II Samuel 18 Continued

16. So Joab blew the trumpet, and the people returned from pursuing Israel. For Joab held back the people.

Next Joab blows a trumpet to recall the People from pursuing after Israel, who were fleeing at this point, it seems, due to the combined calamity of the slaughter caused by David’s men and the slaughter caused by the woods devouring them. Joab doubtless realizes the same thing that Ahithophel did the other way around: that with Absalom out of the way, there was no longer really anything to fight for. Further fighting will just lead to more bitterness and hard feelings down the road. To stop the fighting now is to minimize the damage to David’s reputation among the rebels. With Absalom gone, the best thing to do is to bring the wayward men of Israel back into the fold of David’s reign. Now, they can go about mending the breach and bringing all Israel under David once again.

Therefore Joab holds back the People. This was wise strategy. There is no doubt that Joab was a clever man. Too bad he was not also an obedient, a Godly, or a loyal one.

17. And they took Absalom and cast him into a large pit in the woods, and laid a very large heap of stones over him. Then all Israel fled, everyone to his tent.

This no doubt describes the actions of Joab and his men. They take Absalom’s dead body and cast him into a pit there in the woods where he died. They then lay a great heap of stones over him. We might wonder why this was done. Why would Joab and his men want to memorialize Absalom? But this was not actually a memorial. A heap of stones like this was meant as a severe warning. We can see this method used first in the case of Achan, the disobedient Israelite who stole some of the spoil of Jericho, which was all to be dedicated to Jehovah, and kept it for himself. When he was discovered, he and all his family were stoned to death, and then a similar mound of stones was raised over him, as Joshua 7:26 describes.

26. Then they raised over him a great heap of stones, still there to this day. So the LORD turned from the fierceness of His anger. Therefore the name of that place has been called the Valley of Achor to this day.

The same thing happened again in Joshua 8:29 to the king of Ai. This was after the city of Ai, which had defeated the Israelites after Achan’s sin, was captured and destroyed by Israel.

29. And the king of Ai he hanged on a tree until evening. And as soon as the sun was down, Joshua commanded that they should take his corpse down from the tree, cast it at the entrance of the gate of the city, and raise over it a great heap of stones that remains to this day.

Thus a heap of stones was a solemn warning. In the case of Achan, it was against trying to steal from Jehovah. In the case of the king of Ai, it was a warning against the terrible sins of the Canaanites. So it was also a warning in the case of Absalom. It was meant as a great cautioning to others who might think of revolt against the throne. They should look at this mound of stones, remember what happened to Absalom, and refrain from ever doing so themselves. That was doubtless what the men of David intended by creating this mound over Absalom’s body.

Since they are no longer being pursued by the forces of David, the defeated forces of Israel flee. Their leader is gone, and they have no central site to rally to. Like the undisciplined rabble they are, they simply run back home, every man to his tent.

18. Now Absalom in his lifetime had taken and set up a pillar for himself, which is in the King’s Valley. For he said, “I have no son to keep my name in remembrance.” He called the pillar after his own name. And to this day it is called Absalom’s Monument.

As we are told of this mound of stones over Absalom’s body that marked the end of all his godless and selfish ambition, we are also told of another monument, this one that Absalom, while still alive, had set up himself. This was in essence a monument to himself, a pillar which he set up in the King’s Valley. He called this pillar Absalom, or perhaps “Absalom’s Monument,” which is what we read it was called up to the day the book of Samuel was published. The reason he did this was to keep his own name in remembrance, for it seems he had no son to carry on his name. This seems strange in the light of II Samuel 14:27, though, for there we read of Absalom having sons.

27. To Absalom were born three sons, and one daughter whose name was Tamar. She was a woman of beautiful appearance.

This makes us wonder about these sons. Did his sons all die? Certainly if Absalom had three sons who all died in some tragic way, this could have contributed to his bitterness and reckless ambition. Or perhaps did he set this pillar up before they were born? If so, since he died in his mid-twenties, he must have been awfully premature about deciding he would never have any sons. This perhaps makes it seem more likely that his sons and his wife had all died in some tragedy, as this might have led to such a hopeless attitude. (Though if this is the case the tragedy must not have affected his daughter, since she grew up to be a beautiful woman, which she could not have been yet but only a little girl when Absalom died.) Of course, we can only speculate since we are not told the answer to this riddle, and we can see either answer being the case.

Yet the lesson remains whatever the case was with Absalom’s sons. Absalom’s pillar was a monument to the beginning of his great ambition, and this heap of stones was a monument to its end. Ambition entered into contrary to Yahweh will ever lead to just such an end. It did for Absalom, and eventually it would for the ambitious and violent Joab as well. Sadly, he did not learn the lesson of the monument he himself led the building of, it seems!

19. Then Ahimaaz the son of Zadok said, “Let me run now and take the news to the king, how the LORD has avenged him of his enemies.”

Now it is time to inform David of the outcome of the battle and of the death of his rebellious son. Joab must think about this, for though he has disobeyed with impunity, still David must be informed, and eventually he will learn of Joab’s treachery. How he learns of this is important to Joab. Of course, this death of his son and treachery of his army commander is yet another step in the LORD’s grim punishment of David for his terrible sin of adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah. David deserves the heartache he will soon be experiencing, and he deserves what he got in his wayward commander Joab. Yet this will be a heartbreaking reality for him to face, and now we read in detail how he came to face it.

We read first of the young man Ahimaaz son of Zadok, one of the spies David sent back to the city, and one of the two who came and brought him word about Ahithophel’s good advice and Hushai’s clever plan to thwart it. This young man is excited by their victory, and he is eager to bear the news. He is a runner, and he wants to run and take this news to the king. What he wants to tell King David, however, is not of the death of his son, but tidings of how the LORD has avenged him of his enemies. Remember that the battle has been spread out throughout the woods, the soldiers have been scattered under three commanders, and many of the soldiers did not know everything that had gone on. Ahimaaz, it seems, does not know the story of what happened to Absalom. He just wants to bring the king the good tidings of victory.

20. And Joab said to him, “You shall not take the news this day, for you shall take the news another day. But today you shall take no news, because the king’s son is dead.”

Joab does not think he is the right messenger to carry the news he has to send to David this day, and tries to put him off to another day. This is not the day for him to carry news, he says, since the king’s son is dead. Though he acted with confident defiance of David’s orders, Joab now has to face the king with what he did, and this enthusiastic young man does not seem to him the right one to carry the message, it seems.

21. Then Joab said to the Cushite, “Go, tell the king what you have seen.” So the Cushite bowed himself to Joab and ran.

Joab instead sends a man named Cushi. His name means that he is what we call an Ethiopian, though in Israel they called them Cushites. Cush means “Their Blackness,” and was a word for an African with black skin. This foreigner, rather than the son of the priest, seems a more appropriate messenger to take the king news of Absalom’s death. Moreover, he was apparently with Joab and his men when they executed Absalom in the tree and then raised the mound of rocks over him, whereas Ahimaaz was not. Thus Joab sends him with his orders to tell the king what he has seen.

Cushi is obedient. He bows himself to Joab, a sign that he will acquiesce to his wishes and carry out his orders, and then he runs to bring King David word.

22. And Ahimaaz the son of Zadok said again to Joab, “But whatever happens, please let me also run after the Cushite.”
So Joab said, “Why will you run, my son, since you have no news ready?”

Ahimaaz, however, is not ready to give up. He is still anxious to bring good news to his master the king. Thus, he pleads with Joab to let him go too, regardless of whatever David’s reaction to it might be. He wants to run after Cushi to bring word himself as well.

Joab is reluctant to send Ahimaaz, and argues with him again. He has given Cushi official tidings, but Ahimaaz has none. Why, then, should he run after Cushi, when he has no first-hand knowledge of the message Joab wanted to convey and no official tidings ready to carry?

23. “But whatever happens,” he said, “let me run.”
So he said to him, “Run.” Then Ahimaaz ran by way of the plain, and outran the Cushite.

The enthusiastic young Ahimaaz is undaunted. He still wants to go even without official tidings, and pleads again for permission to run. At last, Joab agrees. He probably sees no reason to hold him back. So Ahimaaz runs off. Remember that this enthusiastic young man, as the son of Zadok, is the one who will be the next high priest, once Jehovah completes His plan to remove the house of Eli from the priesthood and to set up a rival, Zadok, in his place. When we compare this enthusiastic young man to the wicked and jaded sons of Eli, we can see perhaps part of the reason Jehovah made this change and why He was pleased with the family of Zadok.

Ahimaaz, it seems, is a fast runner, and perhaps he knows the route better as well, for we read that he ran by way of the plain. We do not know how Cushi ran, but the implication is that he did not run as favorable a route. This Ahimaaz outruns Cushi. We might say he passes Cushi up, though in reality it seems that they ran different routes.

24. Now David was sitting between the two gates. And the watchman went up to the roof over the gate, to the wall, lifted his eyes and looked, and there was a man, running alone.

Now our attention is returned back to the city where the anxious King David is sitting between the inner and outer gates of the city wall, awaiting word of the outcome of the battle. The watchman of the city made his way to his post by going up on the roof over the gate and then to the top of the wall. As he is acting as lookout, he lifts up his eyes and looks and sees a man running alone.

25. Then the watchman cried out and told the king. And the king said, “If he is alone, there is news in his mouth.” And he came rapidly and drew near.

Then the watchman cries down to the ground between the two gates where the king waits and tells the king what he has seen. David knows what a lone runner means. If his men had lost the battle and were forced to flee, he would see a whole group of men running toward the city. This would mean they were returning from defeat to take refuge in the better defenses of the city. This would signal the coming of a long and difficult siege. A man running alone, however, means tidings, and so David knows that one of his commanders has sent him a message to let him know about the progress of the battle. David was exactly right, of course. Now, we read that while David and the watchman were talking, this runner came rapidly and drew near to the city.

26. Then the watchman saw another man running, and the watchman called to the gatekeeper and said, “There is another man, running alone!”
And the king said, “He also brings news.”

Next the watchman sees a second man running, and so he calls again and reports what he has seen to the gatekeeper. Why he called to the gatekeeper rather than to the king in the courtyard below we are not told. Maybe he did not think this bit of news was as important as the first news, or maybe he was tired of calling down to the king and wanted to use the gatekeeper as an intermediary. At any rate, that is what he did, and apparently the word made it down to the king.

David hears this and rightfully deduces that this second man also must bring tidings. This makes sense, of course, for the same logic applies: a group of men running would signal defeat, whereas a single man running signaled tidings coming to the king.

27. So the watchman said, “I think the running of the first is like the running of Ahimaaz the son of Zadok.”
And the king said, “He is a good man, and comes with good news.”

The first runner is now so near that the watchman recognizes the running style of Ahimaaz son of Zadok and reports this as well to David. Just as we can sometimes recognize a man by his walk, so this watchman recognizes the enthusiastic young priest by his style of running. When the king hears this, David concludes that Ahimaaz is a good man, and so he believes that he brings good tidings. (This might well be why Joab did not want to send him: he was just simply the sort of man you would want to send to bring good news, not bad.)

It is interesting to compare David’s words here to the words of another of David’s ambitious and rebellious sons Adonijah in I Kings 1:42. Ahimaaz’s co-spy, Jonathan the son of Abiathar of the family of Eli, comes to bring Adonijah David’s son tidings as he feasts his own coronation that he undertook of his own will without the approval of his father. Adonijah says to him as he arrives, “Come in, for you are a prominent man, and bring good news.” Yet the news he brought was not good for Adonijah, for it was of Solomon’s coronation with David’s permission and approval, and these tidings brought disasters on Adonijah and his co-conspirators. Even a good man cannot bring good tidings, it seems, when one’s course has been set contrary to the ways of Yahweh!

28. So Ahimaaz called out and said to the king, “All is well!” Then he bowed down with his face to the earth before the king, and said, “Blessed be the LORD your God, who has delivered up the men who raised their hand against my lord the king!”

So Ahimaaz arrives carrying his report to the king. He cannot wait to bring David the good news that all is well, so he cries this out before he even bows to the king. After his first exclamation he bows to the ground in the oriental way, going all the way down with his face to the earth. We would think of this as humiliating and overblown in our European mindset, wherein we merely bow from the waist, but this was the common way of bowing in that part of the world and at that time. Then, Ahimaaz gives a fuller message.

He blesses the LORD David’s God. The word for “bless” here is the Hebrew barak, which means to praise or speak well of. Ahimaaz praises the LORD because He has given total victory to David’s men over the rebels. He delivered them up who had raised up their hand, that is who had exerted their power, against his master the king. What Ahimaaz said is correct, for that is indeed what the LORD had done. His will was to punish David through this rebellion, but it was not at all to remove him from the throne. Thus He has seen to it that David and his men get the victory in the end.

29. The king said, “Is the young man Absalom safe?”
Ahimaaz answered, “When Joab sent the king’s servant and me your servant, I saw a great tumult, but I did not know what it was about.”

The king seems to take this news in stride. It seems that David expected that Jehovah would give him victory. His trust in God meant that he did not expect to be defeated and put off the throne for good. Thus his concern for his men was not very great, for he knew that Jehovah would be with them. Rather, his concern was what would happen to his son Absalom when Jehovah turned the battle against him. Thus his trust in God combined with his love for his son caused his first concern to be for Absalom’s safety. Anyone who has known the love of a parent for a child should be able to understand this, though in this case his concern might have been a bit misplaced.

Ahimaaz’s answer implies, probably honestly, that he does not know for sure the fate of Absalom. He had heard from Joab that “the king’s son is dead,” but David had many sons, probably most of whom were fighting on David’s side, and he could not know for certain that this meant Absalom. He answers therefore that he knows, when he and another of the king’s servants was sent by Joab, that around that time he saw that some great commotion was going on, but he does not know what it was all about. The implication is that he believes it was about some person’s death, but he can give David no definite news of Absalom.

30. And the king said, “Turn aside and stand here.” So he turned aside and stood still.

King David orders him to turn aside and stand there with him. He probably can see that Ahimaaz is worn out from his long run, and invites him to stay with him while he rests. Ahimaaz, of course, obeys.

31. Just then the Cushite came, and the Cushite said, “There is good news, my lord the king! For the LORD has avenged you this day of all those who rose against you.”

Just then Cushi arrives with the official tidings. We do not read of him bowing, though he probably did so. We simply read of his report. His message is the much more political and well-plotted words of Joab. He starts off by proclaiming that what he brings is good news to his master the king. He states that Yahweh has avenged David this day of all those who rose up against him. The word he uses that the New King James has made “avenged” means that He has judged or discriminated. He means that Yahweh has made a determination between David and the rebels and has come out on David’s side, not on the side of those who rose up against him.

32. And the king said to the Cushite, “Is the young man Absalom safe?”
So the Cushite answered, “May the enemies of my lord the king, and all who rise against you to do harm, be like that young man!”

The king again anxiously asks about his son, the young man Absalom. Cushi answers with Joab’s carefully chosen words to reports his death. He does not actually say that Absalom is dead. Instead, he reveals that he is in the same condition that Joab, Cushi, and David himself should wish on his enemies and all who seek to do him harm. These words remind David that Absalom, though his son, was clearly his enemy, that he had risen against him, and that he planned to do him harm. This is putting it mildly, for it is certain that Absalom intended to kill his father if he got the chance. Thus they were an appeal to David to consider his death in this light. He was an enemy. He needed to die. His death really was best for Israel in the long run. Thus Joab justifies his disobedience to David’s orders.

33. Then the king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept. And as he went, he said thus: “O my son Absalom—my son, my son Absalom—if only I had died in your place! O Absalom my son, my son!”

The king is deeply moved, which seems to me to mean that he shook with emotion. Wishing for a private place to weep, he goes up to the chamber over the gate, probably that was used by the watchman, and there he weeps. Yet he cannot restrain himself, and his men hear his heartbroken exclamation as he goes to the chamber. He mourns Absalom as his son, and wishes that God might have allowed him to die in his son’s place.

We can see that David loved his children deeply, for all his faults as a father. He may not have loved their mothers as he should have, collecting a harem of women whom he could not have individually loved as a husband should and could if he has only one wife. He may have brought chaos into their lives by multiple marriages and being the father of multiple half-families. Yet he loved them, and even a wicked, hateful son like Absalom is still his beloved boy in his heart. His actions may not make sense in the situation, they may not have been right in the eyes of his men, but they come from a tender heart of love. Even so the heavenly Father mourns over the fate of poor, lost sinners who could not deserve His love less.