In the last study we studied 2 Samuel 17:24-18:18, which records Absalom’s defeat and death during his civil war against David. Turning now to today’s lesson, we will be studying 18:19 through 19:15. In this passage we see David’s restoration to the throne. But at first, David’s grief interferes in a rather large way. The passage opens in 18:19-32 with the account of how David learned of the fate of Absalom. Ahimaaz, the son of the priest, Zadok, and one of the two who had warned David of Absalom’s plans back at the start of the war, wanted to carry the news of the victory to David (v. 19). But Joab, knowing that David would not see Absalom’s death as good news, sent a Cushite instead (vv. 20-21). A Cushite, being a foreigner, would have been able to deliver the message without emotional involvement, which hopefully would enable David to receive the news with less emotion.
But Ahimaaz wanted desperately to participate in the task; and after further discussion, Joab gave him permission. Unfortunately for Joab’s plan, Ahimaaz was such a good runner that he outran the Cushite and arrived first, even though he may have taken a longer route (vv. 22-23).
At this point the narrative shifts to David who was waiting between the gates for news (v. 24). “Between the gates” was literally a space between double gates in city walls that were common at the time. When I was in Israel, I saw that configuration at several archaeological sites. The wall would be quite thick with two sets of gates, an inner gate and an outer gate. The city was more secure that way.
A sentinel on top of the gate, which probably was the highest point, saw a man running towards the city. Then he saw a second man running (vv. 25-26). When the first man got closer the lookout recognized Ahimaaz (v. 27).
Thus Ahimaaz arrived first and told David they had won the battle (v. 28). But David was more interested in knowing about Absalom. Ahimaaz, being aware of the caution that Joab had expressed, answered evasively (vv. 29-30). Then the Cushite arrived. He repeated the news about the victory; and in response to David’s inquiry about Absalom, he gave David the bad news (vv. 31-32).
The news about Absalom’s death greatly grieved David. Indeed he was so upset, he neglected his kingly duties to the people that day. In 18:33-19:8 we learn that David’s first reaction was to find a private place where he could weep. And as he wept, he cried out,” my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you” (v. 33). Who can know what guilt accompanied this grief (v. 33). We already have seen the multiple opportunities David had to express love to Absalom and his other sons, but which he wasted. It is tempting to try to psychoanalyze David, but that really can’t be done. We don’t know enough about his make up, though we do know he was a complex individual.
David’s mourning was so excessive under the circumstances of just winning a great, decisive battle for his throne, especially when the one whom he was mourning was the leader of the rebellion, that it threw his army into confusion. In a situation like this, it was expected that the king would present himself to his troops and rejoice with them over the victory. They had put their lives on the line for him and his throne. And they should be rewarded. But David shut himself away.
David with his inappropriate mourning had caused his entire army to slink into the city feeling like they had fled the battlefield, rather than like they had just won a great victory (vv. 2-3). So Joab boldly went to the king and chastised David for his behavior. He accused David of bringing shame to the faces of the officers and men who had saved his life and throne, and the lives of his family. Moreover Joab accused the king of hating those who loved him, by loving someone who hated him. Joab even went so far as to suggest that David would have been happier if Absalom had lived, and all of his commanders and officers had died (vv. 5-6). And then Joab threatened David by saying that if David did not go out to his men, all of them would desert him by nightfall (v. 7). David listened to Joab’s advice. He got up and took his seat in the gate so that his troops could gather before him (v. 8). Nothing is recorded about what David said and did, but we can assume he spoke the right words to his men, and rewarded them in appropriate ways.
Now David was ready to return to Jerusalem to reclaim his throne. But he wanted the people to make a fuss about bringing him. And that kind of support was quick to come, even among the tribes that had supported Absalom. In 19:9-15 we see that many among the tribes that had largely supported Absalom believed that their tribes had done David an injustice in rebelling against him. So there was considerable talk that they should rally to him now (vv. 9-10). David heard this and sent word to his own tribe of Judah that he wanted their support at the forefront. He said this partly because he wanted to make sure Judah came to his support early and strongly, and partly to get back at Joab. David included in the message that he would make Amasa, Absalom’s former army commander, his army commander (vv. 11-13).
Some suggest that David’s arrangement to have the tribe of Judah at the forefront of the return was wise indeed. After all, the rebellion began in that tribe; and it would not look good for David’s own tribe to drag its feet in the restoration. But others believe that David’s action had the effect of driving a wedge between Judah and the other tribes. Later events seem to indicate that the latter view is correct (19:41-43).
But the decision to make Amasa his army commander was a very poor one. It wasn’t even a just thing to do. To begin, although it was a way of holding out an olive branch to the vanquished enemy, it was too high a price to pay. It would make no sense to David’s loyal supporters who had fought for him to make the rebel commander-in-chief who had fought against David commander-in -chief in place of Joab. Moreover it was a nasty and intentional blow to Joab, who could be a mean and nasty enemy. As it turned out, Amasa suffered the consequences of the decision. But that is a later story (20:9-10).
Turning to application, I would focus on the relationship between David and Joab. Their relationship went back to the days when David was fleeing Saul in the wilderness of Judea (1 Sam. 26:6). In those days Joab had been a loyal and effective comrade and friend of David’s. And then after David became king, Joab became his trusted military leader. He played a key role in many battles. But Joab was more than an army commander. Joab did David’s dirty work so to speak. For example, as you may remember, it was Joab who put Uriah the Hittite in the hottest area of battle, in order to cause Uriah’s death (2 Sam. 11:14-15). Joab also was a powerful figure at court. It was he, remember, who arranged for Absalom to return to Jerusalem.
Now Joab always had been bold and independent. He knew David’s secrets, and he took liberties with the king that no one else would have dared to take. But this time Joab went too far. He deliberately and openly disobeyed David’s order to protect Absalom. Indeed he killed the king’s son with his disobedience. And then, while David was grieving for Absalom, Joab came to David and berated him as if the king were a disobedient boy. David acknowledged that Joab was correct about his needing to go out to the people. But David was deeply angry with Joab. And as we have seen, David avenged himself on Joab by demoting Joab in favor of Amasa.
It seems to me that the primary lesson here is seen in Joab. For years Joab was a good friend and loyal commander of David’s forces. It made him a powerful person in Israel. But when he directly disobeyed David’s order to protect Absalom, he stepped too far over the bounds of his authority.
I believe some Christian leaders do the same thing. They serve God faithfully and loyally for years; and then they completely overstep the bounds of their authority. For some it is a sexual boundary that they overstep. They begin to believe that the heavy load of ministry they carry makes them an exception to the rule of sexual morality. For others it is a power boundary they overstep. They begin to believe that they are to dictate the behavior of those under their influence (spouses, children, congregations, etc.) rather than teach them the biblical principles of godly behavior. In other words they want the people under their influence to follow them instead of Jesus. Are you overstepping any boundaries?