It was told Joab, “Behold, the king is weeping and mourning for Absalom.” So the victory that day was turned into mourning for all the people, for the people heard that day, “The king is grieving for his son.” And the people stole into the city that day as people steal in who are ashamed when they flee in battle. The king covered his face, and the king cried with a loud voice, “O my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son!” Then Joab came into the house to the king and said, “You have today covered with shame the faces of all your servants, who have this day saved your life and the lives of your sons and your daughters and the lives of your wives and your concubines, because you love those who hate you and hate those who love you. For you have made it clear today that commanders and servants are nothing to you, for today I know that if Absalom were alive and all of us were dead today, then you would be pleased. Now therefore arise, go out and speak kindly to your servants, for I swear by the Lord, if you do not go, not a man will stay with you this night, and this will be worse for you than all the evil that has come upon you from your youth until now.” Then the king arose and took his seat in the gate. And the people were all told, “Behold, the king is sitting in the gate.” And all the people came before the king.
Now Israel had fled every man to his own home. And all the people were arguing throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, “The king delivered us from the hand of our enemies and saved us from the hand of the Philistines, and now he has fled out of the land from Absalom. But Absalom, whom we anointed over us, is dead in battle. Now therefore why do you say nothing about bringing the king back?” – 2 Samuel 19:1-10 ESV
Whoever rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with his tongue. – Proverbs 28:23 ESV
Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy. – Proverbs 27:5-6 ESV
Solomon would go on to discuss the same topic in Ecclesiastes.
Better to be criticized by a wise person than to be praised by a fool. – Ecclesiastes 7:5 NLT
Perhaps Solomon, the son of David and the God-appointed heir to David’s throne, learned these lessons from David himself. David would later write in one of his psalms:
Let the godly strike me! It will be a kindness! If they correct me, it is soothing medicine. Don’t let me refuse it. – Psalm 141:5 NLT
What Joab had to say was difficult for David to hear. His words would have stung. But they were necessary. They were exactly what David needed at this point in his life, because he was blind to the impact his actions were having on all those around him. So Joab was blunt, even harsh, telling David, “You seem to love those who hate you and hate those who love you” (2 Samuel 19:6 NLT). Ouch! That had to have hurt. Those words must have been like a slap in the face to David. But Joab was not done. “It seems that if Absalom had lived and all of us had died, you would be pleased” (2 Samuel 19:6 NLT). Now, we know that this was not true of David. It was not how he really felt, but the exaggerated nature of Joab’s words were intended to be a wake-up call for David. His language was meant to shock and shame David. The king had become oblivious to the impact his actions were having on all those around him. Can you imagine how the rest of David’s children felt about his over-the-top display of sorrow over Absalom? What about his ten concubines who had been sexually humiliated by Absalom on the palace rooftop? David had said nothing to them. He had done nothing for them. David’s behavior had become dangerously destructive. His fractured kingdom and damaged reputation were in need of repair, but instead he was doing more harm than good. Until Joab did what needed to be done. And his efforts worked.
So the king went out and took his seat at the town gate, and as the news spread throughout the town that he was there, everyone went to him. – 2 Samuel 19:8 NLT
Joab took a risk. He put his neck on the line. Why? Because he cared for David. And he knew that if he did nothing, the ramifications would be devastating. He had even warned David, “Now go out there and congratulate your troops, for I swear by the Lord that if you don’t go out, not a single one of them will remain here tonight. Then you will be worse off than ever before” (2 Samuel 19:7 NLT). Doing nothing was not an option for Joab. He could not afford to sit back and watch David destroy the kingdom. There was far too much at stake.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend. Sometimes our words, even when spoken in love, will hurt. But if our intent is their restoration and reconciliation, then it will be worth it. If we are motivated by love and focused on restoring the one to whom we are speaking, then our words, while initially hurtful, will prove helpful in the long run. David was in deep sorrow, but it was a misdirected and unhealthy sorrow. It was destroying all those around him. He wasn’t expressing sorrow over the deaths of the 20,000 Israelites who were killed in the battle between his forces and those of Absalom. He wasn’t regretting or repenting of his role in this whole affair. Not once do we see David confessing to God and admitting his culpability for all that had taken place. And the apostle Paul provides us with a powerful reminder of what godly sorrow really looks like:
For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death. – 2 Corinthians 7:10 NLT
Had Joab not spoken up, David might not have ever woken up and seen the devastating nature of his actions. Joab’s love for David was expressed in his willingness to say to David what he needed to hear. To say nothing would have been easier, but it would have been nothing less than an expression of hatred.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.