II Samuel 18:19-33
19 Now Ahimaaz son of Zadok said, “Let me run and take the news to the king that the Lord has vindicated him by delivering him from the hand of his enemies.” 20 “You are not the one to take the news today,” Joab told him. “You may take the news another time, but you must not do so today, because the king’s son is dead.” 21 Then Joab said to a Cushite, “Go, tell the king what you have seen.” The Cushite bowed down before Joab and ran off. 22 Ahimaaz son of Zadok again said to Joab, “Come what may, please let me run behind the Cushite.” But Joab replied, “My son, why do you want to go? You don’t have any news that will bring you a reward.” 23 He said, “Come what may, I want to run.” So Joab said, “Run!” Then Ahimaaz ran by way of the plain and outran the Cushite. 24 While David was sitting between the inner and outer gates, the watchman went up to the roof of the gateway by the wall. As he looked out, he saw a man running alone. 25 The watchman called out to the king and reported it. The king said, “If he is alone, he must have good news.” And the runner came closer and closer. 26 Then the watchman saw another runner, and he called down to the gatekeeper, “Look, another man running alone!” The king said, “He must be bringing good news, too.” 27 The watchman said, “It seems to me that the first one runs like Ahimaaz son of Zadok.” “He’s a good man,” the king said. “He comes with good news.” 28 Then Ahimaaz called out to the king, “All is well!” He bowed down before the king with his face to the ground and said, “Praise be to the Lord your God! He has delivered up those who lifted their hands against my lord the king.” 29 The king asked, “Is the young man Absalom safe?” Ahimaaz answered, “I saw great confusion just as Joab was about to send the king’s servant and me, your servant, but I don’t know what it was.” 30 The king said, “Stand aside and wait here.” So he stepped aside and stood there. 31 Then the Cushite arrived and said, “My lord the king, hear the good news! The Lord has vindicated you today by delivering you from the hand of all who rose up against you.” 32 The king asked the Cushite, “Is the young man Absalom safe?” The Cushite replied, “May the enemies of my lord the king and all who rise up to harm you be like that young man.” 33 The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!”
Two men were eventually sent with messages; one was prepared with the news the king needed and for which he waited. The other was not prepared; did not have specific news for the king. Today some preachers prepare their messages well with good study of the Scriptures and with prayer for God’s anointing on the messages they bring to their congregations. Sunday after Sunday their congregations hear a message they need to hear, rich, interesting, practical, applicable and Bible-based. Unfortunately, other pastors are not so well prepared and some of them try to compensate for their lack of good content with just a louder voice. The people who come to our meetings to hear from God deserve the very best we can prepare for them.
1. Two Messengers Run 19-23
Absalom was dead and the news must be sent to David who had stayed behind at the city of Mahanaim, some miles from the forest of Ephraim—the scene of the battle. Absalom’s men were traveling in the opposite direction away from Mahanaim and back to their homes so none of them would be passing by Mahanaim where David waited for news. Ahimaaz had recently brought the important message from Hushai in Jerusalem to the king. He wanted to take another message to the king so he heartily volunteered for the task. Joab knew it would not be a pleasant message for David to receive and so wanted to spare Ahimaaz the burden of this unpleasant task. Verses 19-20 say, “ Now Ahimaaz son of Zadok said, ‘Let me run and take the news to the king that the Lord has vindicated him by delivering him from the hand of his enemies.’ ‘You are not the one to take the news today,’ Joab told him. ‘You may take the news another time, but you must not do so today, because the king’s son is dead.’” Ahimaaz wanted the job, not for a reward—he was more noble than that—but that he might have the satisfaction of bringing the king he loved this good news of victory. However, Joab knew David better than Ahimaaz did, and knew that the news of Absalom’s death would grieve the king. Joab loved—or respected—Ahimaaz too much to let him be the messenger of sad news. This message would better be delivered by a Cushite than an Israeli priest. So Joab denied Ahimaaz’ request.
Joab ordered a Cushite to carry the tidings. He was a Cushite—an Ethiopian—and was probably a black man who served Joab. Think about this. Possibly David had a reputation for killing messengers who brought him word of an enemy of his being killed. David had the Amalekite killed who said he had killed Saul and who delivered the news that Saul was dead. He had the two men killed who reported to him that they had killed Ishbosheth. In those cases the messenger claimed to have done the killing of David’s enemy. We do not know if the Cushite was one of the ten who killed Absalom at Joab’s command or not. But, at any rate, delivering this kind of news to David that his enemy was dead was an unpleasant if not dangerous task in David’s day. But a messenger is a messenger and the Cushite did what Joab told him to do.
Verse 21 says “Then Joab said to a Cushite, ‘Go, tell the king what you have seen.’ The Cushite bowed down before Joab and ran off”.
Ahimaaz, the young priest was still very eager to be the messenger. So he pled for the opportunity to run with a message. Verses 22-23 say, “Ahimaaz son of Zadok again said to Joab, ‘Come what may, please let me run behind the Cushite.’ But Joab replied, ‘My son, why do you want to go? You don’t have any news that will bring you a reward.’ He said, ‘Come what may, I want to run.’ So Joab said, ‘Run!’ Then Ahimaaz ran by way of the plain and outran the Cushite.” Why was he so eager to carry the message when someone else had already be assigned to do it? Was it an opportunity to show his running skill? After all, he planned to run a longer route, but still run it faster—and he was successful, since he arrived first. If so, he should have known that just to be a good runner did not make one a good priest. Jeremiah 9:23 says, “Let not . . . the strong man boast of their strength.” There is no great honor for a priest to be able to run fast. Could it be that young Ahimaaz was proud of the wrong thing? Or was he too eager for appreciation from the king whom he rightly loved? In that case, he should evaluate whether he wanted praise from men or acceptance from God. Did he intend to give a vague report in order to prepare the king for the sad news he was yet to receive? Whatever the reason, the priest Ahimaaz had no specific message for the king.
He represents the eager messenger of today who fails to take the time to get his message ready. If preachers do not dig deep into the Scriptures, and they only deliver shallow sermons, the people who hear these sermons will not have a faith well-grounded on the solid teachings of the Bible. Those diamonds and that gold must be wrestled out of the text through sincere study and earnest prayer. There are many good messages in the Bible which God’s messengers can find and deliver to God’s people, but it takes time and thought to prepare them.
2. An Obscure Message 24-30
Ahimaaz was the first to arrive though both are seen by the same watchman on the gate of Mahanaim. Verses 24-25 say, “While David was sitting between the inner and outer gates, the watchman went up to the roof of the gateway by the wall. As he looked out, he saw a man running alone. The watchman called out to the king and reported it. The king said, ‘If he is alone, he must have good news.’ And the runner came closer and closer.” Though the Cushite started first and had the lead, Ahimaaz soon outran him and arrived first. Verses 26-27 say “Then the watchman saw another runner, and he called down to the gatekeeper, ‘Look, another man running alone!’ The king said, ‘He must be bringing good news too.’ The watchman said, ‘It seems to me that the first one runs like Ahimaaz son of Zadok.’ ‘He’s a good man,’ the king said. ‘He comes with good news.’” When David learned that the first runner was Ahimaaz, son of Zadok and a good man, he wrongly thinks that a good man will have a good message—that a kind man will have a kind message. He failed to realize that a good man will deliver a true message—whether it tingles the ears or is pleasant to hear or not. Accurate messages are infinitely better—more important—than nice messages. Wise people know this and the wise sheep in our churches comprehend this and want the truth. Let us lovingly tell them what they need to hear rather that what we think they want to hear.
When the king heard of one running alone he concluded he has a message. If it were a crowd they could have been retreating. Since one man is running alone he must have a message. Not bad reasoning. Ahimaaz apparently was so well-known for his running that he could be identified even at a distance. Good men do not always deliver a good message, but good messages are better when they are delivered by good men. Especially, when the messengers are men and women of God, the truth of their good message is supported, emphasized, illustrated and demonstrated by their good lives. How you live is a large part of what you are communicating.
Ahimaaz is happy to announce the victory. Verse 28 says, “Then Ahimaaz called out to the king, ‘All is well!’ He bowed down before the king with his face to the ground and said, ‘Praise be to the Lord your God! He has delivered up those who lifted their hands against my lord the king.’” All is not well, but Ahimaaz says it is. He was insensitive to the sentiment and feelings of his audience, the king. He very much wanted to give a sweet message and did, but it would later turn bitter because it was not complete.
True is better than sweet. This was to say, ‘O king! the danger is past, we may return whenever you want to Jerusalem,’ and further said, “Praise be to the Lord.” In a few moments, as David ascended the stairs weeping openly and deeply for his deceased and beloved son, Absalom, he was not praising the Lord. I hope you will try to understand with me that the celebrate flavor of the message of Ahimaaz was incongruent—it did not fit the occasion; it did not fit David. We are to weep with those that weep, but Ahimaaz did not know David well enough to understand the disappointment David was about to experience.
Poor David is such a loving father in the extreme that he forgot he was also a king. Eli’s heart trembled for the ark and when he heard it had been captured he fell backwards broke his neck and died. David’s heart trembled for his son, Absalom. Ahimaaz soon discerned, what Joab had hinted to him, that the death of the king’s son would make the news of the battle very unpleasant. Verse 29 says “The king asked, ‘Is the young man Absalom safe?’ Ahimaaz answered, ‘I saw great confusion just as Joab was about to send the king’s servant and me, your servant, but I don’t know what it was.’”
We do not know what else Ahimaaz said. Perhaps something like, ‘the Cushite is better able to answer that than I am. I will not be the messenger of bad news. I do not know.’ But we do know what the king said, to this ill-prepared, well-intended but uninformed would-be messenger. Verse 30 says, “The king said, ‘Stand aside and wait here.’ So he stepped aside and stood there.” Ahimaaz was a good man with a good heart, but would he not have felt some embarrassment as he was asked to stand aside? The Cushite then arrived before the king and the king received a true and clear message.
Before we leave the subject of Ahimaaz, let’s observe how David’s words are representative. They are representative of the spiritually astute, hungry and teachable believers in our churches who yearn for rich and substantive messages from their pastors. When they attend our meetings, they desire meat for men and are too often fed only milk and simple things that they have heard many times in church before. Are we not denying them an opportunity to grow in their faith through the teaching of God’s Word? How many of them, out of respect for their pastor, would not dare to say it out loud, but nevertheless, if they could, they would say to him as David said to Ahimaaz, “Stand aside and wait here.” Stand aside, Sir. Prepare better, Sir. Study the Bible, Sir. Preach a sermon that has good, solid Bible content. Don’t just tell us jokes and interesting stories. Feed us the Word. We do not want to be entertained; we want to be fed.
3. A Clear Message 30-33
The Cushite, the slower of the two messengers, proved to be the sure one. He is ready, not only to confirm the news of the victory, but also answer the question of the king. Verses 31-32 say, “Then the Cushite arrived and said, ‘My lord the king, hear the good news! The Lord has vindicated you today by delivering you from the hand of all who rose up against you.’ The king asked the Cushite, ‘Is the young man Absalom safe?’ The Cushite replied, ‘May the enemies of my lord the king and all who rise up to harm you be like that young man.’” Is he safe? Yes, safe in his grave. So we are safe. No, the Cushite does not say it that way; he is more discreet. But he couches the unwelcome message in such a way that the messenger bears no blame. He did not relay the gory story of being caught in the tree, stabbed three times in his heart, cut down by ten soldiers, thrown into a pit and covered with stones. Just, “May . . . all who rise up to harm you be like that young man.” That was clear enough. We don’t need to be long winded—talk a long time—in order to communicate truth effectively.
David did not think to rejoice in the victory and deliverance, but rather is overcome with the sorrowful disclosure. As soon as he realized the truth of the Cushite's words he had no more questions, but immediately revealed the great anxiety that he had been feeling, fear he had been covering and suspicions he had not talked about. Verse 33 says, “The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: ‘O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!'"
David was broken-hearted over the loss of his beloved son. It does not appear that David’s primary concern was Absalom’s eternal separation from himself and God. Why did he want to die in Absalom’s place? Was it like Moses who said “blot my name out of your book” or like Paul who said he could wish that he himself were “accursed” for his people Israel? No. This was David’s infirmity—his weakness. He was to be blamed for displaying such affection for such an ungrateful and wicked son just because he was handsome. David also was guilty of resisting the will of God. When discussing taking the ark back to Jerusalem a few days before, David had submissively said, “let him do to me whatever seems good to him,” and now that the battle is over he was unhappy with what God did.
Aaron’s sons sinned and paid for it with their lives. Lev. 10:3 says, “Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to his command. So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Moses then said to Aaron, ‘This is what the Lord spoke of when he said: "Among those who approach me I will be proved holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honored."' Aaron remained silent.” We are to accept God’s will and judgments not only for ourselves but also for others around us whom we love. God is God. He has the final word. David was responsible to uphold justice in the nation and in putting Absalom before his other responsibilities, David failed.
Why did David not rejoice in the deliverance God had given to his army and his nation? David did wrong to despise this mercy from God. Even though this cost the life of an unworthy son, David could still have given God glory.
Earlier, David and Bathsheba’s first son died. How did David reason then when he got up from fasting, refreshed himself and ate a meal? He asked, “Can I bring him back again” (II Sam 12:23)? Even the best of men are not always in complete control of their emotions. If we love something more than we should, then we may grieve more that we should at its loss. We are to rule over our thoughts and spirits and guard our hearts. Lam 3:27-29 has a bit of wisdom that applies in this kind of situation: “It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young. Let him sit alone in silence, for the Lord has laid it on him. Let him bury his face in the dust—there may yet be hope.”
I want to be an example to other Christians who know me. This is an effective teaching method. People are watching us and learning from us. Two things from this section of Scripture are helpful to me. One is that I want to prepare my messages well. I want them to be worth reading or listening to. I will learn this from Ahimaaz who did not prepare his message well. Secondly, I do not want to put anybody or anything before God. Apparently David loved his son Absalom so blindly that he over-looked his faults, did not correct him and put his emotional and affectionate attachment to him before his kingly responsibilities. Both of these lessons can help all of us become better pastors and Christian leaders.