God continues to unroll the consequences of David’s sin, while at the same time fulfilling His gracious promises to David. Solomon is not mentioned in this section, but he is clearly waiting in the wings.
“Now Joab the son of Zeruiah perceived that the king’s heart was toward Absalom. And Joab sent to Tekoah, and fetched thence a wise woman, and said unto her, I pray thee, feign thyself to be a mourner . . .” (2 Sam. 14:1-33).
Summary of the Text:
So Joab saw the conflicted nature of David’s attitude toward Absalom (v. 1). He brought a wise woman from Tekoa and told her to present herself as a woman in mourning (v. 2), and to present herself to the king that way with a story that Joab gave her (v. 3). And so she came before the king, prostrated herself, and cried out for help (v. 4). David asks what is wrong, and she says she is a widow (v. 5). She had two sons who got in a fight in the field, and one killed the other (v. 6). The whole clan wants to kill the remaining son (which would be just), but this would destroy her one remaining heir (v. 7). David told her he would take care of it (v. 8). She wants more, and says that if he is worried about bloodguilt, she and her house will bear it (v. 9). David promises a little more (v. 10). She asks for more assurance, and he swears that not a hair of her son’s head would fall to earth (v. 11). But remember how Absalom died.
She then springs the trap. Can I say one more thing (v. 12). Given permission, she then asks why Absalom remains in exile (v. 13). She says we all must die, but God has mercy on the exile (v. 14). She then asks pardon, and notes that the people have made her fearful (v. 15). She then returns to the refuge of her fictional story (v. 16). She goes on to praise how discerning the king is, as an angel of God (v. 17). David then asks her if he might ask something, and she obviously agrees (v. 18). He asks if Joab was behind it, and her answer is affirmative, while at the same binding the king to his word (v. 19). You, oh king, know everything (v. 20). David then tells Joab to bring Absalom back (v. 21). Joab prostrates himself, and thanked the king profusely (v. 22). So Joab brought Absalom back (v. 23). At the same time, the king refused to give an audience to Absalom (v. 24).
We are then introduced to Absalom as an attractive political figure (v. 25). He would cut his hair once a year, apparently as an annual Nazarite, and his hair weighed five and a half pounds (v. 26). And Absalom had three (unnamed) sons, and a daughter named Tamar, beautiful like her aunt (v. 27). So Absalom lived in Jerusalem for two years without seeing the king (v. 28). Absalom then sends for Joab twice, but he refuses to come (v. 29). So Absalom has his servants set Joab’s field on fire (v. 30). When Joab comes to ask why (v. 31), Absalom replies by saying that he might as well have stayed in Geshur—he wasn’t seeing the king there either (v. 32). And so Joab went to the king, and the king agreed to a formal reconciliation. Absalom prostrated himself, and the king kissed him (v. 33).
We will see in this chapter that Absalom was full of himself, but he was not totally that way. He had been considerate of his sister, and apparently named his (very beautiful) daughter after her. It is striking that Absalom is said to have three (unnamed) sons, and his daughter is named. She was like her namesake—beautiful. And like her aunt, she quietly disappears from this story of treachery and intrigue. Absalom’s sons had apparently died by just a few chapters later (2 Sam. 18:18). So the two Tamars quietly disappear from the story, which we may take as a very great mercy. As Thomas Watson once put it, it is better to be wronged than to do wrong, and Tamar retires from the scriptural account—despite the dishonor done to her—in honor.
The naming of daughters in Scripture often has to do with inheritance. Think of the daughters of Zelophehad (Num. 26:33; Num. 27:7). Also the daughters of Job were also beautiful, like the Tamars, and they were given an inheritance (Job 42:15). Absalom did not pass his inheritance on to his sons, and so Tamar was likely blessed in this way. And husbands, remember to dwell with your wives with understanding because they are joint heirs, together with you (1 Pet. 3:7).
Echoes of Scripture:
There are three important sets of allusions in this section, just as we saw allusions to Genesis in the previous chapter.
First, the wise woman (which in scriptural usage was likely a kind of prophetess or sibyl) came to David the same way Nathan had (with a fictional story), but in the service of a political agenda. Her story parallels the account of Cain and Abel, and in that story God Himself gave protection to Cain. But this story invokes more than the wise woman wanted—if the story fits, then Absalom was not the seed. Absalom was Cain. The promised seed was Seth, the coming Solomon.
The second reference is also to Genesis—the wise woman says that the king has the discerning ability to rule, knowing the distinction between good and evil (v. 17). This was the knowledge that our first parents seized out of time, and as a result their heightened abilities at discernment were cockeyed. We may learn from the ironic statement of this woman—praising David’s discernment when he is manifestly being played.
And third, we have an allusion to the book of Judges. Absalom is another Samson—who was a charismatic leader, had long hair, and set Philistines’ fields on fire. But because of Absalom’s developing treachery, we should see him as an anti-Samson, an anti-Nazarite.
God Looks on the Heart:
Saul had been described as choice and handsome (1 Sam. 9:2), but that turned out badly. He was a full head taller than everyone else. Attention is drawn to Absalom’s head as well, and to his beautiful family, and the fact that he had no external blemish (vv. 25-26). And David had been described as being very attractive in appearance (1 Sam. 16:12-13). But even with him, Samuel was taught that God looks on the heart. Unlike David, a root of bitterness had clearly taken up deep residence in Absalom’s heart. We can understand how someone might have been driven into bitterness—but bitterness still destroys the bitter one. As it has been well said, being bitter is like eating a box of rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.
Joab is not a close intimate with Absalom. Remember that he is the man who eventually kills Absalom, and much against David’s wishes. He is not an Absalom loyalist. He is playing a realpolitik game, and it appears that his principle motivation is political stability without Solomon, apart from Solomon. Anybody but Solomon. After Absalom’s death, Joab joins forces with the Adonijah faction—for Adonijah has the supreme qualification of not being Solomon.
A Field on Fire:
Absalom has already set Joab’s field on fire. Brought back to Jerusalem, he proceeds to do the same with his father’s “field.” He has set his course. David was around 66 when Absalom came back, 68 when they supposedly reconciled, and 70 when war broke out. Where was Solomon? As God’s choice for the throne, he was somewhere, waiting.
We are tempted to despair when everything goes wrong. The brothers are fighting—there is no solution. Cain kills Abel, and everything is lost. But God has Seth. Absalom kills Amnon, and then tries to kill his father. Everything is lost. But God has Solomon. Christ is in the wings.