In convincing the men of Judah that he bore them no ill-will, the king went much further than to chide them for being the last to bring him back. He instructed the high priests Zadok and Abiathar to tell Amasa that, whereas he, too, was his bone and flesh, he was making him captain of the host in Joab’s stead.
That must have been surprising news, seeing that Amasa’s part in the rebellion had been that of captain of Absalom’s rebel troops. So, to persuade the men of Judah that he meant what he said, the king confirmed his word by on oath.
How angry it must have made Joab when he heard about it. The Absalom rebellion had come and run its course. But he had remained loyal. That now when it was all over and the forces of iniquity that had arrayed themselves against the king had been vanquished also through his generalship, he should be thus humiliated and this to make room for one like Amasa! How the thought of it must have galled him.
And yet, he really had this coming to him, first by his crime of the past. He had murdered Abner in cold blood. For that foul deed he should have been put to death. But aside from publicly condemning him and bewailing the fate of his victim, the king had taken no action. He had allowed Joab to go on living not only but continued him in the position of captain of the host.
But now Joab again offends. He slays Absalom in total disregard of the king’s expressed wish that he be delivered up to him alive, if he be captured. It is understandable that the king was bitter, and that he wouldn’t spare Joab if by sacrificing him to make way for Amasa, he thereby could win over the tribe of Judah.
One may ask whether it should have been held against Joab that he had made an end of Absalom, though it be that the king had ordered him spared; considering the enormity of Absalom’s offence—Israel’s law called for the destruction of such offenders—and considering also that Joab could not but conclude that the king had no intention of making him pay for his crime with his life, should he be delivered up to him alive. But that would have been the king’s responsibility. It did not give Joab the right to take the law in his own hands. And that precisely was what he had done. He ignored the fact that David was king and judge in Israel and not he. But his disobeying the king’s orders is understandable. It is a fair conclusion that Absalom would have continued to plot in the attempt to overthrow the existing government.
But Absalom, though the instigator and leader of the revolt, was not the sole culprit. All who had flocked to his banner shared in his guilt, particularly the captains of his rebel army and his counselors. All deserved to die, especially the leaders. This might also have happened, if Joab could have gotten his way. It may have been one of the king’s reasons for discharging him as captain of the host. He may have feared that in the present situation Joab was not to be trusted with the power and influence that went with that position.
For the king was of a different spirit. After the manner of the dictators in the world of ancient and modern times, he might have ordered a purge of his army and official family. But instead he forgave his ill-deserving people and again took them to his bosom as his enemies, even going so far as to raise one of their number—next to Absalom the chief rebel of them all—to a position of highest honor in his army That certainly was a thing unheard of in heathen lands. But as was already stated, David was not just another oriental despot. As king he was the shepherd of Israel and in this capacity he pre-indicated Christ. He, too, like David came to his own, and they that were His own—the Jews, His brethren according to the flesh—received Him not: they crucified Him. But as many as received Him to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to them that believe on His name ().
But let us go back to David. In rebelling against him, the people of Israel had committed a great sin, he being the anointed of the Lord, the vice-gerent of Jehovah, and in this station a man according to God’s heart, despite his great sins of which he had repented. Hence they had not rejected him. It was the Lord whom they had despised. Yet instead of destroying this people, as they reserved and also as their law demanded, he continued to own them as his people and forgave them all that they had done to him. That was right. He could not do otherwise. For the Lord had done likewise with respect to this same people through all the ages of the past. For despite all their sins and rebellions, they were His people in Christ, foreknown by Him in Christ and foreordained to be conformed to Christ’s image, and called, justified and glorified in Christ in His counsel before the foundation of the world. This being true, what could he do but show this people mercy and forgive them even as the Lord had forgiven them and him. For certainly the Absalom rebellion cannot, according to the text of the Scriptures, be limited to the reprobated in Israel as if it did not also involve many who were of God’s elect. According to the text the sinner here was Israel. So what might he do as shepherd of Israel but come to his ill-deserving subjects with overtures of peace and with the call that they bring him back as their king. And this he did. For, as was said, the mind of Christ was in him. This he did, doubtless as mindful of the Lord’s word to Moses, “Jehovah, Jehovah, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abundant in lovingkindness and truth; keeping lovingkindness for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin; and that will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, upon the third and fourth generation ().”
“Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children….” This, too. For all were not Israel that were of Israel. It was of course to the true Israel that the heart of this shepherd-king continued to go out during all this terrible crisis. For the guilt of the great sin here committed rested also upon this Israel. And it was this Israel that by God’s grace repented of this sin and again brought him back, though of course in the new enthusiasm of the moment they would be joined in bringing him back by many of the others. So it always goes.
So, in all his behavior in this crisis David does indeed typify Christ.
As to Amasa, the king was soon to discover that he could not rely upon him and that therefore he still needed Joab.
The king’s gestures of goodwill toward his unworthy people could not help but make a deep impression. And so it did. This is especially plain from the reaction of the men of Judah. They sent unto him, “Return thou and all thy servants.” But let us quote the text here.
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 not 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. So the king returned and came to the Jordan. 13, 14, 15 a.
But now let us turn and look at the psalms which have been generally regarded as belonging to the era of Absalom’s rebellion. Already we have referred to the morning and evening hymns so expressive of David’s confidence in God, which he composed, as is commonly held, in connection with his flight from Jerusalem, and which are numbered 4th and 3rd in our Psalter; but there are others which must not be overlooked. We find that many psalms are traced to the circumstances and experiences of David during his son’s revolt. The 5th psalm; which is much akin in tone and sentiment to that which precedes, may well enough have been written on the same occasion; and it is interesting to note how, amidst the plottings and counter plottings of the time, he preserves the calm composure of confidence in God. “But as for me, I will come into thy house in the multitude of thy mercy; and in thy fear will I worship toward thy holy temple. Lead me, O Lord, in thy righteousness because of mine enemies; make thy way straight before my face;” and again: “Let all those that put their trust in thee rejoice: let them ever shout for joy, because thou defendest them.” “For thou, Lord, wilt bless the righteous; with favor wilt thou compass his as with a shield.” To the same trying hour belongs the 143rd Psalm, which, read in the light of the history becomes full of instruction and comfort for God’s believing people. Remembering the connection between his sin and his calamities, he beseeches God not to enter into judgment with him, because in His sight no flesh living could be justified; then, plaintively describing the evil done to him by his enemies, he falls back on the memory of former times, and encouraged by the tokens of God’s mercy which he had then received, he says, “I stretch forth my hands unto Me: my soul thirsteth after thee, as a thirsty land.” Thereafter he calls for help, saying, “Hear me speedily, O Lord; my spirit faileth: hide not thy face from me, lest I be like unto them that go down into the pit. Cause me to hear thy lovingkindness in the morning; for in, the do I trust: cause me to know thy way wherein I should walk; for I lift up my soul unto thee.”
After he had heard of Ahithophel’s treachery, he wrote, most probably, the 41st, and the 55th and 69th Psalms, which agree in the mournful description which he gives of his case, and the plaintiff wail he utters over the treachery of his former friend; in the calm trustfulness with which he leaves his cause to God; and in the prayer which he offers for the punishment and destruction of his enemies.
These “cursing Psalms,” as they are scornfully called, must not be held up as evidence of the revengeful spirit of David. They were not: uttered in a spirit of revenge but under the impulse of the spirit of prophecy, as is evident from the disposition of David all through history. Meekly he bore Shemei’s curses, and refrained from punishment in the day of victory.
David being the anointed of the Lord, the rebellion against him was treason against Jehovah. Hence, his prayer for their punishment was a prayer that God would vindicate the honor of His name.