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Antiquities of the Jews, Vol 2, The

CHAPTER 10. How, When Absalom Was Beaten, He Was Caught In A Tree By His Hair And Was Slain

1. And this was the state of David and his followers: but Absalom got together a vast army of the Hebrews to oppose his father, and passed therewith over the river Jordan, and sat down not far off Mahanaim, in the country of Gilead. He appointed Amasa to be captain of all his host, instead of Joab his kinsman: his father was Ithra and his mother Abigail: now she and Zeruiah, the mother of Joab, were David's sisters. But when David had numbered his followers, and found them to be about four thousand, he resolved not to tarry till Absalom attacked him, but set over his men captains of thousands, and captains of hundreds, and divided his army into three parts; the one part he committed to Joab, the next to Abishai, Joab's brother, and the third to Ittai, David's companion and friend, but one that came from the city Gath; and when he was desirous of fighting himself among them, his friends would not let him: and this refusal of theirs was founded upon very wise reasons: "For," said they, "if we be conquered when he is with us, we have lost all good hopes of recovering ourselves; but if we should be beaten in one part of our army, the other parts may retire to him, and may thereby prepare a greater force, while the enemy will naturally suppose that he hath another army with him." So David was pleased with this their advice, and resolved himself to tarry at Mahanaim; and as he sent his friends and commanders to the battle, he desired them to show all possible alacrity and fidelity, and to bear in mind what advantages they had received from him, which, though they had not been very great, yet had they not been quite inconsiderable; and he begged of them to spare the young man Absalom, lest some mischief should befall himself, if he should be killed; and thus did he send out his army to the battle, and wished them victory therein.

2. Then did Joab put his army in battle-array over against the enemy in the Great Plain, where he had a wood behind him. Absalom also brought his army into the field to oppose him. Upon the joining of the battle, both sides showed great actions with their hands and their boldness; the one side exposing themselves to the greatest hazards, and using their utmost alacrity, that David might recover his kingdom; and the other being no way deficient, either in doing or suffering, that Absalom might not be deprived of that kingdom, and be brought to punishment by his father for his impudent attempt against him. Those also that were the most numerous were solicitous that they might not be conquered by those few that were with Joab, and with the other commanders, because that would be the greater disgrace to them; while David's soldiers strove greatly to overcome so many ten thousands as the enemy had with them. Now David's men were conquerors, as superior in strength and skill in war; so they followed the others as they fled away through the forests and valleys; some they took prisoners, and many they slew, and more in the flight than in the battle for there fell about twenty thousand that day. But all David's men ran violently upon Absalom, for he was easily known by his beauty and tallness. He was himself also afraid lest his enemies should seize on him, so he got upon the king's mule, and fled; but as he was carried with violence, and noise, and a great motion, as being himself light, he entangled his hair greatly in the large boughs of a knotty tree that spread a great way, and there he hung, after a surprising manner; and as for the beast, it went on farther, and that swiftly, as if his master had been still upon his back; but he, hanging in the air upon the boughs, was taken by his enemies. Now when one of David's soldiers saw this, he informed Joab of it; and when the general said, that if he had shot at and killed Absalom, he would have given him fifty shekels,—he replied, "I would not have killed my master's son if thou wouldst have given me a thousand shekels, especially when he desired that the young man might be spared in the hearing of us all." But Joab bade him show him where it was that he saw Absalom hang; whereupon he shot him to the heart, and slew him, and Joab's armor-bearers stood round the tree, and pulled down his dead body, and cast it into a great chasm that was out of sight, and laid a heap of stones upon him, till the cavity was filled up, and had both the appearance and the bigness of a grave. Then Joab sounded a retreat, and recalled his own soldiers from pursuing the enemy's army, in order to spare their countrymen.

3. Now Absalom had erected for himself a marble pillar in the king's dale, two furlongs distant from Jerusalem, which he named Absalom's Hand, saying, that if his children were killed, his name would remain by that pillar; for he had three sons and one daughter, named Tamar, as we said before, who when she was married to David's grandson, Rehoboam, bare a son, Abijah by name, who succeeded his father in the kingdom; but of these we shall speak in a part of our history which will be more proper. After the death of Absalom, they returned every one to their own homes respectively.

4. But now Ahimaaz, the son of Zadok the high priest, went to Joab, and desired he would permit him to go and tell David of this victory, and to bring him the good news that God had afforded his assistance and his providence to him. However, he did not grant his request, but said to him, "Wilt thou, who hast always been the messenger of good news, now go and acquaint the king that his son is dead?" So he desired him to desist. He then called Cushi, and committed the business to him, that he should tell the king what he had seen. But when Ahimaaz again desired him to let him go as a messenger, and assured him that he would only relate what concerned the victory, but not concerning the death of Absalom, he gave him leave to go to David. Now he took a nearer road than the former did, for nobody knew it but himself, and he came before Cushi. Now as David was sitting between the gates, 18 and waiting to see when somebody would come to him from the battle, and tell him how it went, one of the watchmen saw Ahimaaz running, and before he could discern who he was, he told David that he saw somebody coming to him, who said he was a good messenger. A little while after, he informed him that another messenger followed him; whereupon the king said that he also was a good messenger: but when the watchman saw Ahimaaz, and that he was already very near, he gave the king notice that it was the son of Zadok the high priest who came running. So David was very glad, and said he was a messenger of good tidings, and brought him some such news from the battle as he desired to hear.

5. While the king was saying thus, Ahimaaz appeared, and worshipped the king. And when the king inquired of him about the battle, he said he brought him the good news of victory and dominion. And when he inquired what he had to say concerning his son, he said that he came away on the sudden as soon as the enemy was defeated, but that he heard a great noise of those that pursued Absalom, and that he could learn no more, because of the haste he made when Joab sent him to inform him of the victory. But when Cushi was come, and had worshipped him, and informed him of the victory, he asked him about his son, who replied, "May the like misfortune befall thine enemies as hath befallen Absalom." That word did not permit either himself or his soldiers to rejoice for the victory, though it was a very great one; but David went up to the highest part of the city, 19 and wept for his son, and beat his breast, tearing [the hair of] his head, tormenting himself all manner of ways, and crying out, "O my son! I wish that I had died myself, and ended my days with thee!" for he was of a tender natural affection, and had extraordinary compassion for this son in particular. But when the army and Joab heard that the king mourned for his son, they were ashamed to enter the city in the habit of conquerors, but they all came in as cast down, and in tears, as if they had been beaten. Now while the king covered himself, and grievously lamented his son, Joab went in to him, and comforted him, and said, "O my lord the king, thou art not aware that thou layest a blot on thyself by what thou now doest; for thou seemest to hate those that love thee, and undergo dangers for thee nay, to hate thyself and thy family, and to love those that are thy bitter enemies, and to desire the company of those that are no more, and who have been justly slain; for had Absalom gotten the victory, and firmly settled himself in the kingdom, there had been none of us left alive, but all of us, beginning with thyself and thy children, had miserably perished, while our enemies had not wept for his, but rejoiced over us, and punished even those that pitied us in our misfortunes; and thou art not ashamed to do this in the case of one that has been thy bitter enemy, who, while he was thine own son hath proved so wicked to thee. Leave off, therefore, thy unreasonable grief, and come abroad and be seen of thy soldiers, and return them thanks for the alacrity they showed in the fight; for I myself will this day persuade the people to leave thee, and to give the kingdom to another, if thou continuest to do thus; and then I shall make thee to grieve bitterly and in earnest." Upon Joab's speaking thus to him, he made the king leave off his sorrow, and brought him to the consideration of his affairs. So David changed his habit, and exposed himself in a manner fit to be seen by the multitude, and sat at the gates; whereupon all the people heard of it, and ran together to him, and saluted him. And this was the present state of David's affairs.

CHAPTER 11. How David, When He Had Recovered His Kingdom, Was Reconciled To Shimei, And To Ziba; And Showed A Great Affection To Barzillai; And How, Upon The Rise Of A Sedition, He Made Amasa Captain Of His Host, In Order To Pursue Seba; Which Amasa Was Slain By Joab.

1. Now those Hebrews that had been With Absalom, and had retired out of the battle, when they were all returned home, sent messengers to every city to put them in mind of what benefits David had bestowed upon them, and of that liberty which he had procured them, by delivering them from many and great wars. But they complained, that whereas they had ejected him out of his kingdom, and committed it to another governor, which other governor, whom they had set up, was already dead, they did not now beseech David to leave off his anger at them, and to become friends with them, and, as he used to do, to resume the care of their affairs, and take the kingdom again. This was often told to David. And, this notwithstanding, David sent to Zadok and Abiathar the high priests, that they should speak to the rulers of the tribe of Judah after the manner following: That it would be a reproach upon them to permit the other tribes to choose David for their king before their tribe, "and this," said he, "while you are akin to him, and of the same common blood." He commanded them also to say the same to Amasa the captain of their forces, That whereas he was his sister's son, he had not persuaded the multitude to restore the kingdom to David; that he might expect from him not only a reconciliation, for that was already granted, but that supreme command of the army also which Absalom had bestowed upon him. Accordingly the high priests, when they had discoursed with the rulers of the tribe, and said what the king had ordered them, persuaded Amasa to undertake the care of his affairs. So he persuaded that tribe to send immediately ambassadors to him, to beseech him to return to his own kingdom. The same did all the Israelites, at the like persuasion of Amasa.

2. When the ambassadors came to him, he came to Jerusalem; and the tribe of Judah was the first that came to meet the king at the river Jordan. And Shimei, the son of Gera, came with a thousand men, which he brought with him out of the tribe of Benjamin; and Ziba, the freed-man of Saul, with his sons, fifteen in number, and with his twenty servants. All these, as well as the tribe of Judah, laid a bridge [of boats] over the river, that the king, and those that were with him, might with ease pass over it. Now as soon as he was come to Jordan, the tribe of Judah saluted him. Shimei also came upon the bridge, and took hold of his feet, and prayed him to forgive him what he had offended, and not to be too bitter against him, nor to think fit to make him the first example of severity under his new authority; but to consider that he had repented of his failure of duty, and had taken care to come first of all to him. While he was thus entreating the king, and moving him to compassion, Abishai, Joab's brother, said, "And shall not this man die for this, that he hath cursed that king whom God hath appointed to reign over us?" But David turned himself to him, and said, "Will you never leave off, ye sons of Zeruiah? Do not you, I pray, raise new troubles and seditions among us, now the former are over; for I would not have you ignorant that I this day begin my reign, and therefore swear to remit to all offenders their punishments, and not to animadvert on any one that has sinned. Be thou, therefore," said he, "O Shimei, of good courage, and do not at all fear being put to death." So he worshipped him, and went on before him.

3. Mephibosheth also, Saul's grandson, met David, clothed in a sordid garment, and having his hair thick and neglected; for after David was fled away, he was in such grief that he had not polled his head, nor had he washed his clothes, as dooming himself to undergo such hardships upon occasion of the change-of the king's affairs. Now he had been unjustly calumniated to the king by Ziba, his steward. When he had saluted the king, and worshipped him, the king began to ask him why he did not go out of Jerusalem with him, and accompany him during his flight. He replied, that this piece of injustice was owing to Ziba; because, when he was ordered to get things ready for his going out with him, he took no care of it, but regarded him no more than if he had been a slave; "and, indeed, had I had my feet sound and strong, I had not deserted thee, for I could then have made use of them in my flight: but this is not all the injury that Ziba has done me, as to my duty to thee, my lord and master, but he hath calumniated me besides, and told lies about me of his own invention; but I know thy mind will not admit of such calumnies, but is righteously disposed, and a lover of truth, which it is also the will of God should prevail. For when thou wast in the greatest danger of suffering by my grandfather, and when, on that account, our whole family might justly have been destroyed, thou wast moderate and merciful, and didst then especially forget all those injuries, when, if thou hadst remembered them, thou hadst the power of punishing us for them; but thou hast judged me to be thy friend, and hast set me every day at thine own table; nor have I wanted any thing which one of thine own kinsmen, of greatest esteem with thee, could have expected." When he had said this, David resolved neither to punish Mephibosheth, nor to condemn Ziba, as having belied his master; but said to him, that as he had [before] granted all his estate to Ziba, because he did not come along with him, so he [now] promised to forgive him, and ordered that the one half of his estate should be restored to him. 20 Whereupon Mephibosheth said, "Nay, let Ziba take all; it suffices me that thou hast recovered thy kingdom."

4. But David desired Barzillai the Gileadite, that great and good man, and one that had made a plentiful provision for him at Mahanaim, and had conducted him as far as Jordan, to accompany him to Jerusalem, for he promised to treat him in his old age with all manner of respect—to take care of him, and provide for him. But Barzillai was so desirous to live at home, that he entreated him to excuse him from attendance on him; and said that his age was too great to enjoy the pleasures [of a court,] since he was fourscore years old, and was therefore making provision for his death and burial: so he desired him to gratify him in this request, and dismiss him; for he had no relish of his meat, or his drink, by reason of his age; and that his ears were too much shut up to hear the sound of pipes, or the melody of other musical instruments, such as all those that live with kings delight in. When he entreated for this so earnestly, the king said, "I dismiss thee, but thou shalt grant me thy son Chimham, and upon him I will bestow all sorts of good things." So Barzillai left his son with him, and worshipped the king, and wished him a prosperous conclusion of all his affairs according to his own mind, and then returned home; but David came to Gilgal, having about him half the people [of Israel], and the [whole] tribe of Judah.

5. Now the principal men of the country came to Gilgal to him with a great multitude, and complained of the tribe of Judah, that they had come to him in a private manner; whereas they ought all conjointly, and with one and the same intention, to have given him the meeting. But the rulers of the tribe of Judah desired them not to be displeased, if they had been prevented by them; for, said they, "We are David's kinsmen, and on that account we the rather took care of him, and loved him, and so came first to him;" yet had they not, by their early coming, received any gifts from him, which might give them who came last any uneasiness. When the rulers of the tribe of Judah had said this, the rulers of the other tribes were not quiet, but said further, "O brethren, we cannot but wonder at you when you call the king your kinsman alone, whereas he that hath received from God the power over all of us in common ought to be esteemed a kinsman to us all; for which reason the whole people have eleven parts in him, and you but one part 21 we are also elder than you; wherefore you have not done justly in coming to the king in this private and concealed manner."

6. While these rulers were thus disputing one with another, a certain wicked man, who took a pleasure in seditious practices, [his name was Sheba, the son of Bichri, of the tribe of Benjamin,] stood up in the midst of the multitude, and cried aloud, and spake thus to them: "We have no part in David, nor inheritance in the son of Jesse." And when he had used those words, he blew with a trumpet, and declared war against the king; and they all left David, and followed him; the tribe of Judah alone staid with him, and settled him in his royal palace at Jerusalem. But as for his concubines, with whom Absalom his son had accompanied, truly he removed them to another house, and ordered those that had the care of them to make a plentiful provision for them, but he came not near them any more. He also appointed Amass for the captain of his forces, and gave him the same high office which Joab before had; and he commanded him to gather together, out of the tribe of Judah, as great an army as he could, and come to him within three days, that he might deliver to him his entire army, and might send him to fight against [Sheba] the son of Bichri. Now while Amass was gone out, and made some delay in gathering the army together, and so was not yet returned, on the third day the king said to Joab, "It is not fit we should make any delay in this affair of Sheba, lest he get a numerous army about him, and be the occasion of greater mischief, and hurt our affairs more than did Absalom himself; do not thou therefore wait any longer, but take such forces as thou hast at hand, and that [old] body of six hundred men, and thy brother Abishai, with thee, and pursue after our enemy, and endeavor to fight him wheresoever thou canst overtake him. Make haste to prevent him, lest he seize upon some fenced cities, and cause us great labor and pains before we take him."

7. So Joab resolved to make no delay, but taking with him his brother, and those six hundred men, and giving orders that the rest of the army which was at Jerusalem should follow him, he marched with great speed against Sheba; and when he was come to Gibeon, which is a village forty furlongs distant from Jerusalem, Amasa brought a great army with him, and met Joab. Now Joab was girded with a sword, and his breastplate on; and when Amasa came near him to salute him, he took particular care that his sword should fall out, as it were, of its own accord: so he took it up from the ground, and while he approached Amasa, who was then near him, as though he would kiss him, he took hold of Amasa's beard with his other hand, and he smote him in his belly when he did not foresee it, and slew him. This impious and altogether profane action Joab did to a good young man, and his kinsman, and one that had done him no injury, and this out of jealousy that he would obtain the chief command of the army, and be in equal dignity with himself about the king; and for the same cause it was that he killed Abner. But as to that former wicked action, the death of his brother Asahel, which he seemed to revenge, afforded him a decent pretense, and made that crime a pardonable one; but in this murder of Amasa there was no such covering for it. Now when Joab had killed this general, he pursued after Sheba, having left a man with the dead body, who was ordered to proclaim aloud to the army, that Amasa was justly slain, and deservedly punished. "But," said he, "if you be for the king, follow Joab his general, and Abishai, Joab's brother:" but because the body lay on the road, and all the multitude came running to it, and, as is usual with the multitude, stood wondering a great while at it, he that guarded it removed it thence, and carried it to a certain place that was very remote from the road, and there laid it, and covered it with his garment. When this was done, all the people followed Joab. Now as he pursued Sheba through all the country of Israel, one told him that he was in a strong city, called Abelbeth-maachah. Hereupon Joab went thither, and set about it with his army, and cast up a bank round it, and ordered his soldiers to undermine the walls, and to overthrow them; and since the people in the city did not admit him, he was greatly displeased at them.

8. Now there was a woman of small account, and yet both wise and intelligent, who seeing her native city lying at the last extremity, ascended upon the wall, and, by means of the armed men, called for Joab; and when he came to her, she began to say, That "God ordained kings and generals of armies, that they might cut off the enemies of the Hebrews, and introduce a universal peace among them; but thou art endeavoring to overthrow and depopulate a metropolis of the Israelites, which hath been guilty of no offense." But he replied, "God continue to be merciful unto me: I am disposed to avoid killing any one of the people, much less would I destroy such a city as this; and if they will deliver me up Sheba, the son of Bichri, who hath rebelled against the king, I will leave off the siege, and withdraw the army from the place." Now as soon as the woman heard what Joab said, she desired him to intermit the siege for a little while, for that he should have the head of his enemy thrown out to him presently. So she went down to the citizens, and said to them, "Will you be so wicked as to perish miserably, with your children and wives, for the sake of a vile fellow, and one whom nobody knows who he is? And will you have him for your king instead of David, who hath been so great a benefactor to you, and oppose your city alone to such a mighty and strong army?" So she prevailed with them, and they cut off the head of Sheba, and threw it into Joab's army. When this was done, the king's general sounded a retreat, and raised the siege. And when he was come to Jerusalem, he was again appointed to be general of all the people. The king also constituted Benaiah captain of the guards, and of the six hundred men. He also set Adoram over the tribute, and Sabathes and Achilaus over the records. He made Sheva the scribe, and appointed Zadok and Abiathar the high priests.


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