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2 Samuel 18:8 The battle spread out over the whole countryside, and the forest swallowed up more men that day than the sword.

How does a forest kill people?
In particular, how could it kill more than the battle where at least 20,000 had died?

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International Standard Version translates the verse this way:

The battle spread throughout the entire countryside, and the forest claimed more casualties that day than did the sword fighting.

https://biblehub.com/commentaries/2_samuel/18-8.htm
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

The explanation generally given is that they perished in the pits and precipices and morasses of the forest: but this seems unlikely. More probably it means that owing to the nature of the ground more were slain in the pursuit through the forest, than in the actual battle.

Pulpit expresses similar sentiments:

The woodland was difficult, full of gorges and begs and steep defiles leading down to the Jordan, and the fugitives easily lest their way in it, and wandered about till they were hopelessly entangled in thicket and morass.

In particular, 2 Samuel 18:9 describes the incident of Absalom:

9Now Absalom happened to meet David’s men. He was riding his mule, and as the mule went under the thick branches of a large oak, Absalom’s hair got caught in the tree. He was left hanging in midair, while the mule he was riding kept on going.

How does a forest kill more people than a battle?

It was due to the treacherous environment of the forest.

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  • Given that the verse immediately after 18:8 mentions Absalom getting caught up by a tree where he was easily killed, I think there's a lot of truth in this answer. Sep 19 at 14:01

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