Biblical Perspectives Magazine, Volume 22, Number 29, July 12 to July 18, 2020

Homecoming... Not Quite!

2 Samuel 19:9–43

By Dr. Derek Thomas

Now turn with me to 2 Samuel, 2 Samuel chapter 19, and tonight we pick it up in the last section of verse 8. If you're in the ESV, verse 8 has been divided into two halves and we're picking it up just at the point — the battle of Ephraim, in the forest of Ephraim, has taken place. Absalom, David's son, has been killed by Joab. And Joab has chastised David. Evidently, in some fashion, publically, since we have a record of exactly what he said, David had mourned the death of Absalom in such a way that it had given offense to David's men, his soldiers who had been fighting on his behalf. And it looked, to Joab, as though David was about to lose, not only respect, but the support of his own troops. Now that's the point at which we pick up this reading. Before we read the Scriptures, let's look to God in prayer.

Father, we thank You for the Scriptures, that they are infallible and inerrant, that all Scripture is given by the out–breathing of God and is profitable for doctrine and reproof and correction and the instruction in the way of righteousness that the man of God might be thoroughly furnished unto every good work. Help us now as we read the Scripture together, to hear in all that is read, the very voice of our God. And we ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.

The second half of verse 8:

Now Israel had fled every man to his own home. And all the people were arguing throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, "The king delivered us from the hand of our enemies and saved us from the hand of the Philistines, and now he has fled out of the land from Absalom. But Absalom, whom we anointed over us, is dead in battle. Now therefore why do you say nothing about bringing the king back?"

And King David sent this message to Zadok and Abiathar the priests: "Say to the elders of Judah, 'Why should you be the last to bring the king back to his house, when the word of all Israel has come to the king? You are my brothers; you are my bone and my flesh. Why then should you be the last to bring back the king?' 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 my army from now on in place of Joab.'" And he swayed the heart of all the men of Judah as one man, so that they sent word to the king, "Return, both you and all your servants." So the king came back to the Jordan, and Judah came to Gilgal to meet the king and to bring the king over the Jordan.

And Shimei the son of Gera, the Benjaminite, from Bahurim, hurried to come down with the men of Judah to meet King David. And with him were a thousand men from Benjamin. And Ziba the servant of the house of Saul, with his fifteen sons and his twenty servants, rushed down to the Jordan before the King, and they crossed the ford to bring over the king's household and to do his pleasure. And Shimei the son of Gera fell down before the king, as he was about to cross the Jordan, and said to the king, "Let not my lord hold me guilty or remember how your servant did wrong on the day my lord the king left Jerusalem. Do not let the king take it to heart. For your servant knows that I have sinned. Therefore, behold, I have come this day, the first of all the house of Joseph to come down to meet my lord the king." Abishai the son of Zeruiah answered, "Shall not Shimei be put to death for this, because he cursed the LORD's anointed?" But David said, "What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah, that you should this day be as an adversary to me? Shall anyone be put to death in Israel this day? For do I not know that I am this day king over Israel?" And the king said to Shimei, "You shall not die." And the king gave him his oath.

And Mephibosheth the son of Saul came down to meet the king. He had neither taken care of his feet nor trimmed his beard nor washed his clothes, from the day the king departed until the day he came back in safety. And when he came to Jerusalem to meet the king, the king said to him, "Why did you not go with me, Mephibosheth?" He answered, "My lord, O king, my servant deceived me, for your servant said to him, 'I will saddle a donkey for myself, that I may ride on it and go with the king.' For your servant is lame. He has slandered your servant to my lord the king. But my lord the king is like the angel of God; do therefore what seems good to you. For all my father's house were but men doomed to death before my lord the king, but you set your servant among those who eat at your table. What further right have I, then, to cry to the king?" And the king said to him, "Why speak any more of your affairs? I have decided: you and Ziba shall divide the land." And Mephibosheth said to the king, "Oh, let him take it all, since my lord the king has come safely home."

Now Barzillai the Gileadite had come down from Rogelim, and he went on with the king to the Jordan, to escort him over the Jordan. Barzillai was a very aged man, eighty years old. He had provided the king with food while he stayed at Mahanaim, for he was a very wealthy man. And the king said to Barzillai, "Come over with me, and I will provide for you with me in Jerusalem." But Barzillai said to the king, "How many years have I still to live, that I should go up with the king to Jerusalem? I am this day eighty years old. Can I discern what is pleasant and what is not? Can your servant taste what he eats or what he drinks? Can I still listen to the voice of singing men and singing women? Why then should your servant be an added burden to my lord the king? Your servant will go a little way over the Jordan with the king. Why should the king repay me with such a reward? Please let your servant return, that I may die in my own city near the grave of my father and my mother. But here is your servant Chimham. Let him go over with my lord the king, and do for him whatever seems good to you." And the king answered, "Chimham shall go over with me, and I will do for him whatever seems good to you, and all that you desire of me I will do for you." Then all the people went over the Jordan, and the king went over. And the king kissed Barzillai and blessed him, and he returned to his own home. The king went on to Gilgal, and Chimham went on with him. All the people of Judah, and also half the people of Israel, brought the king on his way.

Then all the men of Israel came to the king and said to the king, "Why have our brothers the men of Judah stolen you away and brought the king and his household over the Jordan, and all David's men with him?" All the men of Judah answered the men of Israel, "Because the king is our close relative. Why then are you angry over this matter? Have we eaten at all at the king's expense? Or has he given us any gift?" And the men of Israel answered the men of Judah, "We have ten shares in the king, and in David also we have more than you. Why then did you despise us? Were we not the first to speak of bringing back our king?" But the words of the men of Judah were fiercer than the words of the men of Israel.

Well, may God bless to us that reading of His holy and inerrant Word.

Now if you have your Bibles just handy just for a second, turn back to chapter 15 and verse 3 and listen to what Absalom said about David. This is when he's in Hebron, in David's city of course, in the land where David's relatives all lived. "Absalom would say, 'See'" — this is when judges would come to the city gate — he would say, "See, your claims are good and right, but there is no man designated by the king to hear you." Absalom had accused the administration of David of big government, of trying to handle everything from Jerusalem and there was no power in the local tribes and in the local clans and in the towns and cities of Israel. There was no one to hear their case. It was an accusation of big, centralized government.

And then if you turn to chapter 17 and verse 1, "Ahithophel said to Absalom, 'Let me choose twelve thousand men, and I will arise and pursue David tonight.'" This is when Absalom is in Jerusalem. Evidently he could have amassed twelve thousand men. That's a lot to go after David. We just read in the previous chapter, we were looking at it last week, that twenty thousand men died in that battle of Ephraim. All of that to say that a sizable proportion, both in Judah and in Israel, both in the southern region but also in the northern region a sizable proportion of people had gone with Absalom. They were rebels. They were insurgents. They opposed the rule of David. Now the war is over. Joab ensured that the war was over by killing, against David's wishes, Absalom. But as we know all too well, winning the war is one thing; winning the peace is something else.

David's own tribe, the tribe of Judah, the tribe that lived around the city of Hebron where Absalom had gone, these folk had turned against David. David has, as you can see from the beginning of the section we read tonight and right at the end of the section we read tonight, there's strife. There's political, tribal warfare. You know, you turn on the news and you listen to what's going on in Libya or Afghanistan or Iraq and you hear about all of these tribal factions. It's exactly what's going on here. There were clan loyalties and family loyalties and tribal loyalties and the accusation is that some were being treated differently, more favorably, than others. At some point, we don't know, there's a time gap between verses 8 and 9. It may have been weeks, it may have been months, but at some point, the northerners decide it's time to bring David back. There was no rule. There was no government anymore. They were now in danger of being attacked by the Philistines or someone else. So the northerners say it's time for David to come back. David does a kind of pincer movement, sends Abiathar and Zadok, the priests, to Judah, to Hebron, to get the support of his own people, the men of Judah.

And in that process — and I'm fascinated to know what — those of you who are in politics, and there are oodles of you here in politics and you know, as a minister of the Gospel, I know nothing about politics, and you can accuse me of anything tonight, but I'd be fascinated to know, what do you think of David, I mean as a politician, because some of what he does now I think is in part political. He's trying to win the peace. Whether you're cynical and you say politics is the art of the possible, you know in politics you have to make compromises. Or, if you're an absolutist, you're going to enter into some judgments, ethical judgments on David's wisdom, on David's justice, on David's morality. There are some tricky things to negotiate here. Half the population, maybe more, half the population and maybe more have gone against him. How is he going to win them back? How, in particular, is he going to get his own people, his own tribe, the tribe of Judah, how is he going to do that, since they were the ones who greeted Absalom? Your own people.

On David's side, there's Joab. Now I don't know what you make of Joab. We were sort of sympathetic last week when he killed Absalom. I didn't actually make you vote, but I got the sense that you were on Joab's side. It was better to have Absalom dead than as a sore thumb in David's side and in the life of Israel for the next twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years. But Joab, you know Joab has political ambition. You understand that? If he chastises publically, the king, I mean reprimands him publically, you've got to think he's got political ambition here.

The thing I like about the Old Testament is it has time for biographical sketches in a way that the New Testament doesn't have time for to the same extent. And there are four people in this passage, all of them we've met before. There's Joab, a man with political ambition. There's Shimei, a snake, who appears to be contrite. There's Mephibosheth, a victim of opportunism. And Barzillai, an octogenarian — a big donor. He's looked after David and his men the whole time — fed them, watered them, given them a place to live. He's a man of wealth who gets rewarded. Let's look at these four while we have time.

First of all, Joab.

David does something here. He does something quite extraordinary here. He sends a message to the folk of Judah who had supported Absalom and he says to them, "I'm going to make Amasa my commander in chief instead of Joab." Amasa was the commander in chief of the opposition. He's the commander in chief of the opposition. He was Absalom's commander in chief. He was Joab's counterpart on the opposing side. It's extraordinary. It's unfair. Is it? Joab has just won the battle for David. Who's the person who won this war? Joab would be the guy that CNN would want to interview. You know, with all his medals — and he'd be there talking in all of that military–speak. And it was him. It was all down to him. It was his savvy. It was his wisdom. It was his ability. But he had savaged David at a moment of emotional low–point in David's life. And you can't, well — Orin will have an opinion. (laughter)

Is this just revenge on David's part? You know, it looks like that. "I'll teach him a lesson." It was incredible what David did because in one sense, picking Amasa as his commander in chief let it be known to the people of Judah they were safe. You know, what does the opposition in Libya — you've been watching the news and reading the papers — what does the opposition fear? Reprisal. That if they lose the war, they're going to be killed. The winning side is going to come after them and kill them. That's what they're afraid of in David. Is David going to come into Hebron and teach them a lesson? Kill them all? And David does an act, either of political survival or a colossal act of injustice. He wins Judah, for sure. He has the whole of Judah on his side. But he sowed a terrible seed of distrust among the northerners. The northerners said, as they do, the northerners said David favors the southerners; he favors his own. You know it's nepotism all over again. You know, "blood is thicker than water." What would you have done? What would you have done?

Secondly, there's Shimei.

And Shimei, when David was leaving Jerusalem because Absalom was coming, when he left Jerusalem Shimei was the man who cursed him and threw rocks at him. And Abishai, Joab's brother, Abishai wanted to have Shimei's head in a bucket and David said, "No, let him be." Shimei now sees which way the wind is blowing and he comes to meet David. He crosses the Jordan River to meet him and he's all contrite. The language is perfect. He would have passed Ligon's test from the sermon this morning because he uses the word, "I have sinned." I can't help but be a little bit ambivalent about Shimei. You know when I read Shimei, I have the mental picture of Grima Wormtongue – you know the advisor of King Theoden of the Rohan. Can you picture it? Some of you can, some of you can't. Don't worry if you can't, but he's a mean, nasty snake. That's what I think of Shimei, but he brings a thousand men with him. That's a lot of men; a lot of men to have on your side if you're trying to win the peace. If you're trying to unify the country after a war, it's time for an act of pardon, even for a snake like Shimei.

You know, I don't want to allegorize, and I think you know me well enough now, I really don't want to allegorize Old Testament historical narrative, but I can't help but think the Author, I mean, the Holy Spirit, who knows the story and where this story is going, I can't help but think on occasions of great redemptive significance — the king is returning to Jerusalem, the anointed king is returning, and what's the first thing he does on his return? An act of mercy to a snake. An act of mercy to a snake who says, "I'm a sinner. Please forgive me." Don't you think on the big picture, don't you think the Holy Spirit is saying, "You know, there's another King who comes to Jerusalem and that's what He does too, to repentant sinners who say, 'I'm a sinner. Please forgive me.' He never turns them away. He always, always shows pardon and grace and mercy."

You know when Saul of Tarsus was converted, God told Ananias to go to him. And do you remember what Ananias said? "No, Lord, you must be mistaken." I love it when people try to tell God what He doesn't seem to know. "Don't you know that Saul of Tarsus has been persecuting the church?" But that's what the Gospel is. It's grace to those who don't deserve it, to Christian–killers like Saul of Tarsus. This snake Shimei, and there's nothing about him that I like — there's an act of pardon from the returning king.

Thirdly, there's Mephibosheth.

And Mephibosheth is Jonathan's son, David's friend who has now died, Jonathan and his father Saul — Mephibosheth's father and grandfather — died in the battle of Gilboa and Mephibosheth was being carried by a nurse who, when she heard of the death of his father and grandfather, dropped the baby and Mephibosheth is lame. When David eventually comes to Jerusalem, he showed kindness, loving–kindness to Mephibosheth, so that Mephibosheth, even though he's a grandson of King Saul, eats at David's table. But when David left Jerusalem, Ziba, Mephibosheth's servant, told David that Mephibosheth had gone over to Absalom, and he had gone over to Absalom because he had flown the Saul flag. And David had given to Ziba, as a consequence, all of Saul's land which he had given to Mephibosheth.

But now, Mephibosheth is here and he's telling a different story. He's saying, "My servant, Ziba, told a lie about me." Now to prove the point, and you've got to love the Old Testament here, to prove the point, he hasn't cut his toenails. You know, maybe months have gone by and he hasn't cut his toenails and he hasn't trimmed his beard and he hasn't washed. This man stinks! He's standing in his presence and he stinks. And he's saying to David, "This is proof that I love you! My stinkiness is proof that I've been mourning for you this whole time!" There's a better way of saying that these days, you understand, but this is the Old Testament. What do you do here? I mean, who's telling the truth here? You know I read about twenty–eight commentaries on 2 Samuel. They're all on my desk. There's good ones, bad ones, and in between ones. And they're pretty evenly divided. Some are definitely in Mephibosheth's corner saying that he told the truth and that Ziba told a lie. And there are others who are in Ziba's corner and Mephibosheth sees where the wind's blowing and now he's telling a porky. How is David supposed to know? I mean, maybe he just stinks because he lost the plot.

So David gives half the land to Mephibosheth and half the land to Ziba. It sounds, if Mephibosheth is telling the truth, it sounds unjust, doesn't it? You know, when the King returns, when King Jesus returns, He'll know the truth, absolutely. They'll be no doubt as to who's telling the truth and who isn't telling the truth because He knows everything. He sees everything.

And then there's Barzillai.

This man's eighty years old – wealthy farmer; housed David and his men and David had a lot of men in Mahanaim; fed them, clothed them, all of what they needed he had provided, and David is genuinely, David is genuinely thankful and wishes to reward Barzillai. Barzillai's old. I'm sorry if you're eighty tonight — you can't taste your food, you can't taste what it is you're drinking, all the glamour of the court is a memory of the past. He wants to die at home. You know, some of us can identify with that. We want to die at home among people that we know and among people that we love. And instead of Barzillai — it may be a servant; it's more likely a relative of Barzillai — and he says, "Take him instead." And he does. You know, Jeremiah 41:17 – your quiz question for post–Sunday evening church – Jeremiah 41:17 mentions a place called Geruth Chimham, which translated means, "hospitality offered to Chimham," this servant of Barzillai. It's a place near, it's a piece of land near Bethlehem. David kept his word. David blessed him. He says to Barzillai, "Whatever you want is yours. Whatever you want is yours."

You know, Barzillai was a man who gave his wealth for the services of the king. That's who he is. You know, Barzillai was perhaps not a great speaker, he didn't write any books, he wasn't a politician, he was a farmer, a wealthy farmer, but he gave of his wealth to help the king. Maybe there's a word for you there. You know, what can I do? What can I do for the kingdom? What can I do for my King? You can give your wealth. You can give back what He's blessed you with, as a steward. He who owns the cattle on a thousand hills. You know, these are little cameo sketches, aren't they? That's all they are. They're just little cameo sketches, and in these cameo sketches the Holy Spirit is reminding us, not just of David and all David's faults, but of the greater King — great David's greater Son, even our Lord Jesus. Let's pray together.

Father, we thank You now for Your Word and pray that You would hide it within our hearts for Jesus' sake. Amen.

Now please stand and receive the Lord's benediction. And after the singing of the stanza 5, I'm going to ask you to ask you to take your seats for a few minutes. Now receive the Lord's blessing. Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.

Ⓒ2013 First Presbyterian Church.

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