A. Joab intercedes for Absalom.
1. (1-3) Joab’s plan to reconcile David and Absalom.
So Joab the son of Zeruiah perceived that the king’s heart was concerned about Absalom. And Joab sent to Tekoa and brought from there a wise woman, and said to her, “Please pretend to be a mourner, and put on mourning apparel; do not anoint yourself with oil, but act like a woman who has been mourning a long time for the dead. Go to the king and speak to him in this manner.” So Joab put the words in her mouth.”
a. Joab the son of Zeruiah perceived that the king’s heart was concerned about Absalom: David was obviously troubled by his estranged relationship with Absalom. Joab, David’s chief general, perceived this and decided to do something to bring David and Absalom back together.
i. “In the case of Absalom and the king, the relationship remained virtually deadlocked, neither side having the spiritual incentive to break it.” (Baldwin)
ii. We know that Joab was fiercely loyal to David, and he may have done this to protect David. Joab figured that it was dangerous to have Absalom stewing away in a distant country and felt that the safest thing to do was to bring about reconciliation between father and son.
b. Joab sent to Tekoa and brought from there a wise woman: Joab decided to soften David’s heart towards Absalom by bringing a widow before him with a similar story of estrangement from her son.
2. (4-11) The woman of Tekoa tells a story of one son dead and another son threatened with death.
And when the woman of Tekoa spoke to the king, she fell on her face to the ground and prostrated herself, and said, “Help, O king!” Then the king said to her, “What troubles you?” And she answered, “Indeed I am a widow, my husband is dead. Now your maidservant had two sons; and the two fought with each other in the field, and there was no one to part them, but the one struck the other and killed him. And now the whole family has risen up against your maidservant, and they said, ‘Deliver him who struck his brother, that we may execute him for the life of his brother whom he killed; and we will destroy the heir also.’ So they would extinguish my ember that is left, and leave to my husband neither name nor remnant on the earth.” Then the king said to the woman, “Go to your house, and I will give orders concerning you.” And the woman of Tekoa said to the king, “My lord, O king, let the iniquity be on me and on my father’s house, and the king and his throne be guiltless.” So the king said, “Whoever says anything to you, bring him to me, and he shall not touch you anymore.” Then she said, “Please let the king remember the LORD your God, and do not permit the avenger of blood to destroy anymore, lest they destroy my son.” And he said, “As the LORD lives, not one hair of your son shall fall to the ground.”
a. Help, O king: In ancient Israel, those who felt that their local judges didn’t treat them fairly had access to the court of the king himself.
b. Deliver him who struck his brother, that we may execute him for the life of his brother whom he killed: The woman of Tekoa referred to the custom of the avenger of blood. The avenger of blood had the responsibility of avenging the death of a member of the family.
i. The cities of refuge mentioned in Numbers 35:9-34 were meant to protect someone guilty of manslaughter from being killed by an avenger of blood before the case could be heard properly.
c. As the LORD lives, not one hair of your son shall fall to the ground: This was what the woman – and Joab behind her – waited to hear. In saying this, David ignored the cause of justice for the sake of family sympathy and loyalty. In personal relationships, it is a good and glorious thing to be generous with forgiveness and mercy when we are wronged. But David had a responsibility as the king and chief judge of Israel, and when he was sorely tempted to neglect that responsibility, he did neglect it.
i. “He guaranteed safety at the expense of justice, and immediately the farsighted woman captured him in her trap.” (Redpath)
ii. Several factors made this woman’s appeal successful.
· She was a widow, which would invite sympathy.
· She lived at some distance from Jerusalem, which made it difficult to easily know or inquire into the facts of her case.
· She was old, which gave more dignity to her story.
· She wore the clothes of mourning to heighten the effect.
· She brought a case of family estrangement to David.
· She brought a case that was not too similar, lest it arouse David’s suspicions.
3. (12-17) The woman of Tekoa applies her story to David and Absalom.
Therefore the woman said, “Please, let your maidservant speak another word to my lord the king.” And he said, “Say on.” So the woman said: “Why then have you schemed such a thing against the people of God? For the king speaks this thing as one who is guilty, in that the king does not bring his banished one home again. For we will surely die and become like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. Yet God does not take away a life; but He devises means, so that His banished ones are not expelled from Him. Now therefore, I have come to speak of this thing to my lord the king because the people have made me afraid. And your maidservant said, ‘I will now speak to the king; it may be that the king will perform the request of his maidservant. For the king will hear and deliver his maidservant from the hand of the man who would destroy me and my son together from the inheritance of God.’ Your maidservant said, ‘The word of my lord the king will now be comforting; for as the angel of God, so is my lord the king in discerning good and evil. And may the LORD your God be with you.’”
a. The king does not bring his banished one home again: The woman of Tekoa spoke boldly to David, confronting his sin of not initiating reconciliation with Absalom. Because he was estranged from David and growing more and more bitter, Absalom was a threat to Israel and David allowed it (Why then have you schemed such a thing against the people of God?).
i. David had some responsibility to initiate reconciliation. If David approached Absalom, he might be rejected, but he still had the responsibility to try. Yet as king and chief judge of Israel, he also had a responsibility to both initiate reconciliation and to do it the right way. David will not succeed in this.
ii. “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 favour is the desire of the whole nation.” (Clarke)
b. We will surely die and become like water spilled on the ground: The woman of Tekoa wisely spoke to David about the urgency of reconciliation. “David, we all die and then the opportunity for reconciliation is over. Do it now.”
c. But He devises means, so that His banished ones are not expelled from Him: The woman of Tekoa meant, “Find a way to do it, David. God finds a way to bring us back to Himself.” It is true that God finds a way – but not at the expense of justice. God reconciles us by satisfying justice, not by ignoring justice.
i. This is one of the best gospel texts in the Old Testament. If we are under the chastening of God, we may feel like banished ones. Yet we can accept the place of being banished, but still belonging to Him and trusting Him to bring us back to Him. If we must be banished, may we be His banished ones.
ii. God has devised a way to bring the banished back to Him that they might not be expelled from Him. The way is through the person and work of Jesus, and how He stood in the place of guilty sinners as He hung on the cross and received the punishment that we deserved.
4. (18-20) David asks the woman of Tekoa if Joab prompted her.
Then the king answered and said to the woman, “Please do not hide from me anything that I ask you.” And the woman said, “Please, let my lord the king speak.” So the king said, “Is the hand of Joab with you in all this?” And the woman answered and said, “As you live, my lord the king, no one can turn to the right hand or to the left from anything that my lord the king has spoken. For your servant Joab commanded me, and he put all these words in the mouth of your maidservant. To bring about this change of affairs your servant Joab has done this thing; but my lord is wise, according to the wisdom of the angel of God, to know everything that is in the earth.”
a. Is the hand of Joab with you in all this? David somehow knew that a plan this subtle had to come from the hand of Joab.
b. He put all these words in the mouth of your maidservant: Joab orchestrated this with precision. He knew exactly what strings to pull in David. Joab was loyal to David, but it was not selfless loyalty.
5. (21-24) Absalom returns to Jerusalem but not to David.
And the king said to Joab, “All right, I have granted this thing. Go therefore, bring back the young man Absalom.” Then Joab fell to the ground on his face and bowed himself, and thanked the king. And Joab said, “Today your servant knows that I have found favor in your sight, my lord, O king, in that the king has fulfilled the request of his servant.” So Joab arose and went to Geshur, and brought Absalom to Jerusalem. And the king said, “Let him return to his own house, but do not let him see my face.” So Absalom returned to his own house, but did not see the king’s face.
a. Bring back the young man Absalom: Joab got what he wanted and what he thought was best for the nation of Israel. He hoped that Absalom’s reconciliation with David would prevent a rebellion.
b. Let him return to his own house, but do not let me see my face: David was overindulgent with his sons in the past (such as when he got angry but did nothing against Amnon in 2 Samuel 13:21). Now David is too harsh with Absalom, refusing to see him after he had been in exile in Geshur for three years (2 Samuel 13:38).
i. When parents don’t discipline properly from the beginning, they tend to overcompensate in the name of “toughness.” This often provokes the children to wrath (Ephesians 6:4) and makes the parent-child relationship worse.
B. Absalom gains an audience with his father.
1. (25-27) Absalom’s handsome appearance.
Now in all Israel there was no one who was praised as much as Absalom for his good looks. From the sole of his foot to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him. And when he cut the hair of his head; at the end of every year he cut it because it was heavy on him; when he cut it, he weighed the hair of his head at two hundred shekels according to the king’s standard. To Absalom were born three sons, and one daughter whose name was Tamar. She was a woman of beautiful appearance.
a. In all Israel there was no one who was praised as much as Absalom for his good looks: This begins to explain why Absalom was popular in Israel. Israel was attracted to King Saul because he was a very good-looking man (1 Samuel 9:2).
i. Absalom was also a man of political destiny. He was the third son of David (2 Samuel 3:2-5). The firstborn Amnon was gone, and we hear nothing more of Chileab, the second born. It is likely that Absalom was the crown prince, next in line for the throne.
b. He weighed the hair of his head at two hundred shekels: Absalom had such a great head of hair that he cut five and one-half pounds of hair off his head every year.
i. “He was extremely proud of his long hair, and he lost his life because of it.” (Redpath)
c. One daughter whose name was Tamar: Absalom was a man of deep and sympathetic feeling. He memorialized his wronged sister Tamar by naming a daughter after her.
2. (28-32) Absalom is refused audience with the king.
And Absalom dwelt two full years in Jerusalem, but did not see the king’s face. Therefore Absalom sent for Joab, to send him to the king, but he would not come to him. And when he sent again the second time, he would not come. So he said to his servants, “See, Joab’s field is near mine, and he has barley there; go and set it on fire.” And Absalom’s servants set the field on fire. Then Joab arose and came to Absalom’s house, and said to him, “Why have your servants set my field on fire?” And Absalom answered Joab, “Look, I sent to you, saying, ‘Come here, so that I may send you to the king, to say, “Why have I come from Geshur? It would be better for me to be there still.”‘ Now therefore, let me see the king’s face; but if there is iniquity in me, let him execute me.”
a. Absalom dwelt two full years in Jerusalem, but did not see the king’s face: During these two years, we can imagine that Absalom grew more and more bitter against David. He was reconciled but only partially. David offered only a partial, incomplete reconciliation.
i. Absalom was banished from Israel because he murdered his brother Amnon (2 Samuel 13). Yet Absalom felt entirely justified in killing the man who raped his sister. His sense of justification made the bitterness against David more intense.
b. Joab’s field is near mine, and he has barley there; go and set it on fire: Frustrated that he could not see his father, Absalom burnt Joab’s fields to get his attention. This showed how brutal and amoral Absalom was.
i. It’s hard to think of a greater contrast than that between Absalom and the prodigal son of Jesus’ parable. The prodigal son came back humble and repentant. Absalom came back burning Joab’s fields.
ii. At the same time, sometimes God gets our attention by setting our “barley field” on fire. “He, knowing that we will not come by any other means, sendeth a serious trial – he sets our barley-field on fire, which he has a right to do, seeing our barley-fields are far more his than they are ours.” (Spurgeon)
c. If there is any iniquity in me, let him execute me: This statement reflects Absalom’s sense that he was fully justified in what he did.
3. (33) David receives Absalom.
So Joab went 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. Then the king kissed Absalom.
a. So Joab went to the king and told him: As brutal and amoral as Absalom was, it worked. Burning Joab’s fields got his attention and made Joab intercede on Absalom’s behalf.
b. He came to the king and bowed himself on his face to the ground: Absalom outwardly submits to David, but David’s two-year refusal to reconcile left a legacy of bitterness in Absalom that turned out badly for David, for Absalom, and for Israel.
c. Then the king kissed Absalom: David offered Absalom forgiveness without any repentance or resolution of the wrong. In personal relationships, it is often a sign of love and graciousness to overlook a wrong. Proverbs 10:12 says, Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all sins. But as king of Israel, this was more than a personal matter with David. He was the “chief judge” of Israel and David excused and overlooked Absalom’s obvious crimes.
i. “He should have kicked him rather; and not have hardened him to further villainy.” (Trapp)
ii. “David’s forgiveness of Absalom was completely inadequate, leading to a further outbreak of sin. God’s forgiveness of a man’s soul is completely adequate, and a great deterrent to continued sin.” (Redpath)
iii. “May God write it on your soul: if the pardon you want is that God should wink at your sin, He will not do it.” (Redpath)
© 2022 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org