Passing the Buck.

“Moreover, you also know what Joab the son of Zeruiah did to me, how he dealt with the two commanders of the armies of Israel, Abner the son of Ner, and Amasa the son of Jether, whom he killed, avenging in time of peace for blood that had been shed in war, and putting the blood of war on the belt around his waist and on the sandals on his feet. Act therefore according to your wisdom, but do not let his gray head go down to Sheol in peace. But deal loyally with the sons of Barzillai the Gileadite, and let them be among those who eat at your table, for with such loyalty they met me when I fled from Absalom your brother. And there is also with you Shimei the son of Gera, the Benjaminite from Bahurim, who cursed me with a grievous curse on the day when I went to Mahanaim. But when he came down to meet me at the Jordan, I swore to him by the Lord, saying, ‘I will not put you to death with the sword.’ Now therefore do not hold him guiltless, for you are a wise man. You will know what you ought to do to him, and you shall bring his gray head down with blood to Sheol.” 1 Kings 2:5-9 ESV

As was pointed out in the previous blog, David had two sets of instructions for his son. One was spiritual in nature, while the other was of a more personal nature. In the first four verses of this chapter, David instructed Solomon about what it means to be a man – a godly man. He encouraged Solomon to be obedient to God, reminding him that it would be the key to the success of his kingdom. But now, David makes a slight departure and gives Solomon some last-minute instructions regarding a few personal matters. These involved some unresolved issues linked to David’s reign and involving a few individuals whom David wanted to pay back – either positively or negatively.

There are three men mentioned: Joab, the long-time commander of David’s armies; Shimei, the Benjaminite who cursed David as he fled Jerusalem during the coup by Absalom; and Barzillai, the wealthy Gileadite, who provided David and his companions with “beds, basins, and earthen vessels, wheat, barley, flour, parched grain, beans and lentils, honey and curds and sheep and cheese from the herd” (2 Samuel 17:28-29 ESV), after Absalom took over Jerusalem. In the cases of the first two men, David was passing on to Solomon the responsibility to mete out justice for what they had done to him. In the case of Berzillai, David was instructing Solomon to show favor to this man and his family by rewarding him for the kindness he had shown him.

It seems odd that David would have waited all these years to do anything about all of these situations. In the case of Shimei, David had sworn an oath before God, that he would not take his life. The exchange that took place between Shimei and David upon David’s return to Jerusalem is so significant about David asking Solomon to execute him. After the defeat of Absalom’s forces by Joab and armies of David, Shimei ran out to meet David, crying out:

“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 19:19-20 NLT

Shimei confessed his sin to David. He acknowledged the gravity of what he had done. He had cursed the king and even thrown stones at him as he made his way of our Jerusalem. But now, he is remorseful, perhaps even repentant, for what he had done. And he pleads to David for mercy. And while those around David counseled him to kill Shimei for what he had done, David rejected their advice and responded, “‘This is not a day for execution, for today I am once again the king of Israel!’ Then, turning to Shimei, David vowed, ‘Your life will be spared’” (2 Samuel 19:22-23 NLT). How would Shimei have received that news from David? With joy and great relief, but also with a sense of permanence. In other words, Shimei would have taken David at his word and believed that his life was permanently spared. He was forgiven and granted mercy for his entire lifetime. But that was not to be the case. Now, David was asking Solomon to take the life of Shimei. He doesn’t leave Shimei’s fate up to Solomon’s discretion, but clearly tells him, “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). All that David left up to Solomon was the form of execution.

In the case of Joab, David had more than enough reasons to take his life. During the days when David had ascended to the throne after Saul, Abner, Saul’s military commander, had led a rebellion against David, placing Ish-bosheth, the son of Saul, on the throne of Israel. When Abner offered to strike a treaty with David, promising to bring all the tribes of Israel with him, the king accepted, But Joab, seeking revenge for Abner’s murder of his brother, killed Abner. His action infuriated David, but he chose to do nothing about it. Years later, when David’s son, Absalom, raised up a rebellion against his father in order to take the throne from him, Joab would kill Absalom in battle, against the clear command of David (2 Samuel 18:9-15). Finally, when David chose to demote Joab for his disobedience, and replace him with Amasa, Joab would respond by murdering Amasa in cold blood (2 Samuel 20:8-10). In each of these cases, Joab had committed murder and was deserving of death. But David had chosen to ignore his responsibility as king and had allowed Joab to live. And yet, now that David was about to die and Solomon had been crowned the next king of Israel, he was passing off his responsibilities to his son. Once again, David leaves nothing up to Solomon’s imagination when it comes to the fate of Joab, except the form of his execution. David matter-of-factly states, “Do with him what you think best, but don’t let him grow old and go to his grave in peace” (1 Kings 2:6 NLT).

So, Solomon, the newly anointed king of Israel, is being given the unenviable task of meting out vengeance on behalf of his father against two men. He would have to do his father’s dirty work and clean up what David should have taken care of long ago. In the case of Shimei, there should have been no vengeance taken, because David had sworn an oath before God that this man’s life would be spared. It is clear that David had never really forgiven Shimei. His oath had all been a show, designed to make all those around him think that he was a gracious and forgiving king. But obviously, David had never forgotten what Shimei had done. And in the case of Joab, David had never forgiven him for murdering Absalom, even though that was the very fate his son had deserved. Joab’s murders of Abner and Amasa meant far less to David than Joab’s decision to murder Absalom. And while David had every right and a royal responsibility to deal with Joab’s crimes, he had chosen not to do a thing. And now, he was passing on that responsibility to his son.

In his commentary on the book of 1 Kings, D. J. Wiseman writes:

David was wrong in passing on responsibility to Solomon to execute the judgment he himself should have ordered at the time. This was to cause his son and successors much trouble and feuding. – D. J. Wiseman, 1 & 2 Kings: An Introduction and Commentary

David had a habit of putting off the inevitable and the unpleasant. He had allowed Amnon to get away with his rape of Tamar. He had sat back and done nothing after Absalom murdered Amnon. He had ignored all the signs of Absalom’s plan to take over his own kingdom. And while Absalom had been guilty of murder and treason, David had determined to do nothing to punish him, demanding that his life be spared. Joab had three murders to his credit, but David had chosen to turn a blind eye. Part of it was probably motivated by expediency and convenience. He needed Joab. As long as David was alive, Joab was an asset he couldn’t afford to lose. But now that David was dying, Joab was no longer a necessity and Solomon could clean up David’s messes.

Call it what you will: procrastination, conflict avoidance, or merely shirking responsibility, David was guilty of putting off on his son those things he had chosen to ignore or delay. And while David had given Solomon wise counsel regarding what it means to be a man, a godly man, he was actually illustrating just the opposite. He had been disobedient to God. He had failed to listen to God’s commands and deal with his own son justly. He had neglected his responsibility as king to punish Joab for his crimes. He had made an oath before God concerning Shimei and now he was planning on breaking it by somehow convincing himself that his oath lasted only as long as he was alive. He justified his decision by rationalizing that he would not be the one to kill Shimei, Solomon would be. Not exactly godly reasoning. Not what you might call the manly thing to do. But David was far from perfect. He was a man, just like any other man, and prone to the same character flaws and moral indiscretions as the rest of us.

And one of the main lessons that jumps out of the life of David is that it isn’t how well you start, but how well you finish. David had lived a long life and had an illustrious reign. To this day, he is considered the greatest king Israel has ever had. But the closing moments of his life are not exactly his finest. His final words to Solomon, while filled with wisdom, are also marred by his own human flaws. You can see his weaknesses on display. You can sense his ongoing struggle with sin, even to the very last. He would pass on to Solomon a great kingdom. He would hand over to his son a powerful army and a remarkable legacy. But he would also pass the buck, leaving to his son the responsibility to deal with his own unfinished business.

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

God Alone.

Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go, number Israel and Judah.” So the king said to Joab, the commander of the army, who was with him, “Go through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, and number the people, that I may know the number of the people.” But Joab said to the king, “May the Lord your God add to the people a hundred times as many as they are, while the eyes of my lord the king still see it, but why does my lord the king delight in this thing?” But the king’s word prevailed against Joab and the commanders of the army. So Joab and the commanders of the army went out from the presence of the king to number the people of Israel. They crossed the Jordan and began from Aroer, and from the city that is in the middle of the valley, toward Gad and on to Jazer. Then they came to Gilead, and to Kadesh in the land of the Hittites; and they came to Dan, and from Dan they went around to Sidon, and came to the fortress of Tyre and to all the cities of the Hivites and Canaanites; and they went out to the Negeb of Judah at Beersheba. So when they had gone through all the land, they came to Jerusalem at the end of nine months and twenty days. And Joab gave the sum of the numbering of the people to the king: in Israel there were 800,000 valiant men who drew the sword, and the men of Judah were 500,000.

But David’s heart struck him after he had numbered the people. And David said to the Lord, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, O Lord, please take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have done very foolishly.” – 2 Samuel 24:1-10 ESV

This closing chapter of the book of 2 Samuel will not end with David’s death, but with a recollection of yet another of David’s sins against God. This time, he will be guilty of taking a census in order to determine the size of his army. Most commentators believe this was done late in David’s reign and life, because he will use Joab, the commander of his army, as well as his troops, to travel across the length and breadth of the kingdom in order to take the census, a job that would take them nine months to complete. So it is believed that his had to be during an extended period of peace, when there was no eminent threat of war. The latter years of David’s reign was the only time when this could have happened.

But regardless of when it happened, the main concern is that it did happen. And there is a bit of confusion with this point, because the book of 1 Chronicles, in recording this very same episode, tells us, “Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel” (1 Chronicles 21:1 ESV). And yet, in this version of the story, it says, “Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, ‘Go, number Israel and Judah’”  (2 Samuel 24:1 ESV). So, which was it? Did Satan incite David to number Israel, or was it God? While this appears to be a contradiction, it is really a matter of perspective. We know from the book of James that God does not tempt anyone to sin.

God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. – James 1:13 NLT

But God does discipline His people for their sins. And He has a track record of using others to accomplish His will, including the kings of foreign nations and even Satan himself.  In the book of Exodus we read how God hardened the heart of Pharaoh, so that he would refuse to let the people of Israel go. But his stubborn refusal would result in yet another display of God’s glory and greatness. All of this was so that the people of Israel, having lived in Egypt for 400 years, would know that their God was greater than the gods of Egypt.

In the case of David, recounted in this closing chapter of 2 Samuel, it seems that God desired to punich Israel for their disobedience, so he allowed Satan to entice David to take the census. It was in keeping with God’s plan to discipline His own people, but Satan was the instigator of David’s rebellious decision to do what he did. But why was taking a census so bad? What was so wrong about David wanting to know the size of his army? The problem does not appear to be the taking of the census itself, but the motivation behind David doing it to begin with. It was David who wrote:

Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
– Psalm 20:7 ESV

Another anonymous psalm states a similar truth:

The best-equipped army cannot save a king,
    nor is great strength enough to save a warrior.
Don’t count on your warhorse to give you victory—
    for all its strength, it cannot save you. – Psalm 33:16-17 NLT

In taking a census of his fighting force, David was revealing that his hope and trust were in his army, not God. He was placing his confidence in the size of his mighty military machine, not power of God Almighty. He just had to know. So he sent the military commander and his troops to scour the land, determining the exact number of all the men qualified to serve in his army. It is important to remember that this was probably done in a time of peace, when there was no pressing need to have a larger army. But David wanted to know. His action was sinful. And at the heart of David’s sin was his lack of trust in God. And it would appear that David’s lack of trust was an expression of the hearts of the people. God was angry with them, but the text does not tell us why. Perhaps it was their lack of trust in Him that was the real issue here. David, as the king and legal representative of the people, was acting out the very heart attitude of the people of Israel. They had begun to place their trust in someone or something other than God. Perhaps they had become comfortable with David as their king and overly confident in his military prowess and the army’s ability to protect them from their enemies. By the latter years of David’s reign, Israel had become a powerful nation and a force to be reckoned with. Their success had probably produced a fair amount of over-confidence. As is usually the case in most of our lives, when things are going well, we tend to forget about God. In times of relative peace and tranquility, we can find it easy to lose our need for God. Whatever it was that the Israelites had done, God was angry with them, and so, He used David to bring about a fitting punishment for their sin.

David, against the better judgment of Joab, commanded the census be taken, and nine months later he got the news for which he was looking.

…in Israel there were 800,000 valiant men who drew the sword, and the men of Judah were 500,000. – 2 Samuel 24:9 ESV

One million three hundred thousand men. That is a huge army by any standard. And it must have made David proud to know that he had those kinds of numbers at his disposal. This news would have fed his pride and boosted his ego. He was a powerful king with a formidable army at his disposal. But David’s moment of ego-driven ecstasy would be short-lived. We’re told that, “after he had taken the census, David’s conscience began to bother him” (2 Samuel 24:10 NLT). He had second thoughts about what he had done. Perhaps he remembered the words of his own psalm. Whatever the case, his heart began to be burdened by what he had done. He recognized his actions as sin and confessed it openly to God.

“I have sinned greatly by taking this census. Please forgive my guilt, Lord, for doing this foolish thing.” – 2 Samuel 24:10 NLT

David had sinned. No surprise there. After all, we have seen him sin before. But the key lesson in this passage is that David recognized his sin and confessed it before God. He admitted his guilt and sought God’s forgiveness. He didn’t attempt to blame anyone else for his actions. He didn’t make excuses. And it’s interesting to note that David confessed his sin before God had done anything to discipline him for it. Sometimes, we can sin against God and be completely comfortable with our actions, until He chooses to punish us. Too often, it is when the disciplining hand of God falls on us, that we see the folly of our sin and confess it to Him. But David confessed before God had done anything. His heart was sensitive enough to recognize the error of his ways and to admit it to God. He didn’t wait until God’s judgment fell on him.

Trust in God is a vital characteristic for the child of God. The proverbs state:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
    do not depend on your own understanding.
Seek his will in all you do,
    and he will show you which path to take. – Proverbs 3:5-6 NLT

In numbering the people, David had illustrated his failure to trust God. He was putting his hope and trust in something he could see and count. He was placing his confidence in the physical size of his army, not the invisible might of his God. It’s always easier to trust in something we can see and touch, than to place our confidence in a God who is hidden from our eyes. But God had proven Himself faithful to David, time and time again. He had rescued him repeatedly. He had protected him countless times throughout his life. But here, near the end of his life, David found himself putting his trust in something other than God, and he would pay the consequences for his sin. It is so important for us to remember that “we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 NLT). If we put out hope and confidence in the things of this world, we will lose the battle. We are in the midst of a spiritual battle that will require faith and hope in God. The size of our army or our bank account will not help us in this conflict. Our physical strength will be no match for the spiritual enemies we face. David could number his army, but they would not be his source of salvation in a time of need. God alone can save. God alone deserves our trust. God alone is the one who warrants our attention, affection and hope.

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 Friend Indeed.

Asahel the brother of Joab was one of the thirty; Elhanan the son of Dodo of Bethlehem, Shammah of Harod, Elika of Harod, Helez the Paltite, Ira the son of Ikkesh of Tekoa, Abiezer of Anathoth, Mebunnai the Hushathite, Zalmon the Ahohite, Maharai of Netophah, Heleb the son of Baanah of Netophah, Ittai the son of Ribai of Gibeah of the people of Benjamin, Benaiah of Pirathon, Hiddai of the brooks of Gaash, Abi-albon the Arbathite, Azmaveth of Bahurim, Eliahba the Shaalbonite, the sons of Jashen, Jonathan, Shammah the Hararite, Ahiam the son of Sharar the Hararite, Eliphelet the son of Ahasbai of Maacah, Eliam the son of Ahithophel the Gilonite, Hezro of Carmel, Paarai the Arbite, Igal the son of Nathan of Zobah, Bani the Gadite, Zelek the Ammonite, Naharai of Beeroth, the armor-bearer of Joab the son of Zeruiah, Ira the Ithrite, Gareb the Ithrite, Uriah the Hittite: thirty-seven in all. – 2 Samuel 23:24-39 ESV

Chapter 23 closes with a list of 37 men. Several things should jump out at us. First of all is the inclusion of the name of Uriah the Hittite, the man David had exposed to enemy fire on the front lines in order that he might be killed and so that David could take his wife, Bathsheba, as his own. And all of this had been done to cover up David’s affair with her and the pregnancy that had resulted from it. While Uriah had been killed early on in David’s reign, he is recognized here at the end of David’s life as one of “the Thirty.” We don’t know exactly what that title entails and what the responsibilities were for each of these men, but we do know that they were considered men of distinction. Even David had to admit that Uriah, though long dead, was a man of integrity, having refused to give in to David’s attempts to get him to sleep with his wife while his fellow soldiers were battling the enemy. Uriah had turned down David’s counsel to enjoy the comforts of home, instead choosing to sleep at the doorstep of the king’s palace. And he willingly returned to the front lines, unknowingly carrying his own death certificate, in the form of a letter from David to Joab, commanding that Uriah be exposed to deadly enemy fire on the front lines and left to die.

Another thing that should jump out at you is the variety of the men in this list. Some were Israelites. Others were not. You have groups listed like the Paltites, Hushathites, Ahohites, Arbathites, Shaalbonites, Hararites, Gilonites, Arbites, Gadites, Ammonites, Ithrites, and Hittites. We don’t much about many of these people groups, but it reveals the ethnic diversity of David’s mighty men. David’s kingdom and his army were multicultural. These men loved and supported David. They were willing to sacrifice their lives for him, if necessary. We are not given any specifics regarding the actions of these men or how they had come to be included in “the Thirty”, but they were special to David. They had proved faithful to him over the years. No doubt there were some, like Uriah, who gave their lives for David. Others fought for him or gave him counsel and advice. They had diverse backgrounds and different duties, but they all shared a common bond with David.

Conspicuously absent from the list is Joab, the long-time commander of David’s armies and the man who had stood beside him all the years of his life. Joab had disobeyed David and killed Absalom, David’s son. He had also killed Abner and Amasa, against the wishes of David. So he is not included in David’s inner circle. But his armor bearer is.

An important character quality of a true friend is that of loyalty. These men had proven themselves loyal and dedicated to David. Joab had as well, but he had also shown himself to be blunt and brutally honest with David. He loved him enough to call him out. When David was stuck in a state of perpetual mourning over the death of Absalom, it had been Joab who called him out and demanded that he act like a king or face the loss of his kingdom. David needed to hear what Joab had to say. It seems that there were times when Joab did what David was either afraid or reluctant to do. That too, is an important character quality of a true friend. Someone who always agrees with you or overlooks your faults and sins, is not someone who loves you. Solomon, the son of David, would record the following sayings in his book of Proverbs:

Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy. – Proverbs 27:6 NLT

In the end, people appreciate honest criticism far more than flattery. – Proverbs 28:23 NLT

The truth is, we all need someone like Joab in our life. It’s always great to be surrounded by those who look up to you and who are willing to do whatever it takes to make you successful. But sometimes we just need one individual who is willing to say the hard things and to hold us to a higher standard. Joab and David didn’t always get along. They didn’t always agree. But Joab had proven himself faithful to David, time and time again. And he loved David too much to watch him do nothing, risking his kingdom by losing the respect of his people.

David had no shortage of faithful followers, brave companions and dedicated servants. But there were times when he could have used a few more men like Joab in his life. What kind of friend are you? Are you steadfast and faithful, always there when your friends need you? Are you willing to risk losing a friend by speaking up and calling them out over their sins? Joab was far from perfect. He had his own struggles with anger, impulsiveness and seeking revenge. But he loved David greatly. So much so that he was willing to risk David’s wrath by standing up to David when he knew that David was wrong. A godly leader who has followers is fortunate, but a godly leader who has faithful and honest friends is blessed.

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

Wisdom Works.


And Sheba passed through all the tribes of Israel to Abel of Beth-maacah, and all the Bichrites assembled and followed him in. And all the men who were with Joab came and besieged him in Abel of Beth-maacah. They cast up a mound against the city, and it stood against the rampart, and they were battering the wall to throw it down. Then a wise woman called from the city, “Listen! Listen! Tell Joab, ‘Come here, that I may speak to you.’” And he came near her, and the woman said, “Are you Joab?” He answered, “I am.” Then she said to him, “Listen to the words of your servant.” And he answered, “I am listening.” Then she said, “They used to say in former times, ‘Let them but ask counsel at Abel,’ and so they settled a matter. I am one of those who are peaceable and faithful in Israel. You seek to destroy a city that is a mother in Israel. Why will you swallow up the heritage of the Lord?” Joab answered, “Far be it from me, far be it, that I should swallow up or destroy! That is not true. But a man of the hill country of Ephraim, called Sheba the son of Bichri, has lifted up his hand against King David. Give up him alone, and I will withdraw from the city.” And the woman said to Joab, “Behold, his head shall be thrown to you over the wall.” Then the woman went to all the people in her wisdom. And they cut off the head of Sheba the son of Bichri and threw it out to Joab. So he blew the trumpet, and they dispersed from the city, every man to his home. And Joab returned to Jerusalem to the king.

Now Joab was in command of all the army of Israel; and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was in command of the Cherethites and the Pelethites; and Adoram was in charge of the forced labor; and Jehoshaphat the son of Ahilud was the recorder; and Sheva was secretary; and Zadok and Abiathar were priests; and Ira the Jairite was also David’s priest. – 2 Samuel 20:14-26 ESV

Finally, like a cool breeze on a hot summer day, we get a refreshing glimpse of true wisdom in the midst of all the folly that has filled the preceding chapters. Time after time, we have seen impulsiveness, anger, fear and recrimination rule the day. Decisions have been made based on nothing more than raw emotion. Very smart people have made some very dumb choices. Godly individuals have made ungodly decisions. And the results have been death and destruction. Joab has just brutally murdered Amasa, leaving his body laying in the middle of the road for all to see. Now he is besieging the city of Abel, in an attempt to capture Sheba, the leader of yet another rebellion against David. They have surrounded the city and erected siege walls against it. They are in the process of attempting to knock down the city’s walls, and the prospects of yet more bloodshed loom large. Then wisdom shows up.

This short little vignette, located where it is in the narrative of David’s life, provides us with a stark counterpoint to all that we have seen so far. In it, we are introduced to an unnamed woman who is recognized for her wisdom. She is simply referred to as a “wise woman.” And other than that, we know nothing else about her. She resides in the city of Abel. And like everyone else residing in the city, she is having to watch as David’s troops batter the walls in an attempt to wreak destruction. But no one knows why.  There is no indication that anyone inside the city even knew that Sheba was there or what he had done. Outside the walls, Joab has made no attempt to parlay with the city officials in order to negotiate the handover of Sheba. Driven by the same emotions that led him to kill Absalom and Amasa, Joab is foolishly and stubbornly focused on one thing: The capture and death of Sheba. And even the destruction of a city filled with fellow Israelites would not stand in his way.

Then wisdom showed up, in the form of a nameless woman who saw a serious problem and had the foresight to do something about it. As all her fellow residents stood by helplessly and hopelessly, she decided to act. She called out to Joab, asking for an opportunity to talk with him. In the midst of all the chaos and confusion surrounding the siege, she calmly called for a conversation, a chance to discuss what was going on and how they might avert a tragedy. Once she had Joab’s attention, she said to him:

“There used to be a saying, ‘If you want to settle an argument, ask advice at the town of Abel.’ I am one who is peace loving and faithful in Israel. But you are destroying an important town in Israel. Why do you want to devour what belongs to the Lord?” – 2 Samuel 20:18-19 NLT

She reminds Joab that the city had a reputation for wisdom. It was also an important town in Israel. He was not attacking a foreign city filled with pagans. He was threatening the lives of his fellow Israelites. And the woman describes herself as peace loving and faithful, intentionally contrasting herself with Joab and his troops. She wanted peace. Joab wanted to devour what belonged to God. And she wanted to know why. That’s when Joab informs her of Sheba’s presence in their midst and of the crime for which he was guilty. This was apparently news to the woman and the rest of the people inside the city walls. They had no idea they were harboring a fugitive from justice. And when the woman found out that the cause of all their problems was a single individual who was guilty of leading a rebellion against the king, she didn’t waste a minute doing something about it. She met Joab’s demands and delivered Sheba to him. But she chose to do so in an interesting way. She convinced the leaders of the city to cut off Sheba’s head and throw it over the wall. We are not told why she chose this method, but it would seem to indicate that she she didn’t trust Joab. She wasn’t about to open the city walls in order to let Sheba leave, because she feared that Joab and his troops might storm the city anyway. She also knew that if Sheba was guilty of treason against the king, the penalty was death, so she decided to go ahead and speed up the process, giving Sheba the fate he deserved, and Joab his head as proof that the guilty one had been dealt with effectively.

By keeping the city gates closed and throwing Sheba’s head over the wall, she protected the citizens inside and tested the reliability of Joab’s words. If Joab got what he said he wanted and failed to call off the siege, she would have exposed his deceit with a minimum of risk. So her decision to cut off Sheba’s head was a wise move on her part. And it accomplished what she had set out to do: Deliver her city from further harm. Joab and his troops dispersed, leaving the residents of Abel unharmed. Her wise counsel spared the city and presented Joab from committing yet another crime of passion.

What is interesting is how this section of the story is immediately followed by a seemingly out-of-place listing of David’s key administrative heads. You see the names of Joab, Benaiah, Adoniram, Johoshaphat, Sheva, Zakok, Abiathar, and Ira. Among them are David’s military commander, the captain of his bodyguard, his royal historian, court secretary and priests. These prominent men served as David’s inner circle, providing him with counsel and acting as his royal cabinet. They were well-known and revered. They were powerful and influential. Their names and titles are mentioned, but nothing is said about their character. And they stand in contrast to the woman in our story, who though unknown and unnamed, was recognized for her wisdom. It wasn’t who she was that mattered. It was what she was – she was wise. She was known for having the character quality of wisdom and she proved it by her behavior. The men whose names are listed in the closing verses of this chapter had the titles and the prestige of serving on the king’s royal cabinet. But their positions would prove meaningless unless they possessed wisdom. Solomon, David’s son and successor to his throne, was known for his wisdom, given to him by God. And he would later write these important words concerning wisdom.

For the Lord grants wisdom!
    From his mouth come knowledge and understanding.
He grants a treasure of common sense to the honest.
    He is a shield to those who walk with integrity.
He guards the paths of the just
    and protects those who are faithful to him.

Then you will understand what is right, just, and fair,
    and you will find the right way to go.
For wisdom will enter your heart,
    and knowledge will fill you with joy.
Wise choices will watch over you.
    Understanding will keep you safe. – Proverbs 2:6-11 NLT

It was this woman’s wisdom that diverted a tragedy. She had knowledge and understanding. She possessed common sense. She knew what was right, just and fair. She saw the right way to go and she went there. And her efforts kept her city safe and resulted in much joy. We can only imagine the celebration that took place inside the city walls of Abel that night after the siege was lifted and the troops had dispersed. Wisdom had brought joy. Which is why Solomon went on to say, “So follow the steps of the good, and stay on the paths of the righteous” (Proverbs 2:20 NLT).

David would have done well to surround himself with individuals like the wise woman from Abel. He seemed to have a tendency of choosing men who were untrustworthy and prone to foolishness. When it comes to leadership, character should always trump external characteristics. In fact, if we go all the way back to the day when God had sent Samuel to the house of Jesse to anoint the next king of Israel, He told the prophet:

“Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The LORD doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7 NLT

Wisdom is God-given and resides in the heart, not the brain. It is far more than intellect. Some of the brightest people can be the greatest fools. The essence of foolishness is a rejection of God. It is living as if God does not exist or does not matter. Paul describes that plight of those who, in their intelligence, determine they don’t believe in God or end up creating a god of their own choosing.

Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. – Romans 1:21-22 NLT

Wisdom really does work. But it’s only available to those who know God and fear Him.

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

When God’s People Live Ungodly.

Now there happened to be there a worthless man, whose name was Sheba, the son of Bichri, a Benjaminite. And he blew the trumpet and said, “We have no portion in David, and we have no inheritance in the son of Jesse; every man to his tents, O Israel!”

So all the men of Israel withdrew from David and followed Sheba the son of Bichri. But the men of Judah followed their king steadfastly from the Jordan to Jerusalem.

And David came to his house at Jerusalem. And the king took the ten concubines whom he had left to care for the house and put them in a house under guard and provided for them, but did not go in to them. So they were shut up until the day of their death, living as if in widowhood.

Then the king said to Amasa, “Call the men of Judah together to me within three days, and be here yourself.” So Amasa went to summon Judah, but he delayed beyond the set time that had been appointed him. And David said to Abishai, “Now Sheba the son of Bichri will do us more harm than Absalom. Take your lord’s servants and pursue him, lest he get himself to fortified cities and escape from us.” And there went out after him Joab’s men and the Cherethites and the Pelethites, and all the mighty men. They went out from Jerusalem to pursue Sheba the son of Bichri. When they were at the great stone that is in Gibeon, Amasa came to meet them. Now Joab was wearing a soldier’s garment, and over it was a belt with a sword in its sheath fastened on his thigh, and as he went forward it fell out. And Joab said to Amasa, “Is it well with you, my brother?” And Joab took Amasa by the beard with his right hand to kiss him. But Amasa did not observe the sword that was in Joab’s hand. So Joab struck him with it in the stomach and spilled his entrails to the ground without striking a second blow, and he died.

Then Joab and Abishai his brother pursued Sheba the son of Bichri. And one of Joab’s young men took his stand by Amasa and said, “Whoever favors Joab, and whoever is for David, let him follow Joab.” And Amasa lay wallowing in his blood in the highway. And anyone who came by, seeing him, stopped. And when the man saw that all the people stopped, he carried Amasa out of the highway into the field and threw a garment over him. When he was taken out of the highway, all the people went on after Joab to pursue Sheba the son of Bichri. – 2 Samuel 20:1-13 ESV

David had not yet made it back inside the walls of Jerusalem when another disaster struck. He had just eliminated one rebellion, when another one raised its ugly head. The ten disgruntled tribes of Israel, unhappy with what they viewed as David’s favoritism for his own tribe of Judah, decided to throw in their lot with Sheba, a Benjaminite. This “worthless fellow” took advantage of the unstable conditions in Israel and called for another rebellion against David. It is impossible to read this account and not recall the curse God had placed on David as a result of his affair with Bathsheba.

“Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.” – 2 Samuel 12:10 ESV

There was going to be more bloodshed. And more people were going to die unnecessarily, all as a direct result of David’s sin. The conditions in his kingdom remained unstable and insecure. Even when he finally made it back to Jerusalem, David had to deal with the ten concubines whom Absalom had sexually violated and publicly humiliated. It must be remembered that what happened to them was also tied to David’s adulterous affair with Bathsheba. God had told David:

“Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun.” – 2 Samuel 12:11-12 ESV

So these women were shamed and forced to remain in a state of widowhood, not because of anything they had done, but all because of the sins of David. The wake of human misery and destroyed lives that David left behind him is unprecedented. He had lost three sons to death. His daughter had been violated by her own brother. Tens of thousands of his own people had been killed in an unnecessary civil war. And the death toll would continue to rise. When David called for his troops to put down the uprising led by Sheba, he put Amasa in command. It’s important to remember that David had replaced Joab with Amasa, as the commander of his army, all because Joab had disobeyed a direct order and had killed Absalom. Now, Joab was going to take the life of Amasa, in an attempt to eliminate the competition and get his old job back. And the day would come when Joab would get what he deserved. But it would not be under David’s watch. Once again, just as we saw with Shimei, David would put off meting out justice and leave it to his son, Solomon, when he took the throne. It would be Solomon who would eventually deal with Joab and his murders of Abner and Amasa.

“Do as he has said, strike him down and bury him, and thus take away from me and from my father’s house the guilt for the blood that Joab shed without cause. The Lord will bring back his bloody deeds on his own head, because, without the knowledge of my father David, he attacked and killed with the sword two men more righteous and better than himself, Abner the son of Ner, commander of the army of Israel, and Amasa the son of Jether, commander of the army of Judah. So shall their blood come back on the head of Joab and on the head of his descendants forever. But for David and for his descendants and for his house and for his throne there shall be peace from the Lord forevermore.” – 1 Kings 2:31-33 ESV

But there was no peace in Israel. At least not during David’s day. The body count was mounting. The violence was escalating. And the instability of David’s kingdom seemed to be getting worse, not better. All in spite of the fact that David was a man after God’s own heart. David’s relationship with God did not protect him from failure or inoculate him from the ramifications of sin. The people of God are just as prone to bad decision-making as anybody else. Believers can undervalue the wisdom of God and overlook the sins taking place around them. We can surround ourselves with bad counselors, put off making difficult decisions, give in to impulsive desires, and leave God out of our daily lives. And when we do, we can find ourselves facing the same kind of unnecessary outcomes. David loved God. He had a deep-seated desire to serve God. But our desires must who up in our behavior.  His love for God must be accompanied by a commitment to obey God. Any hope he had of serving the people of God as the faithful shepherd of God was totally dependent upon his complete reliance upon God.

As believers, we are God’s people living in a godless environment, surrounded by ungodly people who don’t share our views or our love for God. It is difficult to live as child of God on this earth, but we can make it even more difficult by refusing to rely upon Him. There will always be a temptation to do things our own way and simply assume that our relationship with God will provide us with some kind of invisible force-field, protecting us from the dangers of sin. But our salvation, while it has delivered us from the judgment of sin, does not inoculate us from the temptation to sin. That is why Paul so strongly urged his readers to rely upon the Holy Spirit.

So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. – Galatians 5:16-17 NLT

A man after God’s own heart who refuses to let God have is heart, will find himself surrounded by discord and difficulty. Our ability to survive and thrive on this planet is dependent upon our commitment to remain totally reliant upon God. David would continue to learn that invaluable lesson. He would discover the reality that being God’s hand-picked king meant nothing if he did not live as a God-dependent man.

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

Will the Real King Stand Up?

Then David mustered the men who were with him and set over them commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds. And David sent out the army, one third under the command of Joab, one third under the command of Abishai the son of Zeruiah, Joab’s brother, and one third under the command of Ittai the Gittite. And the king said to the men, “I myself will also go out with you.” But the men said, “You shall not go out. For if we flee, they will not care about us. If half of us die, they will not care about us. But you are worth ten thousand of us. Therefore it is better that you send us help from the city.” The king said to them, “Whatever seems best to you I will do.” So the king stood at the side of the gate, while all the army marched out by hundreds and by thousands. And the king ordered Joab and Abishai and Ittai, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” And all the people heard when the king gave orders to all the commanders about Absalom.

So the army went out into the field against Israel, and the battle was fought in the forest of Ephraim. And the men of Israel were defeated there by the servants of David, and the loss there was great on that day, twenty thousand men. The battle spread over the face of all the country, and the forest devoured more people that day than the sword.

And Absalom happened to meet the servants of David. Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak, and his head caught fast in the oak, and he was suspended between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on. And a certain man saw it and told Joab, “Behold, I saw Absalom hanging in an oak.” Joab said to the man who told him, “What, you saw him! Why then did you not strike him there to the ground? I would have been glad to give you ten pieces of silver and a belt.” But the man said to Joab, “Even if I felt in my hand the weight of a thousand pieces of silver, I would not reach out my hand against the king’s son, for in our hearing the king commanded you and Abishai and Ittai, ‘For my sake protect the young man Absalom.’ On the other hand, if I had dealt treacherously against his life (and there is nothing hidden from the king), then you yourself would have stood aloof.” Joab said, “I will not waste time like this with you.” And he took three javelins in his hand and thrust them into the heart of Absalom while he was still alive in the oak. And ten young men, Joab’s armor-bearers, surrounded Absalom and struck him and killed him.

Then Joab blew the trumpet, and the troops came back from pursuing Israel, for Joab restrained them. And they took Absalom and threw him into a great pit in the forest and raised over him a very great heap of stones. And all Israel fled every one to his own home. Now Absalom in his lifetime had taken and set up for himself the pillar that is in the King’s Valley, for he said, “I have no son to keep my name in remembrance.” He called the pillar after his own name, and it is called Absalom’s monument to this day. – 2 Samuel 18:1-18 ESV

Like a modern-day soap opera, there are so many plots and sub-plots going on in this passage that it is difficult to know exactly what the main point may be. You have the battle between the forces of David and those of Absalom. There is Joab mortally wounding Absalom, providing what would appear to be a well-justified sentence for his rebellion. But what Joab did was against the direct orders of David. Which brings up another intriguing sub-plot. Why was David, yet again, unwilling to enact justice against a rebellious son? He had failed to punish Amnon for his rape of Tamar. He had also failed to enact judgment on Absalom for his murder of Amnon, which had eventually led to Absalom’s loss of respect for David and his overthrow of his kingdom.

And finally, we see the interesting side note that tells of Absalom having erected a monument to himself. That part shouldn’t surprise us, because we have seen ample evidence of Absalom’s pride. But what is significant is the statement, “I have no son to carry on my name” (2 Samuel 18:18 NLT). How could that be? According to 2 Samuel 14:27, Absalom had three sons and a daughter. What would possess him to say that he had no son to carry on his name? Perhaps his sons had refused to follow in their father’s footsteps. There is the possibility that they had all died. Or it could be that Absalom had erected the monument before his sons had been born. But whatever the case, Absalom left a lasting memorial to himself by erecting a monument that bore his own name.

Nothing ever seems to be tidy and neat when it comes to the life of David. This section is no different that any of the others we have read. There are so many complications and conflicts going on it can be difficult to keep up. The battle between David’s forces and those of Absalom, as significant as it was, is nothing compared to all the mini-conflicts taking place behind the scenes. David had specifically commanded that Absalom be spared. Yet Joab, the commander of his army and the one who had convinced David to allow Absalom to return to Jerusalem in the first place (2 Samuel 14), would disobey those orders. Easily overlooked in all of this is the fact that more than 20,000 Israelites lost their lives that day. This had been a civil war, an internecine conflict between brothers. David lost a son, but as a result of his failure to deal with Absalom’s original sin against Amnon, David had caused many Israelites to lose their fathers, sons and brothers. There would be 20,000 other graves dug that day. There would be countless mothers, father, wives, brothers and sisters, mourning the loss of someone they loved. And all of this can be traced back to David’s sin with Bathsheba. Absalom would be the third son David would lose as a result of his moral indiscretion.

In Psalm 63, written while he was hiding in the wilderness, David penned the following words:

But those plotting to destroy me will come to ruin.
    They will go down into the depths of the earth.
They will die by the sword
    and become the food of jackals.
But the king will rejoice in God.
    All who swear to tell the truth will praise him,
    while liars will be silenced. – Psalm 63:9-11 NLT

David believed in the vengeance of God, but it seems he had a hard time seeing it apply to one of his own. David’s command that the life of Absalom be spared does not reflect well on David’s leadership. It speaks of his regret and recognition that all of this was his own fault. He is reticent to punish Absalom. But his unwillingness to deal with the rebellion of Absalom would have set a dangerous precedence. He needed to reestablish his authority and nip this thing in the bud. But it took Joab, disobeying a direct order of the king, to do what needed to be done. Joab was forced to go against the king’s wishes and risk his retribution, but he did the right thing. The rebellion had been ended and its leader, eliminated. David’s reign over Israel had been restored. And it is important to note, that David played no part in any of it. On the advice of Joab, David remained behind, safe and sound and out of any danger. Perhaps Joab had known that, had David gone into battle, he would have spared the life of Absalom. So he had recommended that David stay behind and David had readily agreed.

With all that happened in this passage, we must lose sight of the fact that God was in control. The events recorded in these verses are an expression of God’s divine will concerning Absalom and David. From God’s perspective, Absalom was a usurper to the throne. He had no right to claim the kingship of Israel. David was still the Lord’s anointed. All of this was part of God’s plan to deal with Absalom’s sin against Amnon. David may have been willing to overlook and forget what Absalom had done, but God was not. The rebellion of Absalom should have been a wake-up call to David just how dangerous it can be to turn a blind eye toward sin. Absalom’s rebellion, while apparently successful, was destined to be short-lived, because it did not have God’s backing. It was simply a means by which God was going to repay Absalom while teaching David yet another vital lesson in justice.

As the story unfolds, we will see David weep over the loss of Absalom. But we will not see him shed a single tear for the unnecessary loss of life that came as result of Absalom’s rebellion. There will be no mention of the 10 concubines violated by Absalom on the palace rooftop. David would return to power, but over a fractured and divided nation. And his continual mourning over the loss of his son would send a confusing message to those who had fought for him and helped restore his kingdom to him. Absalom was dead, but the difficulties were far from over. David had his work cut out for him, and it was going to take Joab, once again, to help David do the right thing. God would use this faithful friend to speak truth into David’s life, convicting and forcing him to do what God would have him do.


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

Good Looks and Bad Motives.

Now in all Israel there was no one so much to be praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom. From the sole of his foot to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him. And when he cut the hair of his head (for at the end of every year he used to cut it; when it was heavy on him, he cut it), he weighed the hair of his head, two hundred shekels by the king’s weight. There were born to Absalom three sons, and one daughter whose name was Tamar. She was a beautiful woman.

So Absalom lived two full years in Jerusalem, without coming into the king’s presence. Then Absalom sent for Joab, to send him to the king, but Joab would not come to him. And he sent a second time, but Joab would not come. Then he said to his servants, “See, Joab’s field is next to mine, and he has barley there; go and set it on fire.” So Absalom’s servants set the field on fire. Then Joab arose and went to Absalom at his house and said to him, “Why have your servants set my field on fire?” Absalom answered Joab, “Behold, I sent word to you, ‘Come here, that I may send you to the king, to ask, “Why have I come from Geshur? It would be better for me to be there still.” Now therefore let me go into the presence of the king, and if there is guilt in me, let him put me to death.’” Then Joab went to the king and told him, and he summoned Absalom. So he came to the king and bowed himself on his face to the ground before the king, and the king kissed Absalom. 2 Samuel 14:25-33 ESV

David had agreed to Absalom’s return to Jerusalem, but had essentially placed him under house arrest and refusing to see him. After a three-year absence from the kingdom, Absalom found himself persona non grata, ignored by his own father and left to wonder why he had agreed to come home at all. And he would wait two full years, because David continued to rely upon his parenting style of inaction. There would be no punishment or pardon for the wrong committed. And all this time gave Absalom time to grow in his resentment for his father. He most likely recalled David’s unwillingness to take action against Amnon for raping his sister. David had done nothing. And, two years later, Absalom would get frustrated by David’s lack of decisive action, take matters into his own hands and have his brother, Amnon, murdered. This had led to his three-year exile. Now, he was home, but another two years had passed and he saw his father’s incapacity to deal with the issue at hand. Whatever respect he had once held for his father was gone. He viewed David as a man of weakness, plagued by indecisiveness.

It would be centuries later that the apostle Paul wrote the words:

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord. – Ephesians 6:4 NLT

David could have used this simple, yet profound advice. The Greek word Paul used is parorgizō and it is translated “provoke to anger”. But it can also mean “to exasperate”. To provoke someone to anger sounds like it refers to a deliberate attempt to purposefully annoy or deliberately try to rouse anger in another individual. And that most certainly can be true in many cases. But we can create anger in another human being by doing nothing. We can frustrate them by our lack of initiative or general apathy. David was provoking in Absalom an anger and resentment that was fed by his father’s lack of leadership. He was slowly beginning to view David as weak and incapable of leading decisively. And because Absalom viewed his father as being incompetent to lead his own family, he would soon reach the conclusion that he was unqualified to lead the nation of Israel.

We can see Absalom’s growing anger and frustration in how he handled Joab’s refusal to answer his requests for an audience with the king. Like his boss, Joab did nothing. And finally, Absalom snapped, taking matters into his own hands and commanding his servants to set fire to Joab’s barley crops. That got his attention. You can see Absalom’s growing exasperation with the whole situation. He had waited two years and simply wanted something to be done. He even told Joab, “I wanted you to ask the king why he brought me back from Geshur if he didn’t intend to see me. I might as well have stayed there. Let me see the king; if he finds me guilty of anything, then let him kill me” (2 Samuel 14:32 NLT). Absalom would rather face death than having to live in limbo, confined to his home. But there is almost an underlying sense that Absalom knew David would do nothing. He seems to know that his father would never sentence him to death for his murder of Amnon. So he was willing to force David’s hand, confident that his father would act true to form and do nothing. Which is exactly what happened. Joab went to David and convinced him to see Absalom, which David did. And from all appearances, it seems that David pardoned Absalom, kissing his son and restoring him to his former state. Absalom got what he wanted, but he would not be satisfied. He had had plenty of time to consider his future and plan his next moves. This would prove to be just the first step in his plan to take advantage of what he perceived as his father’s leadership flaws.

The text gives us an interesting, and somewhat out-of-context, description of Absalom’s appearance. It describes his good looks and goes into great detail about the thickness of his hair. All of this talk about Absalom’s appearance seems out of place and a bit odd. But it is designed to set up what is coming next. Absalom is handsome in appearance. In fact, “He was flawless from head to foot” (2 Samuel 14:25 NLT). And we are going to find out that he was also clever. He was a natural-born leader, who had good looks, charisma, charm and and powers of persuasion that would make any politician envious. Now that he was out from under any threat of punishment for his murder of Amnon, Absalom was going to use his good looks and natural leadership skills to plan his future, which would include his father’s downfall.

It is interesting to note that Paul gives another warning to fathers in his letter to the Colossians. He writes, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart” (Colossians 3:21 NASB). David had frustrated his son. He had done nothing to bring justice to the cause of Tamar. He had left his own daughter in a state of mourning, having had her virginity taken from her by force. The law clearly stated what David should have done.

If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days. – Deuteronomy 22:28-29 ESV

According to the law, David should have forced Amnon to marry Tamar, and forbidden him from ever divorcing her. No longer a virgin, Tamar was left in a state where she would have been considered “damaged goods” by the men in her community. Her value as a potential wife had been irreparably damaged. All along the way, because of his indecisiveness, David had left a wake of disaster and damaged lives. His inaction had left Amnon unpunished and Tamar a humiliated and unwanted woman. His unwillingness to do the right thing had only resulted in a host of wrong outcomes. Absalom had killed Amnon and then spent three years in exile. Even when he was allowed to return home, Absalom found himself in a frustrating limbo, trapped by his father’s unwillingness to do his job as a father and his duties as a king. And all of this was going to lead to further resentment on Absalom’s part that would ultimately surface as rebellion.


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