Absalom was dead, slain in battle. The remnant of his army, called “Israel” in the text, fled every man to his tent. The king tarried in Mahanaim, the sight of his encampment during the final stages of the rebellion. He could have returned and reoccupied his throne by force and even reeked terrible vengeance upon all the leaders of the revolt. But he was not just another oriental despot but a true shepherd king of God’s people, humble, compassionate and forgiving. For much had been forgiven him. So he was decided to wait until recalled by the people. If they still desired him as their king, they must bring him back again.
Soon there was a strong movement among the “people” of all the tribes toward his restoration. “The People” were asking for him, especially all such who had continued loyal and had taken no part in the public demonstrations for Absalom. Throughout the narrative of the revolt they are called the “people” in contradistinction to all such who had flocked to Absalom’s banner, and always indicated in the text by the name “Israel”. So in : “And David numbered the people that were with him…and the king said unto the people, I will surely go forth…But the people (always the followers of David) answered, Thou shalt not go…So the people went out against Israel (Absalom’s troops)…And the people of Israel were slain before the servants of David. So in : “And the victory that day was turned into mourning for all the people: for the people heard say…how the king was grieved. And the people got them by stealth that day into the city…And all the people came before the king: for Israel (Absalom’s army) fled every man to his tent.”
When the land was again quiet, the “people” in every community, loyal followers of David, let their voices be heard. They wanted the king brought back again. They pointed one another to the king’s past deeds of valor in behalf of the nation, reminding one another of how he had saved them out of the hands of their enemies. They decried the fact that he was now fled out of the land from Absalom. And Absalom whom they had anointed over them had died in battle and his cause had perished with him. And they reproached one another, doubtless their leaders—the elders of the people—for not recalling the king.
It is not probable that this speech originated with the sworn enemies of David who had flocked to Absalom’s banner and enlisted in his army. It must have come from the strong sympathizers of the king. And soon the large majority of the people who had not wanted the revolt but who perhaps had silently looked on while it was in progress were talking much the same way.
And Israel fled every man to his tent. And were all the people at strife throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, The king saved us out of the hands of our enemies; he delivered us out of the hands of the Philistines; and now he is fled out from the land for Absalom. And Absalom whom we anointed over us is dead in battle. Now why are ye silent with regard to bringing the king back. 9, 10.
The report of these procedures reached the king. It can be imagined that he was grateful. But he was not hearing anything from his own tribe (Judah). It can be explained. In Judah the rebellion had struck deepest root. It had been launched in Hebron and most of Absalom’s troops as well as all the leaders of the revolt had been recruited from this tribe. Not that they did not want the king recalled. But they had need of some encouragement, some assurance from him that he was bearing them no ill-will but had forgiven them in his heart and was again capable of taking them all back to his bosom.
The king was not slow in giving them this assurance. He sent this message:
And king David sent unto Zadok and unto Abiathar the priests saying, Speak unto the elders of Judah saying, why are ye the last to bring back the king unto his house, and the word of all Israel is come to the king and to his house?
My brethren are ye, my bone and my flesh are ye. And why (then) are ye the last to bring back the king? 11, 12.
He and they belonged to the same tribe so that the ties of natural kinship were closer between him and the people of this tribe than between him and the
members of the other tribes. It was especially true of them that “my bones are ye and my flesh are ye.”
That the rebellion should have taken such hold on his own tribesmen! And that they should now be the last to recall him. That duty devolved especially on them and they should be the first to perform it. Ties of blood must be respected. Such indeed is the will of God. One illustration. An Israelite was forbidden to abhor an Egyptian, seeing that at one time he was a stranger in his land. But the reason he might not abhor an Edomite is that he was his brother, . And therefore also the people of Israel at the time of the conquest were forbidden to meddle with them; for the Lord had expressly stated that He would not give his people of their land, no, not as much as a foot breadth. Meat and water they had to buy of them with money, .
A man must love his brother according to the flesh and do well by him all the days of his life. For he is his brother, his bone and flesh. The reference here is to natural affection. Characteristic of men whom God gives over to a reprobate mind is that they are without natural affection, . So the men of Judah, David being their brother, they were under a special obligation to him.
There was of course still another reason and a higher one why they must recall him whom they had despised and rejected as their king. Despite his great sins of the past of which long ago he had repented, he was the Lord’s anointed as king. And he was a god-fearing ruler, a great man of God. Besides, the promise was his, so that to slay him, as they had calculated to do, was like slaying the promise. And so, being much closer related to him than the men of the other tribes, they must repent of their great sin and must want to be the first to bring him back again.
But in his message to them he made no mention of this higher reason; nor did he upbraid them for the wrong that they had done him. He simply directed them to their duty arising from their being his brothers, his bone and his flesh.
That was his message to them, at least the first part of it. These words of his alone must have made a deep impression on them. It told them that their aloofness was painful to him, and they understood that this in turn must needs imply that, despite all that had happened, he counted them his brothers still. It again shows plainly that his hatred of wicked men was not sinful malice but essentially love of God. How otherwise could his natural affection have thus asserted itself? Nor did he allow his sinful pride to deter him. How true to form of sinful flesh would it have been had he cursed them all in his heart or at least vowed that that he had done with them forever unless of their own accord and without any prompting on his part they implore his forgiveness and beseech him on their knees that he again own them as his people. But he pursued with them an opposite course. Laying aside all malice and lust for revenge, he made the first approach, a course that, rightly considered, came down to this: that he was beseeching them to be reconciled with him.
What it also shows is that he was ending with the Absalom revolt not in man but in God. The Lord had done it all as activated by the gracious purpose to sanctify his servant through suffering. The adversary—Absalom and his supporters—had entered in simply as agents of the Almighty but of course on this account none the less accountable. It is easy for a man to be patient with his enemies, if these be the principles of truth from which he lives and the faith in which he stands immovably.
How plain that from that crucible of affliction he had come forth a chastened man, that the sufferings to which he had been subjected had “yielded the peaceable fruits of righteousness” unto him who was exercised thereby.
Also in this his posture with regard to his ill-deserving brethren, as well as in his sufferings, he stands before us as typifying Christ. For was this not the glory of Christ, namely His undying love of His ill-deserving people, and His always taking the initiative in leading to glory the many sons. Where would His people be, were He not always first?
But in inducing them to return to him, he went a bit further than to remind them that they were his bone and his flesh. He besides instructed the high priests, Zadok and Abiathar, to tell Amasa, the general of the slain Absalom, that, whereas he, too, was his bone and his flesh, he was swearing by God that he would make him captain of the host in the place of Joab.
It may be doubted whether this was the right thing for him to do. It is true that Joab was not alone worthy of this demotion but he should have been put to death for his murder of Abner. But David in his weakness had permitted him to live. Why should he now want to rid himself of Joab? Doubtless he was grieved with him for disregarding his entreaty that Absalom be spared. But should he have issued such an order? Doubtless if there was one man in the kingdom that David could scarcely endure, it was Joab. And this is not a wonder. For he was thoroughly unscrupulous. In the past he had always kept his own counsel and had been doing much as he pleased. But for whatever reason he was loyal to the king.
But David’s published intention regarding Joab pleased the men of Judah well as could be expected. They immediately sent word unto the king that he should return. For it was the best evidence that he bore them no ill-will and that they still enjoyed his full confidence.
And To Amasa say ye, Art thou not my bone and my flesh! Thus do to me God, and more also, if the captain of the host thou shalt be before me all the days instead of Joab.
And he bowed the heart of all the men of Judah as one man. And they sent unto the king, Return thou and all thy servants. 13, 14.