Harsh, But Heart-Felt Words.

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 

David needed a kick in the pants. He may have been king, but he wasn’t acting like one. His faithful followers had just handed him a great victory over Absalom and his forces, returning him to the throne of Israel, but all he could do was weep and mourn over the loss of his son. We are not given the reason behind David’s deep depression and what appears to be excessive grief over the death of his rebellious son. It is impossible to know if David was grieving over the loss of Absalom or his own sins that had set the stage for the whole situation. Perhaps David was mourning over and regretting his less-than-stellar parenting skills that had led to his son’s loss of respect for him and, ultimately, his rebellion against him. But whatever the reason behind David’s ongoing grief, it had become a problem. Since the victory, there had been no celebration, no words of gratitude from David to his troops. In fact, David’s dour mood had affected the entire city. We’re told the people “crept back into the town that day as though they were ashamed and had deserted in battle” (2 Samuel 19:3 NLT). And “the joy of that day’s victory was turned into deep sadness” (2 Samuel 19:2 NLT).
How long would this have gone on? We don’t know. But we do know that one man decided to do something about it. Joab, David’s long-time friend and the commander of his army, could not sit back and watch David squander this great victory and continue to treat his people with contempt. So, he stepped in and spoke up and, in doing so, he took a great risk. After all, David was the king. And Joab is the one who disobeyed a direct order from David to spare Absalom’s life. He had personally thrust three spears into the body of Absalom as he hung defenseless from the branches of a tree. Now, he was going to confront the man who could have him put to death for his insubordination. But for Joab, it was worth the risk. Something had to be done.
The Bible has much to say about the power of a well-intended and well-timed rebuke. It is never something we like to do. But there is no doubt that there are time when it is exactly what we need to do. A rebuke, when done in love, has a curative and restorative quality to it. The apostle James reminds us, “you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins” (James 5:20 NLT). David’s excessive mourning over the loss of Absalom was a sin. He was not only offending the sensibilities of his own people by overlooking all that they had done for him, he was treating God with contempt by refusing to acknowledge His hand of deliverance in all that had happened. God had done what David had refused to do, punish Absalom for his murder of Amnon. God had returned the kingdom of Israel back to David. And all David could do was spend his days crying.
The Proverbs of Solomon have much to say about the topic of rebuke.

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.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
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.
The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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