Verses 9-18 (2 Samuel 18:9-18)

Here is Absalom quite at a loss, at his wit?s end first, and then at his life?s end. He that began the fight, big with the expectation of triumphing over David himself, with whom, if he had had him in his power, he would not have dealt gently, is now in the greatest consternation, when he meets the servants of David, 2 Sam. 18:9. Though they were forbidden to meddle with him, he durst not look them in the face; but, finding they were near him, he clapped spurs to his mule and made the best of his way, through thick and thin, and so rode headlong upon his own destruction. Thus he that fleeth from the fear shall fall into the pit, and he that getteth up out of the pit shall be taken in the snare, Jer. 48:44. David is inclined to spare him, but divine justice passes sentence upon him as a traitor, and sees it executed?that he hang by the neck, be caught alive, be embowelled, and his body dispose of disgracefully.

I. He is hanged by the neck. Riding furiously, neck or nothing, under the thick boughs of a great oak which hung low and had never been cropped, either the twisted branches, or some one forked bough of the oak, caught hold of his head, either by his neck, or, as some think, by his long hair, which had been so much his pride, and was now justly made a halter for him, and there he hung, so astonished that he could not use his hands to help himself or so entangled that his hands could not help him, but the more he struggled the more he was embarrassed. This set him up for a fair mark to the servants of David, and he had the terror and shame of seeing himself thus exposed, while he could do nothing for his own relief, neither fight nor fly. Observe concerning this, 1. That his mule went away from under him, as if glad to get clear of such a burden, and resign it to the ignominious tree. Thus the whole creation groans under the burden of man?s corruption, but shall shortly be delivered from its load, Rom. 8:21, 22. 2. The he hung between heaven and earth, as unworthy of either, as abandoned of both; earth would not keep him, heaven would not take him, hell therefore opens her mouth to receive him. 3. That this was a very surprising unusual thing. It was fit that it should be so, his crime being so monstrous: if, in his flight, his mule had thrown him, and left him half-dead upon the ground, till the servants of David had come up and dispatched him, the same thing would have been done as effectually; but that would have been too common a fate for so uncommon a criminal. God will here, as in the case of those other rebels, Dathan and Abiram, create a new thing, that it may be understood how much this man has provoked the Lord, Num. 16:29, 30. Absalom is here hung up, in terrorem?to frighten children from disobedience to their parents. See Prov. 30:17.

II. He is caught alive by one of the servants of David, who goes directly and tells Joab in what posture he found that archrebel, 2 Sam. 18:10. Thus was he set up for a spectacle, as well as a mark, that the righteous might see him and laugh at him (Ps. 52:6), while he had this further vexation in his breast, that of all the friends he had courted and confided in, and thought he had sure in his interest, though he hung long enough to have been relieved, yet he had none at hand to disentangle him. Joab chides the man for not dispatching him (2 Sam. 18:11), telling him, if he had given that bold stroke, he would have rewarded him with ten half-crowns and a girdle, that is, a captain?s commission, which perhaps was signified by the delivery of a belt or girdle; see Isa. 22:21. But the man, though zealous enough against Absalom, justified himself in not doing it: ?Dispatch him!? says he, ?not for all the world: it would have cost my head: and thou thyself wast witness to the king?s charge concerning him (2 Sam. 18:12), and, for all thy talk, wouldst have been my prosecutor if I had done it,? 2 Sam. 18:13. Those that love the treason hate the traitor. Joab could not deny this, nor blame the man for his caution, and therefore makes him no answer, but breaks off the discourse, under colour of haste (2 Sam. 18:14): I may not tarry thus with thee. Superiors should consider a reproof before they give it, lest they be ashamed of it afterwards, and find themselves unable to make it good.

III. He is (as I may say) embowelled and quartered, as traitors are, so pitifully mangled is he as he hangs there, and receives his death in such a manner as to see all its terrors and feel all its pain. 1. Joab throws three darts into his body, which put him, no doubt, to exquisite torment, while he is yet alive in the midst of the oak, 2 Sam. 18:14. I know not whether Joab can be justified in this direct disobedience to the command of his sovereign; was this to deal gently with the young man? Would David have suffered him to do it if he had been upon the spot? Yet this may be said for him, that, while he broke the order of a too indulgent father, he did real service both to his king and country, and would have endangered welfare of both if he had not done it. Salus populi suprema lex?The safety of the people is the supreme law. 2. Joab?s young men, ten of them, smite him, before he is dispatched, 2 Sam. 18:15. They surrounded him, made a ring about him in triumph, and then smote him and slew him. So let all they enemies perish, O Lord! Joab hereupon sounds a retreat, 2 Sam. 18:16. The danger is over, now that Absalom is slain; the people will soon return to their allegiance to David, and therefore no more blood shall be spilt; no prisoners are taken, to be tried as traitors and made examples; let every man return to his tent; they are all the king?s subjects, all his good subjects again.

IV. His body is disposed of disgracefully (2 Sam. 18:17, 18): They cast it into a great pit in the wood; they would not bring it to his father (for that circumstance would but have added to his grief), nor would they preserve it to be buried, according to his order, but threw it into the next pit with indignation. Now where is the beauty he had been so proud of and for which he had been so much admired? Where are his aspiring projects, and the castles he had built in the air? His thoughts perish, and he with them. And, to signify how heavy his iniquity lay upon his bones, as the prophet speaks (Ezek. 32:27), they raised a great heap of stones upon him, to be a monument of his villany, and to signify that he ought to have been stoned as a rebellious son, Deut. 21:21. Travelers say that the place is taken note of to this day, and that it is common for passengers to throw a stone to this heap, with words to this purport: Cursed be the memory of rebellious Absalom, and cursed for ever be all wicked children that rise up in rebellion against their parents. To aggravate the ignominy of Absalom?s burial, the historian takes notice of a pillar he had erected in the valley of Kidron, near Jerusalem, to be a monument for himself, and keep his name in remembrance (2 Sam. 18:18), at the foot of which, it is probable, he designed to be buried. What foolish insignificant projects do proud men fill their heads with! And what care do many people take about the disposal of their bodies, when they are dead, that have no care at all what shall become of their precious souls! Absalom had three sons (2 Sam. 14:27), but, it seems, now he had none; God had taken them away by death; and justly is a rebellious son written childless. To make up the want, he erects this pillar for a memorial; yet in this also Providence crosses him, and a rude heap of stones shall be his monument, instead of this marble pillar. Thus those that exalt themselves shall be abased. His care was to have his name kept in remembrance, and it is so, to his everlasting dishonour. He could not be content in the obscurity of the rest of David?s sons, of whom nothing is recorded but their names, but would be famous, and is therefore justly made for ever infamous. The pillar shall bear his name, but not to his credit; it was designed for Absalom?s glory, but proved Absalom?s folly.

- Matthew Henry's Complete Commentary