμον, "two drachms:" and our Lord wrought a miracle to pay this, which the Romans then exacted by way of tribute: and Peter took out of the fish's mouth a stater, which contained exactly four drachms or one shekel, (of the sanctuary), the tribute money for our Lord and himself.
The king's shekel was about the fourth part of an ounce, according to what Epiphanius says above; and Hesychius says the same: Δυναται δε ὁ σικλος δυο δραχμας Αττικας; "A shekel is equal to, or worth, two Attic drachms." The whole amount, therefore, of the two hundred shekels is about fifty ounces, which make four pounds two ounces, Troy weight, or three pounds two ounces, Avoirdupois. This need not, says my learned author, be accounted incredible, especially as abundance of oil and ointments were used by the ancients in dressing their heads; as is evident, not only from many places in the Greek and Roman writers, but also from several places in the sacred writings. See Psa 23:5; Ecc 9:8; Mat 6:17.
Josephus also informs us that the Jews not only used ointments, but that they put gold dust in their hair, that it might flame in the sun; and this they might do in considerable quantities, as gold was so plentiful among them. I must own I have known an instance that makes much for Bochart's argument: an officer, who had upwards of two pounds of powder and ointments put on his head daily, whose hair did not weigh a fourth part of that weight. And Absalom, being exceedingly vain, might be supposed to make a very extensive use of these things. There are some, however, who endeavor to solve the difficulty by understanding שקל shakal to mean rather the value than the weight.
Bochart concludes this elaborate dissertation, in which he appears to have ransacked all the Hebrew, Greek, and Roman authors for proofs of his opinion, by exhorting his friend in these words of Horace: -
- Si quid novisti rectius istis,
Candidus imperti; si non, his utere mecum.
To me the above is quite unsatisfactory; and, with due deference to so great a character, I think I have found out something better.
I believe the text is not here in its original form; and that a mistake has crept into the numeral letters. I imagine that ל lamed, Thirty, was first written; which, in process of time, became changed for ר resh, Two Hundred, which might easily have happened from the similarity of the letters. But if this be supposed to be too little, (which I think it is not), being only seven ounces and a half in the course of a year; let it be observed that the sacred text does not limit it to that quantity of time, for מקץ ימים לימים mikkets yamim laiyamim signifies literally, "From the end of days to days;" which Jonathan properly renders, מזמן עדן לעדן mizzeman iddan leiddan, "at proper or convenient times," viz., when it grew too long or weighty, which it might be several times in the year. Besides, this was not all his hair; for his head was not shaved but polled, i.e., the redundancy cut off.
But how was it probable that these two numerals should be interchanged? Thus; if the upper stroke of the ל lamed were but a little impaired, as it frequently is both in MSS. and printed books, it might be very easily taken for ר resh, and the remains of the upper part of the lamed might be mistaken for the stroke over the ר, which makes it the character of two hundred.
But how could מאתים mathayim, two hundred, in the text, be put in the place of שלשים sheloshim, thirty? Very easily, when the numbers became expressed by words at length instead of numeral letters.
The common reading of the text appears to me irreconcilable with truth; and I humbly hope that what I have offered above solves every difficulty, and fully accounts for all that the sacred historian speaks of this vain-comely lad.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 14:27
"Absalom had a daughter, whose name was Tamar."