Wisdom to Spare

16 Then two prostitutes came to the king and stood before him. 17 The one woman said, “Oh, my lord, this woman and I live in the same house, and I gave birth to a child while she was in the house. 18 Then on the third day after I gave birth, this woman also gave birth. And we were alone. There was no one else with us in the house; only we two were in the house. 19 And this woman’s son died in the night, because she lay on him. 20 And she arose at midnight and took my son from beside me, while your servant slept, and laid him at her breast, and laid her dead son at my breast. 21 When I rose in the morning to nurse my child, behold, he was dead. But when I looked at him closely in the morning, behold, he was not the child that I had borne.” 22 But the other woman said, “No, the living child is mine, and the dead child is yours.” The first said, “No, the dead child is yours, and the living child is mine.” Thus they spoke before the king.

23 Then the king said, “The one says, ‘This is my son that is alive, and your son is dead’; and the other says, ‘No; but your son is dead, and my son is the living one.’” 24 And the king said, “Bring me a sword.” So a sword was brought before the king. 25 And the king said, “Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one and half to the other.” 26 Then the woman whose son was alive said to the king, because her heart yearned for her son, “Oh, my lord, give her the living child, and by no means put him to death.” But the other said, “He shall be neither mine nor yours; divide him.” 27 Then the king answered and said, “Give the living child to the first woman, and by no means put him to death; she is his mother.” 28 And all Israel heard of the judgment that the king had rendered, and they stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him to do justice. 1 Kings 3:16-28 ESV

In Solomon’s vision, he had requested that God would give him “an understanding mind” so that he might be able to “discern between good and evil” (1 Kings 3:9 ESV). And God had agreed to Solomon’s request, bestowing upon him the ability “to discern what is right” (1 Kings 3:11 ESV). All of this occurred while Solomon slept, and when he awoke there was probably little evidence that anything had changed. It is doubtful that he felt any different of could sense that he was wiser and more discerning. But, in time, he was given tangible proof that God had kept His word.

As the king, he was expected to act as the preeminent judge over his people. One of his duties was to ensure that the citizens of his kingdom were governed with order and justice. He was to see that there was a fair and equitable system for hearing and settling all civil disputes. And this responsibility was not to be taken lightly. When David was king, it seems that he failed to make this aspect of his kingly duties a high priority, and his son, Absalom, used this oversight to his advantage.

He got up early every morning and went out to the gate of the city. When people brought a case to the king for judgment, Absalom would ask where in Israel they were from, and they would tell him their tribe. Then Absalom would say, “You’ve really got a strong case here! It’s too bad the king doesn’t have anyone to hear it. I wish I were the judge. Then everyone could bring their cases to me for judgment, and I would give them justice!” – 2 Samuel 15:2-4 NLT

Absalom knew that the people wanted a king who showed care and concern for them. His daily appearances at the gate were intended to win them over the convince them that he was a more reliable advocate for them than David. And his actions paid off.

Absalom did this with everyone who came to the king for judgment, and so he stole the hearts of all the people of Israel. – 2 Samuel 15:6 NLT

But unlike his father, Solomon didn’t shirk his kingly responsibilities. He was willing to do the dirty work that came with his new role, which included presiding over disputes between the citizens of his kingdom. And, as this passage makes clear, Solomon didn’t practice a form of judicial snobbery. He could have limited his cases to those of the wealthy and influential and relegated the disputes among the common people to a subordinate on his administration. But here we find the king presiding over a case involving two prostitutes. These women would have been considered the scum of the earth. The Hebrew word used to describe them carries a strong pejorative meaning, most often being translated as “whores.” They were guilty of adultery and sexual immorality, and their reputations were well known within the community. Yet, Solomon graciously admitted them into his royal court and took the time to hear their dispute.

It’s interesting to note that Jesus Himself was accused of being “a friend of tax collectors and other sinners” (Matthew 11:19 NLT). He had a reputation for associating with the despised and disreputable of society. But, when faced with these accusations, Jesus didn’t deny them, he simply stated, “wisdom is shown to be right by its results” (Matthew 11:19 NLT). Jesus was emphasizing that, in time, His choice of friends would prove to be right and just. After all, Jesus had come into the world to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). When Jesus was condemned by the Jewish religious leaders for eating with tax collectors and sinners, He had responded, ““Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do” (Matthew 9:12 NLT). And then He added, “For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners” ( Matthew 9:13 NLT).

Solomon understood that he was the God-appointed king over all the people. He didn’t have the right to pick and choose whom he governed. And these two women, while clearly sinners, were still citizens of his kingdom and no less deserving of his time.

So, Solomon patiently listened to their story, and it proved to be a convoluted and complicated tale. These two women not only shared a common occupation, but they also lived in the same house. And as a result of their chosen form of livelihood, both women eventually became pregnant. Within a few days of each other, both gave birth to healthy baby boys. But one of the infants died in his sleep, accidentally smothered by his own mother as he slept by her side in the bed. During the night, the woman woke to find her son dead, so driven by grief and jealousy, she took the body of her deceased baby and switched it with the living child. There is little doubt that this ploy would fail, but she was driven by grief, not logic.

And when the other woman awoke and discovered the lifeless baby by her side, she quickly discerned that it was not her child. The babies had been switched in the night. But the other mother vehemently denied any wrongdoing and vociferously declared that the living baby was her own. Unable to settle their dispute, the women brought the matter to the king. And now, it was up to Solomon to deliver a wise and discerning resolution to their conflict.

After hearing these two emotionally charged mothers state their cases, Solomon simply stated, “Bring me a sword” (1 Kings 3:24 ESV). His words must have come as a shock to the women. Why was he asking for a sword? What was he intending to do? Was he going to enact judgment and personally execute one of them on the spot? What they didn’t realize was that Solomon was utilizing the wisdom and discernment promised to him by God. Without even knowing it, Solomon was putting into practice his newfound ability to discern what was right. Having heard the details of the case and the conflicting claims of the women, Solomon somehow knew exactly what to do. 

Sword in hand, Solomon declared his shocking “solution” to the problem.

“Cut the living child in two, and give half to one woman and half to the other!” – 1 Kings 3:25 NLT

In essence, Solomon was declaring that since there was no way of knowing which woman was telling the truth, the only alternative was to kill the remaining child, so that neither had an advantage. This judgment sounds preposterous and totally unfair. One of the women was clearly lying, and this solution would have produced an inequitable and unrighteous outcome. But Solomon was operating under the divine influence of God Almighty. He had no intention of killing the baby. His “judgment” was a carefully crafted ploy, designed to expose which woman was the liar. And the disparate responses of the two women quickly revealed the identity of the real mother. She was the one who begged for the life of the child to be spared. She was willing to lose custody of the child in exchange for his life. Yet, the other woman was more than willing to see the living child killed so that the other mother might be deprived of joy.

This entire episode is intended as a demonstration or proof that God had kept His promise to Solomon. The vision given to Solomon had been far more than just a dream. It had been a prophetic word from God and now Solomon knew that he had received the very gift he had requested: An understanding mind that could discern between good and evil. Even Solomon must have been surprised by his own actions. But as Jesus had said, “wisdom is shown to be right by its results.” The positive outcome of this dispute revealed that the wisdom of God had been at work. It had not been the result of human intelligence or Solomon’s inherent cleverness. He had been given the ability “to discern what is right” (1 Kings 3:11 ESV), and he had put it to good use. The result was the joyful reunion of the mother and her child. There is no indication that Solomon condemned the other woman for her lies and subterfuge. She had already suffered the loss of her child and that was punishment enough.

And, in time, news of Solomon’s novel approach to justice began to spread throughout the kingdom, and the people recognized it for what it was: The wisdom of God.

When all Israel heard the king’s decision, the people were in awe of the king, for they saw the wisdom God had given him for rendering justice. – 1 Kings 3:28 NLT

They found comfort in knowing that their king was governed by the wisdom of God. They could expect to receive justice because their king operated according to divine wisdom.

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

The Protection of God’s Grace

36 Then the king sent and summoned Shimei and said to him, “Build yourself a house in Jerusalem and dwell there, and do not go out from there to any place whatever. 37 For on the day you go out and cross the brook Kidron, know for certain that you shall die. Your blood shall be on your own head.” 38 And Shimei said to the king, “What you say is good; as my lord the king has said, so will your servant do.” So Shimei lived in Jerusalem many days.

39 But it happened at the end of three years that two of Shimei’s servants ran away to Achish, son of Maacah, king of Gath. And when it was told Shimei, “Behold, your servants are in Gath,” 40 Shimei arose and saddled a donkey and went to Gath to Achish to seek his servants. Shimei went and brought his servants from Gath. 41 And when Solomon was told that Shimei had gone from Jerusalem to Gath and returned, 42 the king sent and summoned Shimei and said to him, “Did I not make you swear by the Lord and solemnly warn you, saying, ‘Know for certain that on the day you go out and go to any place whatever, you shall die’? And you said to me, ‘What you say is good; I will obey.’ 43 Why then have you not kept your oath to the Lord and the commandment with which I commanded you?” 44 The king also said to Shimei, “You know in your own heart all the harm that you did to David my father. So the Lord will bring back your harm on your own head. 45 But King Solomon shall be blessed, and the throne of David shall be established before the Lord forever.” 46 Then the king commanded Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and he went out and struck him down, and he died.

So the kingdom was established in the hand of Solomon. – 1 Kings 2:36-46 ESV

There was one last piece of unfinished business that Solomon had to take care of. Just before his death, his father had charged him with the task of repaying Shimei for the disrespectful way he had treated David while he was evacuating Jerusalem after Absalom had taken over the kingdom (2 Samuel 16:5-14). This relative of David’s predecessor, King Saul, had held a grudge against David ever since he had supplanted Saul as the king of Israel. He was overjoyed to see David having to suffer the indignity of sneaking out of the capital city because his own son had stolen his kingdom. Shimei even threw stones at David, hurling insults and curses as he did so.

“Get out of here, you murderer, you scoundrel!” he shouted at David. “The Lord is paying you back for all the bloodshed in Saul’s clan. You stole his throne, and now the Lord has given it to your son Absalom. At last you will taste some of your own medicine, for you are a murderer!” – 2 Samuel 16:7-8 NLT

Some of David’s faithful soldiers, who had accompanied him out of the city, offered to strike Shimei down, but David would not allow it. Instead, he told them, ““My own son is trying to kill me. Doesn’t this relative of Saul have even more reason to do so? Leave him alone and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to do it. And perhaps the Lord will see that I am being wronged and will bless me because of these curses today” (2 Samuel 16:11-12 NLT). David could empathize with Shimei’s anger and resentment. He understood why Shimei was so upset, and he had concluded that God was behind it all. When Shimei had called David a murderer, he had struck a very sensitive nerve. David would have immediately recalled his complicity in the death of Uriah, the husband of Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:14-17). Shimei was right; he was a murderer. And perhaps God was still repaying him for his sinful actions against an innocent man. So, David refused to punish Shimei for his actions.

But some time later, when the attempted coup had been thwarted, and Absalom had been killed, David returned to the city of Jerusalem. And one of the first people to greet him upon his arrival was Shimei.

As the king was about to cross the river, Shimei fell down before him. “My lord the king, please forgive me,” he pleaded. “Forget the terrible thing your servant did when you left Jerusalem. May the king put it out of his mind. I know how much I sinned. That is why I have come here today, the very first person in all Israel to greet my lord the king.” – 2 Samuel 19:18-20 NLT

With the news of Absalom’s death and David’s return to Jerusalem, Shimei had feared for his life. He knew he was a dead man unless he could convince David of his remorse and regret for his previous actions. Feigning sorrow for his emotionally driven display of anger, Shimei begged the king for forgiveness.

Though Shimei deserved punishment, David was unwilling to spoil the joy of the occasion by meting out judgment. He could have had Shimei executed on the spot, but instead, “the king said to Shimei, ‘You shall not die.’ And the king gave him his oath” (2 Samuel 19:23 ESV).

David had kept that oath, but on his deathbed, it became clear that he had never really forgiven Shimei for what he had done. He had allowed Shimei to live but had never stopped dreaming of getting his revenge. So, as he lay dying, David gave Solomon a not-so-subtle hint about what should be done with Shimei.

“And remember Shimei son of Gera, the man from Bahurim in Benjamin. He cursed me with a terrible curse as I was fleeing to Mahanaim. When he came down to meet me at the Jordan River, I swore by the Lord that I would not kill him. But that oath does not make him innocent. You are a wise man, and you will know how to arrange a bloody death for him.” – 1 Kings 2:8-9 NLT

David didn’t tell Solomon what to do. He simply reminded Solomon of what Shimei had done. And he fully expected Solomon to defend his honor by having Shimei put to death.

But Solomon had other plans. Rather than subjecting Shimei to capital punishment, he had him confined to the city of Jerusalem. Shimei, as a Benjamite, lived within the territory of his tribe. But Solomon ordered that he relocate within the city walls where his actions could be carefully monitored. And Shimei was given strict instructions never to venture outside the walls of the city for any reason, under penalty of death.

“Build a house here in Jerusalem and live there. But don’t step outside the city to go anywhere else. On the day you so much as cross the Kidron Valley, you will surely die; and your blood will be on your own head.” – 1 Kings 2:36-37 NLT

Solomon graciously spared Shimei’s life but placed him under house arrest. And this arrangement seemed to work well for Shimei. For three years, he enjoyed a peaceful and prosperous life. But then, the unexpected happened. Two of his servants ran away and, without thinking about it, Shimei saddled a donkey and pursued his missing property. But when he had recaptured his runaway servants and returned to Jerusalem, he was surprised to learn that he had been summoned to the king’s palace.

By this time, Shimei must have understood the gravity of his situation. He had broken his oath to the king. And Solomon reminded Shimei of their agreement.

“Didn’t I make you swear by the Lord and warn you not to go anywhere else or you would surely die? And you replied, ‘The sentence is fair; I will do as you say.’ Then why haven’t you kept your oath to the Lord and obeyed my command?” – 1 Kings 2:42-43 NLT

Notice that Solomon describes Shimei’s oath as having been made to the Lord. When he had agreed to the stipulations handed down by the king, he had been swearing an oath before God. Solomon had been acting as God’s appointed leader, and when Shimei had agreed to the terms of the contract, he had made a binding covenant with God Almighty. And now, he had broken that vow. He had failed to keep his word and would have to suffer the consequences. And Solomon made sure that Shimei understood the gravity of his situation.

“You certainly remember all the wicked things you did to my father, David. May the Lord now bring that evil on your own head. But may I, King Solomon, receive the Lord’s blessings, and may one of David’s descendants always sit on this throne in the presence of the Lord.” – 1 Kings 2:44-45 NLT

David had kept his word and had allowed Shimei to live. Now, Solomon was going to keep his word and have Shimei executed for the violation of his oath. Shimei’s death would not be because he had left the confines of the city of Jerusalem. The death sentence that hung over his head was due to his unlawful treatment of and rebellion against the Lord’s anointed, King David. He deserved to die because he was a rebel. But Solomon had shown him grace and mercy. And the city of Jerusalem had become a city of refuge, a place where he could find release from the condemnation of death he so richly deserved. As long as he remained within the walls of the city, he would be spared. The city was not a prison; it was actually a form of protection. As long as Shimei remained faithful to reside within the confines of the city, he was spared the penalty of death. But as soon as he walked outside the gates, he violated his oath and forfeited his right to life.

In so many ways, this narrative foreshadows what Jesus Christ would do for guilty sinners. He would become the place of refuge, the living Jerusalem, where those condemned to death could find mercy, grace, and life. As long as Shimei remained within Jerusalem’s protective walls, he would be spared the penalty he deserved. But when he allowed himself to be distracted by the cares of this world and went in pursuit of his runaway servants, Shimei revealed his true heart. He placed a greater value on material things than he did on the gift of life he had been offered by the king.

Jesus would later remind His disciples about the necessity of abiding in Him. He would challenge them to remain faithful, recognizing that their hope of eternal life was found in Him alone.

“Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted!” – John 15:5-7 NLT

Shimei had failed to remain in Jerusalem, and it cost him his life. He had seen the walls of the city as a prison rather than a protection. He had seen his agreement with the king as restrictive rather than redemptive. And how often do those who are offered the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ come to see that offer as a burden rather than a blessing? They prefer the “freedom” of sin over the emancipation from death that is offered within the protective walls of God’s gracious love. And, like Shimei, they end up forfeiting their lives.

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

The Curse of Procrastination

10 Then David slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David. 11 And the time that David reigned over Israel was forty years. He reigned seven years in Hebron and thirty-three years in Jerusalem. 12 So Solomon sat on the throne of David his father, and his kingdom was firmly established.

13 Then Adonijah the son of Haggith came to Bathsheba the mother of Solomon. And she said, “Do you come peacefully?” He said, “Peacefully.” 14 Then he said, “I have something to say to you.” She said, “Speak.” 15 He said, “You know that the kingdom was mine, and that all Israel fully expected me to reign. However, the kingdom has turned about and become my brother’s, for it was his from the Lord. 16 And now I have one request to make of you; do not refuse me.” She said to him, “Speak.” 17 And he said, “Please ask King Solomon—he will not refuse you—to give me Abishag the Shunammite as my wife.” 18 Bathsheba said, “Very well; I will speak for you to the king.”

19 So Bathsheba went to King Solomon to speak to him on behalf of Adonijah. And the king rose to meet her and bowed down to her. Then he sat on his throne and had a seat brought for the king’s mother, and she sat on his right. 20 Then she said, “I have one small request to make of you; do not refuse me.” And the king said to her, “Make your request, my mother, for I will not refuse you.” 21 She said, “Let Abishag the Shunammite be given to Adonijah your brother as his wife.” 22 King Solomon answered his mother, “And why do you ask Abishag the Shunammite for Adonijah? Ask for him the kingdom also, for he is my older brother, and on his side are Abiathar the priest and Joab the son of Zeruiah.” 23 Then King Solomon swore by the Lord, saying, “God do so to me and more also if this word does not cost Adonijah his life! 24 Now therefore as the Lord lives, who has established me and placed me on the throne of David my father, and who has made me a house, as he promised, Adonijah shall be put to death today.” 25 So King Solomon sent Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and he struck him down, and he died. – 1 Kings 2:10-25 ESV

Why bother doing something today if you can simply put it off until tomorrow? And why do it at all, if you can leave it for someone else to do altogether? David seemed to live his life according to those two concepts. But it wasn’t because he suffered from the lack of energy that can accompany old age. This had been a life-long struggle for him. He seemed to have a knack for avoiding the unpleasant and delaying the inevitable. When looking back over his life, the examples of his penchant for procrastination are numerous. There was the time when David’s son, Amnon, raped his half-sister Tamar. David had actually been complicit in the immoral affair because he had sent Tamar to care for Amnon, whom he believed to be sick. But David had been deceived by his son.

When King David heard of all these things, he was very angry – 2 Samuel 13:21 ESV

Yes, David was enraged by the news of what Amnon had done. But he did nothing to deal with his son’s actions. In fact, for two years, David acted as if nothing had happened. For two long years, Tamar would be forced to live with the shame of her violation while her attacker went unpunished. But eventually, Tamar’s brother Absalom took matters into his own hands and murdered Amnon. When the news reached David, he “mourned for his son day after day” (2 Samuel 13:37 ESV), but he took no steps to have Absalom arrested for his crime. In fact, Absalom fled Jerusalem and lived as a fugitive for three years. And the entire time, David did nothing to avenge the death of his son. And when Absalom eventually returned, David continued to put off his legal responsibilities as king, refusing to punish Absalom for what he had done. This lack of action was interpreted as weakness by Absalom, causing him to lose all respect for his father. Eventually, he decided that he would make a far better king and led a successful takeover of his father’s throne.

Now, as Solomon prepared to begin his own reign as the king of Israel, he found himself with the unpleasant task of cleaning up some of his father’s unfinished business. On top of that, he had his brother Adonijah to deal with. Just as he had done with Amnon and Absalom, David had left Adonijah unpunished for his crime. This ambitious and conniving young man had almost succeeded in stealing the kingship from Solomon, and yet David had taken no steps to mete out justice. By the time David died, Solomon had found himself sitting on the throne but with his former enemy living in the palace as if nothing had ever happened. His nearly successful coup attempt had gone completely unpunished. Both David and Solomon had allowed him to live, but Solomon had been wise enough to add one clear condition.

“If he proves himself to be loyal, not a hair on his head will be touched. But if he makes trouble, he will die.” – 1 Kings 1:52 NLT

But eventually, Adonijah showed his true colors. He made his way to the palace and approached the queen-mother, Bathsheba, to whom he made what appears to be a simple request. First, he reminded her that, as David’s oldest living son, he had been the rightful heir to the throne.

“As you know, the kingdom was rightfully mine; all Israel wanted me to be the next king.” – 1 Kings 2:15 NLT

Adonijah’s desire for the throne had not diminished. But he wisely and cleverly admitted that, while his attempted coup had failed, it had been the will of God.

“But the tables were turned, and the kingdom went to my brother instead; for that is the way the Lord wanted it. So now I have just one favor to ask of you. Please don’t turn me down.” – 1 Kings 2:15-16 NLT

He appealed to Bathsheba for one concession. He had been forced to give up his rightful place on the throne, and all he wanted in return was one simple thing: That Solomon would give him permission to marry Abishag, the maiden who had cared for David during his final days of life (1 Kings 1:1-4).

“Speak to King Solomon on my behalf, for I know he will do anything you request. Ask him to let me marry Abishag, the girl from Shunem.” – 1 Kings 2:17 NLT

Bathsheba agreed to take this seemingly benign request to her son. But the reaction she got from Solomon must have surprised her.

“May God strike me and even kill me if Adonijah has not sealed his fate with this request. The Lord has confirmed me and placed me on the throne of my father, David; he has established my dynasty as he promised. So as surely as the Lord lives, Adonijah will die this very day!” – 1 Kings 2:23-24 NLT

To Bathsheba, this must have come across as a bit of an overreaction on Solomon’s part. After all, Abishag was just a Shunnamite servant girl. What difference did it make if Adonijah married her? But Solomon, evidencing the wisdom for which he would become world-renowned, saw through Adonijah’s seemingly innocuous request.

“Although Abishag had been only David’s nurse, in the eyes of the people she passed as his concubine; and among the Israelites, just as with the ancient Persians (Herod. iii. 68), taking possession of the harem of a deceased king was equivalent to an establishment of the claim to the throne . . .” – C. F. Keil, The Books of the Kings

This same scene was played out when Absalom had entered Jerusalem after having stolen the kingdom from David. One of the first pieces of advice Absalom had received was to violate the concubines that had belonged to the former king.

“Sleep with your father’s concubines whom he left to care for the palace. All Israel will hear that you have made yourself repulsive to your father. Then your followers will be motivated to support you.” – 2 Samuel 1621 NLT

Solomon was not fooled by Adonijah’s ploy. He knew exactly what his conniving brother was attempting to do and dealt with him accordingly. He ordered the immediate execution of Adonijah, eliminating any further possibilities for his brother to usurp his throne.

Unlike his father, Solomon acted decisively. He did not put off until tomorrow what needed to be done today. While he knew his actions might be questioned by others, he did what needed to be done. He refused to allow this cancer to remain in his kingdom, choosing instead to remove the threat before it could do serious damage. In doing so, Solomon displayed a level of decisiveness that his father had lacked. Even at an early age, Solomon revealed a degree of wisdom and discernment that would serve him well for many years to come.

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

The Tangled Web We Weave

11 Then Nathan said to Bathsheba the mother of Solomon, “Have you not heard that Adonijah the son of Haggith has become king and David our lord does not know it? 12 Now therefore come, let me give you advice, that you may save your own life and the life of your son Solomon. 13 Go in at once to King David, and say to him, ‘Did you not, my lord the king, swear to your servant, saying, “Solomon your son shall reign after me, and he shall sit on my throne”? Why then is Adonijah king?’ 14 Then while you are still speaking with the king, I also will come in after you and confirm your words.”

15 So Bathsheba went to the king in his chamber (now the king was very old, and Abishag the Shunammite was attending to the king). 16 Bathsheba bowed and paid homage to the king, and the king said, “What do you desire?” 17 She said to him, “My lord, you swore to your servant by the Lord your God, saying, ‘Solomon your son shall reign after me, and he shall sit on my throne.’ 18 And now, behold, Adonijah is king, although you, my lord the king, do not know it. 19 He has sacrificed oxen, fattened cattle, and sheep in abundance, and has invited all the sons of the king, Abiathar the priest, and Joab the commander of the army, but Solomon your servant he has not invited. 20 And now, my lord the king, the eyes of all Israel are on you, to tell them who shall sit on the throne of my lord the king after him. 21 Otherwise it will come to pass, when my lord the king sleeps with his fathers, that I and my son Solomon will be counted offenders.”

22 While she was still speaking with the king, Nathan the prophet came in. 23 And they told the king, “Here is Nathan the prophet.” And when he came in before the king, he bowed before the king, with his face to the ground. 24 And Nathan said, “My lord the king, have you said, ‘Adonijah shall reign after me, and he shall sit on my throne’? 25 For he has gone down this day and has sacrificed oxen, fattened cattle, and sheep in abundance, and has invited all the king’s sons, the commanders of the army, and Abiathar the priest. And behold, they are eating and drinking before him, and saying, ‘Long live King Adonijah!’ 26 But me, your servant, and Zadok the priest, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and your servant Solomon he has not invited. 27 Has this thing been brought about by my lord the king and you have not told your servants who should sit on the throne of my lord the king after him?” 1 Kings 1:11-27 ESV

The spirit of disunity and division that will mark the nation of Israel’s future is already on display. King David, confined to bed because of old age, represents the weakened and dying vestiges of a bygone era. He was the king appointed and anointed by God.

He chose David his servant
    and took him from the sheepfolds;
from following the nursing ewes he brought him
    to shepherd Jacob his people,
    Israel his inheritance.
With upright heart he shepherded them
    and guided them with his skillful hand. – Psalm 78:70-72 ESV

He had ruled well and had followed God faithfully. And God had made a covenant commitment to David that ensured the longevity of his dynasty.

“When your days are fulfilled to walk with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from him who was before you, but I will confirm him in my house and in my kingdom forever, and his throne shall be established forever.” – 1 Chronicles 17:11-14 ESV

But there was a problem. While God had clearly ordained Solomon to be David’s successor, another one of David’s sons coveted the kingship for himself. Adonijah had already implemented his plan for dispossessing Solomon as the rightful heir to the throne. At this point, David was king in name only. His diminished physical state made it nearly impossible for him to reign and rule well. And, for whatever reason, David had not yet officially appointed Solomon as his successor. This unstable environment provided Adonijah with the perfect opportunity to stage his coup and establish himself as the next king of Israel.

But fortunately, David’s old friend and mentor, Nathan, was watching out for him. As soon as this faithful prophet of God became aware of Adonijah’s plot, he took immediate steps to protect the interests of David and to preserve the crown for Solomon. He devised a plan that would require the assistance of Solomon’s mother, Bathsheba. After informing her of Adonijah’s plot, he advised her to take the matter to David, even providing her with the exact words to say. She was to remind David of the commitment he had made to her that Solomon would be the next king of Israel. It is likely that David, in his old age, was suffering from some form of dementia and was oblivious to all that was transpiring in his kingdom. Bathsheba’s job was to help David recall the divine decree concerning Solomon. And as she was jogging the king’s memory, Nathan would enter the room and provide David with yet another reminder of God’s covenant concerning Solomon.

Bathsheba did just as Nathan had instructed her, entering the king’s chamber and informing him of all that was going on in his kingdom.

“My lord, you made a vow before the Lord your God when you said to me, ‘Your son Solomon will surely be the next king and will sit on my throne.’ But instead, Adonijah has made himself king, and my lord the king does not even know about it. – 1 Kings 1:17-18 NLT

Evidently, David was completely oblivious to what was taking place right under his nose. Confined to bed and suffering from diminished physical and mental capacities, David had no idea of the threat to his kingdom. But Bathsheba painted a clear and compelling picture of the situation and demanded that David act by officially declaring Solomon to be his successor. His failure to do so would forfeit the kingdom to Adonijah and seal the fate of Bathsheba and their son. And when Nathan entered the king’s chamber, he echoed the words of Bathsheba, but did so by questioning whether David had changed his mind and decided to anoint Adonijah as his rightful heir to the throne.

Even in his weakened state, David’s mind must have flashed back to the day when another one of his sons had stolen the kingdom from him. Absalom had also devised a plot to usurp the throne and had succeeded, forcing David and his associates to surrender the city of Jerusalem and the throne.

A messenger soon arrived in Jerusalem to tell David, “All Israel has joined Absalom in a conspiracy against you!”

“Then we must flee at once, or it will be too late!” David urged his men. “Hurry! If we get out of the city before Absalom arrives, both we and the city of Jerusalem will be spared from disaster.” – 2 Samuel 15:13-14 NLT

Now, years later, David was having to relive that nightmare experience as he heard the news of yet another son’s attempt to steal the crown. But none of this should have come as a surprise to David. As a result of his adulterous affair with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, David had been warned by God that his household would become a hotbed of division and conflict.

 “From this time on, your family will live by the sword because you have despised me by taking Uriah’s wife to be your own.

“This is what the Lord says: Because of what you have done, I will cause your own household to rebel against you.” – 2 Samuel 12:10-11 NLT

His sin with Bathsheba had proven to have long-term implications. And, even as David faced death, he was reminded that his decision to violate God’s law and satisfy his lustful desires was still impacting his home and his family – years later. Disobedience has consequences. Sin is costly. But in spite of David’s former failure and its impact on the present, God’s will would be done. What God had ordained would take place. Solomon would become the next king of Israel, but the stage has been set for the rest of the book of 1st Kings.

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

The Stage is Set

Now Adonijah the son of Haggith exalted himself, saying, “I will be king.” And he prepared for himself chariots and horsemen, and fifty men to run before him. His father had never at any time displeased him by asking, “Why have you done thus and so?” He was also a very handsome man, and he was born next after Absalom. He conferred with Joab the son of Zeruiah and with Abiathar the priest. And they followed Adonijah and helped him. But Zadok the priest and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada and Nathan the prophet and Shimei and Rei and David’s mighty men were not with Adonijah.

Adonijah sacrificed sheep, oxen, and fattened cattle by the Serpent’s Stone, which is beside En-rogel, and he invited all his brothers, the king’s sons, and all the royal officials of Judah, 10 but he did not invite Nathan the prophet or Benaiah or the mighty men or Solomon his brother. 1 Kings 1:5-10 ESV

The author of 1st Kings has established that David is old and nearing the end of his life. And, because he is king, his imminent death sets the stage for the selection of his successor to the throne of Israel. Under normal circumstances, the line of succession would fall to the eldest son. But in David’s case, things were a bit more complex because of his many wives and the number of sons they bore to him. Let’s just as that David had a complicated family situation.

His oldest son was Amnon, but he was dead. He had been murdered by his half-brother, Absalom, for the rape of Absalom’s sister, Tamar. When David had done nothing to punish Amnon for his crime, Absalom had taken matters into his own hands. Daniel was the second son of David, but he likely died early because, other than the record of his birth in 2 Samuel 3:3, he is never mentioned again. That leaves Absalom and Adonijah as the next two in line for the throne. But Absalom was also dead. After launching what appeared to be a successful coup for his father’s throne, Absalom was killed in battle against David’s forces (2 Samuel 18). This left Adonijah as next in line for ascension to the throne.

But God had other plans. David had been given clear instructions from God regarding his heir, and it was not going to be Adonijah. Even before Solomon had been born, God had visited David and given him a message concerning the identity of the son who would continue the Davidic dynasty.

“Behold, a son shall be born to you who shall be a man of rest. I will give him rest from all his surrounding enemies. For his name shall be Solomon, and I will give peace and quiet to Israel in his days. He shall build a house for my name. He shall be my son, and I will be his father, and I will establish his royal throne in Israel forever.” – 1 Chronicles 22:9-10 ESV

In a sense, Solomon had been a gift from God after David had been forced to suffer the loss of the son born through his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11). That child had been the byproduct of David’s immoral affair with a married woman. And to complicate matters further, when David had discovered that Bathsheba was pregnant, he had tried to cover up his indiscretion. When that failed, he ordered Bathsheba’s husband’s death and then took his widow to be one of his wives.

Then David comforted Bathsheba, his wife, and slept with her. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son, and David named him Solomon. The Lord loved the child and sent word through Nathan the prophet that they should name him Jedidiah (which means “beloved of the Lord”), as the Lord had commanded. – 2 Samuel 12:24-25 NLT

And this complicated and confusing background sets the stage for what happens in the opening chapter of 1st Kings. As the next-oldest living son, Adonijah assumed that he was the rightful heir to the throne, and he began to prepare for the transition of power.

Now Adonijah the son of Haggith exalted himself, saying, “I will be king.” And he prepared for himself chariots and horsemen, and fifty men to run before him. – 1 Kings 1:5 ESV

It seems that Adonijah had taken notes from the playbook of his older brother Absalom. This arrogant display of pomp and circumstance was exactly what Absalom had done as part of his successful strategy to usurp David’s throne (2 Samuel 15:1). Adonijah believed he was entitled to be the next king of Israel, and it seems that he was used to getting his way. The author reveals that Adonijah had been spoiled by his father.

Now his father, King David, had never disciplined him at any time, even by asking, “Why are you doing that?” – 1 Kings 1:6 NLT

Whether Adonijah knew of God’s plan for Solomon to be David’s successor is unclear. But it is readily apparent that Adonijah was determined to do whatever was necessary to see that he was the next king. He began by building a network of important relationships with individuals of power and influence.

Adonijah took Joab son of Zeruiah and Abiathar the priest into his confidence, and they agreed to help him become king. – 1 Kings 1:7 NLT

This ambitious young man was building strategic alliances that he hoped would prove helpful in his quest for Israel’s throne. But he faced significant opposition. There were those who remained loyal to David and who would see to it that the wishes of the king were fulfilled. It is likely that they were already aware of God’s plan for Solomon to be the next king of Israel.

All of this is painfully reminiscent of Absalom’s actions when he began his carefully orchestrated coup to supplant his father as king. Adonijah was not willing to wait for David’s death. He was going to take the throne by force if necessary. But to ensure that he had all the support he would need, Adonijah planned a banquet in the nearby city of En-rogel. He had a carefully crafted invitation list that included all of his brothers and half-brothers, except for Solomon. He also extended invitations to all the royal officials through the land of Judah. Adonijah made a covenant commitment with his guests at this elaborate feast, sealing their agreement to assist him in his coup d’état with blood sacrifices. 

This opening chapter of the book lays the foundation for all that is to come. David is dying. He is weak and incapable of caring for himself. God has established a plan for his succession. But the nation is already showing signs of discord and dissension. Sadly, another one of David’s sons is leading an open rebellion against his own father and creating a potentially deadly situation that could end in bloodshed and division. You can almost feel the sense of foreboding coming off the pages as the author sets the stage for all that is to follow. Israel’s nation is about to enter a new era, one that will be marked by a slow and steady spiral toward unfaithfulness and spiritual infidelity. With David’s death, the man after God’s own heart, the people of Israel will find themselves suffering under a succession of shepherds whose spiritual integrity will slowly decline, leaving the nation in a progressively weakened state.

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

End-Of-Life Regrets.

 

Now King David was old and advanced in years. And although they covered him with clothes, he could not get warm. Therefore his servants said to him, “Let a young woman be sought for my lord the king, and let her wait on the king and be in his service. Let her lie in your arms, that my lord the king may be warm.” So they sought for a beautiful young woman throughout all the territory of Israel, and found Abishag the Shunammite, and brought her to the king. The young woman was very beautiful, and she was of service to the king and attended to him, but the king knew her not.

Now Adonijah the son of Haggith exalted himself, saying, “I will be king.” And he prepared for himself chariots and horsemen, and fifty men to run before him. His father had never at any time displeased him by asking, “Why have you done thus and so?” He was also a very handsome man, and he was born next after Absalom. He conferred with Joab the son of Zeruiah and with Abiathar the priest. And they followed Adonijah and helped him. But Zadok the priest and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada and Nathan the prophet and Shimei and Rei and David’s mighty men were not with Adonijah.

Adonijah sacrificed sheep, oxen, and fattened cattle by the Serpent’s Stone, which is beside En-rogel, and he invited all his brothers, the king’s sons, and all the royal officials of Judah, but he did not invite Nathan the prophet or Benaiah or the mighty men or Solomon his brother. – 1 Kings 1:1-10 ESV

In the Hebrew Bible, the books of 1 and 2 Kings were one book and were considered by the ancients to be a continuation of the books of 1 and 2 Samuel. The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew text, compiled sometime around 250 B.C., the single book of the Kingdoms, as it was known, was divided into two books and called 3 Kingdoms and 4 Kingdoms. They considered our 1 and 2 Samuel to be 1 and 2 Kingdoms. Hundreds of years later, with Jerome’s Vulgate (Latin) translation of the Hebrews text, the books were changed to 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings. But in spite of all the name changes, the common belief remained the same: The books of 1 and 2 Kings were closely clinked to the books of 1 and 2 Samuel, continuing the narrative that began with King Saul and ended with King David.

With the opening of 1 Kings, we fast-forward and find David advanced in years. He is in poor health and requires round-the-clock nursing care. Long gone are the days of battle. David would no longer accompany his mighty men as they faced the enemies of Israel. Like every other human being, David was facing the inevitable reality of old age and death. This once-great leader was now weak and coming to the end of his long and very fruitful life.

The author provides us with an interesting piece of information that, at first glance, seems superfluous and unnecessary.

…no matter how many blankets covered him, he could not keep warm. So his advisers told him, “Let us find a young virgin to wait on you and look after you, my lord. She will lie in your arms and keep you warm.” – 1 Kings 1:1-2 NLT

These seems like an odd treatment for David’s condition, but it was actually quite common in those days. To keep an elderly person warm, they would place a healthy person in bed with them. The body heat of the younger person, trapped under the blankets, would provide the warmth the elderly person’s body could no longer produce. So, we should not automatically see this as something odd or as an indication that something sexual was going on. In fact, the text tells us that, while the girl was very beautiful, “the king had no sexual relations with her” (1 King 1:4 NLT). But it is hard not to make the connection between this period of David’s life and the earlier years when his sexual drive had gotten him into trouble. We know well the story of David and Bathsheba. But we should also remember that David had many wives. His love for women would cause him great trouble throughout his lifetime. But now, at the end of his life, David spends his days lying in bed with a young, beautiful woman, receiving no pleasure from her, other than the warmth of her body.

But it is not only David’s physical powers that have diminished. As king, his old age and incapacity are going to weaken his ability to rule. Everyone knows that his days are numbered, and there will be those who see this as an opportunity to seize the throne for themselves. One such individual was Adonijah the son of Haggith. Adonijah, whose name means “Yahweh is Lord”, was David’s fourth son, born to him by Haggith, one of David’s many wives. Adonijah was not in line to be the natural successor to the throne, but that did not stop him from coveting the position and the power that came with it. Taking a page out of the playbook of his older, deceased brother, Absalom, Adonijah “provided himself with chariots and charioteers and recruited fifty men to run in front of him” (1 Kings 1:5 NLT). That is exactly what Absalom had done when he was preparing to take the kingship from David years earlier.

Absalom bought a chariot and horses, and he hired fifty bodyguards to run ahead of him. – 2 Samuel 15:1 NLT

Adonijah decided the best way to become the next king was to act like one. And like his former older sibling, Adonijah was handsome. He had seen how far Absalom had gotten on his good looks and kingly image, so he saw no reason not to try. And the text provides us an important insight into Adonijah’s upbringing. “Now his father, King David, had never disciplined him at any time, even by asking, ‘Why are you doing that?’” (1 Kings 1:6 NLT). Once again, we see David’s failure to discipline his children coming back to haunt him. David had been a great military ruler, but had neglected to lay down any laws at home. He was a reluctant disciplinarian who let his children get away with murder, both literally and figuratively. Adonijah had seen how David had dealt with Absalom’s murder of Amnon. David had done nothing. David had even allowed Absalom to return home from exile, refusing to discipline him in any way for what he had done. And David’s lack of discipline had led Absalom to rebel against him, forcing David to flee Jerusalem and give up his kingdom. David’s kingdom had been restored to him only when Joab had killed Absalom. So Adonijah, who had been raised in this atmosphere of unrestrained freedom and license, saw no reason not to take what he coveted. He was not used to being told no. He was accustomed to getting what he wanted. And he coveted the crown.

So, Adonijah began to gather together the group who would assist him in his coup. Among them would be Joab, David’s military commander, and Abiathar the priest. These two individuals probably saw this as an opportunity to secure their positions. Joab, who had disobeyed David and killed Absalom, knew he was not on David’s good side and would probably be demoted if Solomon became king. Abiathar had stood by and watched as David had given Zadok, another priest, increasing prominence in his administration. These two men, among others, cast their allegiance with Adonijah.

Adonijah held a banquet, inviting all his brothers, except Solomon, as well as all the royal officials of Judah. For obvious reasons, David’s mighty men were left off the invitation list. This banquet was designed to win over as many of David’s former allies as possible. Like Absalom, Adonijah was playing a carefully crafted public relations game, where he was gaining favor with all those who could help him gain the throne. And all of this should remind us of the warning given to David after his affair with Bathsheba.

The Lord, the God of Israel, says: I anointed you king of Israel and saved you from the power of Saul. I gave you your master’s house and his wives and the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. And if that had not been enough, I would have given you much, much more. Why, then, have you despised the word of the Lord and done this horrible deed? For you have murdered Uriah the Hittite with the sword of the Ammonites and stolen his wife. From this time on, your family will live by the sword because you have despised me by taking Uriah’s wife to be your own. – 2 Samuel 12:7-10 NLT

Even in the closing days of David’s life, the prophecy would find itself being fulfilled. Yet another one of David’s sons would attempt to take the throne from him. Adonijah didn’t care that Solomon had been chosen by God to be the next king of Israel. He wanted the throne for himself. And all of David’s other sons, except for Solomon, would join Adonijah in his attempted coup. David, the man after God’s own heart, had raised a palace full of children who seemed to have no heart for God. Only Solomon would give evidence of having been raised in the fear and admonition of the Lord, and this was most likely due to his mother, Bathsheba, not his father. Like most men, who find themselves late in life, facing the prospect of their own death, David would long to leave a legacy of godly children. He would give his kingdom to know that his sons and daughters were godly and that his love for God would be carried on by his progeny. But David had already lost three sons due to sin and rebellion. Now he was facing the prospect of watching yet another son rebel against the expressed will of God and face the consequences. David would be remembered as a great king. But it isn’t hard to imagine that he would have preferred to have been remembered as a great father.

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

Leading Wisely and Well.

And Mephibosheth the son of Saul came down to meet the king. He had neither taken care of his feet nor trimmed his beard nor washed his clothes, from the day the king departed until the day he came back in safety. And when he came to Jerusalem to meet the king, the king said to him, “Why did you not go with me, Mephibosheth?” He answered, “My lord, O king, my servant deceived me, for your servant said to him, ‘I will saddle a donkey for myself, that I may ride on it and go with the king.’ For your servant is lame. He has slandered your servant to my lord the king. But my lord the king is like the angel of God; do therefore what seems good to you. For all my father’s house were but men doomed to death before my lord the king, but you set your servant among those who eat at your table. What further right have I, then, to cry to the king?” And the king said to him, “Why speak any more of your affairs? I have decided: you and Ziba shall divide the land.” And Mephibosheth said to the king, “Oh, let him take it all, since my lord the king has come safely home.” – 2 Samuel 19:24-30 ESV

This short little vignette offers another example of David’s seeming inability to deal wisely and decisively with difficult situations. Here, he is confronted with a situation where he must discern the truth between what Ziba and Mephibosheth have told him. If you recall, when David was fleeing from Jerusalem, Ziba, the servant of Mephibosheth showed up bearing provisions. When David asked him where his master was, Ziba told him, “He stayed in Jerusalem” (2 Samuel 16:3 NLT). Then he added a bit of news that would condemn Mephibosheth in David’s eyes. He informed David that when Mephibosheth had heard that Absalom was taking over the kingdom, he had replied, “Today I will get back the kingdom of my grandfather Saul” (2 Samuel 16:3 NLT). In other words, Ziba had inferred that Mephibosheth was siding with Absalom in the hopes of regaining the crown. But none of that should have made sense to David. Absalom was not going to hand the kingdom over to Mephibosheth, just because he was the grandson of Saul. And Mephibosheth had nothing to gain by Absalom becoming king. David had already given him all the land that had once belonged to Saul. Ziba and his 15 sons were ordered by David to care for the land on Mephibosheth’s behalf, while he ate all his meals with David in the palace. You can easily see why Ziba might want to paint Mephibosheth in a negative light and why he had showed up that day bearing gifts to David. And David had taken Ziba’s word concerning Mephibosheth as truth and rewarded him by giving him all of Mephibosheth’s property and possessions.

Then David returned to Jerusalem and found Mephibosheth in a disheveled state. When he questioned Mephibosheth about why he had not fled Jerusalem alongside him, Mephibosheth revealed that he had intended to, but had been betrayed by Ziba.

“My lord the king, my servant Ziba deceived me. I told him, ‘Saddle my donkey so I can go with the king.’ For as you know I am crippled. Ziba has slandered me by saying that I refused to come. But I know that my lord the king is like an angel of God, so do what you think is best. All my relatives and I could expect only death from you, my lord, but instead you have honored me by allowing me to eat at your own table! What more can I ask?” – 2 Samuel 19:26-28 NLT

David was faced with a dilemma. He had already awarded all the property and possessions of Mephibosheth to Ziba, which may explain why Mephibosheth “had not cared for his feet, trimmed his beard, or washed his clothes since the day the king left Jerusalem” (2 Samuel 19:24 NLT). Now David heard the other side of the story and found himself needing to make a determination as to what would be the just and wise thing to do. And David’s decision?

“I’ve decided that you and Ziba will divide your land equally between you.” – 2 Samuel 19:29 NLT

Mephibosheth’s response speaks volumes and should have opened David’s eyes as to what was really going on. Mephibosheth didn’t argue or appear shocked. He simply replied, ““Give him all of it. I am content just to have you safely back again, my lord the king!” (2 Samuel 19:30 NLT).

This whole exchange should bring to mind a similar story that took place during the reign of Solomon, David’s son. Renowned for his wisdom, one day he was confronted with a case involving two women who came to him for justice. It would require Solomon to determine the truth regarding which woman was the real mother of an infant boy. Here are the details provided by the women themselves, just as Solomon heard it:

“Please, my lord,” one of them began, “this woman and I live in the same house. I gave birth to a baby while she was with me in the house. Three days later this woman also had a baby. We were alone; there were only two of us in the house.

 “But her baby died during the night when she rolled over on it. Then she got up in the night and took my son from beside me while I was asleep. She laid her dead child in my arms and took mine to sleep beside her. And in the morning when I tried to nurse my son, he was dead! But when I looked more closely in the morning light, I saw that it wasn’t my son at all.”

Then the other woman interrupted, “It certainly was your son, and the living child is mine.”

“No,” the first woman said, “the living child is mine, and the dead one is yours.” And so they argued back and forth before the king. – 1 Kings 3:17-22 NLT

What would Solomon do? How would he decide which one was telling the truth. Interestingly enough, his initial decision was similar to that of David. He determined to divide the disputed “property” between the two of them.

Then the king said, “Let’s get the facts straight. Both of you claim the living child is yours, and each says that the dead one belongs to the other. All right, bring me a sword.” So a sword was brought to the king.

Then he said, “Cut the living child in two, and give half to one woman and half to the other!” – 1 Kings 3:23-25 NLT

And Solomon’s decision achieved exactly what he was looking for. The real mother, shocked at the thought of her son being put to death, pleaded with Solomon to let him live and to give him to the other woman. The other woman, driven by jealousy and not by love for the baby, callously replied, “All right, he will be neither yours nor mine; divide him between us!” (1 Kings 3:26 NLT). Solomon had heard all he needed to hear. He wisely ruled, “Do not kill the child, but give him to the woman who wants him to live, for she is his mother!” (1 Kings 3:27 NLT).

So, what does this have to do with David, Ziba and Mephibosheth? The responses of the real mother and that of Mephibosheth were evidence of the veracity of their story. Solomon was wise enough to see through the lies of the other woman. But David, having already given all of the land of Mephibosheth to Ziba without giving him the benefit of a doubt or having heard his side of the story, decided to split the difference and give each of them half. But one of them was lying. One deserved nothing. When Mephibosheth told David, “Give him all of it”, he should have known who was telling the truth. He should have reinstated all the lands of Saul back to Mephibosheth. But instead, he rewarded Ziba for his deception.

David was in a conciliatory mood. He didn’t want to offend anybody. He was making peace with everybody. At this point in his life, just getting along was more important than justice. Winning friends and influencing enemies was first and foremost on his mind. But he was the king. It was his duty to dispense justice. It was his God-given responsibility to rule righteously and justly, not based on expedience or convenience. It would be David’s son, Solomon, who would later write these powerful words, that stand in stark contrast to the actions of David.

Give your love of justice to the king, O God,
    and righteousness to the king’s son.
Help him judge your people in the right way;
    let the poor always be treated fairly.
May the mountains yield prosperity for all,
    and may the hills be fruitful.
Help him to defend the poor,
    to rescue the children of the needy,
    and to crush their oppressors.
May they fear you as long as the sun shines,
    as long as the moon remains in the sky.
    Yes, forever! – Psalm 72:1-5 NLT

The prophet, Isaiah, speaks of a future day when a righteous king will reign. He tells of a king who will rule justly and righteously.

Look, a righteous king is coming!
    And honest princes will rule under him.
Each one will be like a shelter from the wind
    and a refuge from the storm,
like streams of water in the desert
    and the shadow of a great rock in a parched land.

Then everyone who has eyes will be able to see the truth,
    and everyone who has ears will be able to hear it.
Even the hotheads will be full of sense and understanding.
    Those who stammer will speak out plainly.
In that day ungodly fools will not be heroes.
    Scoundrels will not be respected. – Isaiah 32:1-5 NLT

That king will be Jesus. He will rule on this earth from the throne of David in Jerusalem. He will not be swayed by the lies of ungodly fools or motivated by the deceptive actions of scoundrels. He will be anything but politically correct. He will not rule selfishly or short-sightedly. He will always be concerned with the glory of God and the good of the people. David would ultimately prove to be a good king, some might even say, a great king. But he was nothing compared to the King to come. He was a man, marred by sin and easily influenced by the falsehood within his own heart and the deceptive motives of those around him. But what we can learn from the life of David is the desperate need we all have of God’s help in leading well. Without His assistance, we are easily deceived, by our own hearts and by the schemes of others. We are easy prey to the enemy. Only God can provide us with the wisdom we need to lead our families, employees, churches, and lives well.

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

A House Divided.

And King David sent this message to Zadok and Abiathar the priests: “Say to the elders of Judah, ‘Why should you be the last to bring the king back to his house, when the word of all Israel has come to the king? You are my brothers; you are my bone and my flesh. Why then should you be the last to bring back the king?’ And say to Amasa, ‘Are you not my bone and my flesh? God do so to me and more also, if you are not commander of my army from now on in place of Joab.’” And he swayed the heart of all the men of Judah as one man, so that they sent word to the king, “Return, both you and all your servants.” So the king came back to the Jordan, and Judah came to Gilgal to meet the king and to bring the king over the Jordan.

And Shimei the son of Gera, the Benjaminite, from Bahurim, hurried to come down with the men of Judah to meet King David. And with him were a thousand men from Benjamin. And Ziba the servant of the house of Saul, with his fifteen sons and his twenty servants, rushed down to the Jordan before the king, and they crossed the ford to bring over the king’s household and to do his pleasure. And Shimei the son of Gera fell down before the king, as he was about to cross the Jordan, and said to the king, “Let not my lord hold me guilty or remember how your servant did wrong on the day my lord the king left Jerusalem. Do not let the king take it to heart. For your servant knows that I have sinned. Therefore, behold, I have come this day, the first of all the house of Joseph to come down to meet my lord the king.” Abishai the son of Zeruiah answered, “Shall not Shimei be put to death for this, because he cursed the Lord‘s anointed?” But David said, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah, that you should this day be as an adversary to me? Shall anyone be put to death in Israel this day? For do I not know that I am this day king over Israel?” And the king said to Shimei, “You shall not die.” And the king gave him his oath. – 2 Samuel 19:11-23 ESV

Joab had forced David out his lingering state of mourning over Absalom and demanded that he take back the reins of his fractured kingdom. And the very first thing David did was attempt to win back over his own tribe of Judah. They had backed Absalom during his attempt to take the kingdom from David and now, David was going to have to win back their trust and favor. So he sent the priests, Zadok and Abiathar, with an offer of pardon and restoration if they would only recommit themselves to him as their king. He even offered to replace Joab as the commander of his army with Amasa, the man whom Absalom had made his leading general. We know little about Amasa other than what we are told in 2 Samuel 17:

Absalom had appointed Amasa as commander of his army, replacing Joab, who had been commander under David. (Amasa was Joab’s cousin. His father was Jether, an Ishmaelite. His mother, Abigail daughter of Nahash, was the sister of Joab’s mother, Zeruiah).   – 2 Samuel 17:25 NLT

Whether or not this was a wise move on David’s part is yet to be seen. But it was an obvious slap in the face to Joab and intended as punishment for his role in the death of Absalom, against the explicit orders of David to spare his life. Once again, we see David making judgments that appear to be motivated by emotion rather than logic or reason. It had been Joab who led David’s army against the forces of Absalom and delivered a resounding victory. It had been Joab who spoke words of truth to David and commanded him to stop his mourning over Absalom and start acting like a king again. But David would reward Joab by giving his position to Amasa, Joab’s own cousin and the man who had led the army that had tried to destroy David. Some might say that this was just a case of political posturing on David’s part – an attempt to win back over the opposing side. David was just “reaching across the aisle” in a gesture of good will. But was this a wise move? Better yet, was it a godly move? In his effort to unify his fractured nation, was David going too far? Was he sending the wrong message? It is interesting to note that David does little to punish those who rebelled against him, yet he demotes Joab, his long-time friend and the commander of his army. Just as he never punished Amnon for raping Tamar or Absalom for murdering Amnon, David seems reluctant to mete out any kind of justice for the many acts of treason committed against him. And it is important to remember that each and every person who participated in the coup against David was actually sinning against God, refusing to accept His appointed king and determining to replace him with their own.

David even pardoned Shimei, the man who had cursed and thrown stones at him as he was fleeing from Jerusalem. This disgruntled member of the clan of Saul had publicly berated and chastised David.

“Get out of here, you murderer, you scoundrel!” he shouted at David. “The Lord is paying you back for all the bloodshed in Saul’s clan. You stole his throne, and now the Lord has given it to your son Absalom. At last you will taste some of your own medicine, for you are a murderer!” – 2 Samuel 16:7-8 NLT

Not surprisingly, it was Shimei who was one of the first to show up on David’s doorstep begging for forgiveness.

As the king was about to cross the river, Shimei fell down before him. “My lord the king, please forgive me,” he pleaded. “Forget the terrible thing your servant did when you left Jerusalem. May the king put it out of his mind. I know how much I sinned. That is why I have come here today, the very first person in all Israel to greet my lord the king.” – 2 Samuel 19:18-20 NLT

And just as on the day when Shimei had hurled rocks at David, Abishai spoke up and offered to take his life, saying, “Shimei should die, for he cursed the Lord’s anointed king!” (2 Samuel 19:21 NLT). But, once again, David rebuked Abishai, and told him, “Why have you become my adversary today? This is not a day for execution, for today I am once again the king of Israel!” (2 Samuel 19:22 NLT). Rather than retribution, Shimei was given a full pardon. David was understandably reticent to mar his return to office with additional bloodshed or acts of vengeance. He wanted to be viewed as a peacemaker, not a vindictive, revenge-seeking dictator who was going to pay back everyone who had wronged him.

But there is an interesting side note concerning David and Shimei that sheds some light on David’s real attitude toward this man. Years later, when David was nearing death and preparing to hand over the kingdom to his son, Solomon, he gave him a series of directives, to be carried out after his death. One of them concerned Shimei.

“And remember Shimei son of Gera, the man from Bahurim in Benjamin. He cursed me with a terrible curse as I was fleeing to Mahanaim. When he came down to meet me at the Jordan River, I swore by the Lord that I would not kill him. But that oath does not make him innocent. You are a wise man, and you will know how to arrange a bloody death for him.” – 1 Kings2:8-9 NLT

It seems that David’s pardon of Shimei was temporary in nature. David would keep his word and not seek revenge against Shimei, but that did not mean his son would not. David was basically commanding Solomon to kill Shimei for him. But Solomon came up with a different plan.

The king then sent for Shimei and told him, “Build a house here in Jerusalem and live there. But don’t step outside the city to go anywhere else. On the day you so much as cross the Kidron Valley, you will surely die; and your blood will be on your own head.” – 1 Kings 2:36-37 NLT

This arrangement would work well for Shimei until he made the mistake of leaving Jerusalem in search of a couple of runaway slaves. When Solomon found out, he had Shimei executed. So David’s revenge against Shimei was ultimately carried out. He paid for his sins. But it seems that David was constantly letting someone else do his dirty business. He had let Absalom carry out justice against Amnon. Then it took Joab to pay back Absalom for his act of treason against his own father. And he assigned Solomon with the task of dealing with the rebellion of Shimei.

There is no doubt that David was in a difficult spot. He had a divided kingdom. His reputation was in a shambles. Absalom had spent years disseminating vicious rumors concerning David’s poor leadership and lack of justice. He had raised questions regarding David’s integrity and undermined the peoples’ trust in him. So David had his work cut out for him. But what he really needed to do was act like a king. He needed to lead decisively and justly. He could not afford to be complacent or to be seen as lacking in conviction. David’s desire to be politically correct and to try and treat everybody with kid gloves was going to blow up in his face. It would seem that David should have spent more time worrying about what God would have him do, rather than obsessing over what was politically expedient. The people wanted and needed a king. Part of the reason they had backed Absalom was that he came across as the kind of leader they had been looking for. He had exposed flaws in David’s leadership. And David continued to allow those very same weaknesses to plague his reign.

God had provided a means by which the kings of Israel were to rule. He had given them His law and statutes. They were to operate based on His will, not what was politically correct or personally convenient. In fact, God had clearly said:

“When he sits on the throne as king, he must copy for himself this body of instruction on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. He must always keep that copy with him and read it daily as long as he lives. That way he will learn to fear the Lord his God by obeying all the terms of these instructions and decrees. This regular reading will prevent him from becoming proud and acting as if he is above his fellow citizens. It will also prevent him from turning away from these commands in the smallest way. And it will ensure that he and his descendants will reign for many generations in Israel.” – Deuteronomy 17:18-20 NLT

David’s divided kingdom needed a king who had God’s undivided attention. They needed a monarch who was obsessed with doing the godly thing, not the expedient thing. They needed a man after God’s own heart, not a king who spent all his time trying to win over theirs.

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

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

Ungratefulness For God’s Faithfulness.

Then Ahimaaz the son of Zadok said, “Let me run and carry news to the king that the Lord has delivered him from the hand of his enemies.” And Joab said to him, “You are not to carry news today. You may carry news another day, but today you shall carry no news, because the king’s son is dead.” Then Joab said to the Cushite, “Go, tell the king what you have seen.” The Cushite bowed before Joab, and ran. Then Ahimaaz the son of Zadok said again to Joab, “Come what may, let me also run after the Cushite.” And Joab said, “Why will you run, my son, seeing that you will have no reward for the news?” “Come what may,” he said, “I will run.” So he said to him, “Run.” Then Ahimaaz ran by the way of the plain, and outran the Cushite.

Now David was sitting between the two gates, and the watchman went up to the roof of the gate by the wall, and when he lifted up his eyes and looked, he saw a man running alone. The watchman called out and told the king. And the king said, “If he is alone, there is news in his mouth.” And he drew nearer and nearer. The watchman saw another man running. And the watchman called to the gate and said, “See, another man running alone!” The king said, “He also brings news.” The watchman said, “I think the running of the first is like the running of Ahimaaz the son of Zadok.” And the king said, “He is a good man and comes with good news.”

Then Ahimaaz cried out to the king, “All is well.” And he bowed before the king with his face to the earth and said, “Blessed be the Lord your God, who has delivered up the men who raised their hand against my lord the king.” And the king said, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?” Ahimaaz answered, “When Joab sent the king’s servant, your servant, I saw a great commotion, but I do not know what it was.” And the king said, “Turn aside and stand here.” So he turned aside and stood still.

And behold, the Cushite came, and the Cushite said, “Good news for my lord the king! For the Lord has delivered you this day from the hand of all who rose up against you.” The king said to the Cushite, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?” And the Cushite answered, “May the enemies of my lord the king and all who rise up against you for evil be like that young man.” And the king was deeply moved and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept. And as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” – 2 Samuel 18:19-33 ESV 

David had sent his troops into battle against the superior forces of his son, Absalom, and he had stayed behind. As the day wore on, he could do nothing but wonder what had happened. This was a winner-takes-all battle that would determine whether David would regain his throne, spend his life in exile, or lose his life to his own son. So, when Joab and his troops had won a great victory over and done away with Absalom, they sent word to David. But Joab knew exactly how David would respond. He had been fully aware of David’s command to spare the life of Absalom, but he had disobeyed. He had personally driven three spears into the body of David’s rebellious son as he helplessly hung from a tree, his hair long hair caught in its branches.
Ahimaaz, the son of Zadok the priest, had already been chosen by David to be a courier, bringing him any news taking place within the walls of Jerusalem. So, he offered to be the one to inform David of the great victory. But Joab knew that this news was not going to be received well by David. Joab knew David well and had seen how he had treated other messengers who bore bad news (2 Samuel 1). As a result, he sent a Cushite, a foreigner, to tell David of the victory and the death of his son. Yet, Ahimaaz was determined to be the one to give David the news and he outran the Cushite. And when he arrived at David’s camp, he only told him of the victory over the Israelites. He pleaded ignorance regarding the physical well-being of Absalom. Perhaps he didn’t know what had happened or he could have lied, desiring to win favor with David by being the first to tell him the good news of the victory. He would let the Cushite be the bearer of bad news. And bad news it was. David’s reaction says it all.
The king was overcome with emotion. He went up to the room over the gateway and burst into tears. And as he went, he cried, “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you! O Absalom, my son, my son.” – 2 Samuel 18:33 NLT
David doesn’t say a word about the victory. He shows no gratitude to either Ahimaaz or the Cushite for bringing him news that his kingdom had been restored. Even these two young men had recognized the hand of God in the day’s events. Ahimaaz had announced to David:
“Praise to the Lord your God, who has handed over the rebels who dared to stand against my lord the king.” – 2 Samuel 18:28 NLT

The Cushite had responded in a similar way:

“I have good news for my lord the king. Today the Lord has rescued you from all those who rebelled against you.” – 2 Samuel 18:31 NLT

There is a passage in the book of Isaiah reflects the perspective David should have had when he received the news of God’s miraculous deliverance of his kingdom.

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who brings good news, the good news of peace and salvation, the news that the God of Israel reigns! – Isaiah 52:7 NLT

But rather than celebrate the salvation of God, David mourned the loss of his son. He even wished that he had been the one to die that day, instead of Absalom. This ingratitude toward God was evident to all those around David. It shocked and surprised them. David was taking the divine deliverance of God and treating it with disdain. It was one thing to mourn and regret the loss of his son, but he had an obligation as the God-anointed king of Israel to lead his people by example. This was not to be a day of mourning, but celebration. The kingdom needed to unified. David needed to put aside his personal issues and begin the process of restoring the faith of his people in his ability to lead well. Absalom had undermined David’s integrity and had caused the people to reject his as king. Now that he had his throne back, he need to win back the hearts of the people. But David was too busy mourning.

And this would go on for some time. The opening lines of the very next chapter tell us:

Word soon reached Joab that the king was weeping and mourning for Absalom. As all the people heard of the king’s deep grief for his son, the joy of that day’s victory was turned into deep sadness. They crept back into the town that day as though they were ashamed and had deserted in battle. The king covered his face with his hands and kept on crying, “O my son Absalom! O Absalom, my son, my son!” – 2 Samuel 19:1-4 NLT

David’s demeanor cast a pall over the entire nation. Rather than displaying a spirit of celebration, there was a somberness and seriousness to the people. They were afraid to express joy because their king was despondent and depressed. And David’s actions would not have expressed confidence in his troops. They would have naturally been upset that the king had turned their great victory into a national day of mourning. They had risked their lives and many of their brothers had lost their lives so that David might be restored to his throne. And all he could do was weep over the death of his rebellious son.

The prophet Isaiah goes on to describe how the king and the nation should have responded to the news of the victory over their enemy:

The watchmen shout and sing with joy,
    for before their very eyes
    they see the Lord returning to Jerusalem.
Let the ruins of Jerusalem break into joyful song,
    for the Lord has comforted his people.
    He has redeemed Jerusalem.
The Lord has demonstrated his holy power
    before the eyes of all the nations.
All the ends of the earth will see
    the victory of our God. – Isaiah 52:8-10 NLT

How easy it is for us to view life from our limited perspective and to selfishly place our desires over those of God. David had wanted to spare Absalom and somehow return things back to the way they had been before. But God, in His justice, had determined to punish Absalom for what he had done. He was deserving of death. And had David been able to spare him, Absalom would have proven to be a constant threat to his throne. God did what needed to be done. And He had graciously given David back his kingdom. But rather than gratitude and joy, David returned God’s undeserved favor with self-pity and infectious spirit of sorrow.

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