Joab and Absolom; or, the Requirements of the Throne

2 Samuel 18  •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 9
Never was decision more needed nor more productive of good, than when Joab, talking to the man who informed him of Absalom’s accident, said, “I may not tarry thus with thee. And he took three darts in his hand, and thrust them through the heart of Absalom while he was yet alive in the midst of the oak;” (v. 14). In the character of Joab there are points of great interest. He was a real friend of David—his General and counselor—be always knew what was befitting the dignity of his throne, although on occasions he was harsh and severe, and failed at last (as politicians simply as such, usually do); in the rebellion of Adonijah, and had eventually to be put to death by Solomon. But in the best parts of David’s reign he was ever at hand to advise him (1 Chron. 21:1-61And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel. 2And David said to Joab and to the rulers of the people, Go, number Israel from Beer-sheba even to Dan; and bring the number of them to me, that I may know it. 3And Joab answered, The Lord make his people an hundred times so many more as they be: but, my lord the king, are they not all my lord's servants? why then doth my lord require this thing? why will he be a cause of trespass to Israel? 4Nevertheless the king's word prevailed against Joab. Wherefore Joab departed, and went throughout all Israel, and came to Jerusalem. 5And Joab gave the sum of the number of the people unto David. And all they of Israel were a thousand thousand and an hundred thousand men that drew sword: and Judah was four hundred threescore and ten thousand men that drew sword. 6But Levi and Benjamin counted he not among them: for the king's word was abominable to Joab. (1 Chronicles 21:1‑6)).
He had perceived the longings of the king’s heart to get Absalom back, after this wretched man had compassed about the death of his brother Ammon, and he had effected a reconciliation, without bringing in right counsels. It was therefore entirely unsuccessful. Absalom came back unchanged in heart. Joab lost his field of barley, and David himself, still unhappy and dissatisfied, could not admit his son to any intimacy. A fresh rebellion was the result of Absalom’s untamed spirit; and the throne of David was really in jeopardy.
By the advice of Ahithophel Absalom had publicly scandalized his father, and had thus drawn the sword, and thrown away the scabbard! The true-hearted ones clung to David in his distress, but when an army was collected, so infatuated was David—so entirely did paternal affection stifle the proper and dignified thoughts which ought to have possessed him—that, as the commanders of the army (amongst whom was Joab) passed before him, he charged them in the hearing of the people, in these words, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man, even with Absalom” (v. 5).
But Joab knew better what befitted the throne of Israel: so when the man with whom our tale opens told him of what had befallen Absalom under the oak, his quick inquiry was, “Why didst thou not smite him there to the ground? and I would have given thee ten shekels of silver and a girdle. And the man said unto Joab, Though I should receive a thousand shekels of silver in mine hand, yet would I not put forth mine hand against the king’s son: for in our hearing the king charged thee and Abishai, and Ittai, saying, beware that none touch the young man Absalom. Joab’s presence of mind did not fail him for a moment, and the speedy death of Absalom was the result.
Joab full well knew the necessities of the throne and by his action, he showed his true regard to David. After this there was no more need of bloodshed. “Joab blew the trumpet, and the people returned from pursuing after Israel” The rebellion was crushed by the death of its chief, and the affections of his subjects returned to the king.
It deserves our attention that the only difficulty Joab had, was to convey the news to David. Two men presented themselves, Ahimaaz son of Zadok a priest, intimate with, David—the other Cushi, a man with no genealogy, possibly a Gentile like Ittai, attracted by his affections into the service of David. Both these men offered themselves to carry the intelligence to the king, both having an interest in the victory. Joab says to Ahimaaz, “This day thou shalt bear no tidings, because the king’s son is dead,” (v. 20), and he prefers to send Cushi to tell the king what he had seen. However, at last, it is a race between them, Ahimaaz arrives first finds the king sitting in great anxiety between the two gates of Mahanaim, announces the victory—and to the king’s anxious question, “Is the young man Absalom safe?” gives a reply, and it is left to the rude, blunt Cushi to announce the fatal words, “The enemies of my lord the king, and all that rise against thee to do thee hurt, be as that young man is,” (v. 32). Then, indeed, burst out from David’s long pent-up heart, “O my son, Absalom! my son, my son, Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!”
These words should tell a tale to our hearts. They express the feelings of the Father of mercies towards sinners. The history is not written for nothing. It has a meaning in it. It serves to tell us how much the Father loved the Son; yet He gave Him up to die for sinners. “He that spared not his own Son; but delivered him up for us all.” Observe that David preferred the safety of his son to the safety of his crown, and the welfare of his people; hardly could he be persuaded to show himself to them, Joab said, “I perceive that if Absalom had lived, and all we had died this day, then it had pleased thee well.” Consider too, when it was a question of Abraham slaying Isaac, God spared his feelings, and accepted a ram in his stead! But when the time came to show what a frightful thing sin was—how it had reached up to the throne, and marred the whole government of God, then—oh! then,
“That he might spare His enemies,
He would not spare His Son.”
Now there are two special features in the gospel. First, a care for His own dignity on the part of God. Secondly, intense but wise love to the sinner, which both saves and changes him, for it turns his affections to their proper object. Joab as a counselor in close connection with the throne exhibits the one; David expresses the love that meets the sinner, for David would selfishly have retained Absalom, cost what it would—God, so to speak, loves the sinner at the expense of His Son. If you want rest of conscience, see how the death of Christ has established the throne of God on a firm basis. Sin has been atoned for, and righteousness brought in. If you want your heart to expand in love-think at what a cost of love your salvation has been affected. It will surely also effect a moral change in you. Combine these two thoughts if you wish to be a happy Christian.
But there is one more substantial and consoling truth found in our chapter. Joab did not know how to break the truth of the death of the king’s son to the afflicted father, but the gospel solves this difficulty. Christ Himself raised from the dead takes up to heaven the account of His own victory. Hung up on the cross for our sins, and the whole weight of them heaped upon Him, He cries, “It is finished.” The heap of stones mark the spot of Absalom’s grave to this day, but, on the resurrection morning, the great stone was rolled away from the sepulcher—the word of the angels is, “He is not here, but is risen,” and His own word to Mary is, “I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.”
In David’s case “the victory that day was turned into mourning: for the people heard say that day, how the king was grieved for his son.” In our case not only is it said by Christ, “therefore doth my Father love me, because lay down my life that I might take it again,” but the Father having received Him, sends down the Holy Ghost—witness of His welcome arrival in heaven; (John 16:77Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. (John 16:7), Acts 5:3232And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him. (Acts 5:32)), and so the good news of salvation is called the glorious gospel of the blessed (in Greek; “happy”) God. (1 Tim. 1:1111According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust. (1 Timothy 1:11).)
Reader! may it be yours to your own joy, and to the glory of God, Amen. W. W.