His Inordinate Grief
2 Samuel 19
It will be remembered that in our last we were occupied with the effects which the advance messengers of Joab had upon David. Those special couriers informed him of the defeat and death of Absalom (2 Sam. 18), and the king at once broke down and gave way to bitter lamentations. No doubt this was natural, and to be expected, for the insurrectionist was his own son, though an utterly unworthy one; yet while an outburst of sorrow was excusable, inordinate grief was not so. In writing upon this subject care needs to be taken by us, so as to prevent the reader, as far as we can, from drawing wrong conclusions. Inordinate grief is neither the depths to which we may be shaken nor the copiousness of our tears, for that is largely a matter of personal temperament and the state of our health.
Inordinate grief is when we so far lose control of ourselves that we become guilty of hysterical outbursts which ill become a rational creature, and uttering intemperate expressions, which displease the Lord and offend those who have His fear upon them. Especially should the Christian ever seek to set before others an example of sobriety, checking everything which savors of insubordination to God. Again, we are guilty of inordinate grief when we allow a sorrow to so overwhelm us that we are rendered incapable of discharging our duty. Particularly is this the case with those who occupy a public position, upon whom others are dependent or influenced thereby. In Davidís case he failed at each of these points, being guilty of a violent outburst of his passions, using intemperate language, and taking issue with Gods providential will.
In due time Joab and his victorious army arrived at Mahanaim, to receive the congratulations of the king and wait upon him for further instructions. But instead of meeting them with warm gratitude for the signal service they had rendered him and his kingdom, David conducted himself in such a way as to make the army conclude the sovereign was filled with regret at their achievements, Consequently, instead of there being joyous celebrations over the victory, the spirit of the camp was greatly dampened. Instead of being thankful that his kingdom had been mercifully delivered, David was completely overwhelmed with grief over the death of his wayward son, aid all were made to suffer in consequence. The deplorable effects this produced will now be considered by us.
"And it was told Joab, Behold, the king weepeth and mourneth for Absalom. And the victory that day was turned into mourning unto all the people: for the people heard say that day how the king was grieved for his son. And the people gat them by stealth that day into the city, as people being ashamed steal away when they flee in battle. But the king covered his face, and the king cried with a loud voice, O my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son!" (2 Sam. 19:1-4). "The excessive indulgence of any passion (grief by no means excepted), not only offends God, but betrays men into great imprudences in their temporal concerns. They who have faithfully served us expect that we should appear pleased with them, and thankful for their services; and many will do more for a smile and a kind word from their superiors, than for a more substantial recompense; and be much grieved and disheartened if they think themselves frowned on" (Thomas Scott).
This was no time for David to yield to his private sorrows: public interests urgently required him to bestir himself and grip the helm of state with a firm hand. A most serious and critical situation confronted him, which called for prompt and decisive action. Absalomís rebellion had rent the kingdom asunder, and only a prudent policy, swiftly executed, could hope to restore peace and unity again. There had been a widespread revolt, and Davidís throne had been shaken to its very foundations. The king himself had been forced to flee from Jerusalem and his subjects had become divided in their interests and loyalty. But God had graciously intervened: the arch-rebel was slain and his forces utterly routed. This was the hour, then, for David to assert his authority, press upon the people the honor of Jehovahís name, take charge of things, and take full advantage of the situation which had swung things so markedly into his favor.
As soon as he had received confirmation that Absalom and his forces had been defeated, Davidís only wise course was to return immediately to Jerusalem. To set up his court once more in the royal city, while the rebels were in confusion and before they could rally again, was but the part of common prudenceóhow else could the insurrectionists be cowed and the unity of the nation be restored? But now grief paralyzed him: beclouding his judgment, sapping his energy, causing him to conduct himself most injudiciously. Never was there a time when he more needed to hold the hearts of his soldiers: it was essential to his royal interests that he should secure their respect and affection; but by keeping himself in close mourning, he not only dampened the spirits of his strongest supporters, but acted as though he disapproved of what they had done.
"And it was told Joab, Behold, the king weepeth and mourneth for Absalom. And the victory that day was turned into mourning unto all the people: for the people heard say that day how the king was grieved for his son." "The people will take particular notice of what their princes say and do: the more eyes we have upon us, and the greater our influence is, the more need we have to speak and act wisely, and to govern our passions strictly" (Matthew Henry). David ought to have been ashamed of his sorrowing over such a worthless and wicked son, and done his utmost to subdue and hide it. See how the people reacted: they "gat them by stealth that day into the city, as people being ashamed steal away when they flee in battle." Out of respect for their sovereign they would not rejoice while he continued to mourn, yet they must have felt deeply how little their efforts on his behalf were really appreciated.
"But the king covered his face, and the king cried with a loud voice, O my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son!" This was not the initial outburst of Davidís anguish, but the prolonged hugging to himself of his sorrow after the army had returned. The king was quite overcome, insensible to the pressing requirements of the hour and the needs of his subjects. This is what inordinate grief produces: it makes one so self-centered that the interests of others are ignored. It thoroughly unfits for the discharge of our duties. It so takes the eye off God that we are wholly occupied with distressing circumstances. It is in such an hour that we need to take hold of and act out that oft-repeated injunction, "Be strong and of a good courage." Inordinate grid will not restore the dead, but it will seriously injure the living.
Davidís conduct displeased the Lord, and He used an unwelcome instrument to bestir the king to a renewed sense of his responsibility, for it is from this angle that we must first view Joabís attack upon David. "When a manís ways please the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him" (Prov. 16:7): yes, "maketh," for our enemies are as much under the immediate control of the Most High as are our best friends. True it is that every attack made upon us by our foes is not, necessarily, an indication that we have offended God, yet oftentimes it is so, and therefore it is the part of wisdom for us to always regard the attacks of our enemies as king Godís rod reproving us, and for us to examine our ways and judge ourselves. Did not God make Abimelech to be at peace with Isaac (Gen. 26:26-30) and Esau with Jacob (Gen. 33)? Then He could have easily softened the heart of Joab toward David; that He did not do so, intimates He was displeased with him for his inordinate grief.
"And Joab came into the house to the king, and said, 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" (vv. 5, 6) As we have pointed out in a previous chapter, Joab, during the later years of his life, was far from being friendly disposed toward David, and though he served at the head of his army, self-interest and not loyalty to the king was what actuated him. He was therefore quick to seize this opportunity to assert his arrogance, and not sparing Davidís feelings at all, he strongly berated him for his present selfishness and inertia. True, he was justified in remonstrating with David on the impropriety of his conduct, yet that by no means excused his pride and insolence. Though there was much force in what Joab said, yet he sadly failed to show that respect which was due his master.
"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" (v. 7). Davidís duty was here plainly if roughly pointed out to him: he ought to present himself at once before those faithful troops who had endangered their lives for the preservation of his. Let the king now bestir himself and delay no longer, but go forth and publicly congratulate their success and thank them heartily for their services. The painful alternative must not be ignored: there was grave danger of a further and worse revolt. If the king persisted in selfish ingratitude, he would lose the respect of his staunchest supporters, and then he would be left without any to further his interests. Sometimes God makes use of a rough hand to arouse us from our lethargy, and we should be thankful that He cares sufficiently for us to do so.
Joab had pressed upon David the claims of his people, and the king was duly aroused. So far from being angry at and refusing the counsel which he had received, David acted promptly upon it and took his proper place. "Then the king arose, and sat in the gate. And they told unto all the people, saying, Behold, the king doth sit in the gate. And all the people came before the king: for Israel had fled every man to his tent (v. 8). A wise man will seek to profit from good advice, no matter who may proffer it or how unkindly it may be givenóshall I refuse an important letter because I dislike the appearance or manners of the postman? "When we are convinced of a fault we must amend, though we are told it by our inferiors, and indecently, or in heat and passion" (Matthew Henry). Was David looking back to this incident when he wrote, "Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness: and let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head" (Ps. 141:5)?
"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 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?" (vv. 9:10). These verses show clearly the timeliness of Joabís intervention and the deplorable state the kingdom of Israel was now in. A house divided against itself cannot stand: strong and swift measures were now called for. Many of the people still desired the return of their king, though they were too dilatory to do more than talk, and ask why a message was not sent urging him to come to Jerusalem. It is generally thus: those who are friendly disposed toward us lack the energy to act on our behalf.
The tribes of Israel were conscious of their predicament: they were without a competent head. David undoubtedly possessed the best claims: he had proved himself a valiant and successful leader, delivering them from their powerful foes. Yet, when his sons turned traitor and many of his subjects had joined forces with him, the king fled. But Absalom was now dead, and his army had been defeated. A "strife" ensued: probably the people blamed their elders for not taking the initiative and communicating with David, to assure him of their repentance and renewed fealty; while the elders threw the blame on the people because of their recent disloyalty. Mutual recriminations got them no where; meanwhile no definite steps were taken by them to urge Davidís return to the capital.
"And king David sent to Zadok and to Abiathar the priests, saying, Speak unto the elders of Judah, saying, Why are ye the last to bring the king back to his house? seeing the speech of all Israel is come to the king, even to his house. Ye are my brethren, ye are my bones and my flesh: wherefore then are ye the last to bring back the king?" (vv. 11, 12). When David learned of the favorable sentiment which existed, generally, throughout Israel toward him, he threw the onus on the elders of his own tribe. "We do not always find the most kindness from those whom we have the most reason to expect it" (Matthew Henry). Alas, how true that is. How often we find that those who are bound to us by the closest ties and upon whom we have the greatest claims, are the first to fail and the last to help us. Perhaps one reason why this incident is recorded is that it may warn us not to expect too much even from our spiritual brethrenóthe less we expect, the less will be our disappointment.
That Judah, Davidís own tribe, were so lacking in affection or enterprise, suggests that they too had been seriously implicated in the recent rebellion; and now they were either too slack to make suitable overtures to their king, or else they feared they had wronged him so grievously by siding with Absalom that there was no hope of regaining his favor. By employing two of the priestly family to negotiate with the elders of Judah, David evidenced both his prudence and piety. As God-fearing men, Zadok and Abiathar were trusted by the king and respected by the best of people, and therefore there would be no suspicion on either side that they were working from self-interests. It is always wise and well for us to enlist and aid of those most looked up to for their uprightness when it becomes necessary for us to use intermediaries.
"And say ye to Amasa, Art thou not of my bone, and of my flesh? God do so to me, and more also, if thou be not captain of the host before me continually in the room of Joab" (v. 13). Though Amasa was the son of Davidís sister (1 Chron. 2:17), Absalom had set him over the rebel army (2 Sam. 17:25), and therefore he was the leader of an influential party whom David desired to win. Moreover, he was determined to strip the haughty and intolerable Joab of his power, if that were at all possible; yet he was unwise in making known his purpose, for though Amasa accepted Davidís offer, yet on the very first military enterprise on which he was dispatched, Joab met and murdered him (2 Sam. 20:10). By singling out Amasa for special noticeóowning him as his kinsman and promising to make him general of all his forces if he now stood by the kingís causeóDavid gave clear intimation that he was ready to pardon those who had most grievously wronged him.
"And he bowed the heart of all the men of Judah, even as the heart of one man; so that they sent this word unto the king, Return thou and all thy servants" (v. 14). There is some difference of opinion as to whether the "he" refers to David, Amasa, or the Lord Himself. Personally, we believe it signifies the latter. First, because "God" is directly mentioned in verse 13; second, because had the reference been to David it had said "so they sent this word unto him," etc.; third, because we have no reason to suppose that Amasa was sufficiently prominent or powerful to affect "all the men of Israel." Finally, because it is Godís prerogative alone to regulate the heart (Prov. 21:1). No doubt God, instrumentally, made use of the persuasions of the priests and of Amasa to influence them; nevertheless their spontaneity and unanimity must be ascribed unto him who sways all His creatures.
"So the king returned, and came to Jordan" (v. 15). David did not move until he was assured that the people really desired his return: he was unwilling to be king of those who welcomed him not. In this we have typically illustrated an important truth: "Our Lord Jesus will rule in those who invite Him to the throne of their hearts, and not till He is invited. He first bows the heart and makes it willing in the day of His power, and then rules in the midst of His enemies: Psalm 110:2, 3" (Matthew Henry).