A King’s Lament
What makes good news good? Can you remember some news you received that brought you joy? Why did it do that?
David, the king of Israel, had a rebel son named Absalom. This son was aiming to kill David in order to take and keep his throne. David’s will was for his son to be treated gently on the battlefield. Against David’s wishes, Joab and his men killed Absalom and so rid the king of the one who was raising his hand against the king. There was nobody left to grieve for Absalom. But David had been blessed by many people who were faithful to him and were willing to die for him.
Read 2 Samuel 18:19-19:8
What did you see? (Observation)
- Who will take the good news to David? (19-23)
- Hoping for good news (24-27)
- The good news is delivered (28-32)
- Grief over the news (33-19:8)
Who will take the good news to David? (19-23)
“Now Ahimaaz son of Zadok…” Remember Zadok was one of the priests who attend to the ark and Ahimaaz is his son who sent the message of Absalom’s plans to David. He risked his life to get that news to David.
“Let me run and take the news to the king that the LORD has vindicated him by delivering him from the hand of his enemies.” Ahimaaz was eager to be the one to bring the news to the king. It was good news. The threat to the kingdom is over and the LORD has brought deliverance from the enemy. The language created by Ahimaaz is like the Psalms of David when he has been rescued from his enemies (See Psalm 18!). We shall have singing and praise in the land because the LORD is good.
“…you must not [take the news] today, because the king’s son is dead.” The news is good but this is about the King’s son. The good news that Ahimaaz is excited to give includes the tragic news that David’s son is dead. Joab was a smart man and he knew that this would be awkward news to deliver to the king.
“Then Joab said to the Cushite, ‘Go, tell the king what you have seen’.” Joab sends a foreigner rather than the son of a priest. A prudent choice given Joab does not know how David will react. His instruction was to tell the king what he has seen. There is no spin or lies but go and let the king know what has happened.
“My son, why do you want to go? You don’t have any news that will bring you a reward.” Great question. Why does Ahimaaz need to go? He was part of the adventure when he set out in Chapter 17 to bring news to David. Now that the battle is over, he wants to close the deal with the message. He won’t take no for an answer. He is so excited by the outcome of David’s victory that he must go and tell David! He loves this good news.
“Ahimaaz … outran the Cushite.” He was finally let go by Joab and told to run! So he ran and he ran in a direction that saved him time and got him there first. Two people are racing to bring news of the victory to David. Both carry the same message. One is sent by order and the second is allowed to go because of his enthusiasm. We may believe that the Cushite is now wasting his energy. Or we wonder what plan does Ahimaaz have? Is he wise or foolish?
Hoping for good news (24-27)
“While David was sitting between the inner and outer gates…” We find David staying back in Mahanaam as his troops had advised him to do but not in the comfort of his house. He is anxious to know what is going to happen and also, perhaps, ready to protect the city if things go pear-shaped (2 Samuel 18:3). A watchman is in a position to give the king warning of any coming news or threat.
“If he is alone, he must have good news.” I am not sure where this wisdom comes from. This book called 2 Samuel opened with a single messenger coming to David with a mixed report. How one person running is any indication of good news, I’m not completely sure. It could be exciting news of victory or anxious news of warning. While this could be a true statement, I feel that David is full of wishful thinking. He wants to hear good news. But what he expects that good news to be is unclear. Either his troops are safe or Absalom is safe – David somehow hopes for both to be true.
“And the runner came closer and closer.” There’s a Monty Python scene where two knights at the entrance of a castle watch Sir Lancelot approach them running from a distance. Probably my favourite scene from “The Holy Grail”. Enough said.
“He must be bringing good news, too.” Where is David getting this logic? Surely he just wants things to turn out well and is hoping. Note well the phrase, ‘good news’, as we get closer to the meaning of this story.
The good news is delivered (28-32)
“All is well!…Praise be to the LORD your God! He has delivered up those who lifted their hands against my lord the king.” This is the same essence of the message that Ahimaaz said he would bring to the king. It really is good news. God has won the victory and the people of God who are for God have been delivered. This is a report of deliverance, redemption, salvation! All is well because God wins.
“The king asked, ‘Is the young man Absalom safe?’” We see that this is at the forefront of David’s mind and the news is incomplete until he hears what has become of his son. We remember that he had commanded the three leaders of all his troops to be gentle with Absalom. But Absalom had been decidedly killed and discarded by Joab.
“Ahimaaz answered, “I saw great confusion just as Joab was about to send the king’s servant and me, your servant, but I don’t know what it was.” Some have argued that Ahimaaz is not hiding the truth at this point but is speaking what he truly knew. I only mention that for the reader to ponder but I cannot make sense of Verse 20 if Ahimaaz doesn’t know the answer to David’s question. Absalom, the king’s son, is dead and Ahimaaz knows that. Why hide this truth? I suggest because Ahimaaz wants the good news to only contain good news for all. He is not willing to deliver the whole truth to the king. He knows that the Cushite is behind and will give the bad news. We are given this distinction of two messages: one that is half the story and the other which is complete. Both messengers are delivering the ‘good news’ but only one has the complete story. Ahimaaz wants to be a messenger with only good things to say.
“The king said, ‘Stand aside and wait here.’” We are reminded that the king is most concerned about the news of Absalom. The news that God has delivered his men and his kingdom has not sparked joy in David’s heart. He is anxious for his son. Ahimaaz has not received the thank you and joy that he had hoped for.
“The the Cushite arrived and said, ‘My lord the king, hear the good news!…’” The news that he gives the king is closer matched to Ahimaaz’ planned message of Verse 19. Again, the good news is that God has given victory and vindicated David – restored his kingdom. Those who rose up against David have been defeated – that is good news.
“Is the young man Absalom safe?” David wants to know how this news played out for Absalom.
“May the enemies of my lord the king and all who rise up to harm you be like that young man.” The Cushite’s answer is not direct but it is clear. Absalom has received what all the enemies of the king ought to get. Absalom was the head of all those who rose up against the king and God has delivered the king from his enemies. This means the enemy being removed – killed. The good news includes justice delivered. That is the whole news. The Cushite is the gospel messenger who gives the whole story of the good news. God has one and evil is destroyed. People who are against God and His people are judged and the sentence delivered.
Grief over the news (33-19:8)
“The king was shaken” His son is dead and his fears have been realised. This is David’s emotional response to the news and we must allow him his humanity which we just cannot predict of ourselves. Pragmatics and logic just don’t fix the way we respond to bad news.
“He went up to the room over the gateway and wept.” The place where he wept will add to the problem of his response as we continue. All those arriving back from battle through that gate will hear the king weeping loudly over this news.
“O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you – O Absalom, my son, my son!” You can’t miss the grief in this sentence. And all the troops will get this message as they arrive home. His love for his son was real. He had failed to guide and protect his son – to discipline and mould this rebellious son – but he loved him. And in this very emotional Verse we also see the path forward for rebellious sinners in the bible: If only I had died instead of you. This is how God will ultimately deliver the kingdom from the enemy – he will die for the enemy! Mark 10:45; Romans 5:6-11. But that is for Jesus to accomplish. We may pick up that the king’s son had to die in order for victory to be won. While that is a true statement, it seems too thin to point to Jesus – the Son who died for us. Absalom was a rebel. David’s desire in grief to die in the sinner’s place is the strong link to the gospel.
“Joab was told, ‘The king is weeping and mourning for Absalom.’” The story of David and Joab has been a contrast between two hearts. David is described as gentle (NIV: weak) and Joab described as hard (NIV: strong). David’s desire to be gentle with Absalom may or may not be a righteous one. It is unclear. Is he thinking like a man of God or like the father of a wayward son? Is it a bit of both? But Joab decided to disobey the king and he killed Absalom. He performed justice on the rebel child. Only Jesus is able to react in perfection to all of this complexity. He is able to weep for the sinner and die for him. He is able to set the prisoner free and preach hell to those who will not come to the kingdom. But in 2 Samuel, we have the king and Joab. Both are right and both are imperfect.
“Then Joab went into the house to the king and said…” Verses 5-7 contain a very heated rebuke from Joab to the king. This is not a time for Joab to comfort the king for his loss because the king is not being a king to his people right now. Verse 6 is perhaps a step too far to say that David hates those who love him but this is Joab’s reaction. David’s men have risked their lives to save and David only cares about the man who was prepared to kill David and all his family. This seems unjust, unfair, unloving, uncaring, selfish and wrong – especially for the king.
It takes my mind to the Psalms of crying out to God – ‘How long O LORD?’ The Psalms that report that the wicked are getting everything and the righteous are getting beaten and mocked. Where is your justice God? Where is the side of the ‘good news’ that reports that evil has been punished?
“So the king got up and took his seat in the gateway…” Absalom had gone to the gate of the city to head of the people from the country and tell them that the king is too busy. Well, now the king is not too busy and he is ready to be seen by all of his people. He is ready to be their king.
“Meanwhile, the Israelites had fled to their homes.” These were the Israelites who had backed Absalom. The story sets us up for the new problem: what will happen to Israel, who had deserted David. And will David be king over all Israel again?
What did we learn? (Meaning)
The Good News of the deliverance of God includes the news that the enemy has been defeated. The good news is about justice and righteousness. The only way that the good news is good for the enemy is when their guilt is taken away. Ahimaaz only wanted to share the happy news of the good news. David focused on the grief of the good news. In the end, the Good News is that there is a King in heaven who has died instead of us, that all need to hear that he is waiting to call home all sinners, but those who will not repent and bow before him will be denied the Kingdom of Heaven. Our King is with us and ‘at the gate’ ready to welcome us and hear our prayer. The victory is won. Jesus is the King.
Now what? (Application)
Topic A: The 2 ways to live message that excludes justice. The gospel message goes further than saying that God is real and that Jesus loves you. It says that if you do not respond then you remain condemned (John 3:18, 36). Our God is for us. But this is only news to rejoice in for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8 is an amazing chapter in the new testament – well worth reading regularly! But it is about the joy of our relationship in Christ – not just knowledge of God. For salvation to be true for us, we must have obedience to the great exchange at the cross. We must understand that the cross means punishment dealt out on the Son when it should have been me (or you). Justice has been met in the Son of God. For all who do not believe and do not receive Jesus as their LORD, are not received as children of God but will remain outside of his protection. So, how can we include a dash of pepper to our talk of Jesus to those outside the kingdom?
Topic B: Good grief. David’s sorrow is plain to see in 18:33 to 19:4. Too many of his children (one is enough) have died. David knew sorrow. And he was not a man too tough to express his feelings as many of them are written in the psalms. To make it harder, his grief was for his son who had rebelled and not died under the banner of love and faithfulness. How can we find joy in times like that?! It’s tragic that people are not flocking to the Kingdom of God before it is too late. Psalm 2:10-12 gives us our number one mission in life: serve the LORD with fear. The loss of our loved ones who have not understood the love of God ought to remind us to remain in his love and serve him with fear. We leave the departed in His hands – He is good and will do what is just.