A. David’s mourning and Joab’s rebuke.
1. (1-3) The effect of David’s grief upon his loyal supporters.
And Joab was told, “Behold, the king is weeping and mourning for Absalom.” So the victory that day was turned into mourning for all the people. For the people heard it said that day, “The king is grieved for his son.” And the people stole back into the city that day, as people who are ashamed steal away when they flee in battle.
a. The victory that day was turned into mourning for all the people: This was not good. David’s loyal and sacrificing supporters won that day for the glory of God and the good of Israel. Then they felt bad about the victory because David was overcome with excessive weeping and mourning for Absalom.
i. There is such a thing as excessive mourning – mourning that is basically rooted in unbelief and self-indulgence. 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 of death or tragedy like those who have no hope in God and this is wrong to do.
ii. “If your dear ones are dead you cannot restore them to life by your unbelief; and if they still survive, it will be a pity to be downcast and unbelieving when there is no occasion for it. ‘Your strength is to sit still.’ Remember that you are a Christian, and a Christian is expected to be more self-possessed than those who have no God to fly to.” (Spurgeon)
b. The people stole back into the city that day, as people who are ashamed: David’s excessive sorrow made his loyal friends and supporters feel ashamed that they had won a great victory.
2. (4-7) Joab rebukes David.
But the king covered his face, and the king cried out with a loud voice, “O my son Absalom! O Absalom, my son, my son!” Then Joab came into the house to the king, and said, “Today you have disgraced all your servants who today have saved your life, the lives of your sons and daughters, the lives of your wives and the lives of your concubines, in that you love your enemies and hate your friends. For you have declared today that you regard neither princes nor servants; for today I perceive that if Absalom had lived and all of us had died today, then it would have pleased you well. Now therefore, arise, go out and speak comfort to your servants. For I swear by the LORD, if you do not go out, not one will stay with you this night. And that will be worse for you than all the evil that has befallen you from your youth until now.”
a. O my son Absalom! O Absalom, my son, my son! David could not stop singing this song. He was still locked into his excessive mourning and lack of perspective. He was mastered by his feelings, and feelings were never meant to master us.
i. God is not against feelings – not at all. Many Christians lack deep and profound feeling and experience in their walk with God. At the same time, feelings were never meant to have mastery over us.
ii. David’s problem was not in what he knew – Absalom’s tragic death and David’s own role in it. David’s problem was in what he forgot – that God was still in control, that a great victory was won, that he had many loyal supporters, and that God showed great grace and mercy to him. When someone is overcome by tragedy or sorrow, the problem is not in what they know, but in what they forget.
iii. “Who ever heard David cry out in godly sorrow, O Uriah, would God I had died for thee!” (Trapp)
b. Today you have disgraced all your servants who today have saved your life: Joab gave David a stern wake-up call. “David, your excessive mourning is selfish. It isn’t all about you. These loyal, sacrificial supporters of yours deserve to feel good about their victory and you are making them feel terrible. Snap out of it.”
c. I perceive that if Absalom had lived and all of us had died today, then it would have pleased you well: This is a sharp truth delivered with precision. Joab wanted David not only to see that he was foolish in his excessive grief, but he was also selfish.
d. Now therefore, arise, go out and speak comfort to your servants: “Go out and encourage the team – they deserve it. If you don’t you will lose most of them.”
3. (8) David receives Joab’s rebuke.
Then the king arose and sat in the gate. And they told all the people, saying, “There is the king, sitting in the gate.” So all the people came before the king. For everyone of Israel had fled to his tent.
a. Then the king arose and sat in the gate: David didn’t feel like doing this. His feelings told him to stay locked into his excessive mourning. Yet David let his understanding of what was right override what he felt.
i. We never again hear David crying out, O Absalom. Doing what he needed to do got that song out of his head.
b. So all the people came before the king: This is what they needed to see – David sitting as king in the place of authority (sitting in the gate). This told them that their sacrifice was worth it, that it was appreciated, and that David would continue to reign. Joab’s rebuke worked because Joab cared enough to say it, and David was wise enough to receive it.
B. Israel returns to David.
1. (9-10) The tribes debate receiving David back as king.
Now all the people were in a dispute throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, “The king saved us from the hand of our enemies, he delivered us from the hand of the Philistines, and now he has fled from the land because of Absalom. But Absalom, whom we anointed over us, has died in battle. Now therefore, why do you say nothing about bringing back the king?”
a. All the people were in a dispute throughout all the tribes of Israel: David survived Absalom’s attempted overthrow, but the kingdom was not yet restored to David.
b. The king saved us…. But Absalom, whom we anointed over us, has died: The tribes of Israel understood what David had done for them, they understood that they had rejected him and embraced Absalom, and they understood that Absalom was now dead. It left the people of Israel in a dispute about bringing back the king.
i. They only seemed to want David back after the false king, Absalom, failed. In the same way, we often only decide to bring back King Jesus when our false kings fail.
ii. “The folly of their allegiance to Absalom was clear – it had brought only misery and confusion. They were on the wrong side; they had rejected their true king, and therefore the situation was full of unrest.” (Redpath)
2. (11-14) David sends negotiators to the tribes.
So King David sent to Zadok and Abiathar the priests, saying, “Speak to the elders of Judah, saying, ‘Why are you the last to bring the king back to his house, since the words of all Israel have come to the king, to his very house? You are my brethren, you are my bone and my flesh. Why then are you the last to bring back the king?’ And say to Amasa, ‘Are you not my bone and my flesh? God do so to me, and more also, if you are not commander of the army before me continually in place of Joab.’” So he swayed the hearts of all the men of Judah, just as the heart of one man, so that they sent this word to the king: “Return, you and all your servants!”
a. Why are you the last to bring the king back to his house: David would not force his reign on Israel. He would only come back if the tribes who rejected him for Absalom agreed to bring back the king.
i. “David didn’t lift a finger to re-establish his authority…. His return to sovereignty was decided by the voluntary submission of his kinsmen and by their loving obedience to his will.” (Redpath)
b. Amasa…commander of the army…in place of Joab: David agreed to replace Joab with Amasa, who was the captain of Absalom’s army. This was to put Joab in his place and to offer a gesture of reconciliation to the former supporters of Absalom.
c. So he swayed the hearts of all the men of Judah, just as the heart of one man: The efforts of Zadok and Abiathar succeeded. David would not come back until welcomed by the hearts of all, and that could not be forced – their hearts had to be swayed.
i. There is a sense in which God will not, in the present age, force His reign on us. We must welcome His reign, and He will not force our heart-response. Our hearts must be swayed by the work of the word of God and the Holy Spirit.
ii. Just as the heart of one man: David wanted the reception to be unanimous. The men of Judah responded together to the wooing work of Zadok and Abiathar.
3. (15-18a) David comes over the Jordan River, helped by Judah and Benjamin.
Then the king returned and came to the Jordan. And Judah came to Gilgal, to go to meet the king, to escort the king across the Jordan. And Shimei the son of Gera, a Benjamite, who was from Bahurim, hurried and came down with the men of Judah to meet King David. There were a thousand men of Benjamin with him, and Ziba the servant of the house of Saul, and his fifteen sons and his twenty servants with him; and they went over the Jordan before the king. Then a ferryboat went across to carry over the king’s household, and to do what he thought good.
a. Then the king returned: The point is emphasized – David would not return as king until he was welcomed, until hearts were swayed to receive him.
b. To escort the king: 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.
C. David’s kindness to his subjects.
1. (18b-23) David shows forgiveness to Shimei.
Now Shimei the son of Gera fell down before the king when he had crossed the Jordan. Then he said to the king, “Do not let my lord impute iniquity to me, or remember what wrong your servant did on the day that my lord the king left Jerusalem, that the king should take it to heart. For I, your servant, know that I have sinned. Therefore here I am, the first to come today of all the house of Joseph to go down to meet my lord the king.” 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?” And David said, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah, that you should be adversaries to me today? Shall any man be put to death today in Israel? For do I not know that today I am king over Israel?” Therefore the king said to Shimei, “You shall not die.” And the king swore to him.
a. I, your servant, know that I have sinned: Shimei showed a remarkably humble, contrite confession. He sinned greatly against David, and here he repented greatly before him.
i. Shimei’s repentance was humble (fell down before the king). His posture represented his low place before David.
ii. Shimei’s repentance honored David (Do not let my lord impute iniquity to me). He knew David had the right to impute iniquity, but he pleaded for mercy.
iii. Shimei’s repentance was honest (I have sinned). He made no attempt to minimize his actions.
iv. Shimei’s repentance was put into action (here I am, the first to come today of all the house of Joseph to go down to meet my lord the king). Real repentance will show itself not only in words and ideas but also in action.
b. The king said to Shimei, “You shall not die”: David spared the life of Shimei, showing forgiveness to the man who formerly bitterly cursed him (2 Samuel 16:5-13).
i. “Perhaps you have been like Shimei, who cursed king David, and you are afraid that Jesus will never forgive you. But David forgave Shimei, and Jesus is ready to forgive you. He delighteth in mercy. I do believe that the harps of heaven never give to Christ such happiness as he has when he forgives the ungodly, and saith, ‘Thy sins are forgiven; go in peace.’” (Spurgeon)
c. Do I not know that today I am king over Israel? David could readily forgive a man who deserved to die because he was secure, knowing that God gave him the throne. Insecurity is a great motivator for revenge and holding on to bitterness.
2. (24-30) David shows understanding to Mephibosheth.
Now Mephibosheth the son of Saul came down to meet the king. And he had not cared for his feet, nor trimmed his mustache, nor washed his clothes, from the day the king departed until the day he returned in peace. So it was, when he had come to Jerusalem to meet the king, that the king said to him, “Why did you not go with me, Mephibosheth?” And he answered, “My lord, O king, my servant deceived me. For your servant said, ‘I will saddle a donkey for myself, that I may ride on it and go to the king,’ because your servant is lame. And he has slandered your servant to my lord the king, but my lord the king is like the angel of God. Therefore do what is good in your eyes. For all my father’s house were but dead men before my lord the king. Yet you set your servant among those who eat at your own table. Therefore what right have I still to cry out anymore to the king?” So the king said to him, “Why do you speak anymore of your matters? I have said, ‘You and Ziba divide the land.’” Then Mephibosheth said to the king, “Rather, let him take it all, inasmuch as my lord the king has come back in peace to his own house.”
a. Mephibosheth the son of Saul came down to meet the king: Mephibosheth was the son of Jonathan and the last surviving heir to the dynasty of Saul. 2 Samuel 9 told how David showed unique kindness to Mephibosheth. 2 Samuel 16:1-4 described how Ziba, the servant of Mephibosheth, met David with supplies as he left Jerusalem. Ziba said that Mephibosheth had abandoned David and hoped to gain from the conflict between David and Absalom.
b. My lord, O king, my servant deceived me: Mephibosheth explained why he did not join David, and how Ziba slandered him before David.
c. You set your servant among those who eat at your own table. Therefore what right have I still to cry out anymore to the king? Though Mephibosheth was slandered before David, Mephibosheth didn’t defend himself or demand a hearing before David. He knew David had already given him more than he deserved, so if David were to now take it all away he would still be ahead.
d. You and Ziba divide the land: When Ziba told David that Mephibosheth had abandoned him, David granted Ziba all of Mephibosheth’s land and property (2 Samuel 16:4). Hearing the whole story, David didn’t go back on his promise to Ziba even though it was base on fraudulent claims. Yet he did lessen Ziba’s reward by offering a split between Ziba and Mephibosheth of all the property from Saul’s house.
e. Rather, let him take it all, inasmuch as my lord the king has come back in peace to his own house: Mephibosheth was content to let Ziba have all the property if he could only know that David reigned. David’s reign was more important to him than his personal enrichment.
i. “For his own enrichment this man cared nothing at all. It was everything to him that his king should come into the possession of his kingdom in peace…. It is to be feared that too often we are more concerned about our rights than about His. It is a great and glorious thing when our loyalty and love make us far more concerned about the victories of our Lord, than about our own unquestioned rights. Yet that should be the normal attitude of all who sit at the King’s Table.” (Morgan)
3. (31-39) David shows appreciation to Barzillai.
And Barzillai the Gileadite came down from Rogelim and went across the Jordan with the king, to escort him across the Jordan. Now Barzillai was a very aged man, eighty years old. And he had provided the king with supplies while he stayed at Mahanaim, for he was a very rich man. And the king said to Barzillai, “Come across with me, and I will provide for you while you are with me in Jerusalem.” But Barzillai said to the king, “How long have I to live, that I should go up with the king to Jerusalem? I am today eighty years old. Can I discern between the good and bad? Can your servant taste what I eat or what I drink? Can I hear any longer the voice of singing men and singing women? Why then should your servant be a further burden to my lord the king? Your servant will go a little way across the Jordan with the king. And why should the king repay me with such a reward? Please let your servant turn back again, that I may die in my own city, near the grave of my father and mother. But here is your servant Chimham; let him cross over with my lord the king, and do for him what seems good to you.” And the king answered, “Chimham shall cross over with me, and I will do for him what seems good to you. Now whatever you request of me, I will do for you.” Then all the people went over the Jordan. And when the king had crossed over, the king kissed Barzillai and blessed him, and he returned to his own place.
a. Come across with me, and I will provide for you while you are with me in Jerusalem: Barzillai brought essential help to David when he fled Jerusalem as Absalom took over the city. In gratitude, David offered him the honor of living with the king in Jerusalem.
i. He was a very rich man: Barzillai was a man of great resources – and he wisely used those resources to support the servant of God and the cause of God. In Luke 12:21, Jesus spoke of the foolish man who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God. Barzillai was wise enough to use his resources to lay up treasure in heaven and he was rich toward God.
b. Why should the king repay me with such a reward? Barzillai did not do this for the sake of reward. He gave out of a right heart, not from the motive of self-exaltation.
c. Here is your servant Chimham; let him cross over with my lord the king: Barzillai respectfully declined the honor for himself but accepted it on behalf of his son Chimham.
i. “It is generally understood that this was Barzillai’s son; and this is probable from 1 Kings 2:7, where, when David was dying, he said, Show kindness to the sons of Barzillai.” (Clarke)
4. (40-43) Israel and Judah quarrel about David.
Now the king went on to Gilgal, and Chimham went on with him. And all the people of Judah escorted the king, and also half the people of Israel. Just then all the men of Israel came to the king, and said to the king, “Why have our brethren, the men of Judah, stolen you away and brought the king, his household, and all David’s men with him across the Jordan?” So all the men of Judah answered the men of Israel, “Because the king is a close relative of ours. Why then are you angry over this matter? Have we ever eaten at the king’s expense? Or has he given us any gift?” And the men of Israel answered the men of Judah, and said, “We have ten shares in the king; therefore we also have more right to David than you. Why then do you despise us; were we not the first to advise bringing back our king?” Yet the words of the men of Judah were fiercer than the words of the men of Israel.
a. All the people of Judah escorted the king, and also half the people of Israel: The northern tribes felt excluded in this ceremonial welcoming back of David from across the Jordan River.
b. Why have our brethren, the men of Judah, stolen you away…. why then are you angry…. why then do you despise us: This argument was ultimately about who was more loyal to King David, and who had the greater right to honor him.
c. Why then do you despise us: The ten northern tribes felt unappreciated by the tribe of Judah. This competitive attitude between Judah and the ten northern tribes set the stage for civil war in David’s day and the eventual division of the nation into two.
© 2022 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org