Now Joab the son of Zeruiah knew that the king’s heart went out to Absalom. And Joab sent to Tekoa and brought from there a wise woman and said to her, “Pretend to be a mourner and put on mourning garments. Do not anoint yourself with oil, but behave like a woman who has been mourning many days for the dead. 3 Go to the king and speak thus to him.” So Joab put the words in her mouth.
When the woman of Tekoa came to the king, she fell on her face to the ground and paid homage and said, “Save me, O king.” And the king said to her, “What is your trouble?” She answered, “Alas, I am a widow; my husband is dead. And your servant had two sons, and they quarreled with one another in the field. There was no one to separate them, and one struck the other and killed him. And now the whole clan has risen against your servant, and they say, ‘Give up the man who struck his brother, that we may put him to death for the life of his brother whom he killed.’ And so they would destroy the heir also. Thus they would quench my coal that is left and leave to my husband neither name nor remnant on the face of the earth.”
Then the king said to the woman, “Go to your house, and I will give orders concerning you.” And the woman of Tekoa said to the king, “On me be the guilt, my lord the king, and on my father’s house; let the king and his throne be guiltless.” The king said, “If anyone says anything to you, bring him to me, and he shall never touch you again.” Then she said, “Please let the king invoke the Lord your God, that the avenger of blood kill no more, and my son be not destroyed.” He said, “As the Lord lives, not one hair of your son shall fall to the ground.”
Then the woman said, “Please let your servant speak a word to my lord the king.” He said, “Speak.” And the woman said, “Why then have you planned such a thing against the people of God? For in giving this decision the king convicts himself, inasmuch as the king does not bring his banished one home again. We must all die; we are like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. But God will not take away life, and he devises means so that the banished one will not remain an outcast. Now I have come to say this to my lord the king because the people have made me afraid, and your servant thought, ‘I will speak to the king; it may be that the king will perform the request of his servant. For the king will hear and deliver his servant from the hand of the man who would destroy me and my son together from the heritage of God.’ And your servant thought, ‘The word of my lord the king will set me at rest,’ for my lord the king is like the angel of God to discern good and evil. The Lord your God be with you!” – 2 Samuel 14:1-17 ESV
More than three years had passed since Absalom had arranged and carried out the murder of his half-brother, Amnon, as revenge for raping his sister, Tamar. Absalom had fled, knowing he was guilty and deserving of death. He had lived in exile in the land of Geshur the entire time and, while David thought about him every day, he did nothing to mete out justice for what his son had done. And this whole sordid affair would have been well known to all the people of Israel. It would have been common knowledge that one of the king’s sons had raped his half-sister and had then been murdered by her brother. They would have been well aware of Absalom’s exile and the rumor mills would have been busy with all kinds of gossip and speculation.
That’s when Joab, the king’s friend and military commander decided to take action. He determined that it would be in the best interest of the kingdom for David to allow Absalom to return. We are not told why Joab felt compelled to do this. But there is no indication that any of his efforts had the blessing of God. Nowhere in the passage do we hear of him seeking or receiving a word from God. This would appear to have been his own idea and the fruit it would eventually would seem to bear evidence that it was no within God’s will.
When Joab saw how much David longed for Absalom, he concocted a plan to try and convince David to forgive and forget. Perhaps remembering how Nathan the prophet had used a story to trick David into confessing his sin with Bathsheba, Joab came up with a similar strategy. He hired a woman to tell a completely fabricated story to David that entailed the murder of her son by his brother. Her clansmen wanted to put the second son to death for having murdered his brother, but she described herself to David as a widow with no other sons to protect or provide for her. The living son was her last hope. If he was put to death, she would be helpless and hopeless. Her story, while somewhat similar to that of Absalom and Amnon, had some glaring differences. Absalom’s murder of Amnon had not been in the heat of an argument and the result of uncontrolled passion. In other words, his was not a case of unpremeditated murder. He had planned it for over two years. His murder of Amnon had been calculated and carefully orchestrated. And the execution of Absalom for the murder of his brother would not have left David destitute and alone. He was the king. And technically, in spite of what Joab said, Absalom was not the heir to the throne. Amnon would have been, but he had been killed. Next in line would have been Chileab, David’s second-born son (2 Samuel 3:3). And little did Joab know that God had already made a determination to make Solomon the next king of Israel. But Joab did what he thought was best. He believed that by getting David to allow Absalom to return, things would get back to normal in the kingdom.
But the thing we must remember when reading this story is that God had already given His will concerning matters of this nature. In the book of Numbers we find His divine provision for those who commit murder by accident. God established six cities of refuge, designed as places where the guilty could go for safety until their case could be judged appropriately. But God had made it clear that acts of premeditated murder were not covered.
But if someone strikes and kills another person with a piece of iron, it is murder, and the murderer must be executed. Or if someone with a stone in his hand strikes and kills another person, it is murder, and the murderer must be put to death. Or if someone strikes and kills another person with a wooden object, it is murder, and the murderer must be put to death. The victim’s nearest relative is responsible for putting the murderer to death. When they meet, the avenger must put the murderer to death. So if someone hates another person and pushes him or throws a dangerous object at him and he dies, it is murder. Or if someone hates another person and hits him with a fist and he dies, it is murder. In such cases, the avenger must put the murderer to death when they meet. – Numbers 35:16-21 NLT
Absalom deserved death, but Joab was determined to get the king to grant him a pardon. And his reasoning, passed on to David by the woman, would be that this would be best for the kingdom. He even suggests that it would be what God would want. “Certainly we must die, and are like water spilled on the ground that cannot be gathered up again. But God does not take away life; instead he devises ways for the banished to be restored.” (2 Samuel 14:14 NET). She appealed to God’s mercy and love. She emphasized His forgiveness. But in doing so, she painted a one-dimensional view of God, conveniently leaving out His justice and holiness. God cannot overlook sin. He cannot turn a blind eye to the sins of men and simply pardon them without doing something about them. There would be a day coming when God would provide permanent forgiveness for sins of all kinds. But it would be at the cost of His own Son’s life. Payment had to be made. The author of Hebrews reminds us, “For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22 NLT).
Joab wanted everything back to the way it was. He was willing to overlook the sins of Absalom, if it would get David back to being his old self. This whole scene was the brain child of Joab, and was intended to get David to overlook the guilt of his son and allow him to return home with no justice having been served. David, seemingly susceptible to a good story, would give in to the woman’s tale and her plea for David to allow Absalom to be restored. This decision, like so many of David’s, would come back to haunt him. He did not seek God’s will in the matter, but went with his gut. It seems that the woman, armed with the words of Joab, knew exactly what was needed to get to David’s heart. He longed for Absalom and was just looking for an excuse to bring him home. He didn’t want to mete out justice, which is why he had left Absalom living in the land of his maternal grandfather for three years. Now, David seemed to have a viable reason for doing what he had wanted to do all along – absolve Absalom of guilt. But God had not forgotten what Absalom had done. And contrary to the wise woman’s words, God does take away life. He had taken the life of David’s newborn son because of his sin with Bathsheba. God had taken the life of Achan and his entire family for bringing sin into the camp (Joshua 7). God is a just and holy god. He is righteous and always does what is right. David could forgive and forget Absalom’s sin, but God could not and would not.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.