Ahimaaz’s Tidings

I just finished my weekly quiet time. This week, it was on II Samuel 18.

I’m not sure what to do with the character of Ahimaaz, and, quite frankly, neither are many scholars (at least the ones that I read).

The deal is this: David’s son Absalom has revolted against King David, in an attempt to gain the throne for himself. Absalom has most of Israel on his side. Well, the battle between Absalom’s men and the servants of King David ends up in the forest of Ephraim, which is more successful than David’s servants in killing Absalom’s men. (Perhaps the forest did so through its many trees, or precipaces.) Absalom gets his hair stuck in a tree, and one of David’s servants is reluctant to kill him, for David told his military leaders not to harm Absalom. David’s commander and cousin, Joab, then drives three spears into Absalom, and Joab’s ten armor-bearers finish off the job and kill him.

Ahimaaz, the son of the priest Zadok, wants to tell David that Absalom’s forces have been defeated, but Joab doesn’t think Ahimaaz should be the person to deliver the message. V 20 says this is because “the king’s son died,” and scholars debate if this is part of what Joab says to Ahimaaz, or if it’s the narrator’s voice. If it’s the former, then Ahimaaz knows that Absalom is dead. If it’s the latter, then he doesn’t. This may be significant later on.

Joab sends a Cushite (from Africa) to deliver the news to David, and off the Cushite goes. But Ahimaaz still wants to deliver the good tidings, and Joab is curious, since Ahimaaz has no “good tidings finding” (v 22). P. Kyle McCarter says this phrase refers to a reward for good tidings, since the word “besorah” (“good tidings”) seems to mean “reward” in II Samuel 4:10. Joab may be asking Ahimaaz why he wants to deliver the message, when a Cushite is already doing so, meaning Ahimaaz won’t get a reward from David for his good tidings, since somebody else is delivering them.

But Ahimaaz rushes to tell the king the good news, and he beats the Cushite there. Ahimaaz tells King David that God has executed justice against his enemies, and David then asks if anything’s happened to Absalom. Ahimaaz replies that he doesn’t know, for he’s not sure what the tumult in the camp was about. If he knows that Absalom is dead, then he’s lying. If he’s unaware of this fact, then he’s telling the truth according to his understanding.

The Cushite then arrives and joyfully declares that Absalom is dead. David then weeps for his son.

Why didn’t Joab want Ahimaaz to deliver the message? Why did Ahimaaz desire to deliver it?

In the Word Commentary on II Samuel, A.A. Anderson refers to scholars who argue that Joab was concerned David would kill Ahimaaz, since David killed messengers before who brought tidings he didn’t like (II Samuel 1:15-16; 4:8-12). But Anderson is unsure about this solution, for David killed those messengers when they claimed to kill his enemies (Saul and Ishbosheth, respectively), whom David loved.

As far as Ahimaaz’s motivation goes, Anderson thinks Ahimaaz wanted a reward. I wonder if he thinks that Ahimaaz was hoping to beat the Cushite, act like he’s unsure about what happened to Absalom, and get the reward, before the Cushite arrives and drops the bad news on David.

P. Kyle McCarter, however, is less sympathetic to Joab and heroizes Ahimaaz. For McCarter, Ahimaaz really didn’t know that Absalom had died, and he just wanted to give David the good news that David’s forces had won. He wasn’t even seeking a reward, although Joab assumed that was his motivation! But Joab thought that, if Ahimaaz found out that Absalom had died, he’d feel bad for David, and the message he delivered would sound like a bummer. Joab wanted a messenger who’d sound happy about David’s victory and Absalom’s death, so he sent the Cushite.

Then, to go to a commentator whom many modern scholars don’t consult, Matthew Henry said Joab didn’t think it was appropriate for a priest (Ahimaaz) to deliver bad news, so he sent a Cushite instead. But, according to Henry, Ahimaaz wanted to get to the king before the Cushite out of consideration for the king’s feelings: he sought to prepare David for the bad news of his son’s death by allowing the news to come in installments, rather than being dumped on David all at once.

To be honest, I think Matthew Henry’s interpretation makes the most sense. Against Anderson, why would Ahimaaz expect David to give him a reward, if it was commonly understood among David’s men that David didn’t want Absalom to be killed? The same goes for McCarter’s view: Joab thought David would receive the news of Absalom’s death better if a Cushite delivered it in an upbeat tone? That doesn’t make sense to me! But I can understand Joab being concerned about Ahimaaz, either out of a regard for his safety, or for his status as a priest. And perhaps Ahimaaz sought to prepare David for the news of his son’s death, maybe by telling him the “bright side” first. Plus, perhaps it helped that the first news David heard was from a friend of his, someone he knew: Ahimaaz. That’s better than having bad news dumped on him all at once by someone he didn’t know, the Cushite.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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