II Samuel 19

1. And Joab was told, “Behold, the king is weeping and mourning for Absalom.”

Joab receives a report back, perhaps from Cushi, of how David received his tidings. It is reported to him that the king is weeping and mourning over his son Absalom. This Joab might well have anticipated, considering what David’s orders to his captains had been. Yet perhaps Joab was more concerned with getting his own way, with doing what he thought was right instead of what the king thought was right and with how to get away with it afterwards, to consider that David might respond this way when he learned the news of Absalom’s death.

2. So the victory that day was turned into mourning for all the people. For the people heard it said that day, “The king is grieved for his son.”

The victory then, which should have been a cause for great relief, great rejoicing, and great celebration, is turned to be quite the opposite, but becomes instead mourning for all the People. This is because they all hear that King David is grieved for his son. His heartbroken laments break the hearts of his most loyal and faithful men.

3. And the people stole back into the city that day, as people who are ashamed steal away when they flee in battle.

This report, it seems, reached the soldiers before they got back to the city. Thus when they arrive, the People sneak back into the city like men returning in shame after they have fled in cowardly fashion from a battle, rather than as the victors returning in glory.

4. But the king covered his face, and the king cried out with a loud voice, “O my son Absalom! O Absalom, my son, my son!”

The king continues to mourn for his lost son. He covers his face, which was a traditional sign of grief, and he continues to cry out the same heartbroken exclamations as he had when he first heard the news. The People who returned to the city all had to enter through the gate, and since David was crying this in the chamber over the gate, they could all hear his cries as they arrived at the city. No wonder they stole into the city in shame! They were all downcast and depressed due to the sorrow of their lord.

This reminds me very much of the time of sorrow that immediately follows Christ’s glorious return. After the total victory He achieves over His enemies, the utter destruction of the beast and his forces, His people, rather than celebrating their victory, enter a time of mourning. We read of this in Zechariah 12:10-11.

10. “And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn. 11. In that day there shall be a great mourning in Jerusalem, like the mourning at Hadad Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo.

Many have tried to figure out what this great time of sorrow is all about. Since it mentions them looking upon Christ, the One Whom they pierced, some have vainly imagined that this is the first time Israel realizes that Jesus is their Messiah, and so they mourn for their long rejection of Him. Those who imagine this fail to rightly divide, not realizing that a long, premillennial kingdom period precedes the second coming of Jesus Christ and that the tribulation is really a revolt against His kingdom. Israel will have long before realized that Jesus is their Christ. Their mourning is not for their rejection of Him, but for the terrible events that have led to this final battle. Men at that time will have learned of the self-sacrificial love of God, and the terrible destruction that falls on all those who wickedly followed the beast will grieve their hearts immensely. Can it be that this beautiful Lord Who has come to them was really the cause of so much hatred in the hearts of these rebels? How could anyone hate someone so good and so glorious? So they will mourn. And this mourning of David, not for his men but for his destroyed enemy, reflects this.

5. Then Joab came into the house to the king, and said, “Today you have disgraced all your servants who today have saved your life, the lives of your sons and daughters, the lives of your wives and the lives of your concubines,

Joab comes into the house to the king to scold him for his behavior. Of course, Joab himself was the one who caused the problem since he killed Absalom contrary to David’s orders rather than capturing him, as he might well have done. God had trussed Absalom up in a tree all ready to pluck and capture, yet Joab refused to follow orders and do so. Now he chides David for unworthy actions. What nerve this disobedient and bloody man had!

Yet certainly we cannot deny that there was truth to what he said, and that David was acting both foolishly and inappropriately. As ever, Joab was an opportunist, for the chance to chide David for his own improper behavior serves to mask Joab’s improper behavior in executing Absalom against the expressed orders of the king. He is able to rebuke David, and in doing so turn the focus from himself and his own treasonous actions in disobeying the direct orders of his lord.

Joab, in his righteous indignation, tells David that he has disgraced all his servants who have today not only saved his own soul, but also the souls of his sons and daughters and the souls of his wives and the souls of his concubines. Joab did not use the word “lives,” as our New King James translators have made it. Like most traditionalists, these translators doubtless wished to believe that souls are immortal and not subject to death. This is entirely contrary to God’s Word, which over and over demonstrates that souls are indeed subject to death and dying and never even hints at the idea that souls are immortal. An accurate translation of Scripture would reveal this, and so as usual the translators must produce an inaccurate translation to hide this fact. Yet Joab knew, as did all men of the Old Testament days, that souls can die, and that is how he put it to David.

Joab also uses the interesting Hebrew figure of speech “today.” The word “today” is often used to mean what we mean when we say “right now.” In this case, he means “just now,” or in the battle that has just taken place. Joab will use this same Hebrew expression three more times in the following verse, all for emphasis, and in the same way.

6. in that you love your enemies and hate your friends. For you have declared today that you regard neither princes nor servants; for today I perceive that if Absalom had lived and all of us had died today, then it would have pleased you well.

Joab accuses David of loving his enemies and hating his friends. That David loved his enemy Absalom he has made very clear. Yet the message he has sent his friends, the men who have just now fought for him and risked everything including their own souls for him, is that he cares nothing for them. Joab accuses David that the clear message he has sent is that he would have been pleased if all his friends had died and Absalom had lived. Of course this was not true, but Joab’s argument is that this is how it appears to his men.

Joab was not far wrong in this. This is the message David had inadvertently sent. I do believe David would have been greatly grieved if his men had been defeated and killed in the battle. Yet of course his men could not see that. All they could see is that they had risked their lives and won a great victory, and yet David responded by mourning in a heartbroken manner for the very enemy and traitor they had just risked all to defeat. Surely Joab was right and this was improper behavior that had disgraced all his loyal and faithful men. Yet how inappropriate that Joab is the one to tell him this, the one disloyal man among his men who had deliberately and defiantly disobeyed his king’s orders! Yet the most disloyal man who fought for David now becomes the one man to warn him of the consequences of his short-sighted grief.

7. Now therefore, arise, go out and speak comfort to your servants. For I swear by the LORD, if you do not go out, not one will stay with you this night. And that will be worse for you than all the evil that has befallen you from your youth until now.”

Joab now advises David as to what to do next. He should arise, which means he should go into action to undo the damage he has done. He should go out of the house and speak to comfort his servants. They need to know that David does appreciate their loyal and self-sacrificial service to him, and that he does rejoice with them in their victory, as sad as he is for the loss of his disloyal, rebellious, and patricidal son.

Joab also gives David a most solemn warning. He swears by the LORD, and we have to admit that his reasoning is sound in doing so, that if he does not go out to comfort his men, then they will all abandon him this very night, stealing out of the city in the dark and leaving David to grieve over his lost son and to find his kingdom lost to him as well in the morning. This, Joab warns, will be a worse calamity for him than any other calamity that has happened to him from his youth running from Saul up to this time.

Joab’s advice is good. We cannot fault what he says. David had acted foolishly and inappropriately, though we can excuse him for being blinded by a father’s grief over a lost son, even one as wicked and worthless as Absalom. Yet though his advice is good, it hides the fact that he is guilty of causing this situation in the first place. If he had obeyed David’s orders and brought Absalom back alive, as he might well have done, the LORD having hung him so conveniently in a tree ready for the taking, this situation never would have arisen, and David doubtless would have rejoiced with his men, as he ought to have done. Joab’s good advice masks his own rebellion.

8. Then the king arose and sat in the gate. And they told all the people, saying, “There is the king, sitting in the gate.” So all the people came before the king.
For everyone of Israel had fled to his tent.

The king puts aside his grief and hears the good advice of his disobedient commander. Therefore he does go into action, arises from his mourning, and sits in the gate. The People hear and gather to him. The story ends here. We do not hear what David said to his men at this point. He probably realized, through Joab’s blunt statement, the inappropriateness of his actions and the disgraceful way he had treated his men. He doubtless apologized, congratulated his men, and admitted to them the great debt he owed them. Whatever he did and whatever he said and however his men responded, we are not told. As it sometimes does, the Bible pulls the curtain down on a very tender and private scene. What happened next was between David and the men who loved him and whom he loved. We are left not to intrude into it.

Meanwhile, much is going on among the rebellious men of Israel. Now our attention is turned back to them. Utterly defeated and humiliated before David and his men and with their chosen supplanter dead, they have all fled back to their tents. Of course, Israel was now a settled people and lived in permanent houses, not in tents. What this means, then, is the figurative meaning of a tent as a center of life. You lived in your tent and you transacted the business of life from your tent, as what we might call a “home-office.” Thus all Israel had fled back to their own territories, their own lands, and their own districts.

9. Now all the people were in a dispute throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, “The king saved us from the hand of our enemies, he delivered us from the hand of the Philistines, and now he has fled from the land because of Absalom.

Much arguing is going on among the People throughout all the tribes of the land of Israel. They are remembering how David saved them from the power of their enemies, most especially from the Philistines, who were the primary nation that was oppressing them when he took the throne. Now, this one who did so much for them has had to flee from the land because of his son Absalom.

It is interesting that they remember all this now. Is it because they are now left without a king? Has the shame of defeat made them reconsider their actions? Notice that there is no real repentance for their rebellion in their hearts, nor any true remorse about what they had done to the king who had so often risked his life for them. Nor is there any consideration that they had not only rebelled against David but against their God Who had appointed David. The unstable hearts of the people are far from being what they should be, and the elements are already there which later, in the days of David’s grandson, will lead to the permanent rebellion of ten of the twelve tribes against the God-appointed kings in order to set up their own, rebellious kings instead.

10. But Absalom, whom we anointed over us, has died in battle. Now therefore, why do you say nothing about bringing back the king?”

They had chosen a different king Absalom, yet now that king whom they rebelliously anointed has died in battle. So, it seems many argue, why has no one suggested bringing David back as king? Of course, this is just what those who say this are suggesting, but this is their way of doing it. They argue that it should already have been suggested and done by others, even as they are suggesting it and urging it should be done.

Yet we should not imagine that this was the only opinion. We read that there was a dispute among the people throughout the land. This would show that not everyone was as eager as those who made this argument at first were to bring David back as king. Some, it seems, took more convincing. Yet it seems that more and more were brought around to this way of thinking.

Notice that, in spite of the fickle hearts of these people, they are now brought back around to David. We see in all of this the hand of Jehovah working, at first to bring punishment on David through this rebellion and rejection of the people, but later to bring David back and give him the throne that He desired him to have. Jehovah turns the hearts of these people, first one way, then the other. Yet how sad that their hearts were not more fixed, and so were capable of being turned this way! Better if they had been more loyal, and if Jehovah would have had to use a different means to punish David. Sadly, though, this was not the case.

11. So King David sent to Zadok and Abiathar the priests, saying, “Speak to the elders of Judah, saying, ‘Why are you the last to bring the king back to his house, since the words of all Israel have come to the king, to his very house?

King David still has many agents throughout the land who bring him a report of the sentiments of the people. Thus he hears of this and acts, sending messengers to Zadok and Abiathar, his friends and loyal servants the priests. They are to speak a message to the elders of Judah, David’s own tribe, asking them why they are the last to bring the king back to his house? Since the words of all Israel have come to the king, to his very house in Mahanaim, surely Judah knows about them and is a part of them. Why then are they not acting to bring David back?

Of course, Judah was showing no signs of being the last to bring David back to his home in Jerusalem. What David means is the opposite. He means that they, being his own tribe, should be the first to bring him back. If they continue to sit on their hands, they might end up being the last to bring him back, and what shame that would be! By these words, then, he hopes to move them to action.

12. You are my brethren, you are my bone and my flesh. Why then are you the last to bring back the king?’

David reminds them that they are his brothers, his bones and his flesh. What he means, of course, is that they are his tribe, and so are related to him. Why should they drag their feet, then? Why should they sit on their hands and not bring him back when they ought to be the first to do so?

Of course, Absalom also was of the tribe of Judah, their bones and their flesh, and they had been just as disloyal to David as the other tribes had been, it seems. Thankfully this was not the case later, and when the other tribes rebelled Judah proved more loyal and stayed true to the line of David even to the end of their kingdom.

The phrase “my bone and my flesh” here is an interesting one. It is a common Hebrew saying, going all the way back to Adam, who delighted upon meeting Eve to realize that she was his bones and his flesh. Yet some fail to realize this and, when our Lord Jesus urged His disciples to handle Him and see that it is He Himself, spirits not having bones and flesh as He had (Luke 24:39), they get all upset by this. They think He ought to have said flesh and blood, not flesh and bones, and therefore come up with a childish fairy tale that the Lord has spirit, not blood, flowing in His veins! What silliness! Far better for us to get to know Scriptures before we get egg on our faces making ludicrous suggestions.

13. And say to Amasa, ‘Are you not my bone and my flesh? God do so to me, and more also, if you are not commander of the army before me continually in place of Joab.’”

David also orders Zadok and Abiathar to speak a special message to Amasa, who had formerly been Absalom’s army commander. He is to remind Amasa that they too are relatives. Amasa is David’s nephew through Abigail, though perhaps she was only a step-sister, as we discussed in our comments on Moab in II Samuel 10:2. Yet they were related, at least as much as he and Absalom were related, and David reminds him of this. Now, he swears using this figure, which perhaps was accompanied by some gesture, as when we draw a finger across the throat to indicate death, “God do so to me, and more also.” “So” probably means death. And what he swears by his very life is to put Amasa in Joab’s place as commander over the army, and not just temporarily, but continually.

So we see that the disobedience and the arrogance of Joab were not lost on David. Though he took his good advice in dealing with his men after he so disheartened them after their return from victory, still he must by now have found out and become very aware of the fact that it was by Joab’s insurrection that Absalom had died. A commander who despises the orders of his king and refuses to obey them is no fit commander at all. Thus David seeks by this action both to replace a commander he can no longer count on and to win over to his side the nation that had formerly rejected him and sought his life. By taking one of their leaders and making him his army commander, David can help to win back the people’s hearts, as well as punish Joab for his blatant disobedience.

14. So he swayed the hearts of all the men of Judah, just as the heart of one man, so that they sent this word to the king: “Return, you and all your servants!”

David’s wise strategy sways the hearts of all the men of Judah, so that they all agree to this in harmony. The way it describes it is that they were so much in harmony that all their hearts together were just as the heart of one man. This reminds us of the way the disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ are described in the early Acts period, as we see them in Acts 4:32: Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.

How was it that the early believers were so unified? There can be no doubt but that this was the work of God through His Holy Spirit in their hearts. It was even as Christ prayed it would be in John 17:20-21: “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; 21. that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.” It was the Lord Himself who caused their hearts to be so unified. Can there be any doubt that it was Yahweh as well Who unified the hearts of the men of Judah to respond to David’s appeal and choose to return to him again as their king? David had paid a terrible price for his sin, but now it was Yahweh’s will to bring him back to his own throne once again.

With their unified hearts, the men of Judah send word to David, calling on him to return as king, bringing all his servants with him. This, of course, was the outcome David wanted, but how it must have raised his spirits, after his long ordeal, to see it actually happen! In many ways the treachery of his own tribe must have hurt worst of all, for these were the ones who had chosen him king first. For seven and a half years, while the rest of Israel followed Ish-Bosheth the son of Saul, Judah alone chose David and submitted to him as their king. Yet they too had unfaithfully abandoned him to follow his wicked son Absalom. But David was not a man to hold grudges against his people, nor to allow bitterness to consume him as it had his young son. He was ready to return to his own tribe if they would return to him, and they were now ready to do so. May we have the same kind of gracious and forgiving heart that David did! For we know Whom he learned it from: his Master Yahweh Himself.

15. Then the king returned and came to the Jordan. And Judah came to Gilgal, to go to meet the king, to escort the king across the Jordan.

Now David returns. He has been in exile in the separated part of Israel that existed on the eastern side of the river Jordan. These are the lands where Reuben, Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh received their inheritance after Moses and the Israelites conquered these lands and destroyed the Canaanites living there. It was separated from the main body of Israel by the barrier of the Jordan River, and so it was often a place of refuge for exiles, as it was for David here. Now that David is on his way back to be acknowledged as king once again, he is returning from exile in those eastern lands and heading back for his capital and the seat of his power in Jerusalem in the land of Benjamin near Judah.

The king in his returning comes to the Jordan River. Once he crosses this river back into the main land of Israel, he will be back from exile. In the United States, we might compare this to one being exiled to a separate state like Alaska or Hawaii, and then returning to the mainland. So it is here at the river Jordan that the representative of the tribe of Judah come to meet him. They come specifically to Gilgal, an important and significant site on the western side of the Jordan River. This was the very first camp of Israel under Joshua after they crossed the Jordan into the main part of the land.

Joshua 4:19. And the people came up out of Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and encamped in Gilgal, in the east border of Jericho.

The sons of Israel had not been circumcised, the sign of the covenant between God and Abraham, since they had left the land of Egypt. Here at Gilgal, before they began the conquest of the land, the LORD commanded them to correct this fault, as we read in Joshua 5:8-9. And it came to pass, when they had done circumcising all the people, that they abode in their places in the camp, till they were whole.
9. And the LORD said unto Joshua, This day have I rolled away the reproach of Egypt from off you. Wherefore the name of the place is called Gilgal unto this day.

“Gilgal” means “Rolling,” and here the stamp of Egypt was rolled away from the people for good. In more recent times to II Samuel 19, Gilgal was one of the places from which Samuel acted as judge.

I Samuel 7:16. And he went from year to year in circuit to Bethel, and Gilgal, and Mizpeh, and judged Israel in all those places.

Gilgal was also where Samuel renewed the kingdom to Saul after his great victory over Nahash the Ammonite, as we read in I Samuel 11:14. Then said Samuel to the people, Come, and let us go to Gilgal, and renew the kingdom there.

Just as Saul’s kingdom was confirmed at Gilgal, now David’s kingdom is to be restored to him at Gilgal. So the Israelites and Judah in particular once again roll away the reproach of their rejection of God’s chosen king by meeting him to conduct him over the river and bring him back as their king at Gilgal.