Avraham ben Yaakov
II SAMUEL CHAPTER 17
Having advised Absalom to go in to his father's concubines in order to force an all-out conflict, Ahitophel now offered his second piece of advice - that Absalom should send him with a strong army to hunt down David IMMEDIATELY before he had a chance to get far away and muster more forces. Ahitophel promised a swift, decisive operation that would avoid unnecessary bloodshed - and his advice would have been accepted and would undoubtedly have proved effective except that "God commanded to thwart the counsel of Ahitophel" (v 14), for God was with David, despite chastising him so sorely.
As we read in ch 15 vv 32ff, David had planted his other outstanding advisor, Hushi Ha-Archi, in Absalom's court, and Hushi skillfully undermined Ahitophel's plan for IMMEDIATE action by proposing a far larger operation LATER ON, thus gaining time for David to make his escape from the Jerusalem region. Carefully reminding Absalom of David's great strength and courage and raising specters of a set-back for the pursuers that could radically demoralize Absalom's army, Hushi appealed to his vanity in proposing that the entire nation should gather so that he would be able to march proudly at the head of a great Israelite army (see Rashi on v 11).
This idea was highly attractive to Absalom, who went cold on Ahitophel's idea of going off himself immediately to finish the job in a low-profile way. Thus while Absalom began to dream of his coming glory, Hushai sent inside information from Absalom's court using the sons of the two high priests as runners. Having heard Ahitophel's advice to go in hot pursuit, Hushai urged David to make as quick a getaway from the region as possible in case Absalom changed his mind again.
Having much earlier in his life had to flee from the persecutions of King Saul, David once again found himself in flight - this time to escape his own son! Chapter 15 vv 23-30 traced David's escape from the city of Jerusalem prior to Absalom's arrival there. David had then crossed over the Kidron Valley (directly to the east of the Temple Mount ) and climbed up the Mount of Olives (from where he could still gaze back upon the Tent of the Ark of the Covenant). Chapter 16 then narrated his journey to Bahurim, a Benjaminite town a little south of Jerusalem , from which Shim'I ben Gera went out to curse and stone him. During this time Absalom had arrived in Jerusalem and went into David's concubines, after which Ahitophel wanted to go straight after David. This was when Hushai advised David to flee the Jerusalem area altogether, and David now went eastwards past Jericho to the Jordan , which he crossed as told in our present chapter v 22. He then advanced northwards into Gil'ad (the generic term for the territories of the tribes of Reuven, Gad and half Menasheh east of the Jordan ) to the city of Mahanayim .
The mark of a wise man is that he sees what is developing (Avos 2:9), and Ahitophel saw that with his own advice unheeded, Absalom would be unable to overcome the mighty warrior David. Ahitophel realized that as soon as David was restored to the kingship, he himself would be first in the firing line for treason. He therefore went to his home in Gilo (after which the present-day south-Jerusalem suburb of Gilo is named owing to its proximity to the original town), delivered his last will and testament to his children (telling them to keep out of MAHLOKES, "conflict", not to rebel against the kingship of the House of David, and to use the sign of a clear summer's day on the festival of Shavuos to know that the wheat crop will be successful, Bava Bastra 147a) and then hanged himself.
David's escape to Gil'ad forced Absalom to take his forces out of the Land of Israel proper to the less favorable territories east of the Jordan , where David was receiving reinforcements and abundant supplies of food (vv 27-29).
In Mahanayim, David marshaled his forces and followed the classic strategy known from the times of the judges of dividing them into three. David was ready to go out to battle (v 2) but the people would not hear of this, advising him to stay in the city to pray for their success.
We suddenly see a picture of David at the age of 67 - the old king - no longer going out to battle but yielding to the will of the people and watching over their fortunes from the city.
David's love and compassion for Absalom despite his having rebelled and now being in hot pursuit of him - defy reason, just as does the love of any father for a miscreant son. David no doubt saw to the very roots of Absalom's soul and still hoped a way could be found to rescue him from the hell awaiting him because of his rebellion, so that, in the words of the Wise Woman of Teko'a, "even the rejected shall not be rejected from Him" (II Sam. 14:14). Thus David begged his generals to go easy with Absalom if they found him (v 5).
"And the war was in the Forest of Ephraim " (v 6). Rashi (ad loc.) asks, "How come Ephraim had a forest on the east bank of the Jordan when the only tribes who received a share there were Gad, Reuven and Menasheh? The answer is that one of the conditions on which Joshua gave the tribes their portions in the Land was that anyone from any tribe could graze their flocks in any forest. The forest in question was near to the territories of Ephraim except that it was on the other side of the river Jordan , and they used to graze their animals there, which is why it was called the Forest of Ephraim ."
From the description of the forces gathered on both sides, we can build a picture of the magnitude of this civil war between David and his supporters on the one hand and Absalom and all Israel, including Judah, on the other. As Absalom's commander-in-chief to replace Joab (who was with David), he had appointed Amasa, who was married to David's OWN SISTER (ch 17 v 25, where Nahash = Yishai/Jesse, who was so called because he was one of the four who died not because of sin but purely because of the "bite of the serpent": Nahash = "serpent", Talmud Bava Basra 17a).
Despite Absalom's impressive line-up of all Israel and the leaders of Judah , God was against him and his forces were ravaged by the wild animals of the forest (Targum on v 8).
One of the most famous scenes in the Bible is the specter of the mule-riding Absalom getting his Nazarite's long hair hopelessly entangled in the branches of a great tree, leaving him "suspended between heaven and earth as the mule passed on from under him" (v 9). Had Absalom taken his sword to cut his hair, he might have escaped, but only at the cost of violating his Nazirite vow. The rabbis stated that he drew his sword and saw Gehennom open underneath him! (Sotah 10b brought by Rashi on v 9). The very hair about which Absalom had been so vain now proved to be his undoing! (RaDaK on v 9)
David - the distraught, loving father - had pleaded with his generals to go easy on his rebel son, but Joab had no patience for the aged king and his illusions that Absalom might somehow be rehabilitated. Joab knew that Absalom would be a terrible danger to David as long as he was alive. When the soldier who found Absalom refused to kill him, Joab himself went and drove three stakes into his heart (in revenge for Absalom's having stolen the hearts of David, the Law Court and all Israel) while Joab's ten attendants (corresponding to the ten concubines of David whom Absalom went into) finally put him to death.
Yad Avshalom - the Monument of Absalom mentioned in v 18 -- is identified with the famous, impressive and much-photographed carved stone monument that can be seen in the Kidron valley until today.
The news of Absalom's death, which spelled the end of the rebellion, had to be taken to David, but Joab knew that he would take it very hard, and in trying to dissuade the swift-footed priest Ahima'atz from going to tell the king (vv 19-23), Joab teaches that one should avoid telling bad news and always strive to relay good news.
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By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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