33 David Aftermath of War
Aftermath of War
2 Samuel 18:19–20:22
Though a war has ended, the evil effects of the war often continue on for a long time, and the aftermath of a war is sometimes worse than the war itself. The aftermath of the war between Absalom and David almost turned out to be worse than the war itself (2 Samuel 20:6) even though the war was so bad. With the killing of Absalom, the war ended; but the problems of the aftermath of the war then began. For the victors (David’s side), the aftermath of the war almost undid the gains of victory. W. G.‑Blaikie quotes a great general as saying, “Next to the calamity of losing a battle is that of gaining a victory.” So it was with David here. For the losers, their postwar conduct almost put them in another war, which like the past war they could not have won.
To examine some of the aftermath of the war between Absalom and David recorded in Scripture and the problems it produced in the land of Israel, we will consider the messengers of Joab (2 Samuel 18:19–32), the mourning for Absalom (2 Samuel 18:33–19:8), the moving to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 19:9–42; 20:4), and the malcontents of Israel (2 Samuel 20:1–22).
A. THE MESSENGERS OF JOAB
Right after the victory of David’s army over Absalom’s army, Joab sent a message to David to inform him about the victory. The account in Scripture of this sending of a message to David about the outcome of the war is surprisingly long and as such indicates that the Holy Spirit has some important lessons for us to learn from this postwar incident.
The message about the outcome of the war was sent to David by runners. Without telephone, telegraph, short-wave radio, and other modern means of sending messages, runners were the means by which messages were sent in David’s day. So Joab sent runners to David to convey the message about the victory. Two runners were involved as messengers on this occasion. They were Ahimaaz and Cushi. The different behavior of these two runners gives us our lessons in this incident. Ahimaaz shows us how not to serve while Cushi shows us how to serve. The poor conduct of Ahimaaz was an ominous indicator that the aftermath of the war was going to be troublesome for David and the land.
Ahimaaz was the son of Zadok the priest (2 Samuel 15:36) and had already been used as a messenger to give David needed information about Absalom’s plans (2 Samuel 17:17–22). But though Ahimaaz was the son of a priest and had performed well in the past, he certainly did not show very good character in this incident recorded in Scripture. To examine Ahimaaz’s performance in bringing a message to David about the victory, we note seven things about his service: he was uncalled, unrespectful, unsubmissive, unreasonable, unbeatable, unfaithful, and unapproved.
Uncalled. “Then said Ahimaaz the son of Zadok, Let me now run, and bear the king tidings . . . And Joab said unto him, Thou shalt not bear tidings this day” (2 Samuel 18:19,20). Right away we see problems with Ahimaaz. He was very presumptuous about running to David with tidings about the victory. Joab had not called him to run, but Ahimaaz was very forward about pushing himself on Joab to run. While the trouble in service in most cases today seems to be the problem of people being unwilling to serve, we still have the problem of people like Ahimaaz who are very forward about pushing themselves into places of service to which they are not called. These folk are self-called, not God-called. We need to be willing to be used, but we must not jump into some area of service unless God has called us. Sometimes people feel they have received a Divine call to serve when they have only been moved by the emotion of the hour. Ahimaaz could certainly have had that problem here. But the excitement and emotion of the hour does not dictate a call. Sometimes folk are so eager to serve in some area that they plead with the powers that be to let them serve. This was indeed the case with Ahimaaz, for he later begged Joab to let him run (2 Samuel 18:22,23). However, never beg to be used. If God wants you to serve, you will not have to beg to be used—God will not leave you inactive. He will come calling for you.
Unrespectful. Ahimaaz did not show good respect for his superiors here in pushing himself forward to run to David with tidings of the victory. Cushi was respectful and bowed before Joab (2 Samuel 18:21) as we will see later, but we do not read of Ahimaaz doing that. This failure of respect should not surprise us, however; for those who push themselves forward for places they have not been called are showing disrespect already. They forget they are the servant not the master. Ahimaaz not bowing to Joab reflected the fact that he would not bow to Joab regarding his duties either—as we will see next.
Unsubmissive. “Then said Ahimaaz . . . yet again to Joab, But howsoever, let me, I pray thee, also run after Cushi” (2 Samuel 18:22). Ahimaaz will not submit to Joab’s assignment for him. Joab had told Ahimaaz that he was not to run that day but a later day (2 Samuel 18:20). Ahimaaz, however, did not like that order so argued with Joab about it. Many are the professing saints who are just like Ahimaaz. They do not like the position and task and assignment God has given them, so they argue with God. Women, as an example, are arguing today with God about their place in service. Some women want to be preachers and pastors when God has said, “No!” Yet, they insist. Other folk argue about their place of service because they are not willing to accept the fact that some sin in their life has disqualified them from some places of service. Still others overestimate their skill and talent and insist they should be used more in such areas as music or other areas when they are not skilled enough for those tasks. All of this is simply unsubmissiveness to God’s will.
Unreasonable. “Joab said, Wherefore wilt thou run, my son, seeing that thou hast no tidings ready? But howsoever, said he, let me run” (2 Samuel 18:22,23). Joab tried to reason with Ahimaaz about the fact of why he could not run at this time. But Ahimaaz would not listen to reason. He had, as we observe of many today, made up his mind and did not want to be confused with facts. This sort of attitude certainly is not the attitude one should have if he expects to be a good servant of Jesus Christ. But many professing Christians demonstrate this attitude. They simply cannot be reasoned with about why they cannot serve in certain places. But being unreasonable only adds another reason why they should not be put in some position they wrongly seek.
Unbeatable. “Then Ahimaaz ran by the way of the plain, and overran Cushi” (2 Samuel 18:23). After Ahimaaz pestered Joab, Joab finally let him run. And Ahimaaz ran so fast that he beat Cushi even though Cushi had started earlier than Ahimaaz. Ahimaaz was unbeatable as a runner. However, that is not what mattered here. What mattered was the message; and, as we will note shortly, he failed miserably in the message. Ahimaaz had great speed, but what good does it do to get there first when you bring an empty basket as Ahimaaz did? Ahimaaz was more concerned about beating Cushi than about having a good message. On this run Ahimaaz was more interested in showing how fast he could run rather than in how good a message he could proclaim. Ahimaaz was a good runner and did not want others to forget it. Ahimaaz was the first runner seen by David just as many folk want to be the first one seen by people. We have many in our churches who are like Ahimaaz. They like to show off. They are looking for personal glory, not trying to give glory to God. They are more concerned about beating someone in a contest than they are about having a good message. They want to beat you in attendance or in offering or in a ball game or some other category that is not important. But they pay little attention to what is important, namely, the message. They may have much rhetoric in the pulpit, but they do not have much substance. They are entertaining but not educating. They can tell exciting stories well, but they cannot exposite Scripture well.
Unfaithful. “And the king said, Is the young man Absalom safe? And Ahimaaz answered, When Joab sent the king’s servant, and me thy servant, I saw a great tumult, but I knew not what it was” (2 Samuel 18:29). When Ahimaaz arrived at the gate of the city of Mahanaim where David was sitting, he told David that his men had won the war (2 Samuel 18:28). But when asked about Absalom, Ahimaaz had a terrible answer. He said he “saw a great tumult, but I knew not what it was.” Ahimaaz was either lying (because he did not want to tell David the truth about Absalom) or ignorant about what was going on. In either case, he was unfaithful and thus disqualified to be a messenger. He was unfaithful either in speaking the truth or unfaithful in learning the truth. We do not need unfaithful messengers like Ahimaaz. We do not need folk in our pulpits or in our Sunday School classrooms who will not speak the truth lest they offend someone or who do not know the truth well enough to declare it informatively.
Unapproved. When Ahimaaz gave David the answer which lacked information about Absalom, “The king said unto him, Turn aside, and stand here. And he turned aside, and stood still” (2 Samuel 18:30). The self-service of Ahimaaz was rejected. He was told to “Turn aside.” He was unapproved, unaccepted. This will be the lot of every individual who tries to serve the Lord like Ahimaaz tried to serve Joab and David. They will become rejects in God’s service. God will set them aside. Their service will not help Him. They will be a “castaway”—something Paul ever feared becoming (1 Corinthians 9:27).
This servant, unlike Ahimaaz, was an unknown. In fact, there is considerable question about whether the name “Cushi” is his name or his nationality (a Cushite was a person from Ethiopia). In the Hebrew text the word has the article before the name throughout the chapter (seven mentions) except the second mention in verse 21. Properly rendered with the article, it would be “the Cushite” not “Cushi.” But regardless of his unknown status, he still served with excellence in this incident in contrast to Ahimaaz. One is not handicapped in serving God just because he lacks fame. Lack of faith and fidelity can hinder service but not lack of fame.
To examine the performance of this noble servant, we note five aspects of his service as a messenger. They include his summons, salute, submission, speed, and statement.
His summons. “Then said Joab to Cushi, Go tell the king what thou hast seen” (2 Samuel 18:21). Cushi did not force himself upon Joab as did Ahimaaz. Rather, he waited for Joab to decide his calling. He was ready (he had dutifully observed the combat so “what thou hast seen” would be a sufficient message for the king), and he was willing (when Joab gave Cushi his orders he immediately obeyed). But though ready and willing, he left the call to his superior. We need to do likewise. Our part is to be ready and willing. God’s part is the assignment. Those who try to assume God’s part will inevitably neglect their own part. Always when folk presume some calling, they neglect the one they should be doing. So many, like Ahimaaz, who presume a calling, are conspicuously lacking in readiness (they do not take time to get prepared) and willingness (they do not obey God).
His salute. “And Cushi bowed himself unto Joab, and ran” (2 Samuel 18:21). We noted that Ahimaaz did not bow or salute his superior officer. This showed lack of respect which was also seen in his arguing with Joab about his place of service. But Cushi was different. He gave due respect to Joab. He gave the proper salute (bowing was the salute then whereas today it is a brisk raising of the right hand to the bill of the cap). Respect of superiors predicts good attention to duty as we note next. On the other hand, deficiency in respect predicts deficiency in doing one’s duty. This tells us, as an example, that people who do not show respect to the pastor or other spiritual leaders are poor people for church office; for they will not do their duty well.
His submission. “And Cushi bowed himself . . . and ran” (2 Samuel 18:21). Cushi did exactly what he was told to do. He did not argue or try to negotiate any change in the orders. He simply did what he was told to do. One cannot improve upon that performance in service for God. But how often folk fail to do this. They are forever trying to alter the orders or change them completely. They are never satisfied to obey God without question. This, of course, reflects a bad attitude towards God. Lack of submission means lack of respect—just as lack of respect means lack of submission. Those who do not submit well to duty will generally not salute well to dignitaries (2 Peter 2:10).
His speed. “Ahimaaz ran by the way of the plain, and overran Cushi” (2 Samuel 18:23). Cushi was not the fastest runner of the two messengers. But he was the most obedient of the two. Some do not possess as much talent as others, but it is not talent alone that qualifies for service. Obedience to God’s will is also necessary to qualify for service—in fact it is the most important qualification of all. Cushi did not win any awards for being the first to the king. But he will always win praise for his performance before the king. You do not have to win any attendance contests to excel in service. Your church does not have to be the biggest or fastest growing church or be advertised as the friendliest church to be an excellent church. Serving God acceptably does not require fame or flashy performances. But it does require obedience to God’s will. Cushi had the latter but not the former.
His statement. Cushi had a different message than Ahimaaz. When the king said, “Is the young man Absalom safe?” (2 Samuel 18:32), Cushi gave a better answer than Ahimaaz did who either did not know the truth or would not declare the truth. Cushi said, “The enemies of my lord the king, and all that rise against thee to do thee hurt, be as that young man is” (Ibid.). Cushi knew the truth; and he faithfully, fearlessly, and forcefully declared the truth. May his kind be multiplied in the pulpits of our churches!
Note that Cushi, in contrast to Ahimaaz, kept himself out of the message. Ahimaaz referred to himself three times in just a sentence or two when speaking to David: “When Joab sent . . . me thy servant [first reference to self], I [second reference to self] saw a great tumult, but I [third reference to self] knew not what it was” (2 Samuel 18:29). You will look in vain to find this reference to self in Cushi’s message. Beware of those (such as preachers and evangelists who continually insert themselves into their messages. It is a sure sign that they, like Ahimaaz, have a defective message. When self is prominent in the sermon, substance becomes a problem in the sermon.
B. THE MOURNING FOR ABSALOM
Upon hearing from Cushi of Absalom’s death, David immediately began mourning. “The king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept . . . for Absalom” (2 Samuel 18:33; 19:1). Part of the expected aftermath of war is sorrow. In David’s case, the sorrow expressed was very excessive and became a serious problem regarding the restoration of his rule over Israel. We do not condemn the expression of sorrow when a loved one has died, but the mourning of David over Absalom’s death is certainly to be condemned, for it was inordinate mourning. “Moved” (2 Samuel 18:33) is translated from a Hebrew word which emphasizes the inordinacy of David’s mourning “The Hebrew word properly refers to agitation of the body. A violent trembling seized the king” (R. P. Smith). David simply lost control of himself in his sorrowing. Being “moved” this strongly by sorrow is not the mark of a man who knows how to mourn properly. Today, doctors would have sedated David with drugs. Such was the despicable mourning of David in our text.
To further examine the unsanctified mourning of David, we will note ten evil aspects of it. They are the disabling from the mourning, the dumbness in the mourning, the disbelief of the mourning, the demoralizing by the mourning, the disregard from the mourning, the disinterest from the mourning, the dishonor from the mourning, the disloyalty in the mourning, the disaffection from the mourning, and the discontinuing of the mourning.
1. The Disabling From the Mourning
“The king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept . . . the king covered his face, and the king cried with a loud voice, O my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 18:33, 19:4). David’s mourning disabled him for doing his duties and fulfilling his responsibilities after the victory. Instead of remaining in the gate as he ought in order to greet and congratulate the returning soldiers, he went up to the chamber above the gate to get alone to mourn. Thus he forsook his duties in order to mourn. It was a pathetic and unbecoming sight to see David mourn so excessively over Absalom that he let all his duties go unattended.
Many do no better than David. Whenever sorrow comes to them, they give it priority over everything. But mourning has exceeded its proper limits if it adversely affects the doing of one’s duties. Furthermore, mourning will create more problems than the ones being mourned about if mourning hinders the doing of one’s duties. Wise men know that one of the best antidotes for grief is to be faithful to one’s duties. To keep your grief from becoming excessive, keep busy with your duties. Never let mourning cause neglect of your responsibilities.
2. The Dumbness in the Mourning
“O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 18:33). This bit of rationale was really dumb. David dying instead of Absalom dying would not have solved any problems! It would only have greatly increased the problems in Israel and in David’s family. “Noble and generous though the wish be . . . it was on public ground out of the question. Let us imagine for one moment the wish realized—David has fallen and Absalom survives. What sort of kingdom would it have been? What would have been the fate of the gallant men who had defended David? What would have been the condition of God’s servants throughout the kingdom? What would have been the influence of so godless a monarch upon the interests of truth and the cause of God?” (Blaikie). It was the usual Oriental practice in those days for the usurper to completely destroy any supporter, relative, and friend of the one usurped. Let David die and Absalom live and Israel will be cursed with much cruel bloodshedding.
The rationale of those given to excessive mourning is most unsound. They live in a state of vain regret, make horrible decisions, and add troubles and sorrows to all those around them. Excessive mourning depletes your wisdom and puts you on the path of great folly.
3. The Disbelief of the Mourning
“Would God I had died for thee!” (2 Samuel 18:33). This statement was not only dumb, but it was also one of disbelief in God. The statement says David felt God did the wrong thing. It was a statement critics make of God. David’s mourning showed considerable disbelief in God’s prudence and power and providence. This mourning with its disbelief was such a contrast to David’s earlier mourning over the death of the child born as a result of his immoral night with Bathsheba. When that child died, David’s mourning evidenced great faith in God (2 Samuel 12:20–23). He acknowledged God’s hand in that trial, but he failed to do so in this trial. And that which aggravated David’s disbelief here in contrast to his faith in the former trial is that the child (unnamed baby) of David who died in the former trial was an innocent child but the child (Absalom) of David who died here was a hardened, immoral, murdering insurrectionist.
Excessive mourning does not show faith in God. Rather, it shows disbelief in God. It certainly does not give any testimony to the world of a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. But those who walk by faith will show their faith in how they mourn. Few things so expose the character of our faith as our mourning.
4. The Demoralizing by the Mourning
“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 19:2). David’s excessive mourning was a real kill-joy for David’s men. What should have been a time of great rejoicing was turned into a time of great mourning because of David’s inordinate grief. David was a real damp rag. He put out of the fires of felicity which burned exuberantly in the hearts of his victorious soldiers. David’s men had to feel really joyous about defeating Absalom. The victory assured them of returning in peace to their homes whereas defeat would have meant tragedy and death to them and their families. But the inordinate mourning by David stopped all this justified rejoicing.
David’s behavior in demoralizing the troops is exhibited again and again in every age by many folk. There are many who seem almost gifted at being a kill-joy. Whenever they come upon the scene, they stop any rejoicing and delight that might be present in that scene. They only see the dark side of life, and every trial they experience results in their spreading gloom to as many people as possible.
5. The Disregard From the Mourning
“The victory that day was turned into mourning” (2 Samuel 19:2). Excessive mourning disregards blessings. Hence it is a study in ingratitude. Though David lost Absalom, he had much to be thankful for anyway. Great victory had come to David’s troops and terrible tragedy for the nation of Israel had been stopped by stopping the revolt. But David disregarded all of those blessings to mourn over Absalom. It was gross ingratitude.
One of the great helps for stopping or even avoiding excessive grief is to be thankful. Do not disregard your blessings or you will be a dismal soul. Ingratitude will only increase your grief. Troubles may make it difficult for you to see blessings, but they are all around you if you will only look for them and give thanks to God for them.
6. The Disinterest From the Mourning
“O my son . . . my son, my son” (2 Samuel 19:4). David’s excessive mourning was an exhibition of selfishness. David was disinterested in the situation of other people. He could only think of “my” troubles. Others had friends and loved ones killed in battle, too. But David only thinks of his sorrows. All those who are given to excessive mourning are guilty of selfishness. And selfishness does not improve one’s situation. It only makes things worse and will give cause for more mourning if not corrected.
7. The Dishonor From the Mourning
“And the people gat them by stealth that day into the city, as people being ashamed steal away when they flee in battle . . . And Joab came into the house to the king, and said, Thou has shamed this day the faces of all thy servants, which this day have saved thy life, and the lives of thy sons and of thy daughters, and the lives of thy wives, and the lives of thy concubines” (2 Samuel 19:3,5). When “it was told Joab” (2 Samuel 19:1) how the king mourned over the death of Absalom, he went to David and really denounced him for his deplorable mourning over Absalom. One of the first things he told David was that his excessive mourning brought dishonor to his troops. Great victory merits great honor for the soldiers, but David’s mourning shamed the gallant soldiers instead of honored them. His mourning caused the returning soldiers to have to come into the city “by stealth” (2 Samuel 19:3) as one who had done some terrible deed of shame and does not want to be seen. This had to really hurt David’s great fighting men. They should have come back into the city in great honor. David should have greeted them when they came to the city gate and congratulated them and honored them for their exploits. But instead his excessive mourning turned their honor into shame.
8. The Disloyalty in the Mourning
“Thou lovest thine enemies, and hatest thy friends” (2 Samuel 19:6). Here, we note another thing Joab rebuked David for regarding his excessive mourning for Absalom. Joab said this mourning by David was disloyal conduct to his “friends.” These “friends” of David had stood by him through thick and thin for many years. In loyalty to him, they had sacrificed greatly and had gone faithfully to battle and done daring, life-risking deeds in war. When David left Jerusalem because of the conspiracy of Absalom, they remained loyal to him. Yet, his excessive mourning makes him disloyal to them. His mourning said he was rooting for the other side to win. What a betrayal of friends. What a treacherous deed to others. But that is a product of inordinate mourning.
9. The Disaffection From the Mourning
“Now therefore arise, go forth, and speak comfortably unto thy servants; for I swear by the Lord, if thou go not forth, there will not tarry one with thee this night” (2 Samuel 19:7). Joab told David that this excessive mourning over Absalom was going to drive away his supporters. If you want to drive away your friends, show no care or concern for them. If you want to drive away your gallant soldiers, give them no honor for their great service. “Great mischiefs have arisen to princes from the contempt of great merits” (Henry). David gave more honor to his wretched, murderous, immoral, and insurrectionist son than he gave to those who had stood for honor and God and David. This can bring great disaffection for David by his men. Great harm comes when we honor the dishonorable and fail to honor the honorable. Doing this is a good way of losing the honorable as friends and supporters. Inordinate mourning will drive away the best friends we have and will alienate us from those we need most to have as friends.
10. The Discontinuing of the Mourning
“Then the king arose, and sat in the gate. And they told unto all the people, saying, Behold, the king doth sit in the gate. And all the people came before the king; for Israel had fled every man to his tent” (2 Samuel 19:8). David responded wisely to Joab’s rebuke. He stopped his mourning and went to the gate where he could meet with the people and congratulate and honor and thank them on their gallant performance in fighting Absalom and his armies. This action by David came in the nick of time and saved the day. Had he continued his mourning much longer, he would have justifiably lost his supporters and been in worse shape than he was when Absalom was attacking him. Excessive mourning can make matters a lot worse than they are. Excessive mourning, therefore, does not solve problems. Rather, it only creates them.
C. THE MOVING TO JERUSALEM
With Absalom dead and the conspiracy against David, therefore, also dead, David’s return to Jerusalem as Israel’s king was expected. However, David surprisingly did not immediately make plans to move back to Jerusalem. He did not want to return to power as a result of victory in war. Rather, he wanted to return to power as a result of the desire of the people. “He would go back as a prince, with the consent and unanimous approbation of the people, and not as a conqueror forcing his way” (Henry). This attitude of David is very commendable, but unfortunately it left the door open for much mischief which almost stopped his return to power. To look at some of the details of his move back to Jerusalem after the war, we will note the speech of Israel, the slowness of Judah, the snubbing of Joab, the shrewdness of Shimei, the sincerity of Mephibosheth, the saintliness of Barzillai, and the seclusion of concubines.
1. The Speech of Israel
“And the people were at strife throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, The king saved us out of the hand of our enemies, and he delivered us out of the hand of the Philistines; and now he is fled out of the land for Absalom. And Absalom, whom we anointed over us, is dead in battle. Now therefore why speak ye not a word of bringing the king back? (2 Samuel 19:9,10). The speech of Israel in our text reflected the conflict, confession, and criticism of the Israelites after the ending of the war between David and Absalom.
Conflict. “The people were at strife throughout all the tribes of Israel” (2 Samuel 19:9). This strife is certainly not surprising. These people had rejected David and followed the usurper Absalom, and such action does not bring peace to the land. When God’s Anointed is in power, then peace will prevail. If Israel wants to end the strife and promote serenity in the land, they needed David back on the throne.
Our day is filled with much strife. Wars and wars and more wars are being plotted and paraded across the landscape of this globe. Conflict among people and nations is common and continuous. This will not end until God’s Anointed One, Jesus Christ, comes back to earth to rule and reign from Jerusalem. Turmoil in the individual heart will not be solved either until God’s Anointed One is permitted to come into the heart and sit on the throne of that individual’s life.
Confession. The speech of Israel confessed that it was David who had “saved us out of the hand of our enemies” (2 Samuel 19:9). Absalom certainly had done nothing of the sort. All he had done was drive away David and cause much loss in the land. Israel is like so many people who never seem to learn who their real friends are and who their real enemies are until they have suffered a devastating loss (in following Absalom and rejecting David, Israel lost twenty thousand souls in the battle against David, see 2 Samuel 18:7). Many have been the people who have foolishly turned away from God’s Anointed One (Jesus Christ) to have their fling of the flashy and fleshly appealing but wicked Absalom pleasures. However, those who have turned to these pleasures soon end up with an empty bag, for the pleasures of Absalom soon die and all that people will ever get from them is great loss. Absalom is so appealing to the flesh, but he does not last and only curses. Jesus Christ is another story, however. He is where the real and lasting joy and blessing of life are.
Criticism. “Why speak ye not a word of bringing the king back?” (2 Samuel 19:10). This question criticizes the leaders of the people for their delay in seeking David’s return back to the land as their king. It is a question that can be asked of multitudes of people today regarding Jesus Christ. Why do you continue to reject Christ? Why do you not receive Christ? Blessings will not come apart from Him. There is no profit without Him. Conditions in the land are not good without Him. There was no good reason or gain for delaying the recalling of David as king or is there any good reason or gain for delay in turning to Christ as Savior.
2. The Slowness of Judah
When David heard “the speech of all Israel” (2 Samuel 19:11) about wanting David back as king, he was piqued that his own tribe, the tribe of Judah, was not talking this way. So “king David sent to Zadok and to Abiathar the priests, saying, Speak unto the elders of Judah, saying, Why are ye the last to bring the king back to his house?” (Ibid.). This effort of David to enlist Judah’s support was successful; for we are told in a later verse, “He bowed the heart of all the men of Judah, even as the heart of one man; so that they sent this word unto the king, Return thou, and all thy servants” (2 Samuel 19:14). From David’s problem with the tribe of Judah, we note the experience of David and the exhortation of David.
The experience of David. It was not the tribe of Judah—his own tribe—that was busy concerning themselves about moving David back to Jerusalem, but it was Israel—the other tribes—that was first in concerning themselves about moving David back to Jerusalem to rule over the land. David did not receive support from the expected place but from the unexpected place. This is frequently the experience of God’s people. “We do not always find the most kindness from those from whom we have most reason to expect it” (Henry). In dark hours, some fail us whom we thought were very loyal while others come to our rescue whom we thought unlikely to stand with us. Christ even experienced this; for “He came unto his own, and his own received him not” (John 1:11). But there is One Who will never fail us and upon Whom we can always depend to support and aid us—that One is Jesus Christ. Sometimes God lets us experience disappointment in human support so we will cast ourselves more upon Him Who never fails.
The exhortation of David. David’s exhortation to the tribe of Judah to get busy about bringing him back to the land was in the form of a rebuke. The rebuke said Judah had privilege and advantage, but they were not leading the way in moving David back to Jerusalem. The privilege and advantage they had was their special relationship with David. They were his “brethren, ye are my bones and my flesh” (2 Samuel 19:12). This should have made the tribe of Judah first in concern about David’s return to Jerusalem, yet they were the last. Israel (the other tribes) did not have the privileged relationship with David, yet, “the speech of all Israel is come to the king, even to [bring him back to] his house” (2 Samuel 19:11).
Special privileges beget special responsibilities. The higher the rank the more the responsibilities. Furthermore, the greater the privilege the better the performance ought to be. Too many want privilege for their own personal well-being. But privilege is given not for selfish reasons but to help you excel in your duty. Are you given wealth? Then you should excel in giving. Are you given special talent? Then you should excel in those areas of service where special talent is required.
3. The Snubbing of Joab
“Say ye to Amasa, Art thou not of my bone, and of my flesh? God do so to me, and more also, if thou be not captain of the host before me continually in the room of Joab” (2 Samuel 19:13). When moving back to Jerusalem, David appointed Amasa to take Joab’s place as captain of the host. David was trying to kill two birds with one stone with this appointment of Amasa which snubbed Joab. First, the appointment was political. David was trying to win the opposition by appointing their captain to be David’s captain. Second, the appointment was punishment.‑David was trying to punish Joab for killing Absalom. But in both cases, the appointment was very unwise. David killed the wrong birds. It was a most unpleasant aftermath of the war. This action, as well as other action which accompanied his moving back to Jerusalem, revealed that David was not walking in much wisdom at this time. We note four things about this appointment which reveals David’s lack of wisdom—the appointment was inconsistent, insulting, incompetent, and inflammatory.
Inconsistent. David was being hypocritical here in firing Joab for killing Absalom. The inconsistent and hypocritical part in the firing is in the fact that David used Joab to kill Uriah who unlike Absalom was a very good man. Uriah was loyal to David, not a conspirator against David as Absalom was. Joab had killed Absalom for the good of the country, but David had Joab arrange for the murder of Uriah because of David’s lusts, not for the good of the country. While Joab did go against David’s command, the truth is that the killing of Absalom was a blessing to the land. If Absalom had lived there would not have been any victory for David; and, as we stated earlier, it would have been a terrible thing for the good people in the land. “The guilt of slaying Absalom was as nothing compared with that of slaying Uriah” [R. P. Smith]). So David’s retaliation here against Joab is sheer hypocrisy. It was very inconsistent. But when sin damages the life, good judgment falls to the wayside as it did with David.
Insulting. Demoting Joab and promoting Amasa was an insult to David’s loyal troops who had followed Joab to victory after victory including the last one over Absalom. To make David’s loyal troops now submit to the leadership of a traitor really insults the loyalty of David’s men. It says their loyalty does not matter. It says that if you want to be promoted, be an enemy not a friend. If David wants to replace Joab, let him take some skilled soldier from David’s loyal troops to take Joab’s place. It is very troublesome policy to honor a traitor and reject a loyalist as David did. How insulting of David’s loyal troops to so pass over them in appointing a most unworthy man to have charge over them. We may think we are appeasing opposition by appointing one of their number to our staff, but there are two sides to this coin. The other side requires that we answer first and foremost to those who have defended us. To ignore those who have defended us is a gross insult.
Our churches could use some help here. Often they put some dissident or delinquent persons in office or give them a class to teach in order to make them act better and be more faithful. That is an insult to those who have been faithful in the church but who are passed over in the appointment to the office or teaching spot the dissident is given. You should not put people in office in order to change them for the better; you should put them in office because they have performed better.
Incompetent. Promoting Amasa to lead Israel’s troops was totally unmerited. Amasa had not proven his skill and expertise for such an important post. In losing the war to David’s forces, Amasa had proven just the opposite. He proved he could not with a larger group of soldiers defeat David’s smaller group of soldiers. His past performance demanded demotion, not promotion. Furthermore, the first assignment David gave Amasa was performed poorly (we will see this later) which only emphasized the incompetency of Amasa. Joab, on the other hand, was a proven military leader par excellence. A wise ruler will put the best men in leadership. David was doing nothing of the sort in promoting Amasa. Amasa was incompetent for the job. If David did not want Joab as captain anymore, then appoint someone from his loyal troops who had shown excellence in his military career. There were plenty of such men in David’s troops who were more competent than Amasa.
Inflammatory. David should have known that such an appointment would inflame the wrath of Joab and lead to trouble. Once before David had tried to replace Joab. He tried to replace him with Abner, the former captain of Saul’s troops. This resulted in Joab murdering Abner. Thus the appointment of Amasa was a cruel deed to Amasa, for Joab eventually murdered Amasa because of the appointment (2 Samuel 20:10), as we will see later on in our study. While we must not necessarily refuse to make an appointment just because it will upset someone, there are times when wisdom will not make foolish appointments and bring about unnecessary provocation. David was being restored to his power as king, but he was not using that power wisely by appointing Amasa to replace Joab. David was not using any wisdom at all in making this change in his military leadership. But David had been wounded greatly by his sin with Bathsheba and Uriah, and it was still showing in his poor action here.
4. The Shrewdness of Shimei
As the crowds came to meet David at the Jordan to usher him back to Jerusalem, he had some interesting encounters with various people which provide us with some helpful instruction. The first of these encounters had to do with Shimei who had cursed David earlier when David was abandoning Jerusalem. Shimei came to outwardly seek forgiveness from David. It was a shrewd bit of action by him that reflected the fact that he was not a man you could trust. We note four things about his coming to David. They are the character of his coming, the confession in his coming, the crowd with his coming, and the condemnation in his coming.
The character of his coming. Shimei came with outward zeal to see David. This is seen in a threefold way. First, it is seen in the speed of his coming. He “hasted . . . to meet king David” (2 Samuel 19:16). Second, it is seen in the superiority of his coming. He said he was “the first this day of all the house of Joseph to go down to meet my lord the king” (2 Samuel 19:20). The “house of Joseph” is a term used sometimes in the Bible to refer to the northern ten tribes of Israel (Amos 5:6). Third, it is seen in the stream. “They went over Jordan before the king” (2 Samuel 19:17) is a translation from the Hebrew text which means “they dashed through the river impetuously . . . Shimei . . . sought favor by a show of excessive zeal, and forded the Jordan, so as to be the first to welcome him” (R. P. Smith). This ostentatious show of zeal in his coming to David was an attempt to convince David that Shimei had really changed. But, of course, who would not want to show zeal in coming to David under the circumstances if you had cursed David earlier. Shimei’s zeal was self-serving, for he had no zeal for David when David needed help earlier.
The confession in his coming. “Shimei . . . fell down before the king . . . and said unto the king, Let not my lord impute iniquity unto me, neither do thou remember that which thy servant did perversely the day that my lord the king went out of Jerusalem . . . thy servant doth know that I have sinned” (2 Samuel 20:18–20). When Shimei came to David, he confessed his sin. He had cursed David grievously when David was abandoning Jerusalem. Now Shimei confesses that sin. While the confession looks good in that he fell down before David and acknowledged his sinfulness, yet the confession was suspicious, showy, and self-righteous.
First, it was suspicious. It is very hard to believe that Shimei is sincere here, for it was very expedient that he confess his sin if he expected to live. David had won the war, and that put Shimei in a bad situation. Hence, “his prostration of himself on the ground before David, his confession of his sin and abject deprecation of the king’s anger, are not fitted to raise him in our estimation; they were the fruits of a base nature that can insult the fallen, but lick the dust off the feet of men in power” (Blaikie). This confession of Shimei reminds us that “the profession of interest in religion is to be carefully weighed, seeing that an uneasy conscience will often prompt to a formal profession when there is not sincere love and faith” (R. P. Smith).
Second, it was showy. Shimei was quite an actor. He did all the outward things that make for a good show in attempting to obtain David’s forgiveness (he rushed through the Jordan and fell down ostentatiously before David in a show of allegiance). He had “form,” but he did not have substance (2 Timothy 3:5). This is the mark of a showman, not a mark of a truly repentant sinner.
Third, it was self-righteous. The self-righteousness is seen in the fact that he sought forgiveness on the basis of his being the first that day of all the house of Joseph to come to David (2 Samuel 19:20). He made the same mistake as many make in every age. They think a few good works can overcome all their sin. Being the first to welcome David back home hardly cancels out the terrible cursing he did of David when David was leaving Jerusalem. Spiritually, we can never do enough to cancel out all our sins. Even “our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). Shimei may acknowledge he has sinned, but if he thinks being the first one to meet David on his return will cancel out his sin, he has a very light view of the seriousness of his sin.
The crowd with his coming. “There were a thousand men of Benjamin with him” (2 Samuel 19:17). This may look like Shimei, in his zeal to repent, had enlisted others to follow David. However, this crowd would make it hard for David to discipline Shimei. Had David followed Abishai’s advice (2 Samuel 19:21) and killed Shimei for his earlier evil, he would have greatly alienated this Benjamite crowd. But the crowd prevented David from any disciplining of Shimei. Shimei shrewdly secured protection in the crowd. How often the devil uses the crowd to promote evil.
The condemnation in his coming. “But Abishai the son of Zeruiah answered and said, Shall not Shimei be put to death for this, because he cursed the Lord’s anointed?” (2 Samuel 19:21). We note the rage in the condemnation, the rebuke of the condemnation, and the reprieve from the condemnation.
First, the rage in the condemnation. Abishai was not impressed with Shimei’s confession. His great loyalty to David demanded, in no uncertain words, Shimei’s death. Abishai did not mince his words. He let you know immediately—and in terms you could easily understand—where he stood. He was not a wishy-washy compromiser who shaded his “yes” until it sounded like “no,” and garnished his “no” until it sounded almost like “yes.” Abishai would never have made a politician. Abishai has been criticized by many people for his attitude here. But whether or not he was too harsh, it demonstrated some loyalty that is desperately needed. People today are so sensitive about being too hard or harsh in defending truth and righteousness that they let wickedness dishonor and trample all over truth and righteousness. They seem not to notice that what is really too hard and harsh is wickedness.
Second, the rebuke of the condemnation. “David said, What have I to do with you, ye sons of Zeruiah” (2 Samuel 19:22). This is the second time David spoke these words to Abishai. Earlier he said the same thing to Abishai when Abishai wanted to behead Shimei when Shimei cursed David (2 Samuel 16:9,10). Abishai’s desire here was not acceptable to David. As we noted above, any action against Shimei now would disrupt the peace and discourage other rebels from coming back to David. Abishai was right in condemning Shimei and seeing through the hollowness of his confession, but he was wrong in the timing of the punishment.
Third, the reprieve from the condemnation. “The king said unto Shimei, Thou shalt not die” (2 Samuel 19:23). This reprieve was expedient and temporary. It was expedient in that though David saw through the insincerity of Shimei’s confession (as is verified in 1 Kings 2:9), he also knew any judgment now would discourage other rebels from coming back to David. It was temporary, for he also knew that Shimei was an evil man who needed to be dealt with regarding his sin. So later David charged Solomon to “hold him not guiltless” (Ibid.). Solomon laid down some rules for Shimei’s survival (1 Kings 2:36–38) and Shimei followed those rules for three years then broke them (1 Kings 2:39–43). The breaking of the rules exposed and confirmed the insincerity of Shimei’s professed allegiance to the throne and resulted in his justified execution (1 Kings 2:46).
5. The Sincerity of Mephibosheth
Another person who came to meet David at the Jordan was Mephibosheth. From the Scripture text it appears that while Mephibosheth met David at the Jordan along with the others (2 Samuel 19:24), he did not get a hearing with David until they arrived in Jerusalem (2 Samuel 19:25,30). So in order to give a complete account in one place of his encounter with David, some of the Biblical narrative about Mephibosheth is of necessity not in chronological order in the text. To study this encounter, we will note the appearance of Mephibosheth, the accusation against Mephibosheth, the answer of Mephibosheth, the arrangements for Mephibosheth, and the acceptance by Mephibosheth.
The appearance of Mephibosheth. “And Mephibosheth the son [actually the grandson, for he was Jonathan’s son] of Saul came down to meet the king, and had neither dressed his feet, nor trimmed his beard, nor washed his clothes, from the day the king departed until the day he came again in peace” (2 Samuel 19:24). The sincerity of Mephibosheth in his loyalty to David is most evident in his appearance. He had been slanderously reported by Ziba as being a traitor to David. But in neglecting his dress and appearance, he demonstrated sorrow and distress over David’s absence from Jerusalem. This evident mourning over the removal of David from the throne would be an affront to the new government. It would indicate that they were not accepted and would expose Mephibosheth to harsh dealings from Absalom. Mephibosheth had the courage to dress according to his beliefs, to take a public stand though it was perilous to his being. This is a true mark of sincerity. Would that we had more Christians like that.
The accusation against Mephibosheth. David initiated the encounter with Mephibosheth by asking a question: “Wherefore wentest not thou with me, Mephibosheth?” (2 Samuel 19:25). This question was an accusation as the context verifies. It was a sharp and biting question which shamed Mephibosheth before all those around him. It implied that Mephibosheth was at fault in not following David. It said that David had believed Ziba’s lies about Mephibosheth.
The question reflects the fact that even though we are loyal and faithful, yet we may through the evil of others be sorely accused by some. And this accusation may be accepted as true by people who ought to know better. But always remember that reputation is not something you can control. You can control your character, however. Therefore, do not fret too much about a stained reputation but be concerned the most about character. Do not let your character become stained. God is much more interested in your character than in your reputation.
The answer of Mephibosheth. Mephibosheth gave a great answer to David when he “answered” (2 Samuel 19:26) David’s accusation. This great answer was fourfold. It spoke of the guile of Ziba, the glory of David, the government of David, and the grace of David.
First, the guile of Ziba. Mephibosheth refuted Ziba’s accusation by telling David that Ziba had deceived him and defamed him. He deceived Mephibosheth by saying he was saddling a donkey on which Mephibosheth could ride to David (2 Samuel 19:26) when in fact he used the donkey to carry supplies to David (2 Samuel 16:1). He defamed (“slandered thy servant” [2 Samuel 19:27]) Mephibosheth by telling David that Mephibosheth was plotting to take over the government (2 Samuel 16:3). Ziba dealt Mephibosheth a double blow. Ziba was full of guile, for he was a greedy men. All greedy men are full of guile and do not care who they deceive or defame in order to get gain. They are a despicable lot.
The brevity of Mephibosheth’s refuting of Ziba’s accusation is significant. It emphasizes Mephibosheth’s sincerity. It is the guilty who recite long and elaborate excuses.
Second, the glory of David. “My lord the king is as an angel of God” (2 Samuel 19:27). Mephibosheth gives due honor to David as king. He stated the wrong done to himself, but soon moved to honoring the king. Would that all of us were as quick to cease reciting our grievances so we could instead speak of the glories of God.
Third, the government of David. “Do therefore what is good in thine eyes” (2 Samuel 19:27). Mephibosheth leaves the case with David and thus acknowledges David’s sovereignty over Israel. It was a statement of complete submission to David’s rule. Those who truly honor the king will submit to the king. Many today can sing praises to God; but when the singing stops, we note they do not obey well which means their singing was not very sincere. Mephibosheth was not that way, however; for after he spoke of David’s praises, he submitted to David’s precepts.
Fourth, the grace of David. “For all of my father’s house were but dead men before my lord the king; yet didst thou set thy servant among them that did eat at thine own table. What right therefore have I yet to cry any more unto the king?” (2 Samuel 19:28). This was certainly a most noble statement. Mephibosheth acknowledges that all he ever had was a result of the grace of David. Therefore, if he loses it (as he did when David gave Ziba all of Mephibosheth’s possessions, see 16:4), what right did he have to complain? If you gain something by grace (which means you gained it without merit), you have no right to complain if you lose it because you did not deserve it in the first place. If Mephibosheth could so wonderfully and correctly view David’s grace in his situation, how much more should we saints view God’s grace promptly in regards to our situation. Duly pondering God’s grace will stop a lot of our complaining!
The arrangements for Mephibosheth. “And the king said unto him, Why speakest thou any more of thy matters? I have said, Thou and Ziba divide the land” (2 Samuel 19:29). These arrangements for Mephibosheth were certainly bad government by David. We see this in the inattentiveness, inequity, and inconsistency of the arrangements.
First, the inattentiveness. These arrangements completely ignored the noble answer Mephibosheth gave. It treated Mephibosheth as a complainer and the guilty one when he was just the opposite. It sounded like David had not been very attentive to Mephibosheth’s answer. This is very condemning of David.
Second, the inequity. There was certainly nothing fair about this arrangement. It gave Ziba half the goods for being a guileful man and limited Mephibosheth to half the goods for being a good man. David punished character and rewarded evil by this arrangement. It was poor government to say the least. Good government is to reward good and punish evil. But David, in rewarding evil and punishing good here, was like our government which rewards sloth (welfare program) and punishes industriousness (taxes). David had only two legal choices here. One was to totally condemn Ziba; the other was to totally condemn Mephibosheth. He did neither. Thus he sacrificed equity in the interest of compromise. Not smart government at all!
Third, the inconsistency. As W. G. Blaikie said, “We cannot but wonder that the king who was so gentle to Shimei should have been so sharp to Mephibosheth.” This action of David also, like his appointment of Amasa, revealed that David was not in good shape. Sin had left its mark on his ability to govern wisely. David was exposed here by Mephibosheth for David’s poor judgment regarding Ziba’s story. David evidently found it too hard for the flesh to admit his total failure in this regard.
The acceptance by Mephibosheth. “Mephibosheth said unto the king, Yea, let him take all, forasmuch as my lord the king is come again in peace unto his own house” (2 Samuel 19:30). Here is another great statement by Mephibosheth. In two ways—in his lack of complaint and in his devotion to the crown—it brought out the nobility and sincerity of Mephibosheth.
First, his lack of complaint. Though wronged, Mephibosheth complained not. David treated Mephibosheth poorly. Ziba had deceived and defamed Mephibosheth, yet David lets Ziba keep half the gain he got with his guile. But Mephibosheth refused to complain. Mephibosheth had told David to “do therefore what is good in thine eyes . . . [and] What right . . . have I yet to cry . . . unto the king” (2 Samuel 19:27,28), and he meant it; for when David made his decision, Mephibosheth refused to complain. Would that we saints would react to wrong so nobly and trust in God’s will and accept it without complaint.
Second, his devotion to the crown. He evidenced that he was more interested in the giver (David) than the gift (possessions). His satisfaction was in the fact that David had returned to Jerusalem in power. David’s honor was more important to Mephibosheth than his own well-being. How few professing believers exhibit this unselfish attitude.
6. The Saintliness of Barzillai
“Barzillai the Gileadite came down from Rogelim, and went over Jordan with the king, to conduct him over Jordan” (2 Samuel 19:31). Barzillai was a saintly old man in his eighties. Unlike a lot of old people, he did not become bitter in spirit and hard to get along with in his old age. Rather, he demonstrated much saintly conduct. We especially see this in his relationship to David. We see it in the support from Barzillai, the solicitation for Barzillai, and the substitute for Barzillai.
The support from Barzillai. “He had provided the king of sustenance while he lay at Mahanaim; for he was a very great man” (2 Samuel 19:32). To examine this support, we note the steadfastness, size, and stewardship of it.
First, the steadfastness of the support. Barzillai supported David when David “lay at Mahanaim.” At Mahanaim, David was in rejection by Israel. Yet, Barzillai still supported him. Supporting David when he was in rejection demonstrated the great loyalty of Barzillai. He was a steadfast follower of David. He was not like so many who support you when you are in popularity but not when you are in rejection. No, Barzillai stood by David even when times were very dark and when it was dangerous to support David.
Second, the size of the support. Barzillai provided a great deal of supplies for David when David was at Mahanaim. We learned of some of his aid to David earlier (2 Samuel 17:27–29). This meant much sacrifice on the part of Barzillai. He demonstrated in supporting David what should be true of all followers of Christ, namely, a willingness to sacrifice to aid the cause of Christ.
Third, the stewardship of the support. Barzillai gave much, for “he was a very great man [means great in possessions]” (2 Samuel 19:32). Barzillai had the ability to give, and he faithfully used his ability to support God’s Anointed. Therefore, Barzillai was a good steward of his blessings. When God endows us with blessings, we need to look around and see whom we can help with our blessings. God blesses us that we may bless others. Barzillai understood the purpose of his blessings. Few, however, seem to understand their blessings. Give these people great material wealth and they horde it or spend it mostly on self. Giving liberally to others is far from their mind, especially giving liberally for the cause of God’s Anointed.
The solicitation for Barzillai. “And the king said unto Barzillai, Come thou over with me, and I will feed thee with me in Jerusalem” (2 Samuel 19:33). With Barzillai being such a saintly man, one can easily understand why David would want him to come to Jerusalem to be with David. This invitation by David for Barzillai to come live with David and be supported by David was a rewarding invitation but a refused invitation.
First, it was a rewarding invitation. Barzillai had been loyal to David, now David will reward Barzillai for his great loyalty. He who supported David is now to be completely supported by David. This is an inspiring portrayal of how Jesus Christ treats those who support Him on this earth. Be faithful in supporting Christ when He is scorned and rejected on this earth and Christ will eventually reciprocate by supporting you. And when Christ supports you, it will be in far grander ways than you could ever have supported Him. Christ will be a debtor to no man!
Second, it was a refused invitation. Barzillai graciously refused David’s rewarding invitation. Age, ability, and ancestors were all a part of the gracious refusal. In age, Barzillai said he was too old and near death, hence it was better for him to stay put in his home (2 Samuel 19:34). In ability, Barzillai said that at his age his taste, hearing, and other faculties were worn out and this would make him “a burden unto my lord the king?” (2 Samuel 19:35). Barzillai was very thoughtful. He did not demand lots of attention and insist on extra care as so many selfish folk do. In ancestors, Barzillai said it would be best for him to be at home where he could be buried “by the grave of my father and of my mother” (2 Samuel 19:37). For him to die in Jerusalem would entail a great deal of trouble returning his body to the family tombs. Barzillai made a wise decision in his refusal. He recognized his limitations and did not want to be extra care for people. Would that all of us were as considerate of others.
The substitute for Barzillai. “Behold thy servant Chimham; let him go over with my lord the king; and do to him what shall seem good unto thee” (2 Samuel 19:37). Since Barzillai did not feel he should leave home and go to Jerusalem with David, he proposed that his son Chimham should go with David as a substitute for Barzillai (Ibid.). David quickly accepted the proposal by saying, “Chimham shall go over with me, and I will do to him that which shall seem good unto thee” (2 Samuel 19:38). To further examine this substituting of Chimham for Barzillai, we note the sharing of the blessing, the securing of the blessing, and the steadfastness of the blessing.
First, the sharing of the blessing. Barzillai certainly was not a selfish person. If he could not accept the blessing, he looked around for someone else with whom he could share the blessing. To give up being in David’s palace and at his table was to give up a lot of honor. But Barzillai, being the saintly man that he was, gladly gave up the honor so another could have it. The unselfishness of Barzillai comes out continually in what Scripture says about him.
Second, the securing of the blessing. Barzillai’s family was able to secure much blessing because of Barzillai’s life. Chimham was blessed because of his father’s faithfulness to God’s Anointed. May we all so live that those of our kin may have an advantage in securing blessing from the King of kings.
Third, the steadfastness of the blessing. David’s promise was not superficial and temporal. He kept his word faithfully. We see this in two later texts of Scripture. In 1 Kings 2:7 are recorded David’s instructions to Solomon to take good care of Barzillai’s sons which would include Chimham. Also, in Jeremiah 41:17, we learn that part of the blessing given Chimham was an inheritance near Bethlehem, which was David’s home community. David’s word of promise to Barzillai was one you could count on to be kept. Much more so can we trust the Word of God.
7. The Seclusion of Concubines
“And David came to his house at Jerusalem; and the king took the ten women his concubines, whom he had left to keep the house, and put them in ward [isolation], and fed them, but went not in unto them. So they were shut up unto the day of their death, living in widowhood” (2 Samuel 20:3). Absalom had defiled David’s concubines, and now David will put them away in seclusion. They can no longer be for his pleasure. Sin takes away pleasure. When God rebuked David for his sin with Bathsheba, he told David that “I gave thee thy master’s house, and thy master’s wives into thy bosom . . . and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things” (2 Samuel 12:8). This does not justify multiplying wives, but the principle is that David had all the pleasure he needed. By seeking forbidden pleasure, he did not add to his pleasure (as he thought he was doing and as all sinners think they are doing) but only subtracted from it. The seclusion of the concubines drives this point home clearly. As Matthew Henry said, “Those whom he had loved must now be loathed.” Sin extracts a big price.
The poor concubines “were doomed . . . to the weary lot of captives, cursing the day, probably, when their beauty had brought them to the palace, and wishing that they could exchange lots with the humblest of their sisters that breathed the air of freedom” (Blaikie). All that glitters is not gold. Do not envy those who sit in high places with seemingly much privilege and popularity. They do not have as much blessing as you think. Your lowly lot is much to be preferred to the lot of those in high places, and those in high places often envy those with lesser position in life.
D. THE MALCONTENTS OF ISRAEL
The aftermath of David’s war with Absalom included a revolt by the northern tribes—the malcontents of Israel—from the rule of David. This revolt almost became worse than the war with Absalom (2 Samuel 20:6). Hardly had the revolt of Absalom been subdued before this new revolt was disrupting David’s rule. The land of Israel had just begun to change their allegiance back to David from Absalom when they changed it again away from David. For David, trouble followed trouble. But “we must not think it strange, while we are in this world, if the end of our trouble be the beginning of another” (Henry). This world is full of troubles because of sin; and as long as we live in this world, we will experience troubles. But troubles need not defeat us. If we take our troubles to the Lord, they can strengthen our faith, not weaken it. They can bless us, not just burden us.
To study this revolt by the malcontents of Israel, we will note the cause of the revolt, the contention in the revolt, the captain of the revolt, the chasing of the revolters, and the cessation of the revolt.
1. The Cause of the Revolt
“And behold, all the men of Israel came to the king, and said unto the king, Why have our brethren the men of Judah stolen thee away, and have brought the king, and his household, and all David’s men with him, over Jordan?” (2 Samuel 19:41). The initial cause of the revolt was a perceived slight. This is a common cause and a condemning cause.
Common. The “men of Israel” (the northern ten tribes who we call the malcontents of Israel) started causing trouble when they got put out over not getting as prominent a part in bringing David back to Jerusalem as did the tribe of Judah. The ten tribes thought Judah got more honor in bringing back David than they did. How often a perceived slight is the cause of trouble. Someone does not get as much praise or honor or recognition as they think they should, and so they stir up trouble as a result. This problem abounds in political circles, in business, in schools, in family relationships, and also in churches—some church troubles, as an example, have started over nothing more important than leaving out someone’s name in the Sunday bulletin. But blessed is the man who can endure a slight without a rise in blood pressure.
Condemning. The complaint by the malcontents was a very condemning complaint inasmuch as it was so hypocritical. Nothing is said or admitted by the complainers about the fact that they had just been part of a conspiracy against David. The conspiracy did more than just slight David’s honor, it attacked it violently. But complainers have a short memory about their own failure to give due honor and recognition. They are chiefly concerned about their own honor and recognition.
Always you will find that those who get upset quickly over slights are those who are very poor at giving due honor and recognition to others. If these complainers had been chiefly interested in David’s honor in his return to Jerusalem—and his honor is what they ought to have been chiefly concerned about—they would not have noticed any slight they may have experienced. It would not have mattered to them who did what so long as David was honored. They would have been more concerned about slights for David than for themselves. All of this exhorts us to be more concerned about Christ’s honor than our honor. Few are like Apostle Paul who said that even though some preached Christ “to add affliction to my bonds” (Philippians 1:16), he still would “rejoice, yea, and will rejoice” (Philippians 1:18) that Christ was preached. Paul did not have time to get upset about slights, for he was too concerned about honoring Christ. May we all be that way.
2. The Contention in the Revolt.
The perceived slight led to a contention between Judah and the northern tribes over bringing David to Jerusalem. We note the theme of the contention and the temper of the contention.
The theme of the contention. The contention was over who merited having the prominence in returning David back to the land. The tribe of Judah said they should have the prominence because “the king is near of kin to us” (2 Samuel 19:42) while the ten tribes said they should have the prominence because “we have ten parts in the king” (2 Samuel 19:43). The argument was “numbers” against “nearer” in regard to who should have the prominence in bringing back David to the city of Jerusalem. It was a pathetic argument which had no value whatsoever. Any privilege in escorting the king should be given to loyalty, not to numbers or near of kin qualifications. Numbers and nearer mean nothing if it is not associated with loyalty. And none of the tribes had any loyalty to boast about. They had all been part of the conspiracy, as we noted above. Furthermore, Judah had to be exhorted by David into being part of the return, and the other tribes spent their time arguing (“strife” [2 Samuel 19:9]) among themselves about bringing back the king rather than actually doing it. It is generally the people who have the least merit for honor who contend the most about rights and privileges.
The temper of the contention. The contention between Judah and the northern tribes got very heated, “and the words of the men of Judah were fiercer than the words of the men of Israel” (2 Samuel 19:43). Fierce words are ever so destructive. They can ruin friendships, marriage, churches, and many other good things. Here they led to the ruining of the unity of Israel in coming under David’s rule after David’s war with Absalom. Fierce words are those words which are too harsh and are unnecessary. They do not speak the truth or describe situations accurately. Some, of course, would like to use the condemning of these fierce words as support for watering down strong words against sin. But strong words against sin are not inaccurate, untruthful, too harsh, or unnecessary. Watered down language for sin is what is untruthful and unfactual.
3. The Captain of the Revolt
The contention between the tribes became so great that finally the split occurred. “Judah clave unto their king [David]” (2 Samuel 20:2), but the ten tribes (Israel) revolted and “every man of Israel went up from after David, and followed Sheba” (Ibid). To learn something about Sheba, the new captain of the ten tribes, we will look at his character, his clan, and his comments.
His character. Sheba is described by Scripture as “a man of Belial” (2 Samuel 20:1). This is a proverbial term “used of wicked, ungodly men; [it] implies in the formation of the word worthlessness, and according to Gesenius, perniciousness” (Wilson). What this term “a man of Belial” says is that Sheba was a man of very poor character. He was not a man of sterling attributes, full of gallant and noble deeds, and exhibiting great prudence. But in spite of the great deficiencies in his character, he became Israel’s captain. How frequently this happens in nations. Those who usually become leaders of nations are like Sheba, “a man of Belial.” Many men in the White House, in the Congress, and in the courts of our land are best described as “a man of Belial”; for they are void of character.
Why do men who are deficient in character become leaders of nations? The answer is that those who lack character are prone to follow those who lack character. The ten tribes had just made fools of themselves in following Absalom, who was no better than Sheba; and these tribes had paid dearly for their folly, for they had lost at least twenty thousand men in battle against David (2 Samuel 18:7). But in spite of their great loss, they now turn right around and repeat their mistake. Why? Because they were deficient in character. The ten tribes’ loyalty to David could not suffer a small slight. They had not the character to suffer slights. So they, like a hog returning to the mud hole, return to their slimy practice of following a men of slimly character. When society is wicked, like ours is, do not be surprised when evil men seem to be the most popular men of all. When a nation elects characterless men to high office, it indicates that the nation itself is very deficient in character.
His clan. Sheba was “a Benjamite” (2 Samuel 20:1). This meant he was from the same tribe as King Saul. This tribe seemed to never get over the fact that they had lost the monarchy. It did not bother them that Saul was a wretched king, for they liked the honor and privileges of having one from their own tribe being king regardless of his character. When Saul was replaced by David, they were unhappy. As a result, a spirit of rebellion against David seemed to forever simmer in that tribe. It was forcefully illustrated by the cursing of Shimei who was of the tribe of Benjamin, for in his cursing he made a special complaint about David taking Saul’s throne (1 Samuel 16:8). So it is not surprising that the captain of this latest revolt against David came from the tribe of Saul. Too many of that tribe reflected the rebellion that was in the heart of Saul which was a rebellion against God’s Holy Word (1 Samuel 15:19). Rebellion against God’s Word is very prominent today, too. There are many spiritual Benjamites in every age. And they are trouble to the peace and prosperity of the nation, church, school, and home.
His comments. “He blew a trumpet, and said, We have no part in David, neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse; every man to his tents, O Israel” (2 Samuel 20:1). Sheba’s comments are summarized in the phrase, “We have no part in David.” How very condemning was that comment. In the previous verse in Scripture, the ten tribes were exalting themselves in the fact that they had “ten parts in the king” (2 Samuel 19:43). Now they say they have “no part.” Characterless people run to extremes. They are so fickle. On one day they cannot say enough good about David. On the next day they cannot say enough bad about him. This is the kind of crowd that one day threw palm branches on the road and shouted many Hosannas to Christ but not many days later were shouting to Pilate to have Christ crucified. This type of crowd will slobber affection on the new pastor when he comes to the church, but they will also be the first to call for his resignation. They can go from “ten parts” to “no part” over the slightest of slights, for their character and their faith is very lacking in substance.
4. The Chasing of the Revolters
David realized that the revolt by the malcontents must be stopped quickly, or it would gain momentum, and “Sheba [could] . . . do us more harm than did Absalom” (2 Samuel 20:6). So he ordered his men to “pursue after him, lest he get him fenced cities and escape us” (Ibid.). We note the slowness to start the chase, the slaying at the beginning of the chase, and the span of the chase.
The slowness to start the chase. David ordered Amasa, his newly appointed army captain, “Assemble me the men of Judah within three days . . . but he tarried longer than the set time which he [David] had appointed him” (2 Samuel 20:4,5). At least two reasons caused this slowness to assemble the troops to chase Sheba. They were the disenchantment with Amasa and the disinterest in David.
First, the disenchantment with Amasa. Amasa was the wrong man to gather together an army. Amasa would have difficulty rallying the troops to fight because he lacked ability and he lacked acceptance. His lack of ability was manifested in the war against David. He could not with a larger force defeat an enemy with a smaller force. He was not good at rallying men to fight. This lack of ability would promote lack of acceptance. The troops would not be excited about rallying around Amasa again after the great defeat they had experienced under his leadership when fighting David. Amasa simply would not be very accepted by the troops. David should have realized when he appointed Amasa to replace Joab that this would not be a good appointment. Amasa had no qualities that merited the promotion. But David was not performing well after the war. Ever since his sin with Bathsheba and Uriah, David had often been very deficient in governing the nation and the army. Sin really takes the skill out of our performance.
Second, the disinterest in David. Another reason that would slow down the gathering of an army was that the men of Judah were not very interested in following David at this time. Earlier David had to prod them into coming to the Jordan to bring him back to Jerusalem. They had then come together to usher David home. But their dedication was not real strong. They could argue with the northern ten tribes about their right and privilege to lead in bringing David back to Jerusalem. But they were more concerned about their own honor than David’s honor, and when David’s honor became the issue following the revolt led by Sheba, we discover slackness in the dedication of Judah for David. They were like many people who “love a loyalty, as well as a religion, that is cheap and easy” (Henry). When the issue was their honor, they could argue with “fiercer” words than others. But when the issue was David’s honor, they could yawn and be most indifferent.
The slaying at the beginning of the chase. “So he smote him therewith in the fifth rib [abdomen], and shed out his bowels to the ground, and struck him not again, and he died” (2 Samuel 20:10). Amasa’s delay caused David to enlist Abishai, Joab’s brother, to lead a group of troops to chase Sheba (2 Samuel 20:6). Joab and his men were part of the group (2 Samuel 20:7) which means that David passed over Joab again in putting Abishai in charge of these troops. When Amasa finally caught up with Abishai’s troops at “the great stone which is in Gibeon” (2 Samuel 20:8), Joab took things into his own hands and boldly murdered Amasa. With Amasa dead, Joab then took back the command of all the troops (2 Samuel 20:10,11). This was another gruesome, brash, and bloody deed by Joab. But David had too much guilt in his own life to deal with Joab forcefully about the deed. Furthermore, the troops soon fell in line to follow Joab. He was a man of much experience and success in fighting and was a natural leader who could inspire an army to great exploits. While Joab was not esteemed with much affection by his troops, as we saw in the death of Absalom, yet his leadership abilities were so great that men would gladly follow him before other generals. Though Joab’s presumption here secured his job back so much so that David accepted Joab as “over all the host of Israel” (2 Samuel 20:23), Joab eventually met a bloody end to his wicked career when Solomon ordered his death shortly after Solomon became king (1 Kings 2:28–34). Wicked men may sometimes thrive for years, but they will not thrive forever!
The span of the chase. The chase of Sheba took Joab and his troops all the way to “Abel” (2 Samuel 20:15) which was located in the tribal territory of Naphtali on the far northern edge of the tribal allotments of Israel. This was a walled city. Sheba had entered the city for protection inside the city walls. Having to chase Sheba that far meant a long and arduous chase by Joab’s troops. This was not a welcomed activity after they had shortly before battled gallantly against Absalom’s army. But they made the chase anyway, for they were a dedicated bunch. If you are going to succeed in your efforts at doing anything, you will have to put out some very dedicated efforts at times. The only place “success” comes before “work” is in the dictionary. Everyplace else it comes after work.
5. The Cessation of the Revolt
This revolt had a short life. It did not gain the strength that Absalom’s revolt did. Sheba did not have the ability and appeal that characterized Absalom, and so his popularity faded rather quickly, and he ended up hiding in Abel. We want to note two things about the cessation of the revolt. They concern the plea of the woman and the promise of Joab.
The plea of the woman. When Joab and the troops came to the city of Abel in their pursuit of Sheba, Joab’s troops waged war against the city to capture Sheba. They commenced their attack on the city by making an earnest effort to scale the city’s walls and knock down the walls (2 Samuel 20:15). But before they accomplished either, “a wise woman out of the city” (2 Samuel 20:16) cried out to Joab and pleaded for mercy. Her plea for mercy was based on the counsel, the character, the citizens, and the consecration of the city.
First, the counsel of the city. “Then she spake, saying, They were wont to speak in old time, saying, They shall surely ask counsel at Abel; and so they ended the matter” (2 Samuel 20:18). This city was noted for its wise counsel. “According to this translation the sense is, This city which thou art about to destroy is . . . so honorable and considerable for its wisdom and the wise people in it that when any differences did arise among any of the neighbors, they used proverbially to say, We will ask the opinion and advice of the men of Abel about it, and we will stand to their arbitration; and so all parties were satisfied, and disputes ended” (Poole). Wisdom certainly should be protected and honored. We are not doing a very good job of that today, however; for we reject the wisdom of the Word of God for the ludicrous philosophies of the world which honors homosexuals and abortion but forbids the reading of the Bible in school.
Second, the character of the city. “Peaceable and faithful” (2 Samuel 20:19) sums up the character of the city. This, too, is a good reason to spare Abel. “Peaceable and faithful” are excellent but rare qualities. They need to be better preserved and protected than they are. But our day seems instead to be bent on protecting the disrupter of peace (such as the gamblers, the booze manufacturers, the immoral, and the murderers) and honors unfaithfulness (such as mocking moral fidelity and encouraging the breaking of contracts).
Third, the citizens of the city. “Thou seekest to destroy a city and a mother in Israel” (2 Samuel 20:19). This plea urges Joab to be merciful to the city because of the people. “Mother” especially tugs at the heart for mercy. War brings so much destruction on innocent people. Many fathers, mothers, and children are often killed in war. History reminds us that heartless rulers have little care for the lives of innocent people.
Fourth, the consecration of the city. “Why wilt thou swallow up the inheritance of the Lord?” (2 Samuel 20:19). The term, “inheritance of the Lord”‑reminds Joab that this is one of Israel’s cities. Why destroy Jehovah’s land? It is land especially consecrated to Him. This is a strong argument. We should respect what is consecrated to God. This principle is seen in war when religious edifices are considered off limits for bombing, etc.
The promise of Joab. “And Joab answered and said, Far be it, far be it from me, that I should swallow up or destroy. The matter is not so; but a man of mount Ephraim, Sheba . . . hath lifted up his hand against the king, even against David; deliver him only, and I will depart from the city” (2 Samuel 20:20,21). We note the condition, creed, and consent to Joab’s promise.
First, the condition of Joab’s promise. Joab’s promise of sparing Abel from destruction was conditioned on Abel delivering Sheba to Joab’s troops. In this condition, Joab did not disagree with the woman’s argument that counsel, character, citizens, and consecration needed to be protected. However, the argument for counsel, character, citizens, and consecration does not justify shielding a wicked man who has staged a revolt against God’s Anointed (we will see more about this truth in our next paragraph). Joab reminded the woman there are two sides to this case. She had ignored the side about the problem of wicked Sheba. Sparing Abel cannot be done at the expense of justice. If Abel wants protection, it must exercise justice regarding wicked Sheba.
Second, the creed of Joab’s promise. The creed in Joab’s promise about sparing Abel only if Sheba is delivered to his troops instructs us that we forfeit our claim for protection or exemption or privilege when we use our protection, exemption, and privilege to protect evil. When counsel shields criminals, it loses its right for honor and protection. When being lenient to criminals is esteemed as an act of character, that character no longer merits esteem and protection. When innocent citizens are used to protect criminals and other wicked people (communist soldiers used innocent citizens in Viet Nam as shields to stop the enemy from shooting them), the innocent citizens are no longer in a place of protection. When religious edifices are used to house ammunition and guns and other military weaponry, they no longer merit protection. This was Abel’s case. They were protecting a vile man under the cloak of counsel, character, citizens, and consecration. Joab exposed this clever, but corrupt practice which rulers of our world need to also do when nations try to conceal evil in the same way.
Third, the consent to Joab’s promise. The woman, to her credit, accepted Joab’s counsel. “Then the women went unto all the people in her wisdom” (2 Samuel 20:22). The people heeded her counsel (which justified their claim of being a city of wisdom) and beheaded Sheba and threw his head over the wall to Joab. Joab then “blew a trumpet, and they retired from the city, every man to his tent. And Joab returned to Jerusalem unto the king” (Ibid.). The lesson is plain here. It is when you deal properly with the criminal, society will have peace. You cannot let the criminal go unpunished and preserve the peace and prosperity of the society. The city of Abel either duly punished Sheba for his conspiracy against God’s Anointed or it would be destroyed. Would that our land would learn this lesson which Joab taught Abel and which they heeded.