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II Samuel Chapter 18


Overview of II Samuel 18: The following chapter is a bittersweet one. Open battle erupts between the forces of David and those of Absalom. Absalom is killed and David is grieved over the death of his son.

I.  The Battle of Mt. Ephraim 

2 Sam 18:1  And David numbered the people that were with him, and set captains of thousands and captains of hundreds over them.

2 Sam 18:2  And David sent forth a third part of the people under the hand of Joab, and a third part under the hand of Abishai the son of Zeruiah, Joab's brother, and a third part under the hand of Ittai the Gittite. And the king said unto the people, I will surely go forth with you myself also.

The old warrior and battle tested veteran, David, began planning his strategy for the battle.

It is evident that David by now had thousands of men gathered to him. He immediately began to organize them into an army and placed officers over companies and battalions.  

Joab was a nephew and had long been chief of Davidís general staff.  One third of the forces available were assigned to him. To his brother Abishai, another third were assigned.   David then assigned the final third to Ittai, his loyal chief of the palace guard, the Gittites.

 2 Sam 15:18  And all his servants passed on beside him; and all the Cherethites, and all the Pelethites, and all the Gittites, six hundred men which came after him from Gath, passed on before the king.

2 Sam 15:19  Then said the king to Ittai the Gittite, Wherefore goest thou also with us? return to thy place, and abide with the king: for thou art a stranger, and also an exile.

2 Sam 15:20  Whereas thou camest but yesterday, should I this day make thee go up and down with us? seeing I go whither I may, return thou, and take back thy brethren: mercy and truth be with thee.

2 Sam 15:21  And Ittai answered the king, and said, As the LORD liveth, and as my lord the king liveth, surely in what place my lord the king shall be, whether in death or life, even there also will thy servant be. 

David announced his intention to lead the battle himself.  

2 Sam 18:3  But the people answered, Thou shalt not go forth: for if we flee away, they will not care for us; neither if half of us die, will they care for us: but now thou art worth ten thousand of us: therefore now it is better that thou succour us out of the city.

2 Sam 18:4  And the king said unto them, What seemeth you best I will do. And the king stood by the gate side, and all the people came out by hundreds and by thousands.

2 Sam 18:5  And the king commanded Joab and Abishai and Ittai, saying, Deal gently for my sake with the young man, even with Absalom. And all the people heard when the king gave all the captains charge concerning Absalom. 

Davidís loyalists would have nothing of it.    They did not want their leader killed, and to lead out in battle would fall right into Absalom's plan.    They perceived that Absalomís strategy was to kill David and the throne would be his.    They rightly assumed that Absalomís forces were not really interested in them.  

The loyalists urged David that he could do best by helping them (succour) from the city.    From there he could send reinforcements and orders.    David agreed to their counsel.  

In verse 5, before ordering his forces into battle, Davidís three generals were openly warned to deal softly with Absalom.    Davidís entire army heard these instructions.    Though his adversary, Absalom was still Davidís son. His love for his son had not been extinguished.    David, as the veteran warrior, had a confidence that he would prevail in battle against his inexperienced son.     It is likely that he hoped to be able to spare him and restore fellowship thereafter.  

J. Vernon McGee said this about David's command concerning his son. 

This is one of the saddest chapters in Davidís life. While the chapter of Davidís sin is the most sordid chapter, this is the saddest because it records the death of his son, Absalom. Because they have urged him not to go with them to battle, David takes his place at the side of the gate as the army marches out. It marches out under three leaders: Joab, Abishai, and Ittai. As each of these three captains comes by, David charges him to deal gently with his son. All the army heard him give this order. I think some smiled, but others felt a bit resentful. Absalom would always be a troublemaker, and they would like to eliminate him. David, however, loved his son and did not want him to die. He said to his commanders, ďDeal gently with my boy Absalom.Ē Davidís men heard what he said.[1] 

2 Sam 18:6  So the people went out into the field against Israel: and the battle was in the wood of Ephraim;

2 Sam 18:7  Where the people of Israel were slain before the servants of David, and there was there a great slaughter that day of twenty thousand men.

2 Sam 18:8  For the battle was there scattered over the face of all the country: and the wood devoured more people that day than the sword devoured. 

Implicit that where the battle was joined was in a forest of Ephraim of which Gilead was a part.    This likely was on the eastern bluffs of the Jordan River.   Though not noted explicitly, Jewish historians believe that David divided his forces into three groups under his three generals and that they attacked Absalomís army from three sides.   The battle-hardened generals of Davidís army made quick work of Absalomís forces.   Twenty-thousand men of Absalomís force were killed that day.   The forest contributed to Davidís victory.   It enabled his men (likely fewer in number) to ambush and slay the force of Absalom as they battled both bramble and foe.   Once again, the providential working of God is apparent.


II.    The Slaying of Absalom 

2 Sam 18:9  And Absalom met the servants of David. And Absalom rode upon a mule, and the mule went under the thick boughs of a great oak, and his head caught hold of the oak, and he was taken up between the heaven and the earth; and the mule that was under him went away.

2 Sam 18:10  And a certain man saw it, and told Joab, and said, Behold, I saw Absalom hanged in an oak.

2 Sam 18:11  And Joab said unto the man that told him, And, behold, thou sawest him, and why didst thou not smite him there to the ground? And I would have given thee ten shekels of silver, and a girdle.

2 Sam 18:12  And the man said unto Joab, Though I should receive a thousand shekels of silver in mine hand, yet would I not put forth mine hand against the king's son: for in our hearing the king charged thee and Abishai and Ittai, saying, Beware that none touch the young man Absalom.

2 Sam 18:13  Otherwise I should have wrought falsehood against mine own life: for there is no matter hid from the king, and thou thyself wouldest have set thyself against me.

David was wisely counseled to not expose himself in the battle, Absalom was more brash. He had foolishly charged headlong into the battle.    Though his forces were upon foot, Absalom rode a mule into the battle.   As his forces were routed by David, Absalom was met by some of Davidís men.   Implied is that he fled upon his mule. However, the mule went under the bough of a great oak and Absalomís long flowing hair was immediately caught in the tree.  The mule just kept on going and Absalom was thus caught there hanging by his hair.

In verse 10, one of Davidís men reported to Joab what had happened to Absalom.

Joab incredulously asked why he had not killed him on the spot.    He further added that he would have given the fellow a reward of money and a wide leather battle belt.    The wide leather battle belt was analogous to the modern practice of being awarded a medal for bravery in action.  

This common soldier in Davidís army was well aware of Davidís order to spare Absalom.

He told Joab that no amount of money could persuade him to violate his kingís order.      He knew that David would have found out and even Joab would have turned against him.    The true colors of Joab were now starting to show through.

Though Davidís cousin and nominally loyal, Joab would increasingly become a loose cannon for David.   Here, he was more than willing to violate direct orders of his king.   Absalom had started the whole affair and Joab wished him gone.    It may be that Joabís disloyalty to David began in the affair against Uriah.   Joab had no doubt put two and two together and figured out why he wanted Uriah killed.    It caused him to lose respect to David. That was apparent here.

2 Sam 18:14  Then said Joab, I may not tarry thus with thee. And he took three darts in his hand, and thrust them through the heart of Absalom, while he was yet alive in the midst of the oak.

2 Sam 18:15  And ten young men that bare Joab's armour compassed about and smote Absalom, and slew him.

Having found out where Absalom was, Joab evidently hustled over there.   He knew that if Absalom was eliminated, the war would be over.   Though Joab was wiser than David in the military politics of the battle, he was willing to be overtly insubordinate.   Joab evidently took three spears and ran then through the heart of Absalom as he hung helplessly in the tree.   The word translated as darts (jbv shebet) has the sense of a spear.   Then ten subordinates of Joab thereafter surrounded Absalom and finished him off.  

III.   Trumpet Signals End of Pursuit 

2 Sam 18:16  And Joab blew the trumpet, and the people returned from pursuing after Israel: for Joab held back the people.

2 Sam 18:17  And they took Absalom, and cast him into a great pit in the wood, and laid a very great heap of stones upon him: and all Israel fled every one to his tent.

2 Sam 18:18  Now Absalom in his lifetime had taken and reared up for himself a pillar, which is in the king's dale: for he said, I have no son to keep my name in remembrance: and he called the pillar after his own name: and it is called unto this day, Absalom's place. 

Joab blew the trumpet, and the people returned from pursuing after Israel.  Trumpet signals were the common means of military communication of the day.   The particular trumpet sound blown signaled that the battle was over.    Joab knew that with Absalom, the head of the rebellion gone, the revolt was over.   He therefore ordered his men from further bloodshed or pursuit against the rest of Israel.   After killing Absalom, Joab had him dishonorably buried in a ravine in the woods and had his men throw great rocks atop his body.   As word quickly spread that Absalom was dead, his forces melted away in defeat.  Joab knew that would happen. Though he had been astute militarily, he had been directly insubordinate to David.  

In Verse 18, because Absalom had no son to carry on his name, he had made a considerable monument to himself.   This is described as being in the kingís valley which is the valley between Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives.   To this day, in that location, remains an ancient monument which is believed to be that which Absalom erected for his memory.    

IV.  David is Told of Absalom's Death 

2 Sam 18:19  Then said Ahimaaz the son of Zadok, Let me now run, and bear the king tidings, how that the LORD hath avenged him of his enemies.

2 Sam 18:20  And Joab said unto him, Thou shalt not bear tidings this day, but thou shalt bear tidings another day: but this day thou shalt bear no tidings, because the king's son is dead.

2 Sam 18:21  Then said Joab to Cushi, Go tell the king what thou hast seen. And Cushi bowed himself unto Joab, and ran.

2 Sam 18:22  Then said Ahimaaz the son of Zadok yet again to Joab, But howsoever, let me, I pray thee, also run after Cushi. And Joab said, Wherefore wilt thou run, my son, seeing that thou hast no tidings ready?

2 Sam 18:23  But howsoever, said he, let me run. And he said unto him, Run. Then Ahimaaz ran by the way of the plain, and overran Cushi. 

With Absalom dead and his forces defeated, those loyal to David were eager to send word to David of what had happened.   Ahimaaz, the loyal son of the priest Zadok, asked permission to run back to Mahanaim with the good news.  Joab denied him permission. It may be that he knew the loyalty of this young man and that he would not tell David all that had happened. Therefore, he denied his request.   Joab was determined to send a different messenger, perhaps one who would Ďslantí the news more favorably to Joab.  Joabís man Cushi thus ran with the news.  

Ahimaaz remained insistent that he be allowed to go.  Joabís response was essentially, why? He would have nothing new to add to what Cushi had already told David. But he persisted.   Joab figured that Cushi had enough of a head start that Ahimaaz could not catch him.   Knowing this, he gave permission for Ahimaaz to run.    Cushi evidently ran the more direct route which took him over more rugged and hilly terrain.    Ahimaaz took the more circuitous route through the valley to the south and he certainly was more eager than Cushi who may have not pressed himself. 

Ahimaaz beat Cushi to Mahanaim.    

2 Sam 18:24  And David sat between the two gates: and the watchman went up to the roof over the gate unto the wall, and lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold a man running alone.

2 Sam 18:25  And the watchman cried, and told the king. And the king said, If he be alone, there is tidings in his mouth. And he came apace, and drew near.

2 Sam 18:26  And the watchman saw another man running: and the watchman called unto the porter, and said, Behold another man running alone. And the king said, He also bringeth tidings.

2 Sam 18:27  And the watchman said, Me thinketh the running of the foremost is like the running of Ahimaaz the son of Zadok. And the king said, He is a good man, and cometh with good tidings.

2 Sam 18:28  And Ahimaaz called, and said unto the king, All is well. And he fell down to the earth upon his face before the king, and said, Blessed be the LORD thy God, which hath delivered up the men that lifted up their hand against my lord the king. 

 Back in Mahanaim, David sat in the inner gate of the city awaiting news of the battle.   (1) The watchman atop the city wall saw one of the runners approaching and notified   David.   (2) David knew that if it was just one man rather than a group, indicating a rout, that it meant news and probably good news.    The word translated as apace (Klh halak) essentially means to walk. Implied is that the first runner (Cushi) was no longer running.   The watchman spotted another man running as well.  

David surmised once again that he also must be bringing good news.   The watchman however thought that he recognized the second runner as Ahimaaz.   David knew of this young manís loyalty and bravery. He therefore was sure that the news would be good.  

In verse 28, as he approached the city, Ahimaaz called, and said unto the king, All is well. And he fell down to the earth upon his face before the king, and said, ďBlessed be the LORD thy God, which hath delivered up the men that lifted up their hand against my lord the king.Ē  After giving the initial report of good news, Ahimaaz fell on his face in reverence to his king, and possibly in utter exhaustion.   As he panted, he gasped that the Lord had delivered Davidís enemies to him. They were defeated.    

2 Sam 18:29  And the king said, Is the young man Absalom safe? And Ahimaaz answered, When Joab sent the king's servant, and me thy servant, I saw a great tumult, but I knew not what it was.

2 Sam 18:30  And the king said unto him, Turn aside, and stand here. And he turned aside, and stood still.

2 Sam 18:31  And, behold, Cushi came; and Cushi said, Tidings, my lord the king: for the LORD hath avenged thee this day of all them that rose up against thee.

2 Sam 18:32  And the king said unto Cushi, Is the young man Absalom safe? And Cushi answered, The enemies of my lord the king, and all that rise against thee to do thee hurt, be as that young man is.

The first thing King David asked was ďIs the young man Absalom safe?Ē    And Ahimaaz answered, ďWhen Joab sent the kingís servant, and me thy servant, I saw a great tumult, but I knew not what it was.Ē    David wanted to know what had happened to Absalom.   (2) Ahimaaz indicated that Joab sent another messenger (Cushi).   He told David that in the confusion of battle, he did not know everything which had happened.   That likely was not true. However, Ahimaaz, loyal to David as he was, likely wanted to spare David of that bad news.   David directed him to step aside. 

In verse 31, Cushi shows up.    Cushi as well informed David of the victory.   David again asked directly about the welfare of Absalom.   Cushi tried his best to soften the news. Rather than blurt out that he was dead, he tried to diplomatically break the news by obliquely wishing to all of Davidís enemies the fate of his son.   Cushi, Without actually saying that Absalom was dead informed King David and David got the message.  

V.   The Grief of King David  

2 Sam 18:33  And the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept: and as he went, thus he said, O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!

ďAbove the city gate of Mahanaim was a room. Upon learning of Absalomís fate, David quickly removed himself thereto and bitterly wept.Ē    His cry clearly came from his broken heart as he sobbed ďO my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!Ē  Recorded herein is truly one of the bitter episodes in the entire Bible.   Though Absalom had sought to usurp his fatherís throne and even kill him, David retained that deep love of a parent for his rebellious son.  

In this bittersweet chapter, the third and fourth installments of David bitter harvest of his sin had come to pass.   After his sin with Bathsheba, David himself had said the man guilty of Nathanís parable would pay fourfold. David did. 


1.       David had lost his baby son in death.

2.       His daughter had been raped by her half-brother. 

3.       That brother (Amnon) had been murdered by Absalom. 

4.       Absalom had not only tried to depose his father, but had been killed in so doing.  

Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.    Truly the sword had not departed from Davidís house.   Remember the words of Nathan with a message from the Lord. 

2 Sam 12:9  Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the LORD, to do evil in his sight? thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon.

2 Sam 12:10  Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house; because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife.


Davidís bitter and corrupt harvest of his sin had come to pass.   God is not mocked.


Though He had forgiven David, the corrupt harvest still came to pass.



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Prov 4:18  But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.


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[1]               J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible commentary [computer file], electronic ed., Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1981 by J. Vernon McGee.