The king covered his face, and the king cried with a loud voice, “O my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 19:4)
Please open your Bible at 2 Samuel 19. We are returning today to our series on the life of David, which we broke away from at Easter.
The life of David falls into three parts:
- His trials, when in his early years he was hounded by Saul.
- His triumphs, when he united God’s people, and subdued their enemies.
- His troubles when, after his own sin, he endured one calamity after another in his family circle.
We have followed the story of how David’s daughter Tamar was horribly abused, of how his son Amnon was brutally murdered, and of how his son Absalom raised a rebellion against his own father.
Absalom came to Jerusalem with an army, and David had to flee. We followed the story of how God’s anointed king was driven from Jerusalem and how he climbed the Mount of Olives, with only a small band of loyal followers, barefoot and weeping as he went.
These were dark days in David’s life. He became an object of ridicule. He was a king in exile with his base at a place called Mahanaim, east of the river Jordan. But God did not abandon David. Absalom listened to bad advice, and instead of pursuing David immediately, he decided to raise a national army.
So he instituted a national draft. But the plan backfired. When the call to arms went out across the country, there were many who asked, “Do I really want to fight against God’s anointed king?” So instead of rallying to Absalom, they came to David in Mahanaim.
A great conflict was inevitable, but before David’s army went out to battle, the king gave his commanders the clearest instruction: “‘Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.’ And all the people heard when the king gave orders to all the commanders about Absalom” (18:5).
The instruction could not have been clearer. It was given personally to each of David’s three commanders. It was given in the hearing of all the people. And it was stated in the most personal terms: “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” David was saying, “This is personal! I want you to do this for me.”
But Absalom was killed in the battle, and when David heard the news he was inconsolable: “The king was deeply moved and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept. And as he went, he said, ‘O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!’” (18:33).
That’s where we take up the story today. I want to make three observations about David.
Each of them will point us to our Lord Jesus Christ. The inadequacies of David will highlight the glories of Jesus.
The King Who Wanted to Weep
“Behold, the king is weeping and mourning for Absalom” (2 Samuel 19:1).
My heart goes out to David and I am sure yours does too. However wicked Absalom was, he was still David’s dearly loved son.
David was overwhelmed with sorrow. He grieved because he loved his son, and despite all his efforts, he had not been able to reconcile with him. He grieved because Absalom died, not only in rebellion against his father, but also in rebellion against God.
An unhappy king makes for an unhappy people, and we are told, “So the victory that day was turned into mourning for all the people, for the people heard that day, ‘The king is grieving for his son’” (19:2).
Put yourself in the shoes of these people. You love your king and serve him gladly. When others deserted him, you stayed true to him, and if it was needed, you would be ready to lay down your life for him.
When there was a great rebellion against your king, you risked your life for him on the field of battle, and with the help of God you prevailed. Now, the great rebellion is over. You come back expecting a hero’s welcome. But when you arrive, your king is nowhere to be seen.
“Where is he?” everyone is asking. “Why isn’t he at the gate to meet us and celebrate our victory?”
“He’s not happy,” someone says. “He is grieving for his son.”
So instead of celebrating a great victory, the king’s servants return as if they had been defeated. “And the people stole into the city that day as people steal in who are ashamed when they flee in battle” (19:3).
This should have been a day of joy, but it turned out to be a day of mourning. It was a massive disappointment for God’s people. They had won a great victory, but it felt like a defeat. Some of the people must have wondered, If he weeps like this when we win, what will he do if we lose?
You have to feel for David. He has just heard this awful news about his son. His heart is breaking. Can’t he have a single day to grieve in private? David wants to be left alone. But he is the king! And the king cannot think only of himself. He has a duty to his people.
What you have here is the clash of private grief and public duty. Every grieving person knows what this is like. Your heart is breaking, but other people need you. Other people look to you and depend on you.
You may find yourself saying, “If only I didn’t have these responsibilities… If only I could just drop everything and be on my own…” But there are children and parents and colleagues and friends. There is work. There is ministry. And the world does not stop because of your sorrow.
Word of the king’s grief reaches Joab the commander of David’s army, and Joab goes to the king, and gives him a piece of his mind.
Then Joab came into the house to the king and said, “You have today covered with shame the faces of all your servants, who have this day saved your life and the lives of your sons and your daughters and the lives of your wives and your concubines… For you have made it clear today that commanders and servants are nothing to you, for today I know that if Absalom were alive and all of us were dead today, then you would be pleased. Now therefore arise, go out and speak kindly to your servants, for I swear by the LORD, if you do not go, not a man will stay with you this night, and this will be worse for you than all the evil that has come upon you from your youth until now.” (2 Samuel 19:5, 6-7)
Imagine speaking like that to a king! Joab is an enigma. He was loyal to David, but he was a law to himself, and in these later years he became a thorn in David’s side. The way Joab speaks here seems to lack compassion but the counsel he gave was wise.
Counsel for Times of Sorrow
1. Resist the impulse to isolate yourself.
The king had withdrawn so that no one would see him. So, Joab came “into the house” (19:5). I can understand why David wanted to be alone but being alone wasn’t helping him. And when you feel low, being alone won’t help you either. Joab helped David by getting him out of the house and forcing him to think about the needs of others.
2. Value the people who love you.
Joab said, “You love those who hate you and hate those who love you. For you have made it clear today that commanders and servants are nothing to you…” (19:6). David certainly did not hate his people. But by withdrawing as he did, David clearly was in danger of communicating that the people who loved him did not matter.
David, instead of isolating yourself in your house, go and draw strength from the people who love you. Regard the people who love you as a gift from the hand of God and move toward them.
3. View responsibility as your friend even when its demands seem overwhelming.
“Now therefore arise, go out and speak kindly to your servants…” (19:7). Laying this responsibility on David in his sorrow may seem harsh, but it is clear from the way that the story continues that fulfilling his public duty helped David.
In times of sorrow, responsibility is your friend not your enemy. This wasn’t easy for David. It never is. But David’s public duty kept him going when his private grief might have crushed him completely. Responsibility is your friend in times of sorrow, even when its demands seem overwhelming.
I’m struck by the example of our Lord Jesus. He knew what it was to be overwhelmed with sorrow. He was the man of sorrows, and he was acquainted with grief.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus said, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow, to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38, NIV). But when he prays, he says to the Father, “For their sake I consecrate myself” (John 17:19). The Holy Son of God stares into the abyss of what it will mean for him to bear the sins of the world. The prospect is horrific. Our king moves beyond his own pain and gives himself to the service of his people.
In David we have a king so consumed with his own grief that he is unable to minister to his own people. In Jesus we have a king, who even in the agony of his soul, gives himself to minister to us: “For their sake I consecrate myself.”
David was not the king to whom you could come with your sorrows. He was too weighed down with his own grief to minister to anyone else. But Jesus Christ is a king who bears our griefs and carries our sorrows. He offers himself to us. He invites us to yoke ourselves to him: “Let me stand with you and pull your load with you.”
The King Who Wanted to Save
The king covered his face, and the king cried with a loud voice, “O my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 19:4).
Picture David with his head in his hands, crying out with a loud voice. The man is distraught. He is in despair. He feels defeated. He doesn’t know what to do. What hope is there for a people whose king has his head in his hands?
This is a crucial moment in the story. The battle has been won, but now the kingdom must be secured. It’s time to move out of Mahanaim and restore David to the throne in Jerusalem. But David has withdrawn into isolation. His face is covered. He doesn’t want to see anyone, and he doesn’t want anyone to see him.
The king has his head in his hands because he was unable to save his son. He had given the clearest possible instruction: “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” But this king’s word was not strong enough to save his son. There’s something else here. David said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you” (18:33).
After David’s sin with Bathsheba, God had said, “Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife” (12:10).
God forgave David’s sin, but David lived with the ongoing consequences of what he had done. David sinned with the sword when he took the life of Uriah. And the sword came to his family, first taking his oldest son Amnon, and now his rebel son Absalom.
When David hears about the death of Absalom, he says to himself, That should have been me. I was the one who sinned. I was the one who should have died. Absalom, I wish I could have died instead of you!
But David could not take Absalom’s place. David was a king who could not save. We need a better king than this, and we find that king in Jesus. What David wished he could do for Absalom, Jesus did for us. Christ became our substitute. He died our death, and all that was due to us on account of our sins was poured out on him.
David says, “Absalom, I wish I could have died instead of you.” Jesus says, “I have died instead of you.” Jesus bore our sins in his body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24). He took what was coming to us and redirected it onto himself.
The King Who Wanted to Welcome
Then the king arose and took his seat in the gate. And the people were all told, “Behold, the king is sitting in the gate.” And all the people came before the king (2 Samuel 19:8).
Credit David for listening to Joab’s wise counsel and doing what needed to be done. He arose and took his seat in the gate, and all the people came before the king.
Joab had said “go out and speak kindly to your servants.” There is no record here of David saying anything. We are just told that he sat at the gate. He appeared. The people saw him. The people came before their king, but their king was silent.
It is a very strange scene. These people have won a great victory. But when their king finally shows up, he has nothing to say to them! His people must have wondered if all their service had been worth it! King Jesus will give you a better welcome! The day we see our king will not be a day of disappointment!
You will see your king and, on that day, you will not be ashamed. You will not enter his presence with your inadequacies exposed but with your sins forgiven. Those who trust in him will never be put to shame.
You will see your king and, on that day, he will not be silent. Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into your master’s joy!
You will see your king, and on that day your king will not be wondering if it was really worth it. He will see of the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied. And he will wipe all tears from our eyes.