Shmuel 2-Chapter 18: The battle of Dovid and Avshalom

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Chapter 18: The battle of Dovid and Avshalom

1. Dovid prepares his men for battle against the men of Avshalom:

  • Generals are appointed: Dovid counted the men that were with him, the generals that were in charge of thousands and the generals that were in charge of hundreds.
  • The Army is split in three: Dovid split his army into three. One third he sent to be under Yoav, the other third he sent to be under Avishaiy the son of Tzeruyah who was the brother of Yoav, and the last third he sent to be under Itai the Giti.

2. Dovid offers to lead the battle but is refused by the nation:

  • The king told the people that he too will go out with them in battle. However, the people responded to the king saying, “It is better for you not to go out with us to battle, as if we lose the battle and need to flee, the moral loss will not be that great and they will not pride themselves so much over it. Even if half of us die in battle they will still not have much reason for pride. You however are worth 10,000 soldiers, and it is better that you remain in the city to pray for us and help us from there.”
  • The king responded to them that he will do whatever is good in their eyes. So the king stood by the gate of the city while the entire nation of hundreds and thousands went out to battle.

3. Dovid gives instructions to capture his son Avshalom and not kill him:

  • The king instructed Yoav and Avishaiy and Itai [who were his generals, the heads of his army] that they are to make sure to act patiently with Avshalom [i.e. capture Avshalom alive and not kill him nor harm him]. The entire nation heard this command from the king towards his generals regarding Avshalom.

4. The battle between the soldiers of Dovid and Avshalom:

  • The soldiers of Dovid went into the field to battle the people of Israel and the war took place [across the Jordon] in the forest of Efraim [where the animals of Efraim grazed[1]]. The soldiers of Israel fled from before the servants of Dovid and it was a great atrocity, as 20,000 soldiers were killed in the battle. There was battle everywhere throughout the land and there were so many deaths to the point that there were not enough animals in the forest to eat the corpses of the dead.

5. Avshalom is found and killed and buried:

  • Avshalom hangs by his hair from a tree: Avshalom was coming towards the servants of Dovid while riding on a mule. Now, as the mule was galloping under a large Alah tree, the hair of Avshalom got stuck to one of the branches of the tree and he was hanging between heaven and earth while the mule continued with its journey and passed from under him.
  • Yoav is informed of the predicament of Avshalom and seeks his death: A certain man had witnessed this and saw Avshalom stuck on the tree and he went and told Yoav of what happened with Avshalom and that he is hanging from a tree. Yoav responded to the man who informed him of this by saying, “If you have seen this happen to him, then why didn’t you kill him and I would have compensated you with much monetary reward in exchange, in addition to giving you a belt.” The man responded to Yoav saying, “Even if I were to weigh the money in my own hands, I could not send my hand against the son of the king, as we all heard the king instruct both you and Avishaiy and Itaiy not to harm his son Avshalom and to sit and guard him. How could I be able to act in a deceitful way and kill him when certainly the king would discover this and then punish me, while you would sit opposite him and not come to my aid.” Yoav then responded to him saying, “Never mind that I asked you, I will go and do it myself.”
  • Avshalom is killed: Yoav took three spares in his hand and he stabbed Avshalom with it three times into his heart, while he was still alive hanging from the tree. [He stabbed him so hard that his body became attached to the tree and was stabbed into it.[2]] Ten lads who were the weapon carriers of Yoav surrounded the area and they smote Avshalom and killed him.
  • Yoav gathers the nation and proclaims victory: Yoav blew the shofar and called all his soldiers to return from chasing after members of the Jewish army loyal to Avshalom, as he felt the victory was already achieved and there is no more need for the loss of more lives in the war.
  • Avshalom is buried: They took the body of Avshalom and threw it into a large pit that was in the forest, and buried him under a very large mound of stones. All the Jewish people who were on the side of Avshalom then fled back to their homes.
  • The hand monument of Avshalom: In the past, prior to the war, Avshalom made for himself a monument in the king’s Valley in order to commemorate himself, being that he did not have any sons to continue his reign. He named that monument after himself and indeed it is called “Yad Avshalom” until this very day.

6. Messengers are sent to inform Dovid of the news of the victory of war and of his son’s death:

  • Achimatz is stopped by Yoav from informing Dovid: Achimatz, the son of Tzadok, requested to hurry and travel towards the king and inform him of the good news that G-d has judged him favorably from his enemies. However, Yoav prevented him from doing so saying that he should not go today to inform Dovid being that his son has died, and rather he should inform him on another day [of a different good tiding]. [Yoav knew that whoever tells the king bad news ends up getting punished, and since he had mercy on Achimatz he told him he should not give this message to Dovid at all which entailed informing him of his son’s death, not today and not on any day, and rather he should wait for good news to come a different time and he will then be the messenger to tell him.[3]]
  • Yoav sends a black individual to inform the king: Yoav said to the Kushy, “Go tell the king what you have seen [of the victory of the battle and the death of his son].” So the Kushy prostrated himself to Yoav and he hurriedly went to tell Dovid.
  • Achimatz is given permission to run and also inform Dovid: When Achimatz, the son of Tzadok, saw that the Kushy was sent to inform Dovid he implored upon Yoav to also send him to run behind the Kushy. Yoav at first denied his request and told him, “Why should you run my son? For you this is not news that you should be bringing [as you will not be rewarded for doing so and it will be to your detriment to inform Dovid that his son has died[4]].” However, Achimatz insisted that he be allowed to go and stated that he does not mind if he does not get rewarded for what he will be informing Dovid and he accepts upon himself whatever will happen. So, in the end Yoav acquiesced to allow him to run to tell Dovid.
  • The race to be the first to inform Dovid of the news: Achimatz ran through a path which was a shortcut and he passed the Kushy.

7. Dovid is informed of the news by the two messengers:

  • The watch guard sees two people coming towards him: Dovid was sitting between the two gates[5] and the watch guard ascended to the roof of the gate towards the wall, and concentrated his eyes on far and saw a man running alone towards them. The watch guard immediately informed the king of the incoming individual. The king told him that if he is coming by himself, it is a sign that he has some news to inform them. As the individual was coming closer, the watch guard saw another individual running after him, and so the guard announced to the gatekeeper that another man is running alone. The king replied that he too is coming to give us news. The watch guard then said that from the running of the first man it seems to be that he is Achimatz the son of Tzadok. The king replied that indeed he is a good man and he has come to give us good news.
  • Achimatz delivers the message to the king that his army has been victorious: Achimatz called out and said to the king, “peace unto you,” and he then prostrated himself before the King placing his face to the ground. He then told him, “Blessed be Hashem your G-d who has handed into your hands [and annihilated the threat of] those who rose against my master the king.” The king then asked him, “Is the lad Avshalom found in peace?” Achimatz answered him, “I had seen a great commotion of people going on and Yoav then immediately sent the servant of the king [i.e. the Kushi] as well as myself to go towards you and hence I do not know what happened.” The king then told him to step aside [and wait to see what the other messenger has to say] and so Achimatz stood by the side.
  • The Kushi informs the king of his son’s death: The Kushi then arrived and informed the king, “Let my master the king be informed that today G-d has judged you favorably and saved you from all those who come up against you.” The king then proceeded to ask the Kushi as to the state of peace of his son Avshalom. The Kushi replied, “as happened to all of my master’s, the king’s, enemies who came up against him to do evil, so too happened to the lad [i.e. he was killed in battle].”


[1] Rashi 18:6

[2] Radak 18:14

[3] See Rashi and all Mefarshim on 18:20

[4] See Ralbag and other Mefarshim on 18:22

[5] The city was surrounded by two walls and two gates and Dovid was sitting between the two gates where there was an area set up to sit. [Radak and Metzudos David 18:24]

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