In recent years we have witnessed a lot of back-stabbing and back room deals in Australian politics, but these events pale into insignificance compared to what David had to endure during his life.
For many the image they have of David is the giant killing shepherd boy from the Sunday School stories who became a king and composed many of the Psalms. But the reason that many of those Psalms resonate so much with readers comes from the pain and anguish of a life on the run from those who would take his throne away from him – including his own son, Absalom.
Today’s reading from 2 Samuel 19 is the account of deposed king seeking to re-establish his monarchy.
David’s soldiers had won the battle (2 Samuel 18). They had saved David and his family and his kingdom. But while David is king, he is also a father who cares deeply for his slain son. The confrontation between Absalom and David was always going to be a no-win situation.
The victory that day was turned into mourning for all the people – a king overcome with excessive grief and mourning was not a good look for his loyal and sacrificing supporters who had won that day for the glory of God and the good of Israel. When they saw David’s reaction, they felt guilty about Absalom and felt as if they were worth nothing to David.
Joab, the commander of his army, is incensed by this and chastises David “Get a grip on yourself, you cant carry on like this”. Joab feared that the soldiers were ready to leave David. He had to put his grief aside and show his appreciation for all that the troops had done for him before the situation got worse. The people needed to see David sitting as king in the place of authority ready to continue his reign. Joab’s rebuke worked because Joab cared enough to say it, and David was wise enough to receive it.
But his was a divided kingdom (v 9-10). The tribes of Israel understood what David did for them, they understood that they rejected him and embraced Absalom, but their false king had failed and it left the people of Israel in a dispute about bringing back David.
David was not about to force his reign on Israel. It would take political manoeuvring to restore trust and confidence (11-14). He would only come back if the tribes who rejected him for Absalom agreed to bring back the king, so he sends his negotiators, the priests Zadok and Abiathar to plicate tribal allegiances. He also replaces Joab with Amasa, the captain of Absalom’s army as a gesture of reconciliation to the former supporters of Absalom.
When David had fled Israel he did so as a desperate fugitive, rejected by the nation and hunted by his son Absalom. Now he welcomed back escorted by thousands of enthusiastic supporters (v15 – 18).
Despite calls by Abishai to seek revenge, David shows forgiveness to the humble and contrite Shimei, who had insulted and thrown rocks at David and his men when they left Jerusalem (16:5-14). However, what isn’t mentioned this day is that Shimei only gets a stay of execution; he gets his execution after all in I Kings 2:8-9.
Next to greet David is Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s crippled son (and Saul’s grandson) whom David had shown great kindness. But Mephibosheth did not leave Jerusalem when David escaped from Absalom. Now David wanted to know why. Ziba, who was Mephibosheth’s servant, had helped David by providing food for David and his men (16:1-4). Ziba had told David that Mephibosheth was not loyal to him, but this was a lie, as Ziba had left the crippled Mephibosheth stranded so that he could not leave Jerusalem. The description of Mephibosheth appearance in verse 24 shows the customs of a man who was very sad.
Faced with a dilemma of having already given Mephibosheth’s land to Ziba, David divided the land between the two men. But Mephibosheth, who trusted David completely (verse 27) did not care about the land. He only cared that David was safe.
Finally, David then shows his gratefulness to the elderly Barzillai who had helped him during this traumatic time with provisions (17:27-29). Not wishing to be a burden on the king, Barzillai declines the offer for himself, but secures it for his son, Chimham.
Verses 40-43 show that David had inherited back a divided nation with the northern tribes feeling excluded in this ceremonial return of David from across the Jordan River. 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.
Life was tough for David, just as it can be tough for us all at times – we can learn a lot from David’s examples of forgiveness, gratefulness and putting the past behind and moving forward.