David, in the midst of his triumphs, has here the affliction to see his kingdom disturbed and his family disgraced.
I. His subjects revolting from him at the instigation of a man of Belial, whom they followed when they forsook the man after God’s own heart. Observe, 1. That this happened immediately upon the crushing of Absalom’s rebellion. We must not think it strange, while we are in this world, if the end of one trouble be the beginning of another: deep sometimes calls unto deep. 2. That the people were now just returning to their allegiance, when, of a sudden, they flew off from it. When a reconciliation is newly made, it ought to be handled with great tenderness and caution, lest the peace break again before it be settled. A broken bone, when it is set, must have time to knot. 3. That the ring-leader of this rebellion was Sheba, a Benjamite by birth (2 Sam. 20:1), who had his habitation in Mount Ephraim, 2 Sam. 20:21. Shimei and he were both of Saul’s tribe, and both retained the ancient grudge of that house. Against the kingdom of the Messiah there is an hereditary enmity in the serpent’s seed, and a succession of attempts to overthrow it (Ps. 2:1, 2); but he that sits in heaven laughs at them all. 4. That the occasion of it was that foolish quarrel, which we read of in the close of the foregoing chapter, between the elders of Israel and the elders of Judah, about bringing the king back. It was a point of honour that was disputed between them, which had most interest in David. “We are more numerous,” say the elders of Israel. “We are nearer akin to him,” say the elders of Judah. Now one would think David very safe and happy when his subjects are striving which shall love him best, and be most forward to show him respect; yet even that strife proves the occasion of a rebellion. The men of Israel complained to David of the slight which the men of Judah had put upon them. If he had now countenanced their complaint, commended their zeal, and returned them thanks for it, he might have confirmed them in his interest; but he seemed partial to his own tribe: Their words prevailed above the words of the men of Israel; as some read the last words of the foregoing chapter. David inclined to justify them, and, when the men of Israel perceived this, they flew off with indignation. “If the king will suffer himself to be engrossed by the men of Judah, let him and them make their best of one another, and we will set up one for ourselves. We thought we had ten parts in David, but such an interest will not be allowed us; the men of Judah tell us, in effect, we have no part in him, and therefore we will have none, nor will we attend him any further in his return to Jerusalem, nor own him for our king.” This was proclaimed by Sheba (2 Sam. 20:1), who probably was a man of note, and had been active in Absalom’s rebellion; the disgusted Israelites took the hint, and went up from after David to follow Sheba (2 Sam. 20:2), that is, the generality of them did so, only the men of Judah adhered to him. Learn hence, (1.) That it is as impolitic for princes to be partial in their attentions to their subjects as it is for parents to be so to their children; both should carry it with an even hand. (2.) Those know not what they do that make light of the affections of their inferiors, by not countenancing and accepting it. Their hatred may be feared whose love is despised. (3.) The beginning of strife is as the letting forth of water; it is therefore wisdom to leave it off before it be meddled with, Prov. 17:14. How great a matter doth a little of this fire kindle! (4.) The perverting of words is the subverting of peace; and much mischief is made by forcing invidious constructions upon what is said and written and drawing consequences that were never intended. The men of Judah said, The king is near of kin to us. “By this,” say the men of Israel, “you mean that we have no part in him;” whereas they meant no such thing. (5.) People are very apt to run into extremes. We have ten parts in David, said they; and, almost in the next breath, We have no part in him. Today Hosanna, to-morrow Crucify.
II. His concubines imprisoned for life, and he himself under a necessity of putting them in confinement, because they had been defiled by Absalom, 2 Sam. 20:3. David had multiplied wives, contrary to the law and they proved a grief and shame to him. Those whom he had sinfully taken pleasure in he was now, 1. Obliged, in duty, to put away, they being rendered unclean to him by the vile uncleanness his son had committed with them. Those whom he had loved must now be loathed. 2. Obliged, in prudence, to shut up in privacy, not to be seen abroad for shame, lest the sight of them should give occasion to people to speak of what Absalom had done to them, which ought not to be so much as named, 1 Cor. 5:1. That that villany might be buried in obscurity. 3. Obliged, in justice to shut up in prison, to punish them for their easy submission to Absalom’s lust, despairing perhaps of David’s return, and giving him up for gone. Let none expect to do ill and fare well.