Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
2 Kings (2 Samuel)
Absalom's Return, and Reconciliation to the King - 2 Samuel 14
As David did not repeal the banishment of Absalom, even after he had comforted himself for Amnon's death, Joab endeavoured to bring him back to Jerusalem by stratagem (vv. 1-20); and when this succeeded, he proceeded to effect his reconciliation to the king (Sa2 14:21-33). He may have been induced to take these steps partly 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.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 14:1
When Joab perceived that the king's heart was against Absalom, he sent for a cunning woman from Tekoah, to work upon the king and change his mind, so that he might grant forgiveness to Absalom. Sa2 14:1 is understood by the majority of commentators, in accordance with the Syriac and Vulgate, as signifying that Joab learned that the king's heart was inclined towards Absalom, was well disposed towards him again. But this explanation is neither philologically sustained, nor in accordance with the context. לב, written with על and without any verb, so that היה has to be supplied, only occurs again in Dan 11:28, where the preposition has the meaning "against." It is no argument against this meaning here, that if David had been ill disposed towards Absalom, there would have been no necessity to state that Joab perceived it; for we cannot see why Joab should only have perceived or noticed David's friendly feelings, and not his unfriendly feelings as well. If, however, Joab had noticed the re-awakening of David's good feelings towards Absalom, there would have been no necessity for him to bring the cunning woman from Tekoah to induce him to consent to Absalom's return. Moreover, David would not in that case have refused to allow Absalom to see his face for two whole years after his return to Jerusalem (Sa2 14:24). Tekoah, the home of the prophet Amos, the present Tekua, two hours to the south of Bethlehem (see at Jos 15:59, lxx). The "wise woman" was to put on mourning, as a woman who had been mourning for a long while for some one that was dead (התאבּל, to set or show herself mourning), and to go to the king in this attire, and say what Joab had put into her mouth.
The woman did this. All the old translators have given as the rendering of האשּׁה ותּאמר "the woman came (went) to the king," as if they had read ותּבא. This reading is actually found in some thirty Codd. of De Rossi, and is therefore regarded by Thenius and the majority of critics as the original one. But Bttcher has very justly urged, in opposition to this, that ותּאמר cannot possibly be an accidental corruption of ותבא, and that it is still less likely that such an alteration should have been intentionally made. But this remark, which is correct enough in itself, cannot sustain the conjecture which Bttcher has founded upon it, namely that two whole lines have dropt out of the Hebrew text, containing the answer which the woman of Tekoah gave to Joab before she went to the king, since there is not one of the ancient versions which contains a single word more than the Masoretic text. Consequently we must regard ותּאמר as the original reading, and interpret it as a hysteron-proteron, which arose from the fact that the historian was about to relate at once what the woman said to the king, but thought it desirable to mention her falling down at the feet of the king before giving her actual words, "Help, O king," which he introduces by repeating the word ותּאמר.
When the king asked her, "What aileth thee?" the woman described the pretended calamity which had befallen her, saying that she was a widow, and her two sons had quarrelled in the field; and as no one interposed, one of them had killed the other. The whole family had then risen up and demanded that the survivor should be given up, that they might carry out the avenging of blood upon him. Thus they sought to destroy the heir also, and extinguish the only spark that remained to her, so as to leave her husband neither name nor posterity upon the earth. The suffix attached to ויּכּו, with the object following ("he smote him, the other," Sa2 14:6), may be explained from the diffuseness of the style of ordinary conversation (see at Sa1 21:14). There is no reason whatever for changing the reading into יכּוּ, as the suffix ow, though unusual with verbs הל, is not without parallel; not to mention the fact that the plural יכּוּ is quite unsuitable. There is also quite as little reason for changing ונשׁמידה into וישׁמידוּ, in accordance with the Syriac and Arabic, as Michaelis and Thenius propose, on the ground that "the woman would have described her relatives as diabolically malicious men, if she had put into their mouths such words as these, 'We will destroy the heir also.' " It was the woman's intention to describe the conduct of the relations and their pursuit of blood-revenge in the harshest terms possible, in order that she might obtain help from the king. She begins to speak in her own name at the word וכבּוּ ("and so they shall quench and"), where she resorts to a figure, for the purpose of appealing to the heart of the king to defend her from the threatened destruction of her family, saying, "And so they shall quench the burning coal which is left." גּחלת is used figuratively, like τὸ ζώπυρον, the burning coal with which one kindles a fresh fire, to denote the last remnant. שׁוּם לבלתּי: "so as not to set," i.e., to preserve or leave name and remnant (i.e., posterity) to my husband.
This account differed, no doubt, from the case of Absalom, inasmuch as in his case no murder had taken place in the heat of a quarrel, and no avenger of blood demanded his death; so that the only resemblance was in the fact that there existed an intention to punish a murderer. But it was necessary to disguise the affair in this manner, in order that David might not detect her purpose, but might pronounce a decision out of pity for the poor widow which could be applied to his own conduct towards Absalom.
The plan succeeded. The king replied to the woman, "Go home, I will give charge concerning thee," i.e., I will give the necessary commands that thy son may not be slain by the avenger of blood. This declaration on the part of the king was perfectly just. If the brothers had quarrelled, and one had killed the other in the heat of the quarrel, it was right that he should be defended from the avenger of blood, because it could not be assumed that there was any previous intention to murder. This declaration therefore could not be applied as yet to David's conduct towards Absalom. But the woman consequently proceeded to say (Sa2 14:9), "My lord, O king, let the guilt be upon me and upon my father's house, and let the king and his throne be guiltless." כּסּא, the throne, for the government or reign. The meaning of the words is this: but if there should be anything wrong in the fact that this bloodshed is not punished, let the guilt fall upon me and my family. The king replied (Sa2 14:10), "Whosoever speaketh to thee, bring him to me; he shall not touch thee any more." אליך does not stand for עליך, "against thee;" but the meaning is, whoever speaks to thee any more about this, i.e., demands thy son of thee again.
The crafty woman was not yet satisfied with this, and sought by repeating her petition to induce the king to confirm his promise on oath, that she might bind him the more firmly. She therefore said still further: "I pray thee, let the king remember Jehovah thy God, that the avenger of blood may no more prepare destruction, and that they may not destroy my son." The Chethib הרבּית is probably a copyist's error for הרבות, for which the Masoretes would write הרבּת, the construct state of הרבּה, - a form of the inf. abs. which is not commonly used, and which may possibly have been chosen because הרבּה had become altogether an adverb (vid., Ewald, 240, e.). The context requires the inf. constr. הרבות: that the avenger of blood may not multiply (make much) to destroy, i.e., may not add to the destruction; and הרבּית is probably only a verbal noun used instead of the infinitive. The king immediately promised on oath that her son should not suffer the least harm.
When the woman had accomplished so much, she asked permission to speak one word more; and having obtained it, proceeded to the point she wanted to reach: "And wherefore thinkest thou such things against people of God? And because the king speaketh this word, he is as one inculpating himself, since the king does not let his own rejected one return." כּאשׁם, "like one who has laden himself with guilt," is the predicate to the clause וגו וּמדּבּר. These words of the woman were intentionally kept indefinite, rather hinting at what she wished to place before the king, than expressing it distinctly. This is more particularly applicable to the first clause, which needs the words that follow to render it intelligible, as כּזאת חשׁבתּה is ambiguous; so that Dathe and Thenius are wrong in rendering it, "Why dost thou propose such things towards the people of God?" and understanding it as relating to the protection which the king was willing to extend to her and to her son. חשׁב with על does not mean to think or reflect "with regard to," but "against" a person. Ewald is quite correct in referring the word כּזאת to what follows: such things, i.e., such thoughts as thou hast towards thy son, whose blood-guiltiness thou wilt not forgive. אלהים על־אם, without the article, is intentionally indefinite, "against people of God," i.e., against members of the congregation of God. "This word" refers to the decision which the king had pronounced in favour of the widow. השׁיב לבלתּי, literally, in not letting him return.
In order to persuade the king to forgive, the crafty woman reminded him (Sa2 14:14) of the brevity of human life and of the mercy of God: "For we must die, and (are) as water spilt upon the ground, which is not (cannot be) gathered up, and God does not take a soul away, but thinks thoughts, that He may not thrust from Him one expelled." Although these thoughts are intentionally expressed quite generally, their special allusion to the case in hand can easily be detected. We must all die, and when dead our life is irrevocably gone. Thou mightest soon experience this in the case of Absalom, if thou shouldst suffer him to continue in exile. God does not act thus; He does not deprive the sinner of life, but is merciful, and does not cast off for ever.
After these allusions to David's treatment of Absalom, the woman returned again to her own affairs, to make the king believe that nothing but her own distress had led her to speak thus: "And now that I have come to speak this word to the king my lord, was (took place) because the people have put me in fear (sc., by their demand that I should give up my son to the avenger of blood); thy handmaid said (i.e., thought), I will indeed go to the king, perhaps the king will do his handmaid's word," i.e., grant her request.
"Yea, the king will hear, to save his handmaid out of the hand of the man that would destroy me and my son from the inheritance of God." אשׁר must be supplied before להשׁמיד: who is to destroy, i.e., who is seeking to destroy (vid., Gesenius, 132, 3). "The inheritance of God" was the nation of Israel (as in Sa1 26:19; cf. Deu 32:9).
"Then thine handmaid thought, may the word of my lord the king be for rest (i.e., tend to give me rest); for as the angel of God (the angel of the covenant, the mediator of the blessings of divine grace to the covenant-nation), so is my lord the king to hear good and evil (i.e., listening to every just complaint on the part of his subjects, and granting help to the oppressed), and Jehovah thy God be with thee!"
These words of the woman were so well considered and so crafty, that the king could not fail to see both what she really meant, and also that she had not come with her petition of her own accord. He therefore told her to answer the question without disguise: whether the hand of Joab was with her in all this. She replied, "Truly there is not (אם) anything to the right hand or to the left of all that my lord the king saith," i.e., the king always hits the right point in everything that he said. "Yea, thy servant Joab, he hath commanded me, and he hath put all these words into thy servant's mouth." אשׁ is not a copyist's error, but a softer form of ישׁ, as in Mic 6:10 (vid., Ewald, 53c, and Olshausen, Gramm. p. 425).
"To turn the appearance of the king (i.e., to disguise the affair in the finest way) Joab hath done this; my lord (i.e., the king), however, is wise, like the wisdom of the angel of God, to know all that is (happens) upon earth." She hoped by these flattering words to gain the king completely over.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 14:21
David then promised Joab, that the request which he had presented through the medium of the woman of Tekoah should be fulfilled, and commanded him to fetch Absalom back. The Chethib עשׂתי (Sa2 14:21) is the correct reading, and the Keri עשׂית has arisen from a misunderstanding.
Joab thanked the king for this, and blessed him: "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." It is pretty evident from this, that Joab had frequently applied to David for Absalom's return, without any attention being paid to his application. David therefore suspected that Joab had instructed the woman of Tekoah. The Chethib עבדּו is not to be exchanged for the Keri עבדּך.
Joab then went to Geshur (see Sa2 13:37), and fetched Absalom back to Jerusalem.
But David could not forgive Absalom altogether. He said to Joab, "Let him turn to his own house, and my face he shall not see." This half forgiveness was an imprudent measure, and bore very bitter fruit. The further account of Absalom is introduced in Sa2 14:25-27 with a description of his personal appearance and family affairs.
There was no man in all Israel so handsome as Absalom. מאד להלּל, "to much praising," i.e., so that he was greatly praised. from the sole of the foot even to the crown of his head, there was no fault (מוּם, bodily blemish) in him.
"When he polled his head, and it took place from year to year that he polled it; for it became heavy upon him (too heavy for him), and so he polled it: they weighed the hair of his head, two hundred shekels by the king's weight." A strong growth of hair was a sign of great manly power, and so far a proof of Absalom's beauty. The statement as to the weight of the hair cut off, viz., two hundred shekels, is in any case a round number, and much too high, although we do not know what the difference between the royal and the sacred shekel really was. According to the sacred reckoning, two hundred shekels would be about six pounds; so that if we were to assume that the royal shekel was about half the other, the number would be still much too high. It is evident, therefore, that there is an error in the text, such as we frequently meet with in the case of numbers, though we have no means of rectifying it, as all the ancient versions contain the same number.
Unto Absalom there were born three sons, and one daughter named Tamar, who was beautiful in figure. Contrary to general usage, the names of the sons are not given, in all probability for no other reason than because they died in infancy. Consequently, as Absalom had no sons, he afterwards erected a pillar to preserve his name (Sa2 18:18). The daughter's name is probably given as a proof of Absalom's great affection for his sister Tamar, whom Amnon had violated.
(Note: The lxx have this additional clause, καὶ γίνεται γυνὴ Ῥοβαὰμ υἱῷ Σαλωμὼν καὶ τίκτει αὐτῷ τὸν Ἀβιά (and she became the wife of Rehoboam the son of Solomon, and bore him a son named Abia). Although this is quite at variance with Kg1 15:2, where it is stated that the wife of Rehoboam and mother of Abia (Abijam) was named Maacah, the clause had been adopted by Thenius, who regards it as original, though for reasons which Bttcher has shown to be worthless.)
After Absalom had sat for two whole years in his house at Jerusalem without seeing the king's face, he sent to Joab that he might obtain for him the king's full forgiveness. But as Joab would not come to him, even after he had sent for him twice, Absalom commanded his servants to set fire to one of Joab's fields which adjoined his own and was then full of barley, for the purpose of compelling him to come, as he foresaw that Joab would not take this destruction of his property quietly, but would come to him to complain. ידי אל, literally "at my hand," i.e., by the side of my field or property. The Chethib והוציתה ("come, I will set it on fire") is a Hiphil formation, according to verbs ופ, for which the Keri has והצּיתוּה, the ordinary Hiphil form of יצת in the second person plural, "go and set it one fire."
When Joab came to Absalom's house in consequence of this, and complained of it, Absalom said to him, "See, I have sent to thee, to say to thee, Come hither, and I will send thee to the king, to say to him, Wherefore have 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 is any iniquity in me, let him put me to death." This half forgiving was really worse than no forgiveness at all. Absalom might indeed very properly desire to be punished according to the law, if the king could not or might not forgive him; although 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. For (Sa2 14:33) when Joab went to the king, and announced this to him, the king sent for Absalom, and kissed him, as a sign of his restoration to favour. Nothing was said by Absalom about forgiveness; for his falling down before the king when he came into his presence, was nothing more than the ordinary manifestation of reverence with which a subject in the East approaches his king.