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David continues his lamentation for his son, and the people are greatly discouraged, 2 Samuel 19:1-4. Joab reproves and threatens him with the general defection of the people, 2 Samuel 19:5-7. David lays aside his mourning, and shows himself to the people, who are thereby encouraged, 2 Samuel 19:8. The tribes take counsel to bring the king back to Jerusalem, 2 Samuel 19:9-12. He makes Amasa captain of the host in place of Joab, 2 Samuel 19:13. The king, returning, is met by Judah at Gilgal, 2 Samuel 19:14, 2 Samuel 19:15. Shimei comes to meet David, and entreats for his life, which David grants, 2 Samuel 19:16-23. Mephibosheth also meets him, and shows how he had been slandered by Ziba, 2 Samuel 19:24-30. David is met by Barzillai, and between them there is an affecting interview, 2 Samuel 19:31-40. Contention between the men of Judah and the men of Israel, about bringing back the king, 2 Samuel 19:41-43.
The victory - was turned into mourning - Instead of rejoicing that a most unnatural and ruinous rebellion had been quashed, the people mourned over their own success, because they saw their king so immoderately afflicted for the loss of his worthless son.
The king covered his face - This was the custom of mourners.
O my son Absalom - Calmet has properly remarked that the frequent repetition of the name of the defunct, is common in the language of lamentation. Thus Virgil, act. v., ver. 51: -
- Daphnin que team tollemus ad astra;
Daphnin ad astra feremus: amavit nos quoque Daphnis.
“With yours, my song I cheerfully shall join,
To raise your Daphnis to the powers Divine.
Daphnis I‘ll raise unto the powers above,
For dear to me was Daphnis‘ well tried love.”
See the notes on the preceding chapter, 2 Samuel 18 (note).
Thou hast shamed this day - Joab‘s speech to David on his immoderate grief for the death of his rebellious son is not only remarkable for the insolence of office, but also for good sense and firmness. Every man who candidly considers the state of the case, must allow that David acted imprudently at least; and that Joab‘s firm reproof was necessary to arouse him to a sense of his duty to his people. But still, in his manner, Joab had far exceeded the bonds of that reverence which a servant owes to his master, or a subject to his prince. Joab was a good soldier, but in every respect a bad man, and a dangerous subject.
The king - sat in the gate - The place where justice was administered to the people.
Speak unto the elders of Judah - David was afraid to fall out with this tribe: they were in possession of Jerusalem, and this was a city of great importance to him. They had joined Absalom in his rebellion; and doubtless were now ashamed of their conduct. David appears to take no notice of their infidelity, but rather to place confidence in them, that their confidence in him might be naturally excited: and, to oblige them yet farther, purposes to make Amasa captain of the host in the place of Joab.
And he bowed the heart of all the men of Judah - The measures that he pursued were the best calculated that could be to accomplish this salutary end. Appear to distrust those whom you have some reason to suspect, and you increase their caution and distrust. Put as much confidence in them as you safely can, and this will not fail to excite their confidence towards you.
Shimei the son of Gera - It appears that Shimei was a powerful chieftain in the land; for he had here, in his retinue, no less than a thousand men.
There went over a ferry-boat - This is the first mention of any thing of the kind. Some think a bridge or raft is what is here intended.
For thy servant doth know that I have sinned - This was all he could do; his subsequent conduct alone could prove his sincerity. On such an avowal as this David could not but grant him his life.
Neither dressed his feet - He had given the fullest proof of his sincere attachment to David and his cause; and by what he had done, amply refuted the calumnies of his servant Ziba.
The king is as an angel of God - As if he had said, I state my case plainly and without guile; thou art too wise not to penetrate the motives from which both myself and servant have acted. I shall make no appeal; with whatsoever thou determinest I shall rest contented.
I have said, Thou and Ziba divide the land - At first, David gave the land of Saul to Mephibosheth; and Ziba, his sons, and his servants, were to work that land; and to Mephibosheth, as the lord, he was to give the half of the produce. Ziba met David in his distress with provisions, and calumniated Mephibosheth: David, too slightly trusting to his misrepresentation, and supposing that Mephibosheth was actually such a traitor as Ziba represented him, made him on the spot a grant of his master‘s land. Now he finds that he has acted too rashly, and therefore confirms the former grant; i.e. that Ziba should cultivate the ground, and still continue to give to Mephibosheth, as the lord, the half of the produce. This was merely placing things in statu quo, and utterly annulling the gift that he had made to Ziba. But why did he leave this treacherous man any thing? Answer,
1.He was one of the domestics of Saul, and David wished to show kindness to that house.
2.He had supplied him with the necessaries of life when he was in the greatest distress; and he thinks proper to continue him in his old office, by way of remuneration.
But it was certainly too great a compensation for his services, however then important, when all the circumstances are considered.
Barzillai was a very aged man - This venerable person had given full proof of his attachment to David by the supplies he had given him when he lay at Mahanaim, where his case was all but desperate; the sincerity of his congratulations now none can suspect. David‘s offer to him was at once noble and liberal: he wished to compensate such a man, and he wished to have at hand such a friend.
Can thy servant taste what I eat - Here is at once an affecting description of the infirmities of old age; and a correct account of the mode of living at an Eastern court in ancient times.
Barzillai was fourscore years old; his ear was become dull of hearing, and his relish for his food was gone: he therefore appears to have been not only an old man, but an infirm old man. Besides delicate meats and drinks, we find that vocal music constituted a principal part of court entertainments: male and female singers made a necessary appendage to these banquets, as they do in most Eastern courts to the present day. As David was a most sublime poet, and emphatically styled the sweet singer of Israel, he no doubt had his court well supplied with vocal as well as instrumental performers; and, probably, with poets and poetesses; for it is not likely that he was the only poet of his time, though he undoubtedly was the most excellent.
Thy servant Chimham - It is generally understood that this was Barzillai‘s son; and this is probable from 1 Kings 2:7, where, when David was dying, he said, Show kindness to the sons of Barzillai: and it is very probable that this Chimham was one of them. In Jeremiah 41:17 mention is made of the habitation of Chimham, which was near to Bethlehem; and it is reasonably conjectured that David had left that portion, which was probably a part of his paternal estate, to this son of Barzillai.
The king kissed Barzillai, and blessed him - The kiss was the token of friendship and farewell; the blessing was a prayer to God for his prosperity, probably a prophetical benediction.
Wherefore then be ye angry for this matter? - We have not done this for our own advantage; we have gained nothing by it; we did it through loyal attachment to our king.
We have ten parts in the king, and - more right - We are ten tribes to one, or we are ten times so many as you; and consequently should have been consulted in this business.
The words of the men of Judah were fiercer than the words of the men of Israel - They had more weight, for they had more reason on their side.
It is pleasant when every province, canton, district, and county, vie with each other in personal attachment to the prince, and loyal attachment to his government. From such contentions as these civil wars are never likely to arise. And how blessed it must be for the country where the king merits all this! where the prince is the pastor and father of his people, and in all things the minister of and to them for good!
It is criminal in the prince not to endeavor to deserve the confidence and love of his people; and it is highly criminal in the people not to repay such endeavors with the most loyal and affectionate attachment.
Where the government is not despotic, the king acts by the counsels of his ministers, and while he does so he is not chargeable with miscarriages and misfortunes; they either came through bad counsels, or directly thwarting providences. On this ground is that political maxim in our laws formed, the king can do no wrong. Sometimes God will have things otherwise than the best counsels have determined, because he sees that the results will, on the whole, be better for the peace and prosperity of that state. “God is the only Ruler of princes.” And as the peace of the world depends much on civil government, hence kings and civil governors are peculiar objects of the Almighty‘s care. Wo to him who labors to bring about a general disaffection; as such things almost invariably end in general disappointment and calamity. It is much easier to unsettle than to settle; to pull down than to build up.