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We saw in the previous chapter that the death of Absalom was a reverse type of the death of the great son of David. We will see in this chapter another set of related contrasts—the attitude and response of the respective fathers involved.
“And it was told Joab, Behold, the king weepeth and mourneth for Absalom. And the victory that day was turned into mourning unto all the people: for the people heard say that day how the king was grieved for his son . . .” (2 Samuel 19:1-43)
Summary of the Text
Joab was told that David was in mourning (v. 1). The victory of the people was consequently turned into mourning (v. 2). The troops crept back into the city, as though they had been defeated (v. 3). The king covered his face, and cried out loudly (v. 4)—meaning that he could not see or hear. Joab came in and rebuked him bluntly (vv. 5-6). He tells him to get out there and review the troops (v. 7). Word spread that the king had come out, and the troops appeared before him (v. 8).
But things were still very unsettled politically (vv. 9-10). Israel wanted bring him back, so David sent word to Judah—why should you be last to bring back the king (vv. 11-12)? And David offered Amasa command of the army instead of Joab (v. 13), which would be like Lincoln offering a post-war command to Robert E. Lee. And so Judah, which had been with Absalom, came back to David, and so the king came back to them (vv. 14-15).
David was met by Shimei (v. 16), and then Ziba (v. 17). As the king was ferried across Jordan, Shimei pled for mercy (vv. 18-20). Abishai, true to form, wanted to execute Shimei, but David refused (vv. 21-23). Then Mephibosheth came—he had been in mourning the entire time (v. 24). He reported how Ziba had slandered him (vv. 25-28). David divided the land between Ziba and Mephibosheth (v. 29). Mephibosheth responded with great grace (v. 30). Barzillai, although old, met David, who offered to bring him back to Jerusalem. He declined being too old, and requested a blessing for Chimham instead (vv. 31-40). Judah escorted the king, along with half of Israel (v. 40). All Israel objected to the king (v. 41), and the men of Judah responded angrily and defensively (v. 42). The men of Israel retorted, but the men of Judah were harsher (v. 43).
David Restored, But Rattled
When David was in mourning, it was extravagant mourning, and inarticulate. When Saul and Jonathan had died, he had composed a moving elegy. When Abner was killed, he did the same thing. When his son by Bathsheba died, his words were sober and composed. But here, he just disintegrates. He covers his face and loudly cries, trying to shut out the world. Joab successfully rebukes him, but when David goes out to the troops, he does not speak to them as Joab had demanded. His subsequent behavior indicates that this episode did not endear David to Joab.
When David decides between Mephibosheth and Ziba, this is likely another indication that he does not have the strength or clarity of mind to cut through the competing claims. It is possible that his decision was a final test for Mephibosheth. If so, he passed, but it is more likely that David is simply weary.
On top of this, when David comes back to Jerusalem, he does not have the moral authority to keep the tribes from breaking out into a quarrel right in front of him. And Absalom had gotten much of his influence by complaining back in chapter 15 about how there was unequal treatment between tribes. There was a simmering discontent there that has not been addressed. There is an indication here that David was favoring rebellious Judah, much as he had favored rebellious Absalom.
Sons of Satan
When Shimei pleads for mercy, David gives it to him. Shimei is plainly more than just a private citizen here— he comes with a thousand men from Benjamin, and also represents to a certain extent “the house of Joseph.” David grants mercy, and fiercely rebukes Abishai, who claimed he wanted to defend David’s honor with blood.
Shimei is a stand-in for Absalom, and David forgives him. Note that he uses the plural in his rebuke—you sons of Zeruiah. This means it is likely that he has found out Joab’s role in the killing of Absalom. He calls Abishai a satan (adversary). When David appointed Amasa as commander, he was doing two things. He was demoting Joab (or so he thought), and he was consolidating the nation again. But this was a satan that would not go away readily.
As David comes back to Jerusalem, he is met by different kinds of people, and there is an ascending order of loyalty in it. First is Shimei, who confesses his treason. Then there is Ziba, who was a political friend, but who had falsehood in his heart. Then came Mephibosheth, who was true to David, but was falsely represented as a traitor. Last, David meets Barzillai, whose loyalty was unquestioned. David comes back into power, but after this insurrection, his hold on things is pretty tenuous.
Joab rebuked David for preferring the life of Absalom over the lives of the people. The Father of Jesus Christ, by way of contrast, preferred the lives of His people over the life of His Son.
David saw himself in Absalom, and wanted to die in Absalom’s stead (2 Sam. 18:33). This can be a godly impulse, as we see in both Moses and Paul (Ex. 32:32; Rom. 9:3), and both those godly examples happen in the midst of conflict, just as here. The desire of Moses is expressed right after the Levites had been sent to slay the idolaters, and Paul’s desire is expressed concerning those who were trying to kill him—his enemies. But in David’s case, there is something misplaced, something wrong with it. He was not living in a world with just two people in it. As Joab pointed out, to love Absalom in the way he did was tantamount to hating the people who loved him as their king. Joab was right about this, and David accepted it—but Joab was right in the wrong way. God the Father acted quite differently. David would have sacrificed all his people for the sake of his son, on Joab’s account. But God sacrificed His Son for the sake of His people “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32). God the Father does not cover His face and wail over your salvation. It was His settled purpose and intent. God gave up His Son willingly, and David most unwillingly.