Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 17:1
Ahithophel's advice frustrated by Hushai. - Sa2 17:1-3. Ahithophel said still further to Absalom, "I will choose out twelve thousand men, and arise, and pursue after David this night; and fall upon him when he is exhausted and weak, and fill him with alarm: so shall all the people that are with him flee; and I will smite the king alone (when he is alone), and will bring back all the people to thee." הלּילה, the night, is the night following the day of David's flight and Absalom's entrance into Jerusalem, as we may see very clearly from Sa2 17:16. This advice was sagaciously conceived; for if David had been attacked that night by a powerful army, he might possibly have been defeated. אשׁיבה, to bring back, may be explained on the supposition that Ahithophel regarded Absalom as king, and those who had fled with David as rebels, who were to be brought back under Absalom's sceptre. The following words, וגו הכּל כּשׁוּב, "as the return of the whole (the whole nation) is the man," i.e., the return of all is dependent upon David, for whom thou liest in wait, are somewhat difficult, though the meaning of Ahithophel is evident enough from what precedes: viz., if he is beaten, they will all come over to thee; "the whole nation will be at peace" (שׁלוּם is used adverbially).
(Note: Consequently no conjectures are needed as to the rendering of the words in the lxx, viz., καθὼς (al. ὅν τρόπον) ἐπιστρέρει ἡ νύμφη πρὸς τὸν ἄνδρα αὐτῆς· πλὴν ψυχὴν ἀνδρὸς ἑνὸς σὺ ζητεῖς, such as Ewald, Thenius, and Bttcher have attempted. For it is very obvious that ἡ νύμφη πρὸς τὸν ἄνδρα αὐτῆς owes its origin simply to a false reading of האישׁ הכּל as אישׁ הכּלּה, and that πλὴν ψυχὴν ἀνδρὸς ἑνός has been interpolated by way of explanation from nothing but conjecture. No other of the ancient versions contains the slightest trace of a different reading from that given in the text.)
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 17:4
Although this advice pleased Absalom and all the elders of Israel (present), Absalom sent for Hushai the Archite to hear his opinion. גּם־הוּא serves to strengthen the suffix in בּפיו (cf. Ewald, 311, a.).
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 17:6
In answer to Absalom's inquiry, "Shall we do his word (i.e., follow Ahithophel's advice) or not?" Hushai said, "The advice is not good that Ahithophel hath given this time;" and then still further explained (Sa2 17:8): "Thou knowest thy father and his men, that they are heroes, and of a ferocious disposition (like Jdg 18:25), like a bear in the field robbed of her young; and thy father is a man of war, and will not pass the night with the people," sc., so that it would be possible to come upon him unawares and slay him (לין with את, as in Job 19:4). The idea that ילין is to be taken as a Hiphil, in the sense of "and does not let the people lodge for the night" (Bttcher), is quite untenable, since it does not tally with Sa2 17:9, "Behold, he is hid now in one of the pits, or one of the places (פּחתים are hiding-places that are strong by nature, מקומת are places rendered strong by art); and it comes to pass that he falls upon them at the first: so will men hear it, and say a defeat has taken place among the people that follow Absalom." נפל with בּ, as in Jos 11:7, to fall upon a person. The subject to נפל is David, but it is not mentioned as being evident enough from the context; so that there is no necessity for the emendation נפלו, which Thenius proposes. The suffix בּהם relates to those making the attack, the hosts of Absalom. Thenius has given the meaning correctly: "The report that David has made an attack will be sufficient to give rise to the belief that our men have sustained a severe defeat."
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 17:10
"And even if he (the hearer, Sa2 17:9) be a brave man, who has a lion's heart (lion-like courage), he will be thrown into despair; for all Israel knows that thy father is a hero, and brave men (are those) who are with him."
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 17:11
"Yea (כּי, profecto), I advise: let all Israel be gathered round thee from Dan to Beersheba (see at Jdg 20:1), numerous as the sand by the sea; and thou thyself go into the war." פניך, thy person, i.e., thou thyself be marching. The plural הלכים is used because of פניך. For בּ הלך, to enter into anything, see Kg1 19:4; Isa 45:16; Isa 46:2. קרב, war, the early translators have confounded with קרב.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 17:12
"And come we to him (if we come upon him) in one of the places where he is found, we let ourselves down upon him, as the dew falls upon the earth; and of him and all the men with him there will not be one left." נחנוּ might be a contraction of אנחנוּ, as in Gen 42:11; Exo 16:7-8, etc.: "so we upon him," equivalent to "so shall we come upon him." But if this were the meaning, we should expect עליו והינוּ. It is more correct, therefore, to take נחנוּ ekat ot as the first pers. perf. of נוּח, as the early translators have done: so do we let ourselves down upon him. (For נוּח as applied to an army encamping, see Isa 7:2, Isa 7:19; and as denoting the swarming of flies and grasshoppers, Isa 7:19 and Exo 10:14.) In Ahithophel's opinion, it would be possible with a very small army to crush David and his little band, however brave his followers might be, and in fact to annihilate them altogether.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 17:13
"And if he draw back into a city, all Israel lays ropes to that city, and we drag it to the brook, till there is not even a little stone found there." עד־הנּחל: inasmuch as fortified cities were generally built upon mountains. צרור signifies a little stone, according to the ancient versions. Hushai speaks in hyperboles of the irresistible power which the whole nation would put forth when summoned together for battle, in order to make his advice appear the more plausible.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 17:14
And he secured his end. Absalom and all Israel thought his advice better than that of Ahithophel; for it was intended to commend itself to Absalom and his supporters. "The counsel appeared safe; at the same time it was full of a certain kind of boasting, which pleased the younger men" (Clericus). All that Hushai had said about the bravery and heroism of David and his followers, was well founded. The deception lay in the assumption that all the people from Dan to Beersheba would crowd around Absalom as one man; whereas it might easily be foreseen, that after the first excitement of the revolution was over, and great calmness ensued, a large part of the nation and army would gather round David. But such a possibility as this never entered the minds of Absalom and his supporters. It was in this that the divine sentence referred to in Sa2 17:14 was seen: "The Lord had commanded (appointed) it, to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, that he might bring the evil (intended) upon Absalom."
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 17:15
David is informed of what has occurred. - Sa2 17:15, Sa2 17:16. Hushai communicated without delay to the priests Zadok and Abiathar the advice which had been given to Absalom both by Ahithophel and himself, and requested them to make it known to David as quickly as possible. "Stay not the night," he said, "by the ferries (עברות, as in Sa2 15:28) of the desert; but rather go over, lest the king and all the people with him be destroyed." וגם, "and indeed," or after a negative clause, "but rather." למּלך יבלּע is either "there will be a devouring," i.e., destruction, to the king, it will fall upon him; of if we supply the subject from the previous clause תּעבור עבור as Bttcher proposes, "that it (the crossing over) may not be swallowed up or cut off from the king." There is nothing to justify Ewald's explanation, "it (misfortune) is swallowed by him." Hushai recommended of course an immediate crossing of the Jordan; because he did not know whether Absalom would really act upon his advice, although he had expressed his approval of it, or whether he might not change his mind and follow Ahithophel's counsel.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 17:17
"Jonathan and Ahimaaz (the sons of the priests: Sa2 15:27) stood at the Rogel spring (the present well of Job or Nehemiah, at the south-east corner of Jerusalem: see at Job 15:7), and the maid-servant (of one of the high priests) went and told them (Hushai's message), and they went and told it to king David; for they durst not let themselves be seen to come into the city." They had therefore been staying at the Rogel spring outside the city. After what had taken place publicly, according to Sa2 15:24., Absalom could not be in any doubt as to the views of the high priests. Consequently their sons could not come into the city, with the intention of leaving it again directly, to inform David of the occurrences that had taken place there as he had requested (Sa2 15:28). The clause "and they went and told David" anticipates the course of the affair, according to the general plan adopted by Hebrew historians, of communicating the result at the very outset wherever they possibly could.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 17:18
"And a lad (servant) saw them, and told Absalom." Absalom had most likely set spies to watch the priests and their sons. But the two sons who had noticed the spy hurried into the house of a man at Bahurim, who had a well (or cistern that was dry at the time) in his court, and went down into the well.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 17:19
And the man's wife spread a covering (המּסך, the covering which she had close at hand) over the well (over the opening into the cistern), and scattered groats (ריפות, peeled barley: Pro 27:22) upon it, so that nothing was noticed. The Vulgate explanation is a very good one: "quasi siccans ptisanas" (as if drying peeled barley).
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 17:20
When Absalom's servants came and asked for the priest's sons, the woman said, They have gone over the little water-brook (המּים מיכל, ἁπ. λεγ.), and thus led them wrong, so that they did not find them.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 17:21
When they had gone away, the priest's sons came up out of the well and brought David the news, saying, "Go quickly over the water, for thus hath Ahithophel counselled against you;" whereupon David and all the people with him went hastily over the Jordan. "Till the morning dawn not one was missed who had not gone over." אחד עד, lit. even to one there was not any one missed.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 17:23
It is still further stated in conclusion, that when Ahithophel saw that his advice was not carried out, he saddled his ass and returned to his home, and there set his house in order and hanged himself, because he could foresee that Absalom would lose his cause through not taking his advice, and it would then be all over with himself. Thus was David's prayer (Sa2 15:31) fulfilled.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 17:24
The account of the civil war, which terminated with Absalom's defeat and death, is introduced in Sa2 17:24-26 with a description of the relative position of the two hostile parties. David had come to Mahanaim, a city probably a fortified one, on the east of the Jordan, not far from the ford of the Jabbok (see at Sa2 2:8). Absalom had also gone over the Jordan, "he and all the men with him," i.e., all the fighting men that he had gathered together according to Hushai's advice, and encamped in the land of Gilead.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 17:25
Absalom had made Amasa captain over his army instead of Joab, who had remained true to David, and had gone with his king to Mahanaim. Amasa was the son of a man named Jithra, היּשׂראלי, who had gone in to (i.e., had seduced) Abigail, the daughter of Nahash and sister of Zeruiah, Joab's mother. He was therefore an illegitimate cousin of Joab. The description given of Jithra as ישׂראלי is very striking, since there was no reason whatever why it should be stated that Amasa's father was an Israelite. The Seventy have therefore given ὁ Ἰεζραηλίτης, i.e., sprung from Jezreel, where David's wife Ahinoam came from (Sa1 27:3); but they have done so apparently from mere conjecture. The true reading is evidently היּשׁמעאלי, an Ishmaelite, according to Ch1 2:17, where the name is written Jether, a contracted form of Jithra. From the description given of Abigail as a daughter of Nahash and sister of Zeruiah, not of David, some of the earlier commentators have very justly concluded that Abigail and Zeruiah were only step-sisters of David, i.e., daughters of his mother by Nahash and not by Jesse.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 17:27
When David came to Mahanaim, some of the wealthier citizens of the land to the east of the Jordan supplied the men who were with him with provisions. This is mentioned as the first sign that the people had not all fallen away from David, but that some of the more distinguished men were still firm in their adherence. Shobi, the son of Nahash or Rabbah, the capital of the Ammonites (see Sa2 11:1), was possibly a son of Nahash the deceased king of the Ammonites, and brother of Hanun, who was defeated by David (Sa2 10:1-2), and one of those to whom David had shown favour and kindness when Rabbah was taken. At the same time, it is also quite possible that Shobi may have been an Israelite, who was merely living in the capital of the Ammonites, which had been incorporated into the kingdom of David, as it is evident from Sa2 17:25 that Nahash was not an uncommon name among the Israelites. Machir the son of Ammiel of Lodebar (see at Sa2 9:4), and Barsillai of Roglim the Gileadite. Roglim was a town in Gilead, which is only mentioned once again, viz., in Sa2 19:32, and of which nothing further is known. They brought "bedding, basins, earthenware, and wheat, barley, meal, and parched grains, beans, lentils and parched." The position of the verb, which is not placed between the subject and the object of the sentence, but only at the close of the whole series of objects, is certainly unusual; but this does not warrant any alteration of the text. For if we were to supply a verb before משׁכּב, as having fallen out of the text, it would be necessary, since הגּישׁוּ follows without a copula, to divide the things enumerated into two classes, so as to connect one portion of the objects with הגּישׁוּ, which is obviously unnatural. The early translators who interpolate a verb before the objects have therefore also supplied the copula w before הגּישׁוּ. There is still less ground for supplying the number 10, as having dropped out before משׁכּב and ספּות, as the lxx have done, since none of the translators of the other ancient versions had any such reading. משׁכּב, couch or bed, is used here for bedding. ספּות, basins, probably field-kettles. The repetition of וקלי is very striking; nevertheless the second must not be struck out without further ground as a supposed copyist's error. As they not only ate parched ears or grains of wheat (see at Lev 2:14), but were also in the habit of drying pulse, pease, and lentils before eating them (vid., Harmar, Beobachtungen, i. pp. 255-6), the second קלי may be understood as referring to parched pulse. The ἁπ. λεγ. בּקר שׁפות signifies, according to the Chaldee and the Rabbins, cheese of oxen (i.e., of cows), and according to the conjecture of Roediger (Ges. Thes. p. 1462), a peculiar kind of cheese, such as the Aeneze in the province of Nedjid still make,
(Note: According to Burckhardt's account (Die Beduinen, p. 48), "after they have taken the butter from the butter-milk, they beat the latter again till it coagulates, and then dry it till it is quite hard. It is then rubbed to pieces, and in the spring every family stores up two or three lasts of it, which they eat mixed with butter.")
and for which the term σαφὼθ βοῶν retained by the lxx was probably the technical name. Theodotus, on the other hand, has γαλαθηνὰ μοσχάρια, milch-calves; and the Vulgate pingues vitulos, - both of them renderings which can certainly be sustained from the Arabic usage of speech, and would be more in accordance with the situation of the words, viz., after צאן. אמרוּ כּי, "for they said (or thought) the people have become hungry and faint and thirty in the desert," i.e., in their flight to Mahanaim.