2 Samuel 19:1–21 . . . Bible Study Summary with Videos and Questions
“David Returns and Reigns in Jerusalem”
We'll see in chapter 19 that David, extremely upset about Absalom's death, will pull himself together and return victorious to Jerusalem, accompanied by the men of Judah. As we learned in last week's summary of 2 Sam. 18:19–33, Joab knew his king well. He was sure that David wouldn't take the news of Absalom's death well, which is why he was reluctant to send Ahimaaz to David with the news of that death. That's also why Ahimaaz hedged his answer to David's specific question about Absalom's well-being. So, when the triumphant soldiers returned to Mahanaim, they didn't find their king at the gate to greet them and express his appreciation. Instead, they learned that David grieved over his son's death. Instead of feeling proud of what they'd done in battle, David's men felt ashamed.
Joab Gives His King an Order (2 Samuel 19:1–8)
In these eight opening verses, David responds twice to the news of Absalom's death. He does that similarly to the way he did when he learned of Saul's death (ch. 1). The king had been weeping and mourning over Absalom's death. Over and over he repeated, “O my son Absalom! O Absalom, my son, my son!” (v. 4). Joab wasn't inclined to join David in his mourning. He deliberately went into David's house, not to deal gently with David but forcefully, giving him an outright order: "Now go out and encourage your men" (v. 7a). In Joab's mind, David was making the greatest mistake of his life; he was about to suffer consequences far greater than any he'd yet experienced. Certainly, he was correct to weep over Absalom's death. His mourning had been heard all over the city and put a damper on what would normally would have been rejoicing over a great victory. However, Joab realized the danger and rushed to David with a stern rebuke — the kind of rebuke that only a loyal friend could give.
Joab was also correct to warn David of the consequences of failing to thank his soldiers for saving his life and kingdom. Because of his mourning, his men were ashamed to enter Mahanaim as the conquering heroes that they were. Although they'd risked their necks to save their king, they now hung their heads in shame on their return. Their otherwise jubilant day of victory was suddenly transformed into a day of mourning. At this point, David's hold on his throne was tenuous at best. His core supporters were those who'd fought for him. He had to keep and build upon his core, if he was to reestablish his throne.
Joab rebuked David for putting everyone who'd come with him from Jerusalem to shame, not just his soldiers, but his wives and children, and his concubines as well. He'd shown a total disregard for those who were willing to give their all for their king. Joab put it as bluntly as he could have in his stern, blameful rebuke of his king: David would rather have heard that his entire army was slaughtered and Absalom was alive than to learn that his army had prevailed but Absalom was dead.
Joab virtually commanded David to do what he should do next. He should have gotten up, stopped mourning, and gone out to the gate to greet the victorious warriors who were returning joyfully from a decisive battle against Absalom's Israelite forces. If David wouldn't do so immediately, Joab assured him that, by daybreak, there wouldn't be a soldier left in his army of loyal warriors. The author records that David followed Joab's strong counsel. He went down and sat at the gateway to the city where elders discussed civic matters. And while David didn't show much enthusiasm, his men eventually came before their king and received his thanks. By his quick action and courageous rebuke, Joab had saved David's kingdom.
The people needed to see David sitting as king in the place of authority, which would have assured them that their sacrifice was worth it, that it was appreciated, and that David would continue to reign. Joab's rebuke worked because he cared enough to make it, and because David was wise enough to receive it. Meanwhile, the Israelites who'd joined Absalom fled to their tents (v. 8). The war was over. David was once again King of Israel.
Let's look for a moment at the character traits of a few key individuals. Joab's execution of Absalom cost him his prominent military position, at least temporarily (v. 13). Nevertheless, his rebuke of the king (vv. 5–7) was appropriate, as well as needed. A true friend — and Joab was a true friend of David's at this point — would be willing to take personal risks to confront a friend in love. A wise person, as David was, would have accepted headstrong and hearty advice from a friend who cared very much for him. His emotions were sometimes inappropriate, loving those whom he should have hated, and hating those whom he should have loved (v. 6). Similarly, Amnon had hated Tamar whom he should have loved (13:15). Emotions such as these were common to father and son, both of whom committed serious injustices.
The Israelites Argue and Finger-Point (vv. 9–10)
The huge Israelite militia that had been called up by Absalom had been soundly defeated in the Forest of Ephraim. Everyone fled for their homes; Absalom was dead; in villages, towns, and cities all over the country, people debated and argued over who should be king. Starting with v. 9, David was about to return to Jerusalem to resume his reign over the nation Israel. To win the favor of the people (and perhaps to remove a thorn in his own flesh), he removed Joab as commander of his armed forces, replacing him with Amasa. It looked as though Joab, who'd killed Absalom, was finished.
It doesn't stop there, however. Looking back, David had been forced to flee Jerusalem due to the revolution instigated by Absalom. While David never abdicated his throne, Absalom acted as king for a few days, until he was defeated in battle and Joab ended his life. David was invited to return to Jerusalem to resume his rule over the nation Israel.
But the nation seemed to be paralyzed, realizing they needed a strong national leader. But they weren't in agreement. Unity appeared to grow gradually as people remembered how David had delivered them from the Philistines. But there weren't really any other options available. David couldn't simply march into Jerusalem, proclaiming himself as king; he wouldn't force his reign on Israel; he'd come back only if the tribes who'd rejected him for Absalom agreed to bring back their king. Both Judah and Israel had rejected him when they'd anointed Absalom as their king. Of course, David had the military power to return to Jerusalem, but power is different from recognized authority. For him to regain his authority as king, Judah and Israel needed to jointly reaffirm him as their monarch.
It's difficult for those of us who live in a democracy to understand the predicament in which the Israelites found themselves. Our constitution sets down a very clear process for succession. But when a monarch ceases to function as king, what does a nation do? In Israel, then, a lot of arguing and finger-pointing was going on. Everyone blamed everyone else, demanding that someone else take action. David had previously been king; then he fled the country. The people anointed Absalom in David's place; he was killed. There seemed to have been a foregone conclusion that David would return as Israel's king. But how would that happen? What should be done; who should do it? The arguing prevailed.
One more fact contributes to having made this such a sticky situation: These people were the same ones who'd backed Absalom's rebellion. The people who were arguing were the people of Israel, those who'd remained in the land. They weren't David's supporters who'd accompanied him into the wilderness. These folks were the ones who rejected him as their king but realized that he'd inevitably reign as king once again. Who'd want to step forward to bring back the man they'd totally rejected, the one against whom they'd committed high treason? The folly of the Israelites' allegiance to Absalom was clear: It had brought only misery and confusion. They were on the wrong side; they'd rejected their true king; the situation was full of unrest. No wonder there was a leadership problem there.
David's Dealings with Shimei (vv. 11–21)
People were talking but no one took action to organize a formal recall of the king. Because a unified action was slow to materialize, David sent negotiators to the tribes. Logically, support would likely have begun with David's own tribe of Judah. To help jump-start that process, David undertook a two-prong political strategy: (1) He appealed to Judah's pride. He asked his supportive priests — Zadok and Abiathar — to speak to the leaders of Judah, appealing to their tribal pride and sense of shame at the same time (vv. 11–12); (2) He appointed a popular Judaean commander. His nephew Amasa had been the military commander under Absalom. To offer a concession to his fellow Judaeans, David asked Amasa to be his military commander, in place of Joab, as a gesture of reconciliation to former supporters of Absalom. David was angry at Joab for killing Absalom, having done so against his explicit orders. But, no doubt, Joab was furious over being demoted in favor of the defeated general, even though it was his actions that won the day.
Absalom had found his strongest support among the people of Judah. David didn't want the Judaeans to conclude that, by supporting Absalom, they'd become his enemies. He extended amnesty to them and informed them that he still regarded them as his closest kin. This wise political move helped reunite the nation. His "You are my relatives" reference in v. 12 wasn't referencing his blood ties, though they may have been present, but rather that their mutual covenant commitments must be honored because the vows assumed fidelity through thick and thin.
Verse 14 reveals that "He [David] won over the hearts of the men of Judah so that they were all of one mind. They sent word to the king, 'Return, you and all your men.'” He wanted his reception to be unanimous. The men of Judah responded together to the wooing work of Zadok and Abiathar. In the end, we learn of the success of David's strategies (v. 14). David crossed the Jordan River with help from Judah and Benjamin. Once he'd received an official invitation to return as king — if only from the tribe of Judah — he left his secure position at Mahanaim and traveled as far as the east bank of the Jordan River ford at Gilgal, which is where the pageantry began. Such pageantry was important to all to regain a sense of unity and national pride in their king (v. 15).
Accompanying the tribe of Judah were 1,000 Benjamites including three men who needed to "make nice" to the king: Shimei, who'd cursed him; Ziba, who'd deceived him; and Mephibosheth, whose loyalty was in question (vv. 16–17); his failures to trim his toenails and beard and to wash his clothes (v. 24) were an expression of his grief, resulting in his remaining ceremonially unclean while David was in exile. And, Shimei, the Benjamite who'd cursed and thrown stones at David a few months before, was now penitent, falling prostrate before David, confessing his sin, and asking for mercy (vv. 18–19). Abishai wanted to kill him for cursing the Lord's anointed (v. 21), but David said no. We see again the old David who was great to have offered mercy rather than exact strict retribution. That's one sterling quality that differentiated him from Joab and Abishai.
David forgave the Benjamites who'd hoped for his downfall, seeing it as punishment for taking Saul's place on the throne (vv. 16–30). By forgiving all of these Benjamites, David again secured the support of that difficult tribe.
Shimei Repents Wholeheartedly Shimei was no stranger to us or to David. He was the descendant of Saul who harassed David and those with him when they fled from Jerusalem (16:5). He hurled rocks, dirt, accusations, and insults at David. Abishai then wanted to shut this man's mouth permanently but David refused, assuming that God was, in some way, rebuking him through this loudmouth. Now, on his return, David had to pass through Bahurim, Shimei's hometown. Shimei knew he was in serious trouble. David was once again Israel's king; he reasonably viewed Shimei as a traitor who needed to be removed.
But seeing Shimei fall prostrate before him, King David realized that Shimei showed a remarkably humble, contrite confession. He'd sinned greatly against David; here he repented greatly before him. Shimei's repentance could be seen and appreciated in a number of ways: (1) his repentance was humble ("falling prostrate before the king") and his posture represented his low place before David; (2) his repentance was honoring of David ("Do not remember how your servant did wrong on the day my lord the king left Jerusalem"); (3) his repentance was honest ("I your servant know that I have sinned"); and (4) his repentance was put into action ("Today I have come here as the first from the tribes of Joseph to come down and meet my lord the king"). Real repentance shows itself, not only in words but in action.
See, next week, how David will respond to Shimei's repentant confession.
It Makes You Wonder . . .
- Q. 1 How did David's mourning for Absalom's death threaten his kingdom (19:1–4)?
- Q. 2 What does it say about David's faith? About his weaknesses?