2 Samuel 14

CHAPTER XIV

A woman of Tekoah, by the advice of Joab, comes to the king; and

by a fictitious story persuades him to recall Absalom, 1-20.

Joab is permitted to go to Geshur, and bring Absalom from

thence, 21-23.

Absalom comes to Jerusalem to his own house, but is forbidden

to see the king's face, 24.

An account of Absalom's beauty, and the extraordinary weight of

his hair, 25, 26.

His children, 27.

He strives to regain the king's favour, and employs Joab as an

intercessor, 28-32.

David is reconciled to him, 33.

NOTES ON CHAP. XIV

Verse 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.

Verse 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.

Verse 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, 2Sa 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 Ps 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.

Verse 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:-

Verse 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.

Verse 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.

Verse 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.

Verse 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 favour 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?

Verse 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 favour, 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,

velo yissa Elohim nephesh, "And God doth not

take away the soul." The Septuagint has it, καιληψεταιοθεοςτην

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.

Verse 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.

Verse 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.

Verse 24. Let him not see my face.] He would not at once restore

him to favour, 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.

Verse 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.

Verse 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. See Clarke on 2Sa 14:30.

Verse 27. Unto Absalom there were born] These children did not

survive him; see 2Sa 18:18.

Tamar] The Septuagint adds, And she became the wife of Roboam,

the son of Solomon, and bare to him Abia; see Mt 1:7. Josephus

says the same. This addition is not found in the other versions.

Verse 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 ver. 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 &c.) 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 resh stands for two hundred, and might in

this place be easily mistaken for 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,) σικλουςδιακοσιουςαυτοιδε

εισιπεντεμναι, i.e., "Two hundred shekels make five minae," and

in lib. xiv., cap. 12. he says, ηδεμναπαρημινισχειλιτρας

βκαιημισυ; "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, &c., ωςμολιςαυτηνημεραιςαποκειρεινοκτω, "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, σικλοςολεγεταικαι

κοδραντηςτεταρτονμενεστιτηςουγκιαςημισυδετουστατηρος

δυοδραχμαςεχων; "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,) Ex 30:13, which the Lord

commanded the children of Israel to give as an offering for their

souls, is expressly called in Mt 17:24, τοδιδραχμον, "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: δυναταιδεοσικλοςδυοοραχμαςαττικας; "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 Ps 23:5; Ec 9:8;

Mt 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

endeavour to solve the difficulty by understanding 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

lamed, THIRTY, was first written; which, in process of time,

became changed for 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 mikkets yamim laiyamim signifies

literally, "From the end of days to days;" which Jonathan properly

renders, 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 lamed were but a

little impaired, as it frequently is both in MSS. and printed

books, it might be very easily taken for resh, and the remains

of the upper part of the lamed might be mistaken for the stroke

over the , which makes it the character of two hundred.

But how could mathayim, two hundred, in the text, be put

in the place of 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.

Ver. 27. "Absalom had a daughter, whose name was Tamar."

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