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2 Samuel—The Life and Times of Israel’s Greatest King
2 Samuel picks up where 1 Samuel leaves off in the history of Israel—after Saul, that nation’s first ruler died. It chronicles the rise of David to the throne of Israel and follows his forty-year career as the nation’s greatest king. According to Nelson’s Complete Book of Bible Maps & Charts, it can be divided into three main parts:
- The triumphs of David (chapters 1-10),
- The transgressions of David (chapt. 11),
- The troubles of David (ch. 12-24).
1 and 2 Samuel were originally a single volume, probably compiled by some unnamed prophet, priest or scribe after David’s death. 2 Samuel is apparently composed of writings from the prophets Nathan and Gad, as well as records from the “Book of Jasher.”
2 Samuel Chapter 1
When David and his men returned from Ziklag after recovering their families and possessions, they stuck around two days (2 Sam. 1:1). They were quite possibly picking through the ruins of the city and trying to figure out what to do next.
On day three, a fellow came along whose clothes were torn and dirty. He fell flat in front of David, informing him he had escaped from the camp of Israel (vv. 2-3). When David inquired how the battle went, the refugee told him that Israel’s army had been defeated, and Saul and Jonathan were dead (4). Not wanting to believe this, David asked how the man knew Saul and Jonathan were deceased (5).
The man told him he happened to meet Saul on the battlefield, leaning on his spear with the Philistines following close behind (6). When the man had identified himself to Saul, the king told him, “Come over here and put me out of my misery, for I am in terrible pain and want to die” (2 Sam. 1:9, NLT). Being a foreigner, the man telling the story was not afraid to take the king’s life. He was convinced Saul wouldn’t live much longer anyway, so he killed Saul and removed his crown and bracelet, which he produced for David (v. 10).
At that, David and his men tore their clothes and then mourned, wept and fasted until that evening over the death of their king and his heir (11-12). When David asked where he was from, the man replied, “I am the son of an alien, an Amalekite” (13). Although he seemed proud of the fact, that didn’t win the fellow any points with David, who had just returned from fighting a band of Amalekite raiders (See 1 Samuel 30). David asked, “How was it you were not afraid to put forth your hand to destroy the LORD s anointed?” (14). Then he ordered one of his men to execute the Amalekite for killing the king (15-16).
In honor of the king and his son, David wrote a lamentation, called “The Song of the Bow” (17-18). It starts out, “The beauty of Israel is slain on your high places! How the mighty have fallen!” (19). David said not to publicize the matter in Gath or Ashkelon, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised Philistines would celebrate their enemies’ defeat (20). He cursed the mountains of Gilboa for allowing Saul and Jonathan to fall on them (21). To the end, he imagined that the two fought valiantly (22). He said, “Saul and Jonathan were beloved and pleasant in their lives,” [That may have been true of Jonathan, but certainly not of Saul—at least not in his latter days!] “And in their death they were not divided” (23). He also said they were both “swifter than eagles” and “stronger than lions.”
David urged the daughters of Israel to lament for their fallen king, who had clothed them in luxurious apparel (24). He was especially grieved that his friend, Jonathan had fallen in battle (25). The young man was like a brother to David, his love more special than that of a woman (26). The homosexual community would have us think there was something more than mere friendship between David and Jonathan, yet there is nothing in the scriptures to validate such a claim. David was a man of God and would never have involved himself in an illicit relationship of this kind. He wound up with more than his share of wives, to be sure, but he was not a Sodomite. The grieving minstrel concluded much like he had begun: “How the mighty have fallen, and the weapons of war perished!” (27).
2 Samuel Chapter 2
David asked God what he should do next, and YHWH sent him to Hebron (2 Sam. 2:1)—a city of Judah, which also happened to be a Levite city. So David and his men and all their families moved to that area (vv. 2-3). While they were there, the men of Judah came and made David king over their tribe (4). They also let him know that the men of Jabesh had rescued the bodies of Saul and his sons, so he sent messengers blessing them for honoring their king (4-6). He also informed the men that he was now king over Judah (7).
Jabesh Gilead didn’t get to follow David for some time, however, since it belonged to the tribes that followed Saul’s family. Saul’s uncle Abner, commander of Israel’s army, designated Ishbosheth (called Esh-Baal in 8:33 & 9:39) as Saul’s successor over the other tribes of Israel (2 Sam. 2:8-9). Forty years old at this time, Ishbosheth was little more than a figurehead over the eleven tribes during the two years of his reign (10). Meanwhile, David ruled as king of Judah for 7½ years (11).
Like two banty roosters, Abner and Joab, commanders of the armies of Israel and Judah, faced off at the pool of Gibeon [near ancient Jerusalem] (12-13). Abner proposed a fight between just twelve representatives of each army, and Joab agreed (14). So twelve young warriors faced off, and each grabbed his opponent by the head and stabbed him in the side—leaving all twenty-four dead (15-16). So the place was designated Helkath-hazzurim, which means “field of swords,” in memory of these two dozen soldiers whose lives were wasted that day!
Then the two forces engaged in battle, with David’s men overpowering the Israelites (17). Asahel, one of Joab’s two brothers, focused on Abner alone and pursued him relentlessly (18-19). Although Abner tried to warn him off, the fleet-footed warrior would not be dissuaded from following the older man (20-22). So Abner drove the butt of his spear clean through the young man’s abdomen, and he died on the spot (23).
Joab’s men pursued Abner’s forces all the way to the hill of Ammah, probably somewhere in Benjamite territory, and then the men of Benjamin rallied behind their leader at its crest (24-25). From this vantage point, Abner called to Joab and told him nothing good could come from fighting among themselves (26). Thus persuaded, Joab blew the trumpet and stopped his troops from pursuing their relatives (27-28). So Abner and his men marched all night to Mahanaim, the new capital of Israel east of the Jordan River (29).
When Joab mustered his troops, he found he had lost only twenty men (including his brother Asahel); while his soldiers had killed 360 of Abner’s forces (30-31). After burying his brother in their father’s tomb in Bethlehem, Joab and his company marched all night, as well, to return to Hebron (32).
2 Samuel Chapter 3
The war between these two kingdoms continued. However, because God had rejected the house of Saul and designated David as king (c.f.—1 Samuel 13:14, 15:28, 16:1 & 28:17), David’s kingdom grew stronger, while Ishbosheth’s grew weaker (2 Sam. 3:1).
Meanwhile, David began to raise a family. His first wife, Ahinoam bore his first son, Ammon. Abigail had Chileab. His third son, Absalom, was born to Maacah, a Geshurite princess. Three other sons were born to as many wives—all while David was reigning in Hebron (vv. 2-5).
Meanwhile, Abner was strengthening his hold over the kingdom of Israel (6). When his great nephew accused Abner of taking Saul’s concubine, Rizpah, for himself, Abner lost it and vowed to turn the kingdom over to David (7-10). Interestingly enough, his speech to Ishbosheth reveals that Abner knew YHWH wanted David to be king, but out of loyalty to Saul’s family [and most likely a lust for power, as well], he had been working against God’s plan, trying to keep Saul’s son on the throne. Ishbosheth was too scared of his great uncle to say any more (11).
In keeping with his threat, Abner sent messengers to David to arrange a meeting to bring the rest of the tribes over to David’s side (12). David said he would meet with the man on the one condition that he brought Michal, his former wife to him (13). When David demanded of Ishbosheth that he return his wife, “whom I betrothed to myself for a hundred foreskins of the Philistines,” the puppet king had her taken from her new husband, Paltiel (14-15). Her second husband followed Abner, weeping all the way, until the general made him go back (16).
Abner reminded the elders of Israel how they had formerly wanted David as their king, and said now was their chance (17-18). He told them a heretofore unmentioned prophecy that YHWH intended to deliver His people from their enemies through His servant David (19). Bringing a contingent of twenty leaders, Abner met with David in Hebron, where the latter threw a large banquet, as they discussed the terms of peace (19-21).
Joab and company were off raiding somewhere when all this happened, and returned shortly after David had sent Abner and his group away to do what was needed to unify the two kingdoms (21-22). When he heard David had let his enemy go without a fight, Joab was livid, claiming the Benjamite came to trick him (23-25). He secretly sent messengers to bring the other general back (26). However, when Abner arrived in Hebron, Joab took him aside privately and stabbed him in the gut to avenge the death of his brother (27).
When David learned of the assassination, he immediately made it clear that the attack was not authorized by him (28). He put a curse on Joab and his descendants for plotting with his brother, Abishai to avenge their brother’s death in battle (29-30). He ordered his general to show respect for the dead, and gave Abner a hero’s burial in Hebron (31-32). As he had done with Saul and Jonathan, David wrote a lament for Abner:
Should Abner die as a fool dies?
Your hands were not bound
Nor your feet put into fetters;
As a man falls before wicked men, so you fell (33-34).
Everybody cried loud and long for Abner that day, and David refused to eat until sunset (32, 34 & 35). Then everyone was impressed and realized that David was not a part of the conspiracy against Abner (36-37). David even went so far as to call himself weak, considering what the “sons of Zeruiah” (Joab and Abishai) had done under his administration in killing a “prince and a great man” (38-39). He invoked God’s justice against these evildoers, since he was not willing to execute his hot-headed relatives himself.
2 Samuel Chapter 4
The whole incident with Abner really shook Ishbosheth and his subjects (2 Sam. 4:1). Two of Ishbosheth’s captains snuck into his house one day while he was taking a nap and stabbed him in the stomach (vv. 2 & 5-6). They beheaded the poor fellow and escaped across the plains that night to Hebron (7). When they reported to David, “Here is the head of Ishbosheth, the son of Saul your enemy, who sought your life; and the LORD has avenged my lord the king this day of Saul and his descendants,” the two men probably expected some sort of reward (8).
However, David referred to the incident at Ziklag:
“As surely as the LORD lives, who has delivered me out of all trouble, when a man told me, ‘Saul is dead,’and thought he was bringing good news, I seized him and put him to death in Ziklag… How much more—when wicked men have killed an innocent man in his own house and on his own bed—should I not now demand his blood from your hand and rid the earth of you!” (2 Sam. 4:9-11, NIV).
So David gave the order and had the men executed for murder. Just as they had done to Ishbosheth, their heads were severed from their bodies. David had them hung, along with their hands and feet near a pool in Hebron. Ishbosheth’s head, however, he placed in Abner’s grave. (v. 12).
2 Samuel Chapter 5
Eventually, all the tribes of Israel came and met with David in Hebron, identifying themselves as family and expressing their desire for him to be their king (2 Sam. 5:1). They acknowledged he had the experience, having led their troops into battle while Saul was in charge, and that the Lord had designated him as His chosen ruler, saying, “You shall shepherd My people Israel…” (v. 2). So David made a covenant with the elders of the people, and they anointed him king over the entire nation (3).
The scripture indicates he was 30 when he became king over Judah, and reigned 7½ years in Hebron—which would have made him about 37 when they made him king of all Israel. He reigned another 33 years over the entire nation, for a grand total of 40 years all together that the former shepherd was in charge. (4-5).
One of his first acts as the new national king was to capture and rebuild a city suitable to serve as Israel’s capital. Jerusalem was at that time occupied by the Jebusites, one of the people groups YHWH had commanded His people to dispossess. These folks had lived in that walled city undisturbed for so long, they believed their fortress to be impenetrable. Therefore they made the bold statement to David, “You shall not come in here; but the blind and the lame will repel you” (6). David countered by telling his men, “Whoever climbs up by way of the water shaft and defeats the Jebusites (the lame and the blind, who are hated by David’s soul), he shall be chief and captain” (8). Imagine the Jebusites’ surprise when the men of Israel [with Joab at their head, according to 1 Chronicles 11:6], poured into the city via that route and took the stronghold of Zion in the heart of Jerusalem (7)!
David occupied the stronghold, calling it the City of David, reinforcing the walls all around the city (9). “So David went on and became great, and the LORD God of hosts was with him” (10). The reality of God’s favor sank into David’s heart, when Hiram, king of Tyre sent messengers, supplies and workers to help construct a palace for the new king (11-12).
Meanwhile, David gathered more wives and concubines while he was in Jerusalem, and fathered more sons and daughters (13). Among these were Shammua (called Shimea in 1 Chr. 3:5), Shobab, Nathan, Solomon, Ibhar, Elishua, Nepheg, Japhia, Elishama, Eliada and Eliphelet (2 Sam. 5:14-16).
When the Philistines heard David had been made king, they were literally up in arms about it! I’m sure there were plenty of noblemen telling Achish, “I told you so,” about that time. They all gathered together at the Valley of Rephaim to fight against Israel’s new king (vv. 17-18). David checked with God, and the Lord told him to engage the Philistines in battle, for Israel would surely win (19). When God granted him victory, David named the place Baal Perazim, which means “Master of Breakthroughs,” saying, “The LORD has broken through my enemies before me, like a breakthrough of water” (20). Then he and his men rounded up all the Philistines’ idols and carried them away (21).
When the Philistines regrouped and assembled in the Valley of Rephaim once again, this time the Lord told him not to engage in a frontal attack, but to circle around the rear of their enemies (22-23). He instructed David, “when you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the mulberry trees, then you shall advance quickly. For then the LORD will go out before you to strike the camp of the Philistines” (24). Upon carrying out these orders, David won yet another decisive battle against his enemies (25).
2 Samuel Chapter 6
Having constructed a home and a citadel for himself, David’s next order of business was to go and retrieve the Ark of the Covenant from the place where it had been stored for at least twenty years of Samuel’s administration (c.f.—1 Samuel 7:2), plus the forty years of Saul’s reign (See Acts 13:21). He gathered 30,000 men, and marched to Kirjath Jearim with the intent of bringing the ark back to Jerusalem (2 Sam. 6:1-2).
Unfortunately, no one consulted the owner’s manual about the proper care and transport of the holy vessel, for they loaded it onto a new cart and hauled it off in the direction of the City of David (vv. 3-4). While David and the Israelites celebrated with the sound of all sorts of instruments, the cart lumbered on over uneven terrain (5). Suddenly, the oxen stumbled, and Uzzah, one of the sons of Abinidab [who had tended the ark all these years], reached out and put his hand on the golden box to keep it from sliding off (6). Instantly, fire came out of heaven and struck the poor fellow for daring to touch the ark, scaring David and his company half to death themselves (7-9). Therefore, they decided to leave the box at the house of Obed-Edom, rather than carry it on to Jerusalem (10). The place where God struck Uzzah was named Perez-Uzzah—or “outburst against Uzzah”—from that day on.
After three months of caring for the ark, Obed-Edom seemed to be experiencing extraordinary blessings from God, therefore, David and his countrymen decided to try again to bring it into the capital city (11-12). This time, they had a proper fear of YHWH in their hearts and sacrificed oxen and sheep before they tried to transport it (13). David was so excited, he put on the garb of a priest and danced with all his might before the Lord, while everyone else shouted and blew their trumpets (14-15). The ark was then placed in a special tent David had erected for it (17). After offering all kinds of sacrifices, David distributed treats among the people, blessed them and sent them all home (18-19).
David’s first wife, Michal, happened to see her husband dancing in the streets in his underwear, and “despised him in her heart” (16). When David came home to bless his household after all the festivities, she said scornfully, “How glorious was the king of Israel today, uncovering himself today in the eyes of the maids of his servants, as one of the base fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!” (20). He replied,
“It was before the LORD, who chose me instead of your father and all his house, to appoint me ruler over the people of the LORD, over Israel. Therefore I will play music before the LORD. And I will be even more undignified than this, and will be humble in my own sight. But as for the maidservants of whom you have spoken, by them I will be held in honor.” (21-22)
His wife was disrespectful of David, thinking his behavior was too undignified for a king. Yet David pointed out that he was not performing for her benefit or that of anyone but God, who had elevated him above her father and the rest of his family for that reason. None of the servant girls she mentioned disrespected him; only this spoiled little princess! For that reason, Michal died childless (23)—either because YHWH cursed her womb, or because David had nothing more to do with her.
2 Samuel Chapter 7
After enjoying his new home and rest from war for a while, David talked to his friend, Nathan the prophet, about building a temple. He said, “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells inside tent curtains” (2 Sam. 7:1-2). Nathan, confident that David was on the right track, encouraged the king, “Go, do all that is in your heart, for the Lord is with you” (v. 3).
However, that night, YHWH spoke to the prophet, giving him a different message to carry to His servant (4). God pointed out that He had never asked to have a house of cedar, but had been fine moving about in a tent, just like the Israelites (6-7). The Lord reminded David how He had taken him from herding sheep to being a ruler of His people, helping him cut off all of Israel’s enemies and giving him a great reputation among the nations (8-9). Furthermore, God intended to give the Israelites a permanent home and remove those wicked people that oppressed them (10).
Although David was not going to be allowed to build God a house, because he was willing to do so, the Lord promised He would build David a house (5 & 11). By that He meant that He would establish a lasting dynasty of David’s descendants. One of David’s sons would build the temple (12-13). God would be like a Father to him, disciplining David’s son “with the rod of men,” if he sinned (14). Nevertheless, He would not remove His mercy from this king, as He had with Saul (15). Another of David’s descendants would have an everlasting kingdom—namely, Jesus (16).
When Nathan passed along this prophecy to David, the king went in and sat in God’s presence, marveling that He would do such a thing for a man of relative unimportance (17-19). You can sense the awe in David’s words: “For Your word’s sake, and according to Your own heart, You have done all these great things, to make Your servant know them. Therefore You are great, O Lord GOD. For there is none like You, nor is there any God besides You…” (20-22). Moreover, he said there was no nation like Israel, for whom God had gone to so much trouble to make them His own, redeeming them from Egypt and its gods (23-24). Emboldened by this promise, David asked God to be true to His word, blessing his family, so that YHWH’s name would be magnified forever (25-29).
2 Samuel Chapter 8
With his royal city built up, his palace constructed and the ark settled safely in its new home, David turned back to defending his country and expanding his borders. Verse 1 of this chapter says he attacked and subdued the Philistines, taking Metheg Ammah from them. Whether this means he captured their chief city (which is what Metheg Ammah means), or that was actually the name of a particular place, we cannot tell from this verse. However, the parallel account in 1 Chronicles 18:1 indicates it was actually Gath and its surrounding villages. So I am inclined to think Gath was the principle city of the Philistines. It is important to note that David’s year and four months in service of Achish prepared him for this victory, since it made him aware of the Philistine holdings, their vulnerabilities, etc.
David also defeated Moab, the homeland of his ancestress, Ruth. Perhaps it was for this reason—plus the fact these people were distant relatives of Israel—that David executed only 2/3 of the Moabites and then brought them under tribute to his kingdom, rather than attempting to exterminate them all (2 Sam. 8:2).
Another victory was won over Hadadezer the son of Rehob, king of Zobah. David defeated this king, in spite of the fact he had 1,000 chariots, 700 (or 7,000?) horsemen and 20,000 foot soldiers! He disabled all but the number of horses required to draw 100 chariots, which he kept for himself. The addition of Hadadezer’s territory expanded the kingdom of David all the way to the Euphates River. (vv. 3-4).
When Syrians came from Damascus to help Hadadezer, David’s army killed 20,000 of them, and then stationed garrisons in their capital city, which brought that nation under his power (5-6). David took the golden shields from Hadadezer’s men and brought them to adorn his palace in Jerusalem (7). He also collected a good deal of bronze from other Syrian cities (8).
When King Toi of Hamath heard that David had destroyed the army of Hadadezer, he sent his son Joram to congratulate David on his success. Hadadezer and Toi had long been enemies, and there had been many wars between them. Joram presented David with many gifts of silver, gold, and bronze. (2 Sam. 8:9-10, NLT)
David dedicated these gifts to God, along with the spoils from his other conquests against Syria, Moab, Ammon, Philistia, Amelek and Zobah (vv. 11-12).
Verse 13 says he made a name for himself when he killed 18,000 Syrians in the Valley of Salt. David wrote a song about this victory—Psalm 60—in which he credits Joab with killing 12,000 Edomites in the Valley of Salt. The parallel passage to 2 Samuel 8:13 in 1 Chronicles 18:12 says Abishai killed 18,000 Edomites in that same location. While these may seem like gross discrepancies, my guess is that Abishai actually led the assault on what was likely an Edomite/Syrian alliance in the Valley of Salt. Because Joab was the general over David’s army, the king credited him; while David’s historian gave the accolades to the king. As a result of this victory, David erected outposts in Edom and fulfilled prophecy by bringing them under Israel’s control, “And the LORD preserved David wherever he went” (2 Sam. 8:14). For a more complete discussion of all this, read my blog, “Seeming Discrepancies,” posted April 20, 2012.
“David reigned over all Israel, doing what was just and right for all his people” (2 Sam. 8:15, NIV). As already mentioned, Joab the son of Zeruiah was in charge of David’s army; Jehoshaphat was the historian; Zadok and Ahimelech were priests; Seraiah was the scribe; Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was in charge of the Philistine warriors who served David, and David’s sons were his chief administrators (vv. 16-18).
2 Samuel Chapter 9
During a lull in all this fighting, David remembered his promise to Jonathan and asked Ziba, Saul’s former steward, whether there was some survivor of the family that he could bless for Jonathan’s sake (2 Sam. 9:1-3). Ziba informed David, “There is still a son of Jonathan who is lame in his feet” (v. 3). 2 Samuel 4:4 provides the background of this: “He was five years old when the news about Saul and Jonathan came from Jezreel; and his nurse took him up and fled. And it happened, as she made haste to flee, that he fell and became lame.”
Once David found out where the young man was, he had him brought to the royal palace at once (2 Sam. 9:4-5). At that time, it was not uncommon for kings to completely wipe out all the survivors of a previous dynasty, once the new ruler came to power. In fact, you even find this in Israel and Judah’s later history, as recorded in the books of Kings and 2 Chronicles.
So when Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan, appeared before David, he may very well have been expecting such a fate for himself, which is probably why “he fell on his face and prostrated himself” before the king (v. 6). Imagine the young man’s surprise when David assured him not only would he restore all of Saul’s property to this rightful heir, but for Jonathan’s sake David would include Mephibosheth among his sons at his own dinner table every day for the rest of his life (7)! Whether because of his disability or because he was aware of the bad blood between Saul and David, Mephibosheth replied, “What is your servant, that you should look upon such a dead dog as I?” (8).
Paying no attention to the remark, David instructed Ziba, his family and his servants to tend the land of Saul in Mephibosheth’s behalf, while his master resided with David in Jerusalem (9-10). So that is precisely what happened (11-12).
2 Samuel Chapter 10
When Nahash the king of Ammon died, David sent envoys to the new king, Hanun, to offer condolences on the death of the young man’s father, who had been an ally to David (2 Sam. 10:1-2). However, when the new king’s advisers convinced him David’s emissaries were actually spies, the Ammonite ruler shaved the Hebrews, cut off their robes to expose their buttocks and then sent them packing (vv. 3-4)! When he was informed of this disgrace, David sent messengers to tell the men to camp out at Jericho until their beards grew back, and then return to the king’s court (5).
Meanwhile, the Ammonites realized what a mistake they’d made and, in anticipation of war with Israel, they hired a total of over 33,000 mercenaries from two different Syrian kingdoms, plus the kingdoms of Maacah and Zoba (6). In response to this military build-up, David sent Joab with an army of mighty men (7). When Joab found the Ammonites stationed near the entrance of their capital city and their hired guns assembled in the field, he divided his forces between himself and Abishai (8-10). He told his brother,
“If the Syrians are too strong for me, then you shall help me; but if the people of Ammon are too strong for you, then I will come and help you. Be of good courage, and let us be strong for our people and for the cities of our God. And may the LORD do what is good in His sight.” (11-12)
As you can see, Joab was not a very religious man. He trusted more in himself than in God. Nevertheless, he and his brother both put their enemies to flight and returned home (13-14).
Disgraced by this defeat, the Syrians called for reinforcements from beyond the Euphrates and assembled again (15-16). When David got wind of this, he personally led all of Israel to battle, killing 700 charioteers and 40,000 horsemen, as well as the Syrian general, Shobach (17-18). When the Syrian forces saw their leader was dead, they all surrendered and became vassals of Israel, so they were no longer willing to help the Ammonites (19).
2 Samuel Chapter 11
As the saying goes, “All good things must come to an end.” David’s integrity and good fortune was no exception. We are not exactly sure how old David was, but the king was apparently getting bored with his life and his wives by the time this chapter opens. Maybe he was in the throes of a mid-life crisis.
At any rate, in spring of the year following Israel’s defeat of the Ammonites, David again deployed Joab and his troops without him to attack Rabbah, the capital of Ammon, while he stayed home (2 Sam. 11:1). Unable to sleep one night, David went up on the roof of his palace to walk around a bit (v. 2). From that vantage point, he spied a beautiful young woman bathing on the roof of her house and liked what he saw.
Now bear in mind, David by this time had more than seven wives, plus concubines, and lots of children (c.f.—2 Sam. 3:2-5 & 5:13). He certainly didn’t need another woman in his life! My guess is that this gal was considerably younger than the others, and more attractive, as well.
When he asked who she was, someone replied, “Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” (3). I recently heard Pastor Chuck Swindoll preach on this very passage, and he pointed out that, normally a woman was introduced by her name and the name of her father. The fact that this servant referred to her as “the wife of Uriah,” may indicate he knew what was on David’s mind and was trying to warn him off from doing something he’d regret later.
Unfortunately, David ignored this caution and had the woman brought to him. They spent the night together, and since she had just completed the two-week process of purifying herself from her monthly period, she conceived a child and sent word to David that she was pregnant (4-5).
Hoping to cover up his transgression, David sent a messenger to Joab and had his general send Uriah the Hittite back to Jerusalem (6). David tried to seem casual, asking about the war and the other soldiers (7). Then he dismissed Uriah encouraging him to go kick back and relax at his house (8). One of David’s “mighty men,” according to 2 Samuel 23:39, Uriah was too disciplined and loyal a soldier to enjoy the comforts of home while the rest of the army was still in the field (10-11). Instead, he camped out near the door of his master, along with the rest of the king’s bodyguard (9). When David learned that his first attempt to get Uriah to go sleep with his wife had failed, he detained him another night—this time getting the soldier drunk in hopes he’d go home and have sex with Bathsheba (12-13). Again, Uriah bivouacked with the other soldiers at the palace.
The next morning David resorted to a third and more diabolical tactic. He wrote a note to Joab, ordering the general to “Put Uriah in the front line where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die” (15). Then he handed the sealed document to the unsuspecting soldier and sent him back to the front carrying his own death warrant!
Joab carried out the king’s order, and then sent word when the dirty deed was done (16-21). When the messenger brought his report of all the casualties from the most recent assault on the city, he didn’t wait for David to react, but told him immediately that Uriah was among the dead (22-24). So David sent back his assurances to Joab, “Don’t let this upset you; the sword devours one as well as another. Press the attack against the city and destroy it” (2 Sam. 11:25, NIV). David meant this ‘encouragement’ as code for: “You did what I told you to. Don’t worry about the collateral damages; just carry on with your siege of the city.”
When Bathsheba heard her husband was dead, she fulfilled the appropriate number of days for mourning, but then David immediately took her into his palace, where she bore him another son (26-27). In the king’s eyes, his secret was safe, and the problem was solved. “But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD” (27).
There were two men in a city. One was rich, but the other was poor. The rich man had many sheep and cattle. But the poor man had nothing except one little female lamb he had bought. The poor man fed the lamb, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food and drank from his cup and slept in his arms. The lamb was like a daughter to him. Then a traveler stopped to visit the rich man. The rich man wanted to feed the traveler, but he didn’t want to take one of his own sheep or cattle. Instead, he took the lamb from the poor man and cooked it for his visitor. (2 Sam. 12:1-4, New Century Version)
Hearing of such a gross injustice, David was furious and said the rich man deserved to die for his callous mistreatment of the poor man (vv. 5-6). But then Nathan replied, “You are the man!” and explained how selfishly David had behaved in taking yet another wife for himself and killing the man she belonged to (7-9). Because of his sin against God and Uriah, Nathan told David the sword would never depart from his house (10). Furthermore, God said,
“I will raise up adversity against you from your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel…” (11-12).
Unlike his predecessor, David didn’t argue with the prophet, make excuses or try to justify himself (See 1 Sam. 13 & 15). Instead, when confronted plainly with his faults, David replied, “I have sinned against the LORD.” Therefore, he was forgiven by God, who put away his sin and did not require the usual death sentence for King David (2 Sam. 12:13). Nevertheless, there were consequences as a result of David’s indiscretion. Nathan told him, “because by this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also who is born to you shall surely die” (v. 14).
How sad that an innocent baby should have to suffer because of his father’s sins! But it happens all the time in our fallen world.
Nathan went home, and soon after Bathsheba’s little boy got sick (15). For a week, David fasted, prayed and lay all night on sackcloth, hoping the Lord would have mercy on the child for his sake (16-18). When the baby died, the elders in David’s household were afraid to tell him, for fear he might do some harm to himself (18). However, the king figured out the reason for all their whispering and asked them point blank whether the child was dead (19). Having his fears confirmed, the man got up, bathed, put on clean clothes and fragrant oil and had a meal set before him (20). When the servants expressed their confusion at his behavior, David explained:
“While the child was alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who can tell whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.” (22-23).
From this statement, we may conclude that David’s infant son preceded him to heaven—as do all our little ones who die before they are old enough to sin.
When David went to comfort his wife concerning the loss of this child, the Lord allowed her to conceive again, so she had a son whom David named Solomon [which means, “peace”] (24). The Lord loved the boy so much, he sent word by Nathan to call the child Jedidiah, which means “beloved of YHWH” (25).
Meanwhile, Joab captured the royal city of the Ammonites and sent word to David that he’d better bring the rest of his men and finish the job, or else the place would be named for Joab, instead of the king (26-28). So David came out, and when he entered the city, he took the crown from Rabbah’s king and set it on his own head (29-30). It was magnificent, made of solid gold and set with precious gems. He brought out the spoils of the city and set the inhabitants to work as manual laborers, as he had all the other inhabitants of Ammon (31).
2 Samuel Chapter 13
Not long after came the fulfillment of Nathan’s prophecy concerning the house of David. You may recall the king had several sons born to him while he was king in Hebron (2 Sam. 3:2-5), all grown by now. Three children that play key roles in this chapter were:
- Amnon, David’s oldest, son of Ahinoam of Jezreel
- Absalom, David’s third son born through Maacah, daughter of Talmai king of Geshur
- Absalom’s younger sister, Tamar [whose name means “palm tree”]
Absalom’s sister Tamar was an exceptionally beautiful young lady, and Amnon became obsessed with her, to the point that he was suffering physically (2 Sam. 13:1-2). David’s nephew, Jonadab, the son of Shimeah [or Shammah, Jesse’s third-born son, passed over for kingship in 1 Sam. 16:9], was a friend of Amnon and noticed something was amiss. He asked why the king’s son kept getting so thin and haggard-looking each day (2 Sam. 13:3-4). When Amnon intimated that he was in love with his half-sister, Jonadab—whom verse 3 describes as shrewd/crafty/cunning (depending on what Bible version you read)—proposed a scheme to get the two of them alone together (v. 5).
So Amnon went to bed, pretending to be sick. When his father came to visit, he asked David to send his sister Tamar to make some sort of cakes for him (6). David sent the girl, who dutifully mixed the flour, kneaded the dough and cooked the cakes in his presence—most likely with her half-brother leering at her all the time (7-8). When the food was ready, she set them out for him to eat, but he refused. Instead, he dismissed all the people who were in the house and told the girl to bring him breakfast in bed (9-10).
Why no one was uncomfortable with this situation by now, I don’t know. But poor, sweet, unsuspecting Tamar complied with her brother’s wishes, and he grabbed her and demanded she have sex with him (10-11). She pleaded with the young man not to force himself on her, but to ask for her hand from David. Although she said to Amnon, “he will not withhold me from you,” I’m sure she was hoping David would refuse, in compliance with Leviticus 18:9 & 11. Although she appealed to his sense of decency, saying “no such thing should be done in Israel. …where could I take my shame? And… you would be like one of the fools in Israel,” Amnon would not listen to reason. Instead he overpowered and raped the girl. (12-14).
As is often the case, once he satisfied his lust, Amnon was no longer interested in his sister—in fact, his hatred for her was greater than his desire had previously been, so he dismissed her (15). Probably still shaking with shame and horror, the girl again attempted to penetrate her half-brother’s stony heart: “No, indeed! This evil of sending me away is worse than the other that you did to me” (16). Bent on having his own way, the brute called for his servant and ordered him to put Tamar out and bar the door behind her (17). One wonders where this fellow was when Tamar no doubt screamed for help, while Amnon raped her!
In abject disgrace and mourning the loss of her virginity, Tamar tore the beautiful long-sleeved gown typically worn by the king’s unwed daughters, tossed dirt on her head and went away weeping bitterly with her face in her hands (18-19). When she sought shelter in her brother Absalom’s home, he immediately guessed that Amnon was to blame—so there had been signs of impropriety, but no one in the family paid attention! Absalom tried to console her, but Tamar apparently spent the rest of her life in desolation at her brother’s home (20).
David, meanwhile, heard about the incident and was angry, but did nothing about it (21). Although Leviticus 20:17 demanded the death penalty for incest, since Amnon was his firstborn, David was loath to carry out the sentence on his own son.
Absalom, meanwhile, festered in his hatred of his half brother, but said not a word to him (2 Sam. 13:22). Two years later, he hatched a scheme to avenge the rape of his sister himself.
Absalom was shearing sheep and invited his entire family to join him in the festivities at Baal Hazor near Ephraim’s territory (vv. 23-24). David didn’t want to be a burden on the young man, but blessed him in his venture (25). When Absalom asked that Amnon alone be allowed to come, David was suspicious and asked, “Why should he go with you?” (26). Eventually the young man’s persistence paid off, and David consented to let all his sons go (27)—probably thinking there was safety in numbers, and it would be fun for the young men.
Absalom had arranged a signal for his servants to strike and kill only Amnon, once his older brother and the others were properly drunk. He assured them they were simply carrying out his orders and not to worry, so the soldiers did as they were told (28-29).
Absalom’s guests fled in terror, galloping away as fast as their mules would carry them; nevertheless, word somehow came to David that all of his sons had been murdered by Absalom (29-30). David tore his clothes and fell prostrate with grief; his servants did the same, shocked that such tragedy could strike the king’s family (31).
Jonadab, the one indirectly responsible for this whole mess, calmly assured the king:
“My lord should not think that they killed all the princes; only Amnon is dead. This has been Absalom’s expressed intention ever since the day Amnon raped his sister Tamar. My lord the king should not be concerned about the report that all the king’s sons are dead.” (2 Sam. 13:32-33, NIV)
If he knew this was going to happen, why didn’t Jonadab say something sooner? What a jerk!
Sure enough, just as the young man said, soon the watchman spotted David’s surviving sons charging toward the fortress (vv. 34-35). Everyone wept when they told what happened (36).
Meanwhile, Absalom fled from Israel and went to stay with his grandfather, Talmai king of Geshur (c.f.—2 Sam. 3:3 & 13:37). For three years, he stayed in this foreign land just east of the Sea of Galilee in the territory of East Manasseh (2 Sam. 13:38). Although David longed for Absalom, once he’d gotten over the death of Amnon, he did nothing to bring the young man back from exile (v. 39).
2 Samuel Chapter 14
Joab, seeing David’s concern for Absalom, but recognizing the king was not going to act on it, set in motion a plan to convince the monarch to bring his son home (2 Sam. 14:1). He called for a wise woman of Tekoa, a town not far from Jerusalem, and told her to dress like she had been in mourning for a while and tell David a story, as if she was seeking the king’s ruling in her case (vv. 2-3).
She played the role well, coming in all disheveled and smelly, falling on her face before the king, pleading for his help (4). She said she was a widow, with two surviving sons. They fought and one of the young men was killed, so now the family was after the one who struck his brother, in order to kill her only surviving heir and means of support (5-7).
David assured the woman he’d take care of the matter, but she continued to voice concerns. All along, he promised to keep her son safe from those determined to avenge the blood of his brother (8-11).
Finally she leveled with the king: “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” (12-13). She said a bunch of other stuff, adding that David was like an “angel of God” in discerning what’s right (14-17).
Seeing through the flattery to the source of her rhetoric, the king asked, “Is the hand of Joab with you in all this?” (18-19). She laid on considerably more adulation, but admitted as much (19-20). Therefore, David gave Joab permission to go and fetch Absalom, which greatly pleased the general for some reason (21-22). It is important to note that David did not refer to Absalom as his son, but “the young man,” and he did not at first permit the exile to see him when Joab brought him back from Geshur (21 & 23-24).
The next verse describes Absalom’s reputation in Israel as a ‘real looker’ and tells how flawless his appearance was (25). His hair grew so long and thick, each year when he cut it, the clippings weighed well over 6½ pounds (26)! He had three sons and a daughter, whom he named after his sister, since she was also beautiful (27).
After two years in Jerusalem without an audience with the king, Absalom was probably starting to wonder why he had returned in the first place (28). Twice, he tried to get Joab to set an appointment for him with David, but the general ignored him (29). So Absalom—ever the spoiled, strong-willed, selfish pig—ordered his servants to set fire to Joab’s field, which was adjacent to his (30). According to Exodus 22:6, Absalom should have made restitution for the barley crop he destroyed in Joab’s field; instead, he demanded that the general take him to the king (2 Sam. 13:31-32). He was ready to receive the death penalty, if David demanded it, but he was tired of being ignored.
Probably fearing the hot-headed prince would do something worse if he didn’t cooperate, Joab arranged an interview with the king. Absalom bowed with his face to the ground, probably trying to win his father’s favor. However, all David did was give him the perfunctory Middle-eastern kiss and let him go! (v. 33)
2 Samuel Chapter 15
After this cool reception from David, Absalom’s nursed a grudge for his father, not unlike what he had previously felt toward Amnon. Three years with his grandfather Talmai had also let him see a different style of leadership, so Absalom set out to take the kingdom of Israel out of David’s hands.
His first order of business was to acquire chariots, horses and fifty runners to give himself an air of importance (2 Sam. 15:1). Then he set out to seduce the hearts of the people by intercepting those who came to King David for judgment:
- First, Absalom would station himself early in the morning near the entrance to Jerusalem/the palace. Then he would greet each plaintiff and learn the city of his origin (v. 2).
- Then he would insinuate that the king was too busy to hear the fellow’s complaint and had no underlings to process cases for him (3).
- He would suggest that, were he given judicial powers, things would be different; every man would get the justice he deserved (4).
- Anyone who paid him respect would receive an affectionate kiss (5).
All of this worked as planned, “So Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel” (6).
Apparently, this went on for four years [Ancient Hebrew manuscripts say forty. However, Greek and Syriac manuscripts say four, and Josephus agrees. This lower figure is more reasonable, since David only reigned for forty years total—including the years when Absalom would have been growing up!]. Yet no one confronted the prince and asked, “What are you doing?”
When the schemer was sure he had gained enough support to overthrow David, he went and asked the king for leave to Hebron to fulfill a vow he had made while in Geshur (7-8). One wonders why David wasn’t curious as to why it had taken six years after returning to Israel to fulfill his vow! Not at all concerned [clueless!], David sent his son away in peace (9).
From Hebron, Absalom sent messengers throughout the tribal territories informing his dissidents, “As soon as you hear the sound of the trumpet, then you shall say, ‘Absalom reigns in Hebron!’” (10). The significance of Abasalom’s choice of Hebron for his take-over was probably three-fold:
- It was the city of his birth (2 Sam. 3:2-3).
- It was formerly David’s capital, when he reigned only over Judah and was originally crowned ruler of Israel (2 Sam. 2:3-4 & 5:1-5).
- It was a city of refuge (Joshua 20:1-7), which meant it was likely walled and highly defensible.
Absalom brought along with him 200 guests, who were all unaware of the impending coup (11). They must have reacted favorably when they were informed of what was going on, since the next verse states, that “the conspiracy grew strong, for the people with Absalom continually increased in number” (12).
An unnamed messenger came and told David, “The hearts of the men of Israel are with Absalom” (13). David’s concern was to get away as soon as possible—not for his own sake, but to spare the city of Jerusalem from attack (14). His loyal servants were prepared to do whatever he asked (15). David and his entire household hurried out of the capital; only ten of David’s concubines were left to care for the palace (16).
Just outside the city limits, as the body of refugees filed past David—including his bodyguard of former Philistine warriors—David noticed Ittai the Gittite, a recent exile from Gath, was among them with his 600 men (17-18). He didn’t see any reason to put his newly arrived guest out by asking him to flee with David’s family, but Ittai insisted he wanted to be wherever David was (19-22).
The priests Zadok and Abiathar and a troop of Levites tried to come, too, carrying the Ark of the Covenant (24). David told them to go back, confident that the Lord would bring him back to the worship center, if he found favor in YHWH’s sight (25). If not, then he was willing to accept whatever the Lord had in mind (26). He knew Zadok was a prophet. David also had in mind that the priests’ sons could bring word to him whatever they happened to learn while they were in the city (27-28). So assuming the appearance of neutrality, the priests and their assistants returned the ark to its place (29).
David, his company and all the loyal Israelites along the way mourned and wept over this treachery (23 & 30). When someone mentioned that Ahithophel, David’s former advisor, was among the conspirators, David prayed, “O LORD, …turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness!” (31). Not long after, he encountered his friend and present advisor, Hushai the Archite, whose garments were torn, and he had covered his head with dirt (32). David asked him to go into the city and pretend to be on Absalom’s side, so he could counteract the counsel of Ahithophel for David (33-34). He informed his friend that Zadok and Abiathar were there and that their sons could deliver messages for him (35-36). So Hushai did as his friend requested and arrived in Jerusalem about the same time as Absalom (37).
2 Samuel Chapter 16
As David and his company crested the Mount of Olives outside of Jerusalem, they were met by Ziba, the servant of Mephibosheth. He was leading two donkeys loaded with bread, fresh and dried fruits and wine, which he intended to give the royal party (2 Sam. 16:1-2). When asked the whereabouts of his master, Ziba told David, “Indeed he is staying in Jerusalem, for he said, ‘Today the house of Israel will restore the kingdom of my father to me’” (v. 3). This was utter nonsense, since Israel was actually prepared to install Absalom, the son of David, on the throne. They would never have desired to crown a cripple king! But David bought Ziba’s lie and granted him all the property he had previously restored to Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth (4). Naturally, Ziba was pleased, since his ploy had worked as planned.
Moving on to Bahurim, in Benjaminite territory, a fellow named Shimei from the extended family of Saul came and started to harass David and his company. He uttered a steady stream of curses, tossed stones at the king and his retinue, and said David was getting what was coming to him for all he had done to Saul’s household (5-8).
Abishai, who was with the men surrounding David to shield him from this abuse, said with his usual brashness, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Please, let me go over and take off his head!” (9). David, obviously feeling pretty low under God’s discipline, replied, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah?” (10). During times like these, David didn’t have the patience to deal with his hot-headed cousins. Considering that his own son had turned against him, David wasn’t surprised that this Benjaminite would do so, too. He told Abishai and the others, “Let him alone, and let him curse; for so the LORD has ordered him. It may be that the LORD will look on my affliction, and that the LORD will repay me with good for his cursing this day” (11-12). So they all walked on under a shower of stones, dust and insults hurled by this bitter little man (13).
Meanwhile Absalom came in and took over the undefended capital of Israel (15). He was met by Hushai, who had probably cleaned himself up, so as not to arouse suspicion. David’s faithful friend greeted the usurper with shouts of “Long live the king!” (16). When asked by Absalom why he would turn against his friend David, Hushai shrewdly replied, “…whom the LORD and this people and all the men of Israel choose, his I will be, and with him I will remain,” adding that it only made sense for him to serve Absalom as faithfully as he had served his father (18-19).
One of the conspirators with Absalom was a former adviser of David, by the name of Ahithophel the Gilonite, who had apparently retired to his home-town (2 Sam. 15:12). Absalom sent for this man, because he was one of the wisest counselors in the realm—whose advice was considered by both David and his son to be “as though it had come directly from the mouth of God” (2 Sam. 16:23, NLT). It was not just because of his wisdom that Absalom recruited the man, but because he, too, bore a grudge against David.
You may recall 2 Samuel 11:3 informing us that Bathsheba was the daughter of Eliam. What you may not know is that Eliam was the son of Ahithophel the Gilonite! You’ll find this recorded in 2 Samuel 23:34, where Eliam is listed with Uriah the Hittite (v. 39) among David’s “Mighty Men.” That makes Ahithophel Bathsheba’s grandfather. And he was probably smart enough to figure out what David had done to his granddaughter and her rightful husband, which may have been the reason he tendered his resignation to his boss.
Having taken possession of the kingdom, Absalom asked this man what he should do next (2 Sam. 16:20). Ahithophel advised Absalom to go and violate the ten concubines that David had left behind at the palace, so everyone would be well aware that David’s son was taking over (v. 21). “So they pitched a tent for Absalom on the top of the house, and Absalom went in to his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel” (22). What must’ve seemed to Ahithophel like poetic justice for Absalom to publicly disgrace David’s wives, as the king had done to his granddaughter, was actually a fulfillment of Nathan’s prophecy (See 2 Sam. 12:11-12).
2 Samuel Chapter 17
Ahithophel didn’t stop with the rape of the king’s concubines. He also wanted to choose 12,000 men and lead this army against David that very night (2 Sam. 17:1). His plan was to catch David’s company by surprise while they were exhausted from their flight, kill the king, and then bring everyone else back alive (vv. 2-3). This sounded good to Absalom and his crew, but first they wanted Hushai’s opinion, too (4-5).
When Absalom told Hushai what Ahithophel had proposed, David’s friend had to think fast. Not only did he have to come up with a convincing reason Ahithophel’s plan wouldn’t work; he also had to offer a counter plan that would buy David time, but still appeal to the brash and arrogant prince. Here is what he said:
“this time I think Ahithophel has made a mistake. You know your father and his men; they are mighty warriors. Right now they are probably as enraged as a mother bear who has been robbed of her cubs. And remember that your father is an experienced soldier. He won’t be spending the night among the troops. He has probably already hidden in some pit or cave. And when he comes out and attacks and a few of your men fall, there will be panic among your troops, and everyone will start shouting that your men are being slaughtered. Then even the bravest of them, though they have the heart of a lion, will be paralyzed with fear. For all Israel knows what a mighty man your father is and how courageous his warriors are.” (2 Sam. 17:7-10, NLT)
Instead, Hushai proposed that Absalom gather all of Israel and wipe out David and his entire company (vv. 11-12). “Moreover, if he has withdrawn into a city, then all Israel shall bring ropes to that city; and we will pull it into the river, until there is not one small stone found there” (13).
This bold, grandiose plan was more appealing to Absalom and his followers. Unbeknownst to them, their approval was all part of God’s plan to “defeat the good advice of Ahithophel” and destroy Absalom (14).
While Absalom rounded up his army, Hushai hurried to inform the priests of the two plans (15). He urged them to get word to David not to spend the night on this side of the Jordan, but to cross over where they would be safe (16). The young woman who carried the message to Jonathan and Ahimaaz from their fathers was spotted by a boy, who told Absalom (17-18). They got as far as Bahurim, where a woman hid them in a well she covered to look like a threshing floor, until Absalom’s soldiers were gone (18-20). From there, the young man ran and found David’s company to warn them before they were intercepted (21-22).
Tragically, when Ahithophel saw that his advice was not taken, he slipped quietly away to his hometown, set his house in order, and then hanged himself (23). So consumed was this man with bitterness, when he realized he would be unable to enact his full revenge on David, he lost all reason for living and committed suicide!
From their camp on the west bank, David and his company crossed the Jordan River and moved on to Mahanaim (24a). You may recall this was the place of “two camps,” where Jacob had encountered angels on his journey back home (Genesis 32:1-2). He was met by a large group of allies from the surrounding area, who supplied his people with beds, washbasins, grain, beans, honey, butter, meat and cheese (27-29).
Absalom, meanwhile, appointed Amasa, an illegitimate second cousin, as commander of his troops (2 Sam. 17:24b). He mobilized his army and camped in the land of Gilead (25).
2 Samuel Chapter 18
David mustered his troops and appointed captains over hundreds and thousands (2 Sam. 18:1). He then separated them into three divisions—one under Joab, another under Abishai, and the third under Ittai (v. 2). He originally intended to go into battle with them, but they all knew Absalom and company would be out to destroy the king, so they told him he was more needed in the city (3). Before they all marched off to battle, David told his generals—in the hearing of all—“Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom” (4-5).
The fighting took place in the woods of Ephraim (6). The forces of Absalom, although vastly outnumbering David’s men, suffered over 20,000 casualties—about half of which were due to hazards in the forest (7-8).
Absalom went into battle riding on a mule. As he was passing under a huge terebinth, his long hair got tangled up in the thick branches of the tree and caught him there, while his mount continued on its way. So the young man “was left hanging between heaven and earth” (9).
One of Joab’s men reported this to him and was rebuffed for not killing the prince on sight (10-11). When Joab said he would’ve rewarded the man with ten shekels of silver and a belt, the fellow replied,
“Though I were to receive a thousand shekels of silver in my hand, I would not raise my hand against the king’s son. For in our hearing the king commanded you and Abishai and Ittai, saying, ‘Beware lest anyone touch the young man Absalom!’” (12).
The soldier knew Joab well enough to assert that the general would’ve let him take the blame for disobeying the king’s order (13).
Realizing he would not get anywhere with this guy, Joab went himself and found Absalom. He drove three lances into the heart of the helpless rebel, and then his ten armor-bearers finished the young man off (14-15). Joab blew the trumpet to recall the troops, and then tossed Absalom into a pit and covered his body with stones (16-17). The only monument to the prince was a pillar Absalom had set up for himself in the Valley of the Kings before he had children (18).
Ahimaaz the son of Zadok, asked Joab to let him take word to King David, but Joab didn’t want him to be the bearer of bad news about the king’s son (19-20). So he dispatched a foreigner (probably a Black man) from Cush to carry the message (21). Ahimaaz insisted on going, too, until Joab gave him permission to run (22-23). Even though the Cushite had a head start, Ahimaaz ran faster and passed him up.
When a watchman on the wall reported seeing a runner in the distance, David assured himself he was bringing good news (24-25). When a second runner was spotted, he was still convinced it was good news—especially when the first runner was identified as Ahimaaz (26-27). The priest’s son bowed and reported to the king, “Blessed be the LORD your God, who has delivered up the men who raised their hand against my lord the king!” (28). When asked about Absalom, he gave the elusive answer that there had been quite a commotion when he left, but he did not know what it was about (29).
When the Cushite came, he had far less concern about David’s feelings. He reported the defeat of those who had risen against the king, but when asked about Absalom’s welfare, he said, “May the enemies of my lord the king, and all who rise against you to do harm, be like that young man!” (30-32). Moved to tears, David went up to the room above the city gate and wept loud and long for his son, wishing he had died instead (33).
2 Samuel Chapter 19
When the men of David’s army heard how upset their king was over the death of his son, they slunk back into the city in shame, when they should’ve been celebrating their victory (2 Sam. 19:1-3). David didn’t stick around to review and commend his troops, but veiled his face and went crying out on his way to his temporary residence, “O my son Absalom! O Absalom, my son, my son!” (v. 4).
Joab, ever the practical (though not terribly tactful) fellow, went right into the house and confronted his cousin:
“We saved your life today and the lives of your sons, your daughters, and your wives and concubines. Yet you act like this, making us feel ashamed, as though we had done something wrong. You seem to love those who hate you and hate those who love you. You have made it clear today that we mean nothing to you. If Absalom had lived and all of us had died, you would be pleased. Now go out there and congratulate the troops, for I swear by the LORD that if you don’t, not a single one of them will remain here tonight. Then you will be worse off than you have ever been.” (2 Sam 19:5-7, NLT)
So David listened to his general and came out to see his troops. When they heard he was waiting at the city gate, everyone came out of his tent and assembled before their king (v. 8).
Meanwhile, the rest of Israel began to realize what a good leader David had been (9). Now that Absalom, whom they had anointed in his place, was dead, they thought they’d better see about bringing David back (10).
David sent a message to the men of Judah through the priests, encouraging them to bring back their king (11-12). Moreover, he promised Amasa Joab’s job as commander of the army [most likely because he learned Joab had been the one to kill his son, in violation of his orders] (13). So as David and his company gathered to cross the Jordan from the east, the men of Judah came to Gilgal to escort him back (14-15). Someone had the foresight to bring a ferry to carry David and his household back and forth across the river (18).
Among the first to meet David was Shimei, the man who had cursed and thrown stones and dirt on him as he fled from Jerusalem (16). He brought 1,000 Benjaminites, plus Zeba, his family and his servants (17). When David reached the other shore, Shimei fell to his face in front of the king and begged him not to remember what he had done just days before, for he knew he had sinned and was coming as the first from his ancestor’s household to bring David back as a gesture of his remorse (18-20). Abishai was ready to execute the man on the spot for cursing David (21). Again, the king had to restrain his hot-headed cousin; then he promised Shimei he would not die (22-23).
Next came poor Mephibosheth, who had neither trimmed his toenails nor his mustache nor washed his clothes all the days David had been gone (24). When David asked Saul’s grandson why he had not accompanied him the day the king fled from Jerusalem, Mephibosheth told him that Ziba had tricked him and then lied to the king about Mephibosheth’s intentions (26-27). Humble as ever, Mephibosheth made no demands, saying, “…my lord the king is like the angel of God. Therefore do what is good in your eyes. For all my father’s house were but dead men before my lord the king. Yet you set your servant among those who eat at your own table…” (27-28). In a demonstration of his sincerity, when David said Mephibosheth and Ziba should divide Saul’s land, Jonathan’s son said the servant could have it all; he was content to have his king back safe and sound (29-30).
When David tried to reward Barzillai the Gileadite, who had provided for the king and his company when they first crossed the Jordan, the old man would have none of it (31-34). He replied,
“I am today eighty years old. Can I discern between the good and bad? Can your servant taste what I eat or what I drink? Can I hear any longer the voice of singing men and singing women? Why then should your servant be a further burden to my lord the king?” (35).
He was willing to see David safely across the Jordan, but then he wanted to go back home where his parents were buried (36-37). Instead, he sent his son Chimham with David and suggested the king could do for him whatever he might’ve wanted to do for his father (37). So David kissed and blessed the old man and sent him on his way, bringing the younger fellow back with him (38-40).
The rest of the Israelites were offended that the men of Judah had stolen David away without letting them escort him back home (41). Judah replied that David was their close relative, so it only made sense they’d be first to bring him back. “Why then are you angry over this matter? Have we ever eaten at the king’s expense? Or has he given us any gift?” (42). The other tribes answered like children: “We have ten shares in the king; therefore we also have more right to David than you. Why then do you despise us—were we not the first to advise bringing back our king?” (43). But the men of Judah out-talked them. How stupid for these guys to fight over the king!
2 Samuel Chapter 20
As a result of this petty quarrel, one worthless fellow by the name of Sheba got the notion that the rest of Israel needed to go home and disassociate with David (2 Sam. 20:1). So the fickle tribes went after Sheba, while Judah escorted their king home (v. 2).
When David reached Jerusalem, he took the ten concubines Absalom had defiled and put them under guard in separate quarters. Although he provided them with an allowance, they lived alone and isolated like widows until they died (3). It’s so sad when innocent people suffer for the sins of others!
Next, David told Amasa to gather the troops from Judah and meet him back in three days (4). When Amasa took longer than expected, David summoned Abishai, instead, and put him in charge of the army in place of his brother, saying, “Now Sheba the son of Bichri will do us more harm than Absalom. Take your lord’s servants and pursue him, lest he find for himself fortified cities, and escape us” (5-6). So Abishai took David’s elite forces and headed north (7). Unfortunately, the deposed general went with his brother, too.
Amasa met them at Gibeon. Joab, pretending to give his cousin a kiss in greeting, stabbed Amasa in the belly and killed him, just as he had assassinated his former rival, Abner (c.f.—2 Sam. 3:22-27 & 20:8-10). Without another thought, Joab left the poor fellow wallowing in his blood and guts in the middle of the highway, and went with his brother Abishai to find Sheba (2 Sam. 20:10 & 12). One of Joab’s men realized what a distraction the body was to the other soldiers, so he dragged the body off the road and covered it with a cloak, encouraging the rest to follow Joab and fight for David (11-13).
When Joab had gathered everyone and learned that Sheba was holed up in Abel Beth-Maachah, he cast up a siege mound against the city to tear it down and get at the rebel (14-15). A wise old woman called down to him from the wall and asked what was going on. She explained the reputation of that city as an ancient settlement known for settling disputes, then said, “I am among the peaceable and faithful in Israel. You seek to destroy a city and a mother in Israel. Why would you swallow up the inheritance of the LORD?” (16-19). Joab told her it was not his intention to “swallow up or destroy,” but that he was after the Ephraimite, Sheba the son of Bichri, who had rebelled against the king. If he was delivered to them, Joab would break off his attack (20-21). With that, the woman promised to throw his head over the wall.
True to her word, the old woman went to her neighbors, explained the situation, and got them to execute the rebel and throw his head over the city wall. So Joab blew his trumpet and withdrew the troops from Abel (22).
Sadly, Joab continued to serve as commander of David’s troops, while Benaiah was head of his bodyguard (23). Adoram was David’s treasurer; Jehoshaphat was the historian; Sheva was scribe; Zadok and Abiathar were priests, and Ira was David’s chief administrator (24-26).
2 Samuel Chapter 21
Although this chapter appears after the saga with Absalom, there is good reason to believe at least part of it may belong sometime before all of that. Why? Because of what Shimei the Benjaminite had said to David when he was fleeing from Absalom. He called David a “bloodthirsty man,” and blamed the king for shedding the blood of Saul’s family (2 Sam. 16:7-8). Why would Shemei say such a thing, when David had been so careful not to harm any of Saul’s family, but to execute or distance himself from anyone who had? Read on, and you’ll see!
Our first clue that the chapters in 2 Samuel may not be arranged in chronological order comes in 2 Samuel 21:1, where we read: “Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year…” There are no transitional words, such as ‘then,’ or ‘in those days,’ ‘after this,’ etc. Our only reference is that this famine occurred sometime during David’s administration. Had it occurred so late in David’s life, the connection between the agricultural crisis and Saul’s crimes might have been lost. It makes more sense that this would have happened earlier in David’s reign—perhaps shortly after he had extended kindness to Mephibosheth. Then he would have had a pretty good idea, perhaps through Ziba, of who Saul’s descendants were.
When David asked the Lord what the cause of the drought was, he learned that it was because Saul had tried to wipe out the Gibeonites when he was king, even though Israel had made a treaty with them during the days of Joshua (c.f.—2 Sam. 21:1-2 & Josh. 9).
When David asked the Gibeonites what he could do to make it up to them, they demanded the lives of seven of Saul’s descendants (2 Sam. 21:3-6). David was careful not to turn Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth, over to them, because of his covenant with his friend (7). But he let the Gibeonites hang the two sons of Rizpah, Saul’s concubine, along with the five sons of Merab, Michal’s older sister (8-9). You may notice verse 8 names Michal as the mother. But the father of the five is Adrial the Meholathite, whom 1 Samuel 18:19 names as Merab’s husband. You may also recall 2 Samuel 6:23 telling us Michal died childless. My guess is some scribe made a copying error and put in the name of the wrong daughter of Saul.
Rizpah, the mother of two of the dead, watched over the bodies, keeping the birds of prey away from the beginning of barley harvest until the late annual rains came (2 Sam. 21:10). This means she was out there with the exposed bodies of these men from April until September or October! How awful!
When David heard what she had done, he had the bodies of Saul and Jonathan exhumed from Jabesh Gilead and buried them with the bodies of these seven other sons in the tomb of Saul’s father, Kish (vv. 11-14). Why he waited so long to do this and why David only reburied Saul and Jonathan’s bones, but not the bodies of the former king’s other sons, we are not told. But “after that” verse 14 says, “God heeded the prayer for the land.”
This is a very ugly chapter in Israel’s history. Why would God allow the execution of Saul’s sons, when He Himself had said that a man’s sons should not be killed for their father’s sins, nor vice-versa (Deuteronomy 24:16)? And He never allowed for human sacrifice.
I think it has to do with the fact that Saul violated an age-old covenant with these people. In his zeal to eliminate all foreigners from the land, he forgot that Joshua and the elders of Israel had made a sacred covenant with the ancestors of the Gibeonites. They had vowed to let them live in safety in the land. Even though it was a foolish vow, in violation of God’s command that Israel wipe out all the inhabitants of the land, it was still binding in His eyes. When Saul broke Israel’s word and slaughtered innocent people, it brought the sin of bloodguilt on the land. Just as many Egyptians were killed in the plague of the firstborn—including Pharaoh’s son—because of the previous king’s order to kill all the innocent boy babies of Israel, so I think God allowed for the deaths of these seven men who most likely had nothing to do with Saul’s unfaithfulness.
From this sad parenthetical event, we turn back to a more chronological tale of yet another war between the Philistines and Israel. Only this time, David was almost killed in battle, when he became exhausted and a giant came after him (2 Sam. 21:15-16). Abishai came to the king’s rescue, killing the giant. After that, the Israelites would not let their aging regent go with them into battle (17).
In battles at Gob, two other giants were killed by David’s men (18-19). A forth giant with six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot was killed in Gath by Jonathan, son of Shimeah (20-21). Apparently all these monstrous fellows were related to Goliath of Gath, whom David had previously defeated (22).
2 Samuel Chapter 22
This chapter, as well, seems to be additional information added to 2 Samuel out of sequence. It is a song written by David “when the LORD had delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul” (2 Sam. 22:1). A nearly identical piece is recorded in Psalm 18. [See the document entitled, “Comparison of 2 Samuel 22 & Psalm 18” to see how the two passages line up side-by-side.]
David started this version, saying, “The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; the God of my strength, in whom I will trust…” (vv. 2-3). He compared God to a shield, a “horn of salvation” and a fortress in which to seek shelter.
This next verse found its way into a worship song, entitled “I Will Call Upon the Lord,” by Michael O’Shields, made popular by Petra in the ‘80’s. You can listen to a recording and see the lyrics from their album, Petra Praise—The Rock Cries Out at this God Tube site: http://www.godtube.com/watch/?v=CBF0JNNU. As the first few lines of the song says, David wrote, “I will call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised; so shall I be saved from my enemies” (4). A King James-sounding version of verse 47 makes up the chorus of the song.
In the face of death, David called to the Lord, who heard from His temple (5-7). When God came to his rescue, the earth quaked, smoke roiled, dark clouds surrounded Him, thunder roared and lightning flashed, as YHWH “bowed the heavens…and came down” to scatter David’s enemies (8-15). In the psalmist’s dramatic description of Divine intervention, even “the channels of the sea were seen,” and “the foundations of the world were uncovered, at the rebuke of the LORD” (16).
David described his rescue from overpowering enemies as God drawing him “out of many waters” and setting him on a broad plain (17-18 & 20). David said those who hated him “confronted me in the day of my calamity, but the LORD was my support” (19). Because of His delight in David, God delivered him and rewarded his faithful conduct (20-21).
David credits his devotion to the Lord to his constant focus on God’s word and his determination to avoid evil (22-24). God shows mercy to the merciful, is blameless in the sight of those whose conduct is blameless, pure to the pure in heart (26-27a). He saves the humble, but confuses and brings down those who are devious and proud (27b-28).
David compared God to a lamp, lighting the darkness, and says the Lord is the one who enables him to run against a troop and leap over a wall (29-30). He says of his God, “His way is perfect; the word of the LORD is proven; He is a shield to all who trust in Him” (31). That’s why David was always so bold in battle. Referring to God as his rock, David saw the Lord as his source of strength and direction (32-35). I love how the NIV renders verse 36: “You give me your shield of victory; you stoop down to make me great.” The Lord kept David sure-footed, helped Him pursue his enemies and destroy them, subduing every foe that rose against him (37-43).
Not only did the Lord make David a mighty warrior, He also made him a great ruler: “You have also delivered me from the strivings of my people; You have kept me as the head of the nations” (44a). Even foreign powers were subject to David—people unknown to him before he was king (44b-46)! David depended on God, not himself, for vengeance (48). Because the Lord always delivered him from every enemy, David was prepared to sing His praises even before Gentiles (49-50). The psalm concludes, “He is the tower of salvation to His king, and shows mercy to His anointed, to David and his descendants forevermore” (51).
“Thus says David the son of Jesse;
…the man raised up on high,
The anointed of the God of Jacob,
And the sweet psalmist of Israel:
The Spirit of the LORD spoke by me,
And His word was on my tongue.” (2 Sam. 23:1-2)
David said the Lord told him that the person who ruled over others had to be just, operating under a proper fear of God (3). The king who was like this would be like the sun rising on a clear day, or grass springing up after a rain (4). David recalled the covenant God had made with his family. Even though they were not perfect, the Lord was sure to keep his word (5). Those who were rebellious, he compared to thorns that had to be handled with an iron implement and were doomed to be burned (6-7).
The latter part of this chapter is a roster of David’s most prominent warriors. It begins by telling the names and exploits of the three top men:
- The top dog was Josheb-Basshebeth the Tachmonite, chief among the captains. His nickname was Adino the Eznite, because he had killed 800 men at once (8).
- Eleazar the son of Dodo, the Ahohite, was one of three mighty men who fought with David when they defied the Philistines after the rest of the Israelites had retreated. He hacked away at the enemy until his hand grew so tired, it “stuck to the sword.” All that was left for the Israelites to do after God granted him victory was to gather up the spoils. (vv. 9-10).
- The third most prominent soldier was Shammah the son of Agee the Hararite. He alone defended a field of lentils against an army of Philistines one day, winning a stunning victory (11-12).
These three guys were with David, when he was holed up the cave of Adullam. The Philistines were camped in the Valley of Rephaim, with a garrison as far as Bethlehem. David happened to mention that he was longing for a drink from the well in his home town. “So the three mighty men broke through the camp of the Philistines, drew water from the well of Bethlehem…and brought it to David.” When they handed it to him, David “poured it out to the LORD” as a drink offering, saying, “Far be it from me, O LORD, that I should do this! Is this not the blood of the men who went in jeopardy of their lives” (13-17).
Two other prominent warriors, who ended up in high positions, but were not as famous as the first three, were:
- Abishai the brother of Joab, one of the three sons of Zeruiah, was a leader of the thirty top men of Israel. He won this position when he fought single-handedly against 300 men with nothing but a spear. (18-19)
- Benaiah the son of Jehoiada the priest, distinguished himself by single-handedly killing “two lion-like heroes of Moab,” “a lion in the midst of a pit on a snowy day,” and a gigantic Egyptian. The Egyptian was armed with a spear, while Benaiah had nothing but a staff. The stout-hearted Hebrew used his staff to knock the Egyptian’s spear out of his hand and kill him with his own weapon! David ended up appointing him captain of his bodyguard. (20-23)
Other notable heroes were: Asahel the brother of Joab (24), Eliam the son of Ahithophel the Gilonite (34), and Uriah the Hittite (39). This passage claims there were 37 mighty men in all [perhaps including Joab?].
A similar list and account of some of the exploits of these men is found at 1 Chronicles 11:10-47. For a chart comparing the two lists, see “King David’s Mighty Men.”
The first verse tells us YHWH was angry with Israel and incited David to conduct a census (2 Sam. 24:1). 1 Chronicles 21:1 says the devil was the one behind it. In either case, David instructed Joab to go and count everyone from the north end of Israel to the south, so he’d know how many subjects he had (2 Sam. 24:2).
I’m sure Joab was thinking how much work that was going to be—not to mention that he probably felt he had more important things to do. Nevertheless, to David he said, “May the LORD your God multiply the troops a hundred times over, and may the eyes of my lord the king see it. But why does my lord the king want to do such a thing?” (2 Sam 24:3, NIV). In this passage, we don’t find out what David said; we’re simply told that “the king’s word prevailed against Joab and against the captains of the army,” so they headed out to count all the fighting men in the kingdom (4).
Verses 5-8 give us the route Joab and his men took and inform us that the entire circuit took almost ten months to complete. The number of swordsmen in Israel were 800,000; in Judah he counted 500,000, which came to a total of 1.3 million potential warriors in the entire kingdom (9).
After hearing this report, David was convicted of his pride and told the Lord, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done; but now, I pray, O LORD, take away the iniquity of Your servant, for I have done very foolishly” (10). The next morning, the Lord sent the prophet Gad with three choices of consequences for David:
- 7 years of famine,
- 3 months of fleeing from their enemies, or
- 3 days of plague in the land (11-13).
Of course, none of the options sounded much good to David. He told the prophet, “I am in great distress. Please let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for His mercies are great; but do not let me fall into the hand of man” (14). David knew that, in either of the first two cases, he’d be at the mercy of sinful men; whereas in the third case, God would decide the severity of his punishment (and God was generally much nicer).
So option three it was: For three days God apparently sent the same Angel of Death that had plagued Egypt long ago—killing 70,000 of the men Joab and company had just counted (15). By the time the angel got to Jerusalem, God had had enough, so He stopped the plague, just as the destroyer reached the threshing floor of a Jebusite named Araunah (16).
David saw the angel somehow, and he felt terrible about the plague it was bringing to his people. He said, “Surely I have sinned, and I have done wickedly; but these sheep, what have they done?” He offered to let his family suffer in order to spare the lives of his innocent subjects. (17). Gad came to David that day with instructions for the king to build an altar on the threshing floor of Araunah to atone for the people, so David set out to do just that (18-19).
When he saw the king coming, Araunah bowed to David and asked what brought him there (20-21). He may very well have feared for his life, being one of the Canaanites that were supposed to have been wiped out by the Hebrews when they took possession of the land. When David said he wanted to buy the threshing floor to build an altar and stop the plague, Araunah was probably greatly relieved. He offered to give the king the floor, the oxen and implements, plus whatever else he needed to complete his sacrifice (22-23).
David, however, understood what was required for a true sacrifice. He refused the man’s generous offer, explaining, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing” (2 Sam. 24:24, NIV). So, after measuring out thirty shekels of silver for the property, the oxen and the equipment, David constructed his altar and made the required sacrifices (vv. 24-25). “Then the LORD answered prayer in behalf of the land, and the plague on Israel was stopped.”
Of all the messages woven into the tapestry of this book, I think the three most important are these:
- God does His mightiest work in us, when we seem least capable and are most desperately in need of His help. As the Apostle Paul later wrote: “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty” (1 Corinthians 1:27); “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).
- Even the most faithful men can be tempted and fall into sin—often at the height of their careers. As George MacDonald once said, “An unguarded strength is a double weakness.” Or as Scripture teaches us, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). We always need to be wary of temptation and avoid it at all costs, not only when we are weak, but especially when we think we are strong!
- Sin has consequences—not only for the guilty party, but also for the innocent. When we do what’s wrong, we hurt ourselves and everyone around us. There is collateral damage everywhere—even in places we’d never expect!
Considering these three truths from the life of David, I think we’d all do well to keep our hearts humble and teachable. Always recognize the Lord as our source of strength and help, for the moment we start trying to do things on our own is the moment we set ourselves up to fail!
Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version of the Bible—© 1982, by Thomas Nelson, Inc.
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