The Word Made Fresh
1Joab heard that the king was weeping and grieving for Absalom, 2and the victory they had won that day was now turned into mourning for all the soldiers because they heard, “The king is in mourning for his son.” 3They were now returning to the city quietly, stealing in like men who had lost a battle and were ashamed. 4The king was in his quarters with his face covered, weeping and crying out, “O Absalom, my son, my son! O Absalom!”
5Then Joab came to him and said, “The army officers who saved your life today, and the lives of your sons and daughters and your wives and your concubines, are ashamed, 6because today you have shown that you love the very one who hated you, and hate the ones who love you. You have made it abundantly clear that you care nothing for your officers and commanders. I can clearly see that if Absalom were now alive and the rest of us dead, you would be happy. 7You must go out now and speak to those who have served you. I swear by the LORD that if you don’t, not a single man will still be with you when this night has passed, and that will be the worst disaster that has ever befallen you.”
8Then the king arose and went to the gate and sat there. When word got to the army that he was there they all gathered before the king.
Meanwhile, Absalom’s Israelite soldiers fled to their homes, 9and the people were arguing among all the tribes of Israel. They were saying, “The king rescued us from our enemies. He saved us from the Philistines, and he had to flee from the land because of Absalom. 10But Absalom, whom we anointed to be our leader, has been killed in battle. Why aren’t we talking about bringing back the king?”
11David the king sent word to the priests Zadok and Abiathar and told them to tell the elders of Judah, “I have heard talk from around all of Israel about bringing the king back to his throne. Why should Judah be the last to invite the king to return? 12You are my family. You are my flesh and bones. Why should you be the last to bring back the king?” 13And then he told them to tell Amasa, “Aren’t you my kinsman? As God is my witness, you are now the commander of my army in place of Joab.”
14Then the hearts of all the people of Judah were won over, and they begged the king and his army to return. 15So, the king came as far as the Jordan, and there he was met at Gilgal by the elders of Judah, who escorted him over the river.
16Shimei son of Gera, the Benjaminite from Bahurim, hurried along with the people of Judah to welcome king David. 17He was accompanied by a thousand from the tribe of Benjamin. And Ziba, who had served Saul’s family, came to the Jordan ahead of the king with his fifteen sons and twenty servants, 18and as the people were crossing over, they helped bring the king’s family and servants and made themselves available to the king.
Then Shimei son of Gera knelt before the king as he was preparing to cross the Jordan, 19and said, “Please, my lord, do not hold me guilty for the way I treated you unfairly the day my lord the king left Jerusalem. May the king not dwell on it. 20I, your servant, know that I was mistaken. See, my lord, here I am, the first from the house of Joseph to come all the way here to greet my lord the king.”
21Abishai son of Zeruiah said, “Shouldn’t Shimei be executed for this? He cursed the Lord’s chosen one!”
22But David answered, “What should I do with you sons of Zeruiah? Would you turn against me this day? Should anyone be executed in Israel today? Don’t I know that this day I am king of Israel?” 23Then the king spoke to Shimei and promised him that he would not be punished.
24Then Saul’s grandson Mephibosheth came to meet the king. He had not taken care of his crippled feet. His beard was untrimmed and his clothes unwashed from the day the king fled until his return. 25When the king saw him he asked, “Why didn’t you come with me, Mephibosheth?”
26“My lord the king,” he answered, “My servant deceived me. I told him to saddle a donkey for me so that I could ride on it since I am lame, and go with the king. 27He has slandered me to the king, but my lord the king is like an angel of God; do whatever you want with me. 28My father’s whole household were at death’s door, but you lifted your servant up to be among those who ate at your table. I have no right to ask the king for anything.”
29The king replied, “Say no more. I have decided that you and Ziba will divide the land.”
30Mephibosheth said, “He can have it all. I’m just happy my lord the king is returning safely home.”
31Barzillai from Gilead had come down from Rogelim, and traveled with the king to the Jordan, and crossed the river with him. 32He was eighty years old, a wealthy man who had provided the king’s table while he was at Mahanaim. 33The king said, “Come with me. I’ll give you everything you need in Jerusalem.”
34“How many more years do I have? I’m eighty years old now,” Barzillai said. “My judgment is slow. I can hardly taste what I eat and drink. I can barely hear men and women singing. I would only be an added burden to my lord the king. 36I’ll travel with you a little way beyond the Jordan, but why should the king give me such a reward? 37Let your servant return home. I want to die in my hometown where my mother and father are buried. I will send my servant Chimham with you to be your servant. Let him do whatever you want of him.”
38The king replied, “Very well. Chimham shall go with me and I will do for him whatever you wish, and whatever you want from me I’ll gladly give.”
39They crossed the Jordan. The king kissed old Barzillai and wished him well and sent him back to his home. 40The king traveled on to Gilgal, and Chimham went with him. All the people of Judah and half the people of Israel joined the king on the way.
41Then all the leaders of Israel came to the king and said, “Why have our relatives in Judah stolen you away from us and brought you and your household across the Jordan along with all your troops without inviting us to help?”
42The people of Judah answered, “The king is our next of kin. Why should you be upset? We haven’t been mooching off the king. He hasn’t paid us anything at all.”
43The Israelites answered, “Our ten tribes have ten shares in the kingdom. We have more claim on David than you do. Why then should you keep us at arm’s length? Weren’t we the first to propose that the king be brought back to rule us?” But the men of Judah argued louder than the men of Israel.
1-8: It is becoming apparent that Joab is a real power in the country now, and David will soon move to replace him. But on this occasion Joab does what needs to be done, and boldly goes to David and tells him to stop crying because he is destroying the troops’ morale. David is brought back to the present reality and takes his seat in public where the troops can see him, and their morale is restored.
9-10: We are given a glimpse of the political discussions taking place around the country. David fled, which means that he technically abdicated the throne. But Absalom, the crown prince, is dead. Shouldn’t they bring David back? It is apparent that Joab, by killing Absalom, has saved the country from falling into civil war.
11-15: David sends word to Jerusalem, to the leaders of the tribe of Judah, that the rest of the country wants him back. Shouldn’t his own tribe take the leadership in this? He offers Amasa, Absalom’s military commander, Joab’s job if he will bring the tribe of Judah to receive David. The response is favorable, so David prepares to return. Tribal representatives meet him at the Jordan near Gilgal to escort him back to Jerusalem.
16-18: Shimei, the man who had thrown rocks at David when he fled Jerusalem, is quick to come and beg forgiveness. Ziba, too, to whom David had given all of Saul’s family property because he had been told Mephibosheth had turned against him, hurries to the Jordan to help the king’s family cross over. What is he worried about?
19-23: Shimei begs for his life, and Abishai (who wanted to kill him at their first encounter — see 16:9), one of David’s three commanders, argues for his execution. David, ever the politician, sees that sparing Shimei’s life will get him points with the northern tribes (“the house of Joseph”, a reference to the two “half-tribes” of Ephraim and Manasseh), and spares him.
24-30: Ah, here comes Mephibosheth, and we hear the other side of the story. It seems that Ziba might have misrepresented this surviving son of David’s best friend Jonathan, son of Saul. David is weary at this point and takes the easy way out; he rules in favor of both. Divide the property, he says, and Mephibosheth declares that David’s survival is more important than half the estate, but we can safely assume that he accepts his half.
31-40: Barzillai, who provided David with provisions during the flight from Absalom (17:27) accompanies him to the Jordan. There is a touching conversation in which David beckons the old man to join him in Jerusalem. Barzillai is from Gilead, an important strategic part of the kingdom and one David understands must be kept in the fold. Barzillai begs off but offers his servant Chimham in his stead, an offer that David accepts. Verse 40 notes that all the people of Judah but only half the people of Israel accompany him. He has not yet consolidated his return to power.
41-43: A conflict ensues between the people of Judah in the south (David’s own tribe) and the people of Israel in the north, which comprises 10 tribes (Levi is without territorial holdings). Israel is miffed because they were the first to think of reinstating David, but the people of Judah beat them to it. The argument ends unresolved. In a sense it never will be resolved even though it will be a number of years before the rift between Judah and Israel is made permanent.
David, always the adept tactician and astute politician, moves immediately to heal the inter-tribal wounds the war has caused. But he is not a good father; his sons will vie for the throne and plot against one another and another coup will be attempted before David’s reign comes to an end. Still, he is “a man after God’s own heart,” we will be told more than once. His whole life seems to be a struggle between his ego and his faith. But isn’t that true of most of us?