Now Joab son of Zeruiah perceived that the king’s mind was on Absalom.
“In the case of Absalom and the king, the relationship remained virtually deadlocked, neither side having the spiritual incentive to break it.”
–Joyce G. Baldwin
2Joab sent to Tekoa and brought from there a wise woman. He said to her, “Pretend to be a mourner; put on mourning garments, do not anoint yourself with oil, but behave like a woman who has been mourning many days for the dead. 3Go to the king and speak to him as follows.” And Joab put the words into her mouth.
Just as Nathan’s story brought home the truth to David about his affair with Bathsheba, so Joab hopes this widow’s story will help soften David’s heart towards Absalom.
4When the woman of Tekoa came to the king, she fell on her face to the ground and did obeisance, and said, “Help, O king!”
5The king asked her, “What is your trouble?”
She answered, “Alas, I am a widow; my husband is dead. 6Your servant had two sons, and they fought with one another in the field; there was no one to part them, and one struck the other and killed him. 7Now the whole family has risen against your servant. They say, ‘Give up the man who struck his brother, so that we may kill him for the life of his brother whom he murdered, even if we destroy the heir as well.’ Thus they would quench my one remaining ember, and leave to my husband neither name nor remnant on the face of the earth.”
8Then the king said to the woman, “Go to your house, and I will give orders concerning you.”
9The woman of Tekoa said to the king, “On me be the guilt, my lord the king, and on my father’s house; let the king and his throne be guiltless.”
10The king said, “If anyone says anything to you, bring him to me, and he shall never touch you again.”
11Then she said, “Please, may the king keep the Lord your God in mind, so that the avenger of blood may kill no more, and my son not be destroyed.”
He said, “As the Lord lives, not one hair of your son shall fall to the ground.”
woman in traditional widow garb in Greece
There were several factors that made this woman’s appeal successful.
She was a widow, which would invite sympathy
She lived at some distance from Jerusalem, which made it difficult to easily know or inquire of the facts of her case
She was old, which gave more dignity to her story
She wore the clothes of mourning to heighten the effect
She brought a case of family estrangement to David
She brought a case that was not too similar, lest it arouse David’s suspicions
But it was not right! David ignores the cause of justice for the sake of family sympathy and loyalty. In personal relationship it is a good and glorious thing to be generous with forgiveness and mercy when we are wronged. But David had a responsibility as the king and chief judge of Israel, and he was being sorely tempted to forsake that responsibility.
12Then the woman said, “Please let your servant speak a word to my lord the king.”
He said, “Speak.”
13The woman said, “Why then have you planned such a thing against the people of God? For in giving this decision the king convicts himself, inasmuch as the king does not bring his banished one home again.
Here the woman confronts David about the heart of the matter: his sin of not initiating reconciliation with his son. Absalom was estranged from his father and daily growing more bitter; this was a threat both to David himself and to the kingdom.
14We must all die; we are like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up. But God will not take away a life; he will devise plans so as not to keep an outcast banished forever from his presence.
She says there is an urgency to seeking reconciliation. Once someone dies, the opportunity for making things right is gone. God will help the one who is seeking reconciliation, even as He Himself did for all of us sinners when He had Jesus bear our sins on the cross.
“My Song Is Love Unknown” sung by the St. Martin’s Church Choir, with a lovely flute and oboe accompaniment.
15Now I have come to say this to my lord the king because the people have made me afraid; your servant thought, ‘I will speak to the king; it may be that the king will perform the request of his servant. 16For the king will hear, and deliver his servant from the hand of the man who would cut both me and my son off from the heritage of God.’ 17Your servant thought, ‘The word of my lord the king will set me at rest’; for my lord the king is like the angel of God, discerning good and evil. The Lord your God be with you!”
18Then the king answered the woman, “Do not withhold from me anything I ask you.”
The woman said, “Let my lord the king speak.”
19The king said, “Is the hand of Joab with you in all this?”
The woman answered and said, “As surely as you live, my lord the king, one cannot turn right or left from anything that my lord the king has said. For it was your servant Joab who commanded me; it was he who put all these words into the mouth of your servant. 20In order to change the course of affairs your servant Joab did this. But my lord has wisdom like the wisdom of the angel of God to know all things that are on the earth.”
21Then the king said to Joab, “Very well, I grant this; go, bring back the young man Absalom.”
22Joab prostrated himself with his face to the ground and did obeisance, and blessed the king; and Joab said, “Today your servant knows that I have found favor in your sight, my lord the king, in that the king has granted the request of his servant.”
Joab thinks that a reconciliation between David and Absalom will prevent a rebellion.
23So Joab set off, went to Geshur, and brought Absalom to Jerusalem. 24The king said, “Let him go to his own house; he is not to come into my presence.” So Absalom went to his own house, and did not come into the king’s presence.
David, who was too indulgent before, is too harsh now.
David Forgives Absalom
25Now in all Israel there was no one to be praised so much for his beauty as Absalom; from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him. 26When he cut the hair of his head (for at the end of every year he used to cut it; when it was heavy on him, he cut it), he weighed the hair of his head, two hundred shekels by the king’s weight.
A yearly harvest of five and a half pounds of hair!! He could have donated it, like Amanda, above, to Locks of Love (an organization that collects hair to make hairpieces for kids with cancer).
27There were born to Absalom three sons, and one daughter whose name was Tamar; she was a beautiful woman.
By naming his daughter Tamar, he honored his wronged sister of the same name.
28So Absalom lived two full years in Jerusalem, without coming into the king’s presence. 29Then Absalom sent for Joab to send him to the king; but Joab would not come to him. He sent a second time, but Joab would not come. 30Then he said to his servants, “Look, Joab’s field is next to mine, and he has barley there; go and set it on fire.” So Absalom’s servants set the field on fire.
We see that in many ways, Absalom’s world revolves around himself, even to the casual way he harms the property of others.
31Then Joab rose and went to Absalom at his house, and said to him, “Why have your servants set my field on fire?”
32Absalom answered Joab, “Look, I sent word to you: Come here, that I may send you to the king with the question, ‘Why have I come from Geshur? It would be better for me to be there still.’ Now let me go into the king’s presence; if there is guilt in me, let him kill me!”
33Then Joab went to the king and told him; and he summoned Absalom. So he came to the king and prostrated himself with his face to the ground before the king; and the king kissed Absalom.
“The Reconciliation of David and Absalom,” by Rembrandt, 1642 (The Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia)
David offered Absalom forgiveness without any repentance or resolution of the wrong. One commentator has written that David ought to have kicked Absalom, rather than wink at his sin.
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