The sacred writer now takes us again to Mahanaim across the Jordan, the sight of David’s encampment. The city had an outer and inner gate with a roof supporting an upper chamber. On the roof was a watchman on the outlook for messengers. For the day was well spent, so that reports on the battle could be coming in at any time now. David was seated in the space between the two gates below. Here he may have been sitting all the day long waiting for this hour. For it was the same place in which he had parted from his troops in the early morning. His deep concern was Absalom.
There was a cry from the watchman that he saw a man running. “If he be alone, there is tidings in his mouth,” remarked the king perhaps to the porter. It was a likely conclusion. For if the battle had been lost, several would be coming as fugitives. Again the watchman cried, “Behold another man running alone.” “He also bringeth good tidings,” was the king’s only comment. The watchman could now recognize Ahimaaz by his rapid running. “I see the running of the foremost is like the running of Ahimaaz the son of Zadok.” The king observed that “a good man this (Ahimaaz). With good tidings he comes.” Doubtless the reasoning back of his remark was that Joab would not have chosen Ahimaaz as a messenger of evil. His hopes seemed to be rising. Little did he surmise that Joab had not sent the priest.
The cries of the watchman bespeak not a little excitement. But the king was scarcely moved, judging from his words. The one thing that he was waiting to hear was that it was well with his son.
But David sat between the two gates. And went the watchman unto the roof of the gate unto (its) wall; and he lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold a man running alone. 24
And cried the watchman, and told the king. And said the king, if (he be) alone, (there is) tidings in his mouth. And he came hastily and drew near. 25
And saw the watchman a man, another, running. And called the watchman unto the porter, and said, Behold, (another) man running alone. And said the king, Also this (man) bringeth tidings. 26
And said the watchman, I see the running of the foremost as the running of Ahimaaz the son of Zadok. And said the king, A good man this (Ahimaaz), and with tidings good he comes. 27
No more was Ahimaaz within earshot of the king then he cried out his greeting, “All is well”. Rushing into the king’s presence, and hurriedly paying him his respect by bowing with his face to the ground, he proclaimed his tidings. “Blessed be the Lord thy God which hath shut up the men that lifted up their hand against my Lord the king.” “Blessed be the Lord…” It was a challenge that the king now, too, bless the Lord. But the king did not bless. The matter was not clear to him, particularly the greeting of the priest, “All is well”. Did this include Absalom? Had he been captured? And had his life been spared? Let Ahimaaz say definitely. Anxiously the king asked, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?”
Absalom. Yes, indeed, Absalom, Ahimaaz. He is dead. And thou knowest. Tell the king the truth, Ahimaaz. But his courage failed him. But he must give some kind of answer. “I saw,” he said to the king,” the great crowd, when Joab sent the king’s servant (meaning the Cushite) and (me) thy servant, but I knew not what it was.” This was like telling the king that he was not able to report on Absalom, that, as far as He knew from what he had seen, Absalom might have been taken prisoner, and also might still be alive, depending on whether the king’s mandate regarding his son had been obeyed. But Ahimaaz was not speaking the truth. He knew from Joab that Absalom vrp3 dead. He should have told the king and not kept him in cruel suspense by his ambiguities. Joab was right. The priest should not have run. But he had insisted. What could have been his motive? Was it that he loved the king and wanted so badly to be the one to gladden his heart with the good news that the Lord in His mercy had judged him from the hands of his enemies? That was my conjecture. But he may have been activated by a different motive. Who can tell. Perhaps the least we say about this priest the better.
And cried Ahimaaz and said to the king, All is well! And he bowed himself before the king with his face to the ground. And he said, Blessed be Jehovah thy God which hath shut up the men that raised up their hand against my lord the king. 28
And the king said, Is it well with the young man Absalom? And said Ahimaaz, I saw a great crowd, when Joab sent the servant of the king and thy servant…But not did I know what (it was). 29
Let us take notice, “Which hath shut up the men….” So reads the statement in the Hebrew and not “which hath delivered up the men….” (K. James and A.V. versions). This could be taken to mean merely that the leaders in the rebellion had been taken captive and imprisoned. But there had been a great slaughter among the followers of Absalom.
Since Ahimaaz could not say what the king most of all wanted to know, he waved him aside. The watchman had announced the coming of still another messenger. Perhaps he could report on Absalom.
And said the king, Turn aside and stand there. And he turned aside and stood. 30
And behold the Cushite came, And he said, Tidings my Lord the king. For hath judged thee the Lord this day from the hand of all that rose up against thee. 31.
Indeed, but how went it with Absalom?
And said the king to the Cushite, Is it well with the young man Absalom?…And said the Cushite, Let be as the young man (is) the enemies of my Lord the king and all that rise up against thee for evil. 32.
This was telling the king indirectly yet clearly that Absalom was dead, slain in battle, and justly so, seeing that he was an enemy of the king, one who had rose up in rebellion against him. The king now knew the full truth.
And was violently shaken the king….And he went up to the chamber over the gate and wept: and as he went he said thus, My son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Who would give that I, even I, had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son! 33
While David was crying out his heart for Absalom, Joab returned from the field of battle. It was told him that the king was weeping and mourning for his son. It was told him, Joab, as it was by his hand that Absalom had died. Apparently, it made him not want to face the king. For he did not go near him until sometime later as driven to it by the deportment of the people.
The people were no eye-witnesses of the king’s tears. They heard that it was being said that he mourned for Absalom. And it distressed them. For the text states that what should have been a cause for rejoicing—the salvation that the Lord had sent—made them to mourn. Besides, recalling the king’s entreaty regarding his son, and mindful of how that it had been disregarded, they felt ashamed. For the king’s sorrow was great. He cried with a loud voice. It made them all feel like criminals. Naturally it made them want to get them out of his presence. So they stole away, says the text, that is, without notifying their generals and captains, they went quietly away, in small groups perhaps, and betook themselves to the city (Mahanaim) nearby, probably as fearing that, should they remain, the king at any time might appear in their midst to bewail to their faces their disobedience. That they purposed not to forsake him, but as saddened and dismayed by his reaction, merely wanted for the time being to remove themselves from his immediate presence would seem to follow from the fact of their betaking themselves to the “city”. They did not each of them return to his own place. They behaved, says the text, like a people that have disgraced themselves by fleeing in battle.
It is plain that the king was making a dreadful mistake.
And it was told Joab, behold, the king weeps and mourns for Absalom, .
And was the salvation in that day for mourning unto all the people. For heard say the people in that day that the king was grieved for his son. 2.
And, stole away the people in that day to go to the city as steal away the people put to shame by their flight in battle. 3
And the king covered his face, and cried the king with a great voice, My Son Absalom, Absalom my son, my son! 4.
And also (“Who would that I had died in thy stead” [Eng. A.V. and K.J.V, “Would to God that I had died for thee,” but not correct]),
We must not, as do some, turn away from this lamentation with some such remark as that “there are griefs, as well as joys, with which a stranger may not intermeddle” David’s expression of sorrow with which we are here confronted is also scripture given by inspiration of God and thus “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” ()
The lamentation reflects the heart-rending sorrow of a wounded natural affection by which is to be understood the love of offspring and of kinsmen according to the flesh.
David’s sorrow over Absalom is not to be frowned upon as though it were as such sinful. Christ as man knew this sorrow, as is evidenced by His weeping over Jerusalem. And wasn’t the thought of kinsmen doomed to everlasting perdition to Paul a great heaviness? It gave him continual sorrow in his heart. For the sake of these brethren he could wish himself accursed from Christ, if that were allowable. And so, too, David. He wept copious tears over Absalom. He could do that because, being a saint, his hatred of the wicked was not sinful malice but at bottom love of God, truth and righteousness. He derived no gratification from the suffering of the damned as such.
How David pitied Absalom! And this despite all the great wrong that this son had done his father and all the grief that he had caused him. His pity seemed boundless. Doubtless this was largely due to his awareness that his past gross sinning—his adultery and murder—was casually related to Absalom’s rebellion and his perishing in it. He recalled the words of the prophet: “Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house; because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife.” It was a terrible example that he had set his children. Amnon’s rape of Tamar and later Absalom’s murder of Amnon climaxed by his attempt to capture his father’s throne were but so many cases in which the Lord was visiting his sins upon his children. It explains the violence of his grief, his bewailing the fact that he could not have died in Absalom’s stead.
And this brings us to the observation that there were elements in David’s grief that were sinful. “Who would give that I had died in thy stead, Absalom, my son, my son!” That bespeaks not submission but despair. Absalom was lost. And he could do nothing about it, however much he would. Apparently, were it in his power, he would have recalled him from the grave, and delivered him from the ruin of hell. His grief was inordinate. He cried with a loud voice, “Absalom, my son, my Son! So it went, on and on as if Absalom had been the innocent victim of his father’s sins and had not been wicked also by choice, and as if he, himself, had sinned by his own choice and not also by the sovereign determination of God.
His sorrow was inordinate indeed. It stifled for a moment every impulse of grace in him to praise God for the salvation He had wrought in his behalf; moreover it blinded him to his obligation to honor and comfort his troops who had stood by him in his calamity.
So, however rough and unfeeling Joab’s words of rebuke may have been, they were just what the king had need of hearing in that moment, submerged as he was in his great sorrow for his son. The torrent of his grief had to be damned up, if he was to be rescued from it.
And went Joab unto the king to his house and said, Thou hast shamed this day the face of all thy servants, who have delivered thy life this day and the life of thy sons and daughters and the life of thy wives and the life of thy concubines in that thou lovest them that hate thee and hatest them that love thee; for thou hast shown today that the princes of thy servants are nothing to thee….For I perceive today that if Absalom had lived and all we had died, then it would have been right in thy sight. 5, 6.
It cannot be denied that the king’s reaction made this impression. But actually there wasn’t a grain of truth in what Joab said. It was simply that he was overcome with grief for Absalom’s sake—grief to which there was also this side that, as freed from its sinful ingredients, it was a creatural and dim reflection of the heart of God. “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him” (). As a flower of the field that, when the scorching winds from the desert pass over it, is so completely gone that its place knows it no more, so they flourish. But he knoweth their frame. And in His compassion He will one day raise them up from the dust of death into which he brought them, and clothe them with a perfection and glory that is heavenly. For He is not a man as if anything can separate His prodigals from His pity. He is God. His pity is infinite, from everlasting to everlasting, and infinitely potent, able to save to the uttermost them that fear Him, His chosen ones, apart from his grace lost and undone, but by His mercy fearing Him, keeping His covenant, and remembering His commandments to do them.
Joab’s words of rebuke seemed to have their effect almost immediately. With a sudden jolt they brought the king to himself. When he was sufficiently calm, Joab spake to him words of advice that were wise and good.
And now arise and go forth and speak according to the heart of thy servants. For by Jehovah I swear that, if thou goest not forth, if will lodge a man with thee this night….And that will be worse evil to thee than all the evil that befell thee from thy youth until now. 7.
Joab does not explain just why, to his mind, the king might be overtaken by greatest calamity, should he be forsaken that night by all his people, or what that calamity might be. Certainly, the enemies of David, hearing about it, would be jubilant. They might even be encouraged to renew their attempt to rid the land of him. And with him abiding solitarily at Mahanaim, as now forsaken even by those who had risked their lives for him in the recent crisis, they would be certain to succeed.
Apparently, David was now fully alive to this danger. For he arose, and sat in the gate with a heart heavy with silenced grief. The news went quickly through the people. They returned to the king. In accordance with Joab’s counsel, he expressed to them his kind feelings. So was the danger of his once more losing his throne averted.
And arose the king and sat in the gate. And all the people heard that it was said, Behold, the king sitteth in the gate. And came all the people before the king. 8.