II Samuel 19 1-15
19 Joab was told, “The king is weeping and mourning for Absalom.” 2 And for the whole army the victory that day was turned into mourning, because on that day the troops heard it said, “The king is grieving for his son.” 3 The men stole into the city that day as men steal in who are ashamed when they flee from battle.4 The king covered his face and cried aloud, “O my son Absalom! O Absalom, my son, my son!” 5 Then Joab went into the house to the king and said, “Today you have humiliated all your men, who have just saved your life and the lives of your sons and daughters and the lives of your wives and concubines. 6 You love those who hate you and hate those who love you. You have made it clear today that the commanders and their men mean nothing to you. I see that you would be pleased if Absalom were alive today and all of us were dead. 7 Now go out and encourage your men. I swear by the Lord that if you don’t go out, not a man will be left with you by nightfall. This will be worse for you than all the calamities that have come on you from your youth till now.” 8 So the king got up and took his seat in the gateway. When the men were told, “The king is sitting in the gateway,” they all came before him. Meanwhile, the Israelites had fled to their homes. 9 Throughout the tribes of Israel, all the people were arguing among themselves, saying, “The king delivered us from the hand of our enemies; he is the one who rescued us from the hand of the Philistines. But now he has fled the country to escape from Absalom; 10 and Absalom, whom we anointed to rule over us, has died in battle. So why do you say nothing about bringing the king back?” 11 King David sent this message to Zadok and Abiathar, the priests: “Ask the elders of Judah, ‘Why should you be the last to bring the king back to his palace, since what is being said throughout Israel has reached the king at his quarters?12 You are my relatives, my own flesh and blood. So why should you be the last to bring back the king?’ 13 And say to Amasa, ‘Are you not my own flesh and blood?May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if you are not the commander of my army for life in place of Joab.’” 14 He won over the hearts of the men of Judah so that they were all of one mind. They sent word to the king, “Return, you and all your men.” 15 Then the king returned and went as far as the Jordan. Now the men of Judah had come to Gilgal to go out and meet the king and bring him across the Jordan.
1. Joab to the Rescue 1-83
Not long after messengers brought news of the defeat and death of Absalom to the kings’s court at Mahanaim, Joab and his victorious army also arrive to celebrate and receive further orders. But, to the surprise and disappointment of the army, instead of joy and thanksgiving, they learned of David’s tears for Absalom—which they interpreted as a kind of disapproval and disappointment in the army for winning the battle. Verses 1-4 say, “Joab was told, ‘The king is weeping and mourning for Absalom. And for the whole army the victory that day was turned into mourning, because on that day the troops heard it said, ‘The king is grieving for his son.' The men stole into the city that day as men steal in who are ashamed when they flee from battle. The king covered his face and cried aloud, ‘O my son Absalom! O Absalom, my son, my son!’” People watch their leaders, what makes them sad, what makes them happy, what makes them angry and what makes them laugh. With not only their ears intentionally attentive to us, but also their eyes unthinkingly, but observant, on us, how carefully we must live. Our every action and reaction speaks. David’s tears spoke that day and it turned the celebration of the army into grief. Instead of facing the realities of his public responsibilities, he was lost in personal issues and covered his face.
To the generals present there were no expressions of thanks, congratulations on their faithfulness or even praise to God for the victory. He did not look up; his face was covered. Instead of being ashamed of his sinful son or proud of his triumphant army, instead of covering his own weakness and short-coming or controlling his spirit, David wept. Instead of showing manly courage he demonstrated immature self-pity.
Friend, disappointments happen in public Christian ministry, we experience reversals, we may even have a domestic problem at home that eats away at our joy and peace and disturbs us greatly, but the public demeanor of a pastor should show his faith, faithfulness, confidence, self-control, gentleness and steadfastness. By faith act that out. That is not being deceitful; it is demonstrating stability. Our people need us to be consistent even in—no, especially in—our times of trial. That is how we exemplify, demonstrate and illustrate the resolute, unwavering and abiding consistency in character that we want to cultivate in our sheep—God’s flock.
“My servants have succeeded, they stayed the course and finished the task but all of that means nothing, I will not rejoice in that, my son is dead, he was dying in sin and now is lost forever. I cannot even say “I will go to him,” as I could when Bathsheba’s first baby boy died, because I do not want to go where he has gone. I will not celebrate you, my troops, I will rather feel sorry for myself and give vent to my personal grief. I will not rejoice with you; you must sympathize with me.” Do you see how David put personal feelings before public responsibility. The pastor who can suffer internally and still minister confidently in public, the man or woman of God who can control his or her own emotions and serve God’s people faithfully is a mature leader.
“O my son Absalom! O Absalom, my son, my son!” Come on, David, grow up. His troops could easily have understood the father weeping for a time for his son, that would have been excusable, but by the time the whole army had returned, considerable time had elapsed. To continue to weep for so bad a son was not right. When Jacob grieved for such a good son as Joseph that may have been understandable, but it was not exemplary. He should have gotten over it.
At an earlier period of David’s life people watch him with approval. II Sam 3:36 says, “All the people took note and were pleased; indeed, everything the king did pleased them.” But David’s behavior this time caused them to be embarrassed and slink into the city as though the had committed high treason. Verse 3 says, “The men stole into the city that day as men steal in who are ashamed when they flee from battle.” Christian leaders have no right to put such hardships on the people they serve.
Joab very clearly and plainly disapproved of David’s handling of this affair. David did the most impolitic thing, the greatest wrong imaginable to his loyal friends. David needed the hearts and loyalty of his men now. In the chapters of II Samuel just ahead of us, Israel will endure yet another civil war. David will again need loyal, confident and committed troops. Joab did not know this would happen, but he none-the-less was right to confront his uncle.
Joab therefore censured David as we see in verses 5-7, “Then Joab went into the house to the king and said, ‘Today you have humiliated all your men, who have just saved your life and the lives of your sons and daughters and the lives of your wives and concubines. You love those who hate you and hate those who love you. You have made it clear today that the commanders and their men mean nothing to you. I see that you would be pleased if Absalom were alive today and all of us were dead. Now go out and encourage your men. I swear by the Lord that if you don’t go out, not a man will be left with you by nightfall. This will be worse for you than all the calamities that have come on you from your youth till now.’”
Joab spoke with a great deal of reason and yet maintained the respect and honor he owed his king. We may reprove those who are over us, but it should be done humbly, carefully and respectfully. If leaders behave unwisely, may God grant them the blessing of having someone nearby who has the courage and wisdom to help him see his mistake. David indeed needed to be confronted. Joab began by boasting about the troops who had just saved David’s life. He pointed out that Absalom, whom David honored with his tears, tried to ruin him and his family. Joab also pointed out David’s error. ‘You love those who hate you and would be happier if we all had died and Absalom had lived. You prefer a spoiled and wicked son, a traitor to his king and country before your wise counsellors, brave commanders, and loyal subjects. Why do you love your enemies and hate your friends?’
Finally Joab offered a solution to the problem—a good solution. Present yourself immediately to your troops. Smile on them. Welcome and congratulate them for their success and thank them. Even those who can be commanded need to be thanked and appreciated. Furthermore, he warned him that if he did not fix this problem soon, he would experience an even greater—the greatest—difficulty he had experienced in his life up until that time. Joab probably had the power, authority, charisma and influence that he could have succeeded with a rebellion against David. Proverbs 27:6 says, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” On this day Joab was a friend, a blessing. This was Joab’s finest moment.
David took the reproof and counsel of Joab wisely, mildly and immediately. Verse 8 says “ So the king got up and took his seat in the gateway. When the men were told, ‘The king is sitting in the gateway,’ they all came before him.” David quickly shook off his grief, anointed his head, and washed his face so as to no longer appear to be mourning. He presented himself in public at the gate, which was the official place for public officials to make presentations, and the people came quickly to congratulate him. So you and I have an illustration of the willingness of one of the world’s most famous kings receiving and implementing the reproof of an underling. May we listen as carefully, act as quickly and with as good results as he did.
2. David’s Turnaround and Israel’s Discussion of Bringing Back the King 9-10
It may seem strange to us that with the victory over Absalom’s army, David did not immediately march back to Jerusalem and repossess it. Couldn’t he go back with his victorious army? Perhaps he purposely gave the people of Israel the honor of deciding whether they wanted him as their king or not. He wanted to return as their welcome king; not as their conqueror, forcing his way. He preferred to return in peace and safety, not to a divided house with some opposed to him. He preferred to return in honor in the hearts and arms of his subjects than to arrive in power at the head of his army. By giving them the choice he would increase his chances of becoming again their respected king rather than to dominate them as their terror.
That Christian leader is wise who recognizes that people who choose to follow are more happy, useful and fruitful than those who are required to follow. By giving the people space, by recognizing their right to choose their king, David did, indeed, expose himself to the possibility of rejection and the dangers associated with it. But he took that chance because he would rather rule a people who loved him than a people who feared him.
The first group who began to discuss the return of the king were the men of Israel—the ten tribes to the north—not of Judah. Verses 9-10 say, “Throughout the tribes of Israel, all the people were arguing among themselves, saying, ‘The king delivered us from the hand of our enemies; he is the one who rescued us from the hand of the Philistines. But now he has fled the country to escape from Absalom; and Absalom, whom we anointed to rule over us, has died in battle. So why do you say nothing about bringing the king back?’” The people argued about this. Why? Some may have opposed David or have been indifferent—if he wants to return he may—on his own. Others were eager for it because they loved him all along. A third opinion may have been more political in nature, David led us to victories, he has helped us, he has delivered us, let’s have David return, he will help us again.
Some people remember and reward good leadership, but not all do. Good services done for God’s people will be rewarded, but not always in this life. If in this life only we have hope we are of all people most miserable. Given the choice between two very different leaders—David and Absalom—surely the people wanted David’s return. Perhaps the argument was not so much “shall we bring him back?” as it was a matter of discussion why was it not done already? Who needs to take the lead in this matter? So the people of Israel thinking of it first and arguing about it longer than they needed to and blaming each other for not doing it is one group. Meanwhile there is another group that is not thinking about it, but in reality when approached, are quite prepared to quickly actually do it. This brings up the subject of group unity that leads to action.
The central reason why groups need leaders is that groups are made up of people with a variety of opinions and they need leaders. They need someone who can bring them together, sense the feelings of the crowd and lead them to do what is best for them. To be sure, there are many different leadership styles, but they all have in common the element of helping people unite and do something. The Lord works in many different ways, but in all events, people need to unite for the greater good of the group. That requires leadership. It also involves Teamwork. Here is a good way to spell TEAM.
3. Judah is First to Bring the King Back 11-15
David got involved in this matter by sending a message to his fellow citizens in the tribe of Judah. Before he was king over all Israel, he had been king of Judah at Hebron. Perhaps an unconscious perception that Judah and the other tribes were somewhat separate still existed laying dormant in the the collective hearts of the people. The people of Judah were not the first to think of it, but when given the opportunity, they were the ones to do it. David knew that the other tribes were discussing his return, but that nothing was being done in Judah. So David got involved. He sent a message to two trusted religious leaders, his friends Zadok and Abiathar. Verses 11-12 say, “ King David sent this message to Zadok and Abiathar, the priests: ‘Ask the elders of Judah, “Why should you be the last to bring the king back to his palace, since what is being said throughout Israel has reached the king at his quarters? You are my relatives, my own flesh and blood. So why should you be the last to bring back the king?”’”
We do not always receive the most kindness from those from whom we have more reasons to expect it. Yet David did not want to return unless he knew that the people of Judah approved. Ps 60:7 says, “Gilead is mine, and Manasseh is mine; Ephraim is my helmet, Judah is my scepter.” God said Judah was His scepter, the king tribe. David wanted the priests to encourage the people to invite his return. These two men seemed to be the ideal persons to handle this matter. They were loyal to David, prudent, and had influence with the people. Perhaps the men of Judah had not acted on this idea because no one had suggested it. Maybe they assumed it and were waiting for David to simply return. Some good people will follow in a good work but will not lead it. It is, of course, possible that they now knew that they had insulted David by supporting Absalom. In any case, David reminded them of his relationship with them. “You are my relatives, my own flesh and blood.” Also the Son of David is happy to call us His brothers. And you and I can welcome Him to return to us soon. Rev 22:20 says, “Amen. Come Lord Jesus.”
The next detail in this story is sobering. For many years David had mistrusted Joab, but Joab had escaped being fired. The killing of Abner, elevating Absalom and recommending his restoration to David and then killing Absalom, had fixed in David’s mind a wariness of his nephew. Apparently, David had had enough and it was time to replace Joab. With whom should he be replaced? Another nephew of David, Amasa, who had led Absalom’s army. Verse 13 says, “And say to Amasa, ‘Are you not my own flesh and blood? May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if you are not the commander of my army for life in place of Joab.’” Not only would David pardon Amasa for his part in the Absalom uprising, but would now prefer him over Joab as the leading General in his army.
It was probably a wise and nation-unifying move on David’s part, but it was a mistake to have allowed Joab to know about it. In the next chapter of II Samuel, Joab will add to his other murders, this murder of Amasa. So this section of the story includes the news that David intended to fire Joab. Joab several times in his life had been a blessing to his Uncle David, but, unfortunately, he had also several times been a great curse. Not until Solomon is king and carried out the instructions of his father, David, does Joab receive justice. Meanwhile, like many of us, his life is a mixture of doing both right and wrong. We will try to duplicate the one and avoid the other.
We are not told what Amasa thought about this promotion and appointment. We are told, however, what he did. He influenced all Judah to welcome the return of King David. Verse 14 says, “ He (Amasa) won over the hearts of the men of Judah so that they were all of one mind. They sent word to the king, ‘Return, you and all your men.’” This is what David wanted. He was happy to accept the invitation and moved his group up to the Jordan River which apparently was the meeting place. Verse 15 says, “Then the king returned and went as far as the Jordan. Now the men of Judah had come to Gilgal to go out and meet the king and bring him across the Jordan.”
Ps. 110:2-3 say, “The Lord will extend your mighty scepter from Zion, saying, Rule in the midst of your enemies!’ Your troops will be willing on your day of battle. Arrayed in holy splendor, your young men will come to you like dew from the morning’s womb.” Surely this verse will be fulfilled when Jesus returns. But even now as we read the story of David’s return to Jerusalem we can see a picture of kingship restored.
May details of this story can be helpful to the Christian leader of today. But of them all the outstanding one is the value of having near you someone who is not afraid of you, has your best interests at heart and will tell the truth about what you should do. I shudder at Joab’s behavior many times as I read the story of David’s experiences, but this time Joab got it right. He told the king what the king needed to hear.