And all the people were at strife throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, The king saved us out of the hand of our enemies, and he delivered us out of the hand of the Philistines; and now he is fled out of tee land for Absalom
And Absalom, whom we anointed over us, is dead in battle. Now therefore why speak ye not a word of bringing the king back?
Few words reflect more completely the anguish of a father for his child than those of David for Absalom, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!”
It was not that David had not anticipated and feared that this would be the outcome. He had even tried to avoid it by instructing his captains ml the presence of the whole army, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man, even with Absalom.”
But this is not the way of war, and no one knew this better than David’s chief captain and close friend Joab. Absalom was the enemy of David and of Israel and of Israel’s God. There was no just reward for Absalom but death. He had been foolish enough to intervene in Absalom’s behalf twice in the past and had come to regret it. Thus when the time came when the battle was turned and Absalom hung helpless before him, regardless of David’s request, he had taken three darts with his own hands and thrust them through the young man’s heart. Even more, he had instructed his armour bearers to hew the rebel’s body in pieces and bury him in infamy below a huge heap of stones.
Nevertheless, although Joab moved with decisiveness, he had no misconceptions about what this meant to David. This became evident when it came time to report to David the outcome of the battle. Ordinarily this would have been a most joyful thing to do, and so Ahimaaz the son of Zadok stepped forward to request permission to bring the report. But Ahimaaz was a personal friend of David’s, and it seemed most inappropriate that he should bear the news of Absalom’s death to his father. It was better a comparative stranger should do that. Turning to a man named Cushi, he instructed him, “Go tell the king what thou hast seen.”
The only thing was that Ahimaaz was determined. Overwhelmed with the enthusiasm of youth for the greatness of their victory, he was not concerned about Absalom; he wanted to report their victory to king David, the close friend of his father. Thus, even after Cushi had left, he kept on pleading with Joab for permission to run, too, until finally Josh relented and let him go.
As it was, however, Ahimaaz was younger, stronger, and much more determined in his mission than wasCushi. The result was that he actually passed Cushi up and came first to the city where David was eagerly waiting to hear the results of the battle. The results were as unhappy as Joab had anticipated.
David was waiting anxiously in the city of Mahanaim to hear the news of the battle. He sat midway between the two gates of the city while periodically sending the watchmen to the top of the wall above the gates to see if anyone was approaching from either direction. Time went on and excitement grew until at last the watchmen above the gate called down to announce that a single man was coming running. The king recognized immediately what this meant for he answered, “If he be alone, there is tidings in his mouth.”
Hardly had this been said, however, than once again the call of the watchman was heard saying, “Behold another man running alone.” It was strange but it could only have the same meaning as David also noted, saying, “He also is bringing tidings.”
It was the next report of the watchman, however, which gave to David his first surge of hope for the man cried, “Me thinketh the, running of the foremost is like the running of Ahimaaz the son of Zadok.” Here was the son of the priest and personal friend of David’s. Propriety would demand that such a messenger would bring only news that was good and pleasing. This David hastily observed with the comment, “He is a good roan, and cometh with good tidings.”
The moment Ahimaaz entered the gate, he saw the king, and running to him cried out, “All is well.” And with that the young man was overwhelmed, partly from exhaustion perhaps, but also partly with feelings of reverential joy so that he could not proceed before be had fallen to his knees and bowed before the king. Only then could he go on to add, “Blessed be the IORD thy God, which hath delivered up the men that lifted up their hand against my lord the king.”
It was at that moment that suddenly Ahimaaz came to realize how wrong he had been. It had fully expected that he would be the means by which great relief and joy would be brought to the dear king that le loved, and he looked for the expression of response to glint from his master’s eyes and cover his face. But to was wrong. David’s face remained unmoved and anxious as he impatiently threw Ahimaaz’ words aside and responded with only one desperate question, “Is the young man Absalom safe?” Suddenly he realized how right Joab had been. He should not have been the one to bring news of this battle to David. He was a messenger of joy, and he had thought that the news of victory would bring joy to his king. But it was not so. One thing filled the mind of David, and one alone, his concern for Absalom.
At that moment Ahimaaaz’ courage collapsed within him. He simply could not bring a message of so great sorrow to the master he loved. In stuttering uncertainty he quickly sought to fabricate an excuse, “When Joab sent the king’s servant, and me thy servant, I saw a great tumult, but I knew not what it was.”
But by this time the second messenger was entering the city so that David only answered, “Turn aside, and stand here,” while he waited for Cushi.
Cushi too, of course, desired to be a messenger of joy to his master, and his immediate report was, “Tidings, my lord the king: for the LORD hath avenged thee this day of all them that rose up against thee.”
Once again, however, David’s concern was not with this. Even more impatiently than before, he shot back, “Is the young man Absalom safe?”
But Cushi had not the closeness to David’s feelings that Ahimaaz did. He sensed the father’s concern for his child; but he thought that he could work around it with a clever twist of words. He responded quickly, “The enemies of my lord the king, and all that rise against thee to do thee hurt, be as that young man is.”
It was a good answer and worthy of consideration; but on David it was wasted. It brought to him clearly only one fact, Absalom was dead, dead without repentance and without God. With that the father’s heart burst. There was nothing more to say. Turning from the men, he stumbled up the stairs leading to a small room over the gate of the city, all the time crying, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!”
It was a stunning transformation which took place when soon the soldiers began to arrive at Mahanaim. These were men who loved David their king with a deep and devoted loyalty, because he represented to them the anointed of the Lord. They came hurriedly, because they were eager to join and share with their beloved king the joy of their great victory. In laughing, jovial groups they approached the gate of the city only to be stopped short by the anguished sound of crying. Neither did it take them long to learn from where and from whom the cries were issuing, nor why. It was more than their minds were able to grasp. Although some might well have worried about the way in which Joab had ignored David’s request, none was ready for this. Here was the one for whom they had given their lives to danger so that now they could return with the joy of victory, and their king wept with unconsolable tears. When at last they went on to enter the city, it was with bended shoulders and eyes cast down as though their victory had been an ignoble defeat. Yet it was not so much sorrow they felt as utter confusion and perplexity of heart. Who could understand?
It was Joab at last who in his curtly frank and bold way determined that such an absurd transferal of victory into mourning could not be allowed to continue. Coming to the city, he dashed directly up the stairway to David’s chamber and without hesitation addressed his king and master thus, “Thou hast shamed this day the faces of all thy servants, which this day have saved thy life, and the lives of thy sons and of thy daughters, and the lives of thy wives, and the lives of thy concubines; in that thou lovest thine enemies, and hatest thy friends. For thou hast declared this day, that thou regardest neither princes nor servants: for this day I perceive, that if Absalom had lived, and all we had died this day, then it had pleased thee well. Now therefore arise, go forth, and speak comfortably unto thy servants: for I swear by the LORD, if thou go not forth, there will not tarry one with thee this night: and that will be worse unto thee than all the evil that befell thee from thy youth until now.”
It was a daring thing for a servant to say to his king. and master, particularly when he was the one who slew the son for whom the king grieved. But Joab had one thing upon which he knew he could rely, the basic integrity and fairness of David’s heart. He knew that within his heart the king knew that what he did was wrong. All he had to do was to arouse his master out of this morass of carnal misery and David would come through with all fairness.
And so it happened. David knew within himself the responsibility of leadership. Never could a true leader allow his own feelings and sorrows to come first before the needs of his servants and people. This he had been doing, and it could not be allowed to continue. Aroused by the words of Joab, he arose and went to the gate of the city.
By this time, of course, the people were thoroughly confused, and no doubt many were expecting that when the king spoke his words would be words of anger and vengeance. But in this they were wrong. Although grief was still clearly evident on David’s face, the words which he spoke were quiet and kindly. It was sufficient. And all those who had already fled to their tents returned to rejoice with him.
It was this kindness that could so often come through in David, the hardened warrior, that was so utterly astounding. Well might it have been expected that once the confusion of the battle had settled that David would have taken his forces and returned in triumph to Jerusalem. But this was not David. He had reason to believe that he had been rejected by his people; and he was determined to make no attempt to rule over them by sheer force. Rather he would wait quietly in Mahanaim until it became evident whether the people desired him for their ruler or not. Even more he realized that he had done enough in life to make himself quite unworthy of this great office. It was not until God’s will became evident that he would seek to return to it.
And the fact was that for a time in Israel the whole matter was quite unresolved. But soon the voice of reason prevailed, and among the people this was said, “The king saved us out of the hand of our enemies, and he delivered us out of the hand of the Philistines; and now he is fled out of the land for Absalom. And Absalom, whom we anointed over us, is dead in battle. Now therefore why speak ye not a word of bringing the king back?” It was the beginning of a great cry that soon spread throughout the land calling for the restoration of David; and we may be sure that his patient waiting on their will must have done more to restore David to favor than any move of force could have ever accomplished.