2 Samuel 19 (NRSV)
It was told Joab, “The king is weeping and mourning for Absalom.” 2So the victory that day was turned into mourning for all the troops; for the troops heard that day, “The king is grieving for his son.” 3The troops stole into the city that day as soldiers steal in who are ashamed when they flee in battle. 4The king covered his face, and the king cried with a loud voice, “O my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son!”
David’s excessive sorrow cast a cloud over the victory. There is such a thing as excessive mourning — mourning that is basically rooted in unbelief and ungodly fear. In 1 Thessalonians 4:13, Paul warned Christians: I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. Some Christians sorrow at times in death or tragedy like those who have no hope in God; this does not honor God or help others.
5Then Joab came into the house to the king, and said, “Today you have covered with shame the faces of all your officers who have saved your life today, and the lives of your sons and your daughters, and the lives of your wives and your concubines, 6for love of those who hate you and for hatred of those who love you. You have made it clear today that commanders and officers are nothing to you; for I perceive that if Absalom were alive and all of us were dead today, then you would be pleased. 7So go out at once and speak kindly to your servants; for I swear by the Lord, if you do not go, not a man will stay with you this night; and this will be worse for you than any disaster that has come upon you from your youth until now.”
Someone had to tell David that he was acting as a slave to his feelings, that he was behaving as if under the circumstances. But God was, and always is, still in control. No matter the tragedy, we can find comfort and encouragement in the wonderful truth that “Christ is still risen!”
8Then the king got up and took his seat in the gate. The troops were all told, “See, the king is sitting in the gate”; and all the troops came before the king.
As my mother would have said, “Do the next thing.”
Proverbs 16:10 (NIV)
The lips of a king speak as an oracle,
and his mouth does not betray justice.
David Recalled to Jerusalem
Meanwhile, all the Israelites had fled to their homes. 9All the people were disputing throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, “The king delivered us from the hand of our enemies, and saved us from the hand of the Philistines; and now he has fled out of the land because of Absalom. 10But Absalom, whom we anointed over us, is dead in battle. Now therefore why do you say nothing about bringing the king back?”
11King David sent this message to the priests Zadok and Abiathar, “Say to the elders of Judah, ‘Why should you be the last to bring the king back to his house? The talk of all Israel has come to the king. 12You are my kin, you are my bone and my flesh; why then should you be the last to bring back the king?’ 13And say to Amasa, ‘Are you not my bone and my flesh? So may God do to me, and more, if you are not the commander of my army from now on, in place of Joab.’”
14Amasa swayed the hearts of all the people of Judah as one, and they sent word to the king, “Return, both you and all your servants.” 15So the king came back to the Jordan; and Judah came to Gilgal to meet the king and to bring him over the Jordan.
16Shimei son of Gera, the Benjaminite, from Bahurim, hurried to come down with the people of Judah to meet King David; 17with him were a thousand people from Benjamin. And Ziba, the servant of the house of Saul, with his fifteen sons and his twenty servants, rushed down to the Jordan ahead of the king, 18while the crossing was taking place, to bring over the king’s household, and to do his pleasure.
David left Israel as a desperate fugitive, rejected by the nation and hunted by his son Absalom. He came back escorted by thousands of enthusiastic supporters.
Proverbs 14:28 (NIV)
A large population is a king’s glory,
but without subjects a prince is ruined.
David’s Mercy to Shimei
Shimei son of Gera fell down before the king, as he was about to cross the Jordan, 19and said to the king, “May my lord not hold me guilty or remember how your servant did wrong on the day my lord the king left Jerusalem; may the king not bear it in mind. 20For your servant knows that I have sinned; therefore, see, I have come this day, the first of all the house of Joseph to come down to meet my lord the king.”
21Abishai son of Zeruiah answered, “Shall not Shimei be put to death for this, because he cursed the Lord’s anointed?”
22But David said, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah, that you should today become an adversary to me? Shall anyone be put to death in Israel this day? For do I not know that I am this day king over Israel?” 23The king said to Shimei, “You shall not die.” And the king gave him his oath.
Shimei had cursed him; David forgave him. Shimei deserved punishment; David showed him mercy. Shimei said — I was wrong; David said — That’s OK, I’ll let it go.
Proverbs 16:13 (NIV)
Kings take pleasure in honest lips;
they value the one who speaks what is right.
David and Mephibosheth Meet
24Mephibosheth grandson of Saul came down to meet the king; he had not taken care of his feet, or trimmed his beard, or washed his clothes, from the day the king left until the day he came back in safety. 25When he came from Jerusalem to meet the king, the king said to him, “Why did you not go with me, Mephibosheth?”
26He answered, “My lord, O king, my servant deceived me; for your servant said to him, ‘Saddle a donkey for me, so that I may ride on it and go with the king.’ For your servant is lame. 27He has slandered your servant to my lord the king. But my lord the king is like the angel of God; do therefore what seems good to you. 28For all my father’s house were doomed to death before my lord the king; but you set your servant among those who eat at your table. What further right have I, then, to appeal to the king?”
29The king said to him, “Why speak any more of your affairs? I have decided: you and Ziba shall divide the land.”
According to the Talmud, David’s unjust decision will have repercussions in the future: “When David said to Mephibosheth, you and Ziba shall divide the field, a heavenly voice was heard, saying, Rehoboam and Jeroboam will divide the kingdom.”
30Mephibosheth said to the king, “Let him take it all, since my lord the king has arrived home safely.”
Proverbs 22:11 (NIV)
One who loves a pure heart and who speaks with grace
will have the king for a friend.
from Peculiar Treasures,
by Frederick Buechner
Mephibosheth was five years old when news came through that his father, Jonathan, and his grandfather, King Saul, had both been killed in battle. Terrified of what might happen next, his nurse snatched him up in her arms and started to run off with him when she tripped and fell in her panic, and the boy was so badly crippled that he never walked right again.
The new king, David, might very well have decided to get rid of him. It was standard procedure then to wipe out your predecessor’s entire family when you came to the throne just in case any of them happened to have political ambitions; but maybe because Mephibosheth was a cripple and thus not like to give him much trouble, or maybe because his father had been David’s best friend, or maybe just because he felt sorry for him or some combination of all these, David decided to be generous. It was the kind of crazy, magnificent gesture he like to make every once in a while, like the time some soldiers risked their necks breaking through the enemy lines to bring him a cup of cool water from Bethlehem, his home-town, and David won the hearts of everybody by saying, “Shall I drink the blood of the men who went at the risk of their lives?” (2 Samuel 23:15-17), and poured it out on the ground.
In any case, he had Mephibosheth brought to him, and the poor child fell on his face in terror at what for all he knew was going to be the axe, but David told him not to be afraid. He tole him that he was to have all the property that rightfully belonged to him and a man named Ziba to look after him, and he also promised him that from then on he was to take all his meals at the king’s table as if he was his own son.
Ziba was a sly one, as it turned out, and years later when there was a revolt against David, led by his own son, Absalom, Ziba told the king that Mephibosheth had defected to the other side. What motivated this lie was the hope that David would grant him not only his favor but also all of Mephibosheth’s real estate, and David did.
After the revolt was successfully put down, however, Mephibosheth showed up and convinced David that Ziba had been lying and he had been on the right side all along, and David seemed to believe him. But poor David—he was so shattered by everything that had happened, especially by the death of his beloved if treacherous Absalom, that he couldn’t give the matter his full attention and more or less brushed Mephibosheth off by telling him that he and Ziba could divide the real estate between them for all he cared and to stop pestering him.
It would be sad if the relationship ended on such an unsatisfactory note–the old king too broken-hearted to care much about anything anymore, and Mephibosheth limping home to work things out somehow with Ziba. But that isn’t where it ended.
Before David had a chance to leave, Mephibosheth said that he was so overjoyed that David had driven the rascals out and come through the battle safe and sound that just to celebrate he was prepared to let Ziba take the whole damn place. Whether or not he made good on the offer, or even intended to, hardly matters. It was a crazy and magnificent gesture to make, and maybe David was not too lost in his own grief to realize, however dimly, at whose feet he had learned to make it.
David’s Kindness to Barzillai
31Now Barzillai the Gileadite had come down from Rogelim; he went on with the king to the Jordan, to escort him over the Jordan. 32Barzillai was a very aged man, eighty years old. He had provided the king with food while he stayed at Mahanaim, for he was a very wealthy man. 33The king said to Barzillai, “Come over with me, and I will provide for you in Jerusalem at my side.”
Proverbs 14:35 (NIV)
A king delights in a wise servant,
but a shameful servant arouses his fury.
34But Barzillai said to the king, “How many years have I still to live, that I should go up with the king to Jerusalem? 35Today I am eighty years old; can I discern what is pleasant and what is not? Can your servant taste what he eats or what he drinks? Can I still listen to the voice of singing men and singing women? Why then should your servant be an added burden to my lord the king? 36Your servant will go a little way over the Jordan with the king. Why should the king recompense me with such a reward? 37Please let your servant return, so that I may die in my own town, near the graves of my father and my mother. But here is your servant Chimham; let him go over with my lord the king; and do for him whatever seems good to you.”
It is generally understood that this “servant” was Barzillai’s son. In 1 Kings 2:7 we read that when David was dying, he said, “Show kindness to the sons of Barzillai.” So David remembered his promise.
38The king answered, “Chimham shall go over with me, and I will do for him whatever seems good to you; and all that you desire of me I will do for you.”
39Then all the people crossed over the Jordan, and the king crossed over; the king kissed Barzillai and blessed him, and he returned to his own home.
40The king went on to Gilgal, and Chimham went on with him; all the people of Judah, and also half the people of Israel, brought the king on his way.
41Then all the people of Israel came to the king, and said to him, “Why have our kindred the people of Judah stolen you away, and brought the king and his household over the Jordan, and all David’s men with him?”
42All the people of Judah answered the people of Israel, “Because the king is near of kin to us. Why then are you angry over this matter? Have we eaten at all at the king’s expense? Or has he given us any gift?”
43But the people of Israel answered the people of Judah, “We have ten shares in the king, and in David also we have more than you. Why then did you despise us? Were we not the first to speak of bringing back our king?”
But the words of the people of Judah were fiercer than the words of the people of Israel.
The heart of the problem between the groups is this: who has been the most loyal to David, and therefore deserves to honor him? The break up of the tribes even here foreshadows the division that will come later.
How ought a king behave? This song reminds us of how Jesus behaved, in kindness and love towards us — oh, my, beyond words.
“You Are My King (Amazing Love)” sung HERE by Phillips, Craig & Dean, three pastors who put themselves together as a musical group in 1991 to much success.
The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.