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2 Samuel 18-20

Supplemental notes for the Daily Bible Study Bible Reading Plan

by Wayne Blank

2 Samuel Chapter 18

Absalom followed Hushai's booby-trap advice (see Absalom's Advisors). Absalom waited too long, thereby giving David the time needed to prepare for battle, and then Absalom accompanied his troops into battle, thereby exposing himself to a focus for killing. David's commanders on the other hand insisted that he not accompany them into battle, perhaps because they (rightly) realized that David would not attack his own son with full force, but surely because the enemy would fight more furiously if they knew David was there to be killed.


"Then David mustered the men who were with him, and set over them commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds. And David sent forth the army, one third under the command of Joab, one third under the command of Abishai the son of Zeruiah, Joab's brother, and one third under the command of Ittai the Gittite. And the king said to the men, "I myself will also go out with you."

But the men said, "You shall not go out. For if we flee, they will not care about us. If half of us die, they will not care about us. But you are worth ten thousand of us; therefore it is better that you send us help from the city."

The king said to them, "Whatever seems best to you I will do." So the king stood at the side of the gate, while all the army marched out by hundreds and by thousands." (2 Samuel 18:1-4 RSV)

David's army of Judah inflicted a severe defeat upon the army of Israel under Absalom.

"So the army went out into the field against Israel; and the battle was fought in the forest of Ephraim. And the men of Israel were defeated there by the servants of David, and the slaughter there was great on that day, twenty thousand men. The battle spread over the face of all the country; and the forest devoured more people that day than the sword." (2 Samuel 18:6-8 RSV)

With his army defeated, Absalom fled in a panic. Whether caused by Absalom's very long hair ("And when he cut the hair of his head, for at the end of every year he used to cut it; when it was heavy on him, he cut it, he weighed the hair of his head, two hundred shekels by the king's weight" 2 Samuel 14:26 RSV), or just a quirk of luck, Absalom was pulled off his mule and left hanging helplessly in an oak tree.

"And Absalom chanced to meet the servants of David. Absalom was riding upon his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak, and his head caught fast in the oak, and he was left hanging between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on." (2 Samuel 18:9 RSV)

While the other troops were reluctant to kill David's son, Joab did not hesitate to kill the treacherous young man who would have killed his father David if he could have done so.

"Joab said, "I will not waste time like this with you." And he took three darts in his hand, and thrust them into the heart of Absalom, while he was still alive in the oak. And ten young men, Joab's armor-bearers, surrounded Absalom and struck him, and killed him." (2 Samuel 18:14-15 RSV)

When David heard that his evil son had been killed, he mourned in a way that could have squandered the victory that his loyal troops had just achieved for him.

"And the king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept; and as he went, he said, "O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!" (2 Samuel 18:33 RSV)

2 Samuel Chapter 19

Joab was the man who killed the king's enemy son, and it was Joab who fearlessly rebuked David for making his troops feel ashamed for being victorious against David's enemy. Joab warned David that if he didn't speak to his troops in the way that was proper, the victory could be squandered.

The Jordan River

"It was told Joab, "Behold, the king is weeping and mourning for Absalom." So the victory that day was turned into mourning for all the people; for the people heard that day, "The king is grieving for his son." And the people stole into the city that day as people steal in who are ashamed when they flee in battle. The king covered his face, and the king cried with a loud voice, "O my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son!" (2 Samuel 19:1-4 RSV)

"Then Joab came into the house to the king, and said, "You have today covered with shame the faces of all your servants, who have this day saved your life, and the lives of your sons and your daughters, and the lives of your wives and your concubines, because you love those who hate you and hate those who love you. For you have made it clear today that commanders and servants are nothing to you; for today I perceive that if Absalom were alive and all of us were dead today, then you would be pleased. Now therefore arise, go out and speak kindly to your servants; for I swear by The Lord, if you do not go, not a man will stay with you this night; and this will be worse for you than all the evil that has come upon you from your youth until now."

Then the king arose, and took his seat in the gate. And the people were all told, "Behold, the king is sitting in the gate"; and all the people came before the king. Now Israel had fled every man to his own home." (2 Samuel 19:5- RSV)

With his victory and restoration to the throne, many of those who turned against David during Absalom's rebellion came slinking back.

"And all the people were at strife throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, "The king delivered us from the hand of our enemies, and saved us from the hand of the Philistines; and now he has fled out of the land from Absalom. But Absalom, whom we anointed over us, is dead in battle. Now therefore why do you say nothing about bringing the king back?" (2 Samuel 19:9-10 RSV)

Shimei also came back; David forgave him, but nevertheless made arrangements for Solomon to deal with his treachery later (see Shimei the Benjamite).

"And Shimei the son of Gera, the Benjaminite, from Bahurim, made haste to come down with the men of Judah to meet King David; and with him were a thousand men from Benjamin. And Ziba the servant of the house of Saul, with his fifteen sons and his twenty servants, rushed down to the Jordan before the king, and they crossed the ford to bring over the king's household, and to do his pleasure. And Shimei the son of Gera fell down before the king, as he was about to cross the Jordan, and said to the king, "Let not my lord hold me guilty or remember how your servant did wrong on the day my lord the king left Jerusalem; let not the king bear it in mind." (2 Samuel 19:16-19 RSV)

Mephibosheth also welcomed David back, claiming that he was innocent of any betrayal (see notes for 2 Samuel 9 and 2 Samuel 16).

"And Mephibosheth the son of Saul came down to meet the king; he had neither dressed his feet, nor trimmed his beard, nor washed his clothes, from the day the king departed until the day he came back in safety. And when he came from Jerusalem to meet the king, the king said to him, "Why did you not go with me, Mephibosheth?"

He answered, "My lord, O king, my servant deceived me; for your servant said to him, 'Saddle an ass for me, that I may ride upon it and go with the king.' For your servant is lame." (2 Samuel 19:24-26 RSV)

The men of Israel also sought David back as their king, even claiming that their ten tribes had more right to David than Judah. The political split between Israel and Judah kept happening however, until made permanent after the death of David's son and successor Solomon (see Israelite Monarchy - The Division Of Israel, Israelite Monarchy - The Northern Kingdom and Israelite Monarchy - The Southern Kingdom). The breach between Israel and Judah will however be healed after the return of Jesus Christ (see The Gathering of Israel and Judah).

Then all the men of Israel came to the king, and said to the king, "Why have our brethren the men of Judah stolen you away, and brought the king and his household over the Jordan, and all David's men with him?" All the men of Judah answered the men of Israel, "Because the king is near of kin to us. Why then are you angry over this matter? Have we eaten at all at the king's expense? Or has he given us any gift?"

And the men of Israel answered the men of Judah, "We have ten shares in the king, and in David also we have more than you. Why then did you despise us? Were we not the first to speak of bringing back our king?" But the words of the men of Judah were fiercer than the words of the men of Israel." (2 Samuel 19:41-43 RSV)

2 Samuel Chapter 20

The political situation was still tense - and subject to opportunistic men. Sheba, a Benjamite (as Saul was), instigated another revolt against David - and another civil war within Israel.


"Now there happened to be there a worthless fellow, whose name was Sheba, the son of Bichri, a Benjaminite; and he blew the trumpet, and said, "We have no portion in David, and we have no inheritance in the son of Jesse; every man to his tents, O Israel!"

So all the men of Israel withdrew from David, and followed Sheba the son of Bichri; but the men of Judah followed their king steadfastly from the Jordan to Jerusalem." (2 Samuel 20:1-2 RSV)

King David responded with everything that he could muster, realizing that Absalom's coup was merely the result of Absalom's personal lust for power, while Sheba was using the still-alive loyalty to King Saul to restore Saul's government - a much more serious threat.

"And David said to Abishai, "Now Sheba the son of Bichri will do us more harm than Absalom; take your lord's servants and pursue him, lest he get himself fortified cities, and cause us trouble." And there went out after Abishai, Joab and the Cherethites and the Pelethites, and all the mighty men; they went out from Jerusalem to pursue Sheba the son of Bichri." (2 Samuel 20:6-7 RSV)

Amasa was David's nephew, a son of David's sister Abigail (1 Chronicles 2:13-17). David appointed Amasa to command the army in place of his cousin, another nephew of David, Joab (2 Samuel 19:13), but Joab assassinated his fellow commander Amasa (Joab had also killed Abner and David's son Absalom, and was involved in David's killing of Uriah, the husband of Bathsheba - Joab was often a dangerous man, to friend and foe alike).

""When they were at the great stone which is in Gibeon, Amasa came to meet them. Now Joab was wearing a soldier's garment, and over it was a girdle with a sword in its sheath fastened upon his loins, and as he went forward it fell out. And Joab said to Amasa, "Is it well with you, my brother?" And Joab took Amasa by the beard with his right hand to kiss him. But Amasa did not observe the sword which was in Joab's hand; so Joab struck him with it in the body, and shed his bowels to the ground, without striking a second blow; and he died. Then Joab and Abishai his brother pursued Sheba the son of Bichri." (2 Samuel 20:8-10 RSV)

Joab then assumed command and continued the pursuit of Sheba who had taken refuge at Abel of Beth-maacah. Rather than having their city destroyed, the people surrendered Sheba, or rather his head, to Joab. Another civil war ended.

"And Sheba passed through all the tribes of Israel to Abel of Beth-maacah; and all the Bichrites assembled, and followed him in. And all the men who were with Joab came and besieged him in Abel of Beth-maacah; they cast up a mound against the city, and it stood against the rampart; and they were battering the wall, to throw it down. Then a wise woman called from the city, "Hear! Hear! Tell Joab, 'Come here, that I may speak to you.'" (2 Samuel 20:14-16 RSV)

"Then the woman went to all the people in her wisdom. And they cut off the head of Sheba the son of Bichri, and threw it out to Joab. So he blew the trumpet, and they dispersed from the city, every man to his home. And Joab returned to Jerusalem to the king." (2 Samuel 20:22 RSV)

Fact Finder: What other events of Bible History occurred in the area around Abel-beth-maachah?
See Abel-beth-maachah and The Galilee Captivity

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Copyright © Wayne Blank