Throughout this chapter we see a lot of scheming. Joab schemes in v1-20, David schemes in v21-24, and Absalom schemes in v25-33.
Joab’s Activity (v1-20)
Let’s begin in v1-3, where the scene is set up for us. “Now Joab the son of Zeruiah knew that the king’s heart went out to Absalom. And Joab sent to Tekoa and brought from there a wise woman and said to her, “Pretend to be a mourner and put on mourning garments. Do not anoint yourself with oil, but behave like a woman who has been mourning many days for the dead. Go to the king and speak thus to him.” So Joab put the words in her mouth.”
We haven’t seen him in a while, but in v1 the curious character of Joab comes back into view. We saw him last in chapter 12 right after David’s lowest moment. And though he was surely present throughout the events of chapter 13 it seems he remained silent. But he holds his tongue no longer. Now he speaks up and begins a scheme of his own to get the exiled Absalom back home. Why Joab does this is hard to say. Some say he’s acting for his own self-interests as he’s done before. Others say he’s acting for the nation’s interests, seeking to eliminate any threat that could come against David, hence the need for David and Absalom to reconcile. And still others believe he’s acting for their family’s interests. He is a close relative to David and their family has truly suffered from all kinds of sin and if David and Absalom reconciled it would go a great length toward restoring their family to peace. Again, it is hard to know why exactly he does this, especially when you look ahead a few chapters and see that it’s none other than Joab who ends up killing Absalom for the good of the nation. All v1 reveals to us is this: Joab knew David’s heart went out to Absalom. Because of this Joab employs the wisdom of a woman from Tekoa to bring about his plan. Curious expression isn’t it? ‘…wise woman from Tekoa…?’ We never know her name and never get any other details about her except that she is from Tekoa and that she is wise. That she’s from Tekoa, a city far away, meant she herself and her story would not be recognized by David, and that she’s wise likely means she not only has a quick wit but is an able advisor to many in Tekoa. All in all, she is well suited for Joab’s purposes and was to come before David as a mourner who’s been mourning ‘many days.’ This should bring the end of chapter 13 into back into mind where David is described in 13:37 as one mourning many days. See what Joab’s up to? He’s has plotted to bring a woman before David who seems to be like David. By the end of v3 the narrator hasn’t told us the plan. But we know it’s all Joab’s idea, we know the woman will be pretending, and we know it likely has to do with Absalom. Let’s see how this unfolds.
v4-7, “When the woman of Tekoa came to the king, she fell on her face to the ground and paid homage and said, “Save me, O king.” And the king said to her, “What is your trouble?” She answered, “Alas, I am a widow; my husband is dead. And your servant had two sons, and they quarreled with one another in the field. There was no one to separate them, and one struck the other and killed him. And now the whole clan has risen against your servant, and they say, ‘Give up the man who struck his brother, that we may put him to death for the life of his brother whom he killed.’ And so they would destroy the heir also. Thus they would quench my coal that is left and leave to my husband neither name nor remnant on the face of the earth.”
The tale is clear enough. This woman’s trouble began with the death of her husband, making her a widow. Then on top of this, one day her two sons were in a field together, and in a Cain and Abel like manner they got into a fight, and one killed the other. Though no one was present to see this incident the family hears of it and desires to bring justice down on the son still alive for killing his brother. The woman of Tekoa tells David she is, therefore, caught between a rock and a hard place. On one hand the family desires justice to be done but on the other hand she loves her son and longs for her husband’s name and line to continue on. This one remaining son is to her the one warm coal left in the ever colder dying fire that is her life, so she mourns. For these reasons she comes before David, asking him to intervene. This case should’ve been something of an eye opener to David because of how similar it is to his current situation. His oldest son Absalom has killed Amnon for what he did to Tamar and fled out of the country in exile, which places David between a rock and a hard place; bringing justice to bear on a son who took the life of his brother and keeping his own son and heir of his throne alive. Well, after his adulterous/murderous incident David missed what was right in front of him as he heard Nathan’s tale, and here David misses what’s right in front of him once again as he listens to this tale.
Note how David answers in v8, “Then the king said to the woman, “Go to your house, and I will give orders concerning you.” This is gracious for sure, but David is a bit vague here in his response. He will give ‘orders’ concerning her son? That’s great and all, but what are the orders? Are they for her son, for her family, for something else? She doesn’t know, so she keeps on pressing David in v9, “On me be the guilt, my lord the king, and on my father’s house; let the king and his throne be guiltless.” She said this because she heard something implied in David’s response. Perhaps he was vague intentionally, thinking he and his house would bear guilt if this guilty son wasn’t punished? David goes a little further in v10 as he responds saying, “If anyone says anything to you, bring him to me, and he shall never touch you again.” But she still isn’t satisfied with David’s vagueries and says in v11, “Please let the king invoke the LORD your God, that the avenger of blood kill no more, and my son be not destroyed.” David said, “As the LORD lives, not one hair of your son shall fall to the ground.” By including the divine name in her plea she raises the stakes and David complies. But remember, this is all a tall tale put into her mouth by Joab. So now that the hook is in, see where she pulls David next in v12-17, “Then the woman said, “Please let your servant speak a word to my lord the king.” He said, “Speak.” And the woman said, “Why then have you planned such a thing against the people of God? For in giving this decision the king convicts himself, inasmuch as the king does not bring his banished one home again. We must all die; we are like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. But God will not take away life, and he devises means so that the banished one will not remain an outcast. Now I have come to say this to my lord the king because the people have made me afraid, and your servant thought, ‘I will speak to the king; it may be that the king will perform the request of his servant. For the king will hear and deliver his servant from the hand of the man who would destroy me and my son together from the heritage of God.’ And your servant thought, ‘The word of my lord the king will set me at rest,’ for my lord the king is like the angel of God to discern good and evil. The LORD your God be with you!”
All is clear now, the mask is thrown off, the tale is seen for its tall nature, as David realizes what the wise woman of Tekoa was after the whole time. She calls David not for doing something he shouldn’t have, but for not doing something he should have. Notice how she makes this clear. She never mentions Absalom by name but when the phrase ‘banished one’ comes out we all know who is in view. She adds a word about life. We may treat it lightly, but God is patient with sinners, and God provides a way for their restoration. David, she says, should be and do the same with Absalom. She concludes very respectfully in v15-17, but once again brings up her own case. In this we see her wisdom. She’s seeking to persuade David that her case is the main reason she’s come before him and Absalom’s is secondary, but by bringing her case to David the way she did, and getting David to agree to what he did, David can now no longer ignore Absalom’s case or treat it as a secondary issue, no, he must act on it.
In a surprising turn of events David now asks to speak to the woman. v18-20, “Then the king answered the woman, “Do not hide from me anything I ask you.” And the woman said, “Let my lord the king speak.” The king said, “Is the hand of Joab with you in all this?” The woman answered and said, “As surely as you live, my lord the king, one cannot turn to the right hand or to the left from anything that my lord the king has said. It was your servant Joab who commanded me; it was he who put all these words in the mouth of your servant. In order to change the course of things your servant Joab did this. But my lord has wisdom like the wisdom of the angel of God to know all things that are on the earth.”
She may have been trying to persuade David about bringing Absalom home, but in her efforts David is wise enough to perceive someone else behind her words. He’s been manipulated before and perhaps he’s grown more aware of these schemes. v1 told us that Joab knew the king’s heart towards Absalom, since that is true, we can also state that David knew Joab’s scheming heart equally as well. So he asks, ‘Did Joab put you up to this?’ She responds in the affirmative and once again unloads piles of compliments on David, again calling him an angel of God. But in these compliments the truth comes out. Joab put these words in her mouth in order to ‘change the course of things.’ Through this woman Joab has been actively scheming. You do wonder what occurred after v20 but we don’t find out how the conversation between David and the wise woman from Tekoa ended. Most likely David dismissed her and immediately called in Joab as the scene abruptly changes to David addressing Joab. We’ve seen Joab’s activity in addressing the issue at hand, now see David’s inactivity in avoiding the issue at hand.
David’s Inactivity (v21-24)
v21-24, “Then the king said to Joab, “Behold now, I grant this; go, bring back the young man Absalom.” And Joab fell on his face to the ground and paid homage and blessed the king. And Joab said, “Today your servant knows that I have found favor in your sight, my lord the king, in that the king has granted the request of his servant.” So Joab arose and went to Geshur and brought Absalom to Jerusalem. And the king said, “Let him dwell apart in his own house; he is not to come into my presence.” So Absalom lived apart in his own house and did not come into the king’s presence.”
Well, Joab and the woman have succeeded and David sends Joab out to bring Absalom home. And Joab is thankful, clearly so. But when he returns with Absalom it’s clear he made a miscalculation. David gave the word to bring him home but he isn’t quite ready to welcome Absalom home yet. ‘…he is not to come into my presence.’ What? Whatever this is, this isn’t a homecoming, this isn’t reconciliation. We would do well to remember, this isn’t a prodigal returning home, it’s a murderer coming home. But is that even true? If a murderer is coming home an execution should soon follow. If an innocent son is coming home a welcome should follow. I don’t think either of these options fit Absalom, since he only did to Amnon what David should’ve done. Thus, David’s unsure of what to do, and he freezes. Perhaps still feeling the shame of his own sins and despairing to watch both his sons follow suit in mimicking his own deplorable deeds. What then will David do as his son returns? Nothing. Or to put it another way, David’s uncertainty leads to inactivity. David’s family is a mess. So Absalom is left in limbo in v24 as he returns from exile, not to the king, but to his own house.
Before seeing how this situation turns out with David and Absalom in v28-33, the text pauses a bit in v25-27 to give us some background on Absalom. In it all what we see is…
Absalom’s Popularity (v25-33)
“Now in all Israel there was no one so much to be praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom. From the sole of his foot to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him. And when he cut the hair of his head (for at the end of every year he used to cut it; when it was heavy on him, he cut it), he weighed the hair of his head, two hundred shekels by the king’s weight. There were born to Absalom three sons, and one daughter whose name was Tamar. She was a beautiful woman.”
My oh my. “From the sole of his foot to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him…” We learn two things here. Absalom was handsome and he knew it. The darling of the nation, Mr. Israel if they had a pageant. Not only is he physically flawless but we see an outrageous yearly event of his hair being cut described here. And yet ironically, as each strand of his hair falls to the ground remember David’s promise to the wise woman of Tekoa, that not a hair of her son’s head would fall to the ground. Ironic that David would promise this while his own son’s hair falls to the ground every year. And perhaps more ironic, Absalom’s hair will be the death of him in a few chapters. All of this ought to unsettle us, for here we have a new ‘Saul’ being described. One who has an abundance of style over substance, cosmetics over content, and manner over matter. One who sadly resembles much of what churches look for in pastors these days.Don’t mishear that handsomeness doesn’t disqualify anyone from the pastorate, but we are far too easily pleased. Many a polluted and deformed soul has dwelled in a fair and seemingly flawless frame. Church, what’s not mentioned here? Not a blip is mentioned about any godliness in him. Why not? It’s completely absent. Lesson? Nothing good is about to happen.
Finish the text with me in v28-33, “So Absalom lived two full years in Jerusalem, without coming into the king’s presence. Then Absalom sent for Joab, to send him to the king, but Joab would not come to him. And he sent a second time, but Joab would not come. Then he said to his servants, “See, Joab’s field is next to mine, and he has barley there; go and set it on fire.” So Absalom’s servants set the field on fire. Then Joab arose and went to Absalom at his house and said to him, “Why have your servants set my field on fire?” Absalom answered Joab, “Behold, I sent word to you, ‘Come here, that I may send you to the king, to ask, “Why have I come from Geshur? It would be better for me to be there still.” Now therefore let me go into the presence of the king, and if there is guilt in me, let him put me to death.’” Then Joab went to the king and told him, and he summoned Absalom. So he came to the king and bowed himself on his face to the ground before the king, and the king kissed Absalom.”
Three years in exile, now two more in house arrest. Absalom grows discontent. Rather than being happy and delighted that he can be back in the city he fled, it seems he began to feel he’s been wronged by David. After two attempts to speak with Joab fail, his third attempt is eerily similar to Samson of old, he decides to set Joab’s field on fire. This works, Joab comes, he complains, and is finally brought before ‘the king.’ It doesn’t say ‘his father’, or ‘David’, no, just ‘the king.’ And the king kisses him. Was this a welcome home? Or a civil act of ceremony? We’re left to decide as readers…for now. As the next few chapters continue on, it’ll be very clear – the David’s kingdom is as healthy as gummy worms floating in a gas station toilet.
2 Samuel 11-14 has roughly taken us through the many years of sin and misery. It’s been two years since Absalom was brought home, five years since Absalom killed Amnon, seven years since Amnon raped Tamar, and about ten years since David’s murderous affair with Bathsheba. Consequences are flowing forth like a tide that never goes out for David’s family. What do we do with this?
I’ve asked you before and I ask you again now: who do you connect with here in this chapter? Is it Joab? Do you feel that in messy situations it’s you who always sees things for what they really are, that it’s you who always knows the best way to move ahead, and that it’s you who starts enacting your plan to solve things without seeking counsel? Or is it the wise woman from Tekoa? Do you enjoy using your gifts in the lives of others, acting your part in drama of other peoples sins? Or is it David? Do you see a grand a mess needing immediate attention, but upon looking at the mess you see too many working parts or too much effort before you that you just avoid the issue all together, hoping it will just go away? Or is it Absalom? When there’s a mess all around you and that mess is partly because of you, do you become enamored with yourself and throw parties celebrating your own magnificence and importance? Do you see how all four of these folks are not in a good place? They each employ a kind of worldly wisdom that is a far cry from biblical wisdom. Whoever you feel more alignment within this chapter, one thing is clear, each of them needs to repent, look away from themselves, and look to God and His wisdom.
But don’t only look at this mess or at yourselves and who you feel most connected to here, look ahead to Christ. He is the King of kings who is now calling all mankind to repent and believe His gospel. All who reject His gospel will hear what Absalom heard, ‘…he is not to come into my presence.’ But all who embrace His gospel by faith will receive a full and final welcome, not only in the life to come, but here and now. In v14 we heard the woman say, “God…devises means so that the banished one will not remain an outcast.” She meant this for Joab’s purposes, but God meant it to give us a preview of how He will bring countless sinners back into His presence through the gospel of Christ.
 A. A. Anderson, Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 11, 2 Samuel, First Edition (Waco, TX: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1989), 187.
 John L. Mackay and J. Gary Millar, ESV Expository Commentary: 1 Samuel-2 Chronicles, ed. Iain M. Duguid, Hamilton Jr James M., and Jay Sklar (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019), 388.
 Peter J. Leithart, A Son to Me: An Exposition of 1 & 2 Samuel (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2003), 259.
 John Woodhouse, 2 Samuel: Your Kingdom Come, ed. R. Kent Hughes (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 363.
 Joyce G. Baldwin, Tyndale Commentary, Vol. 8, 2 Samuel (Downers, Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1988) 272.
 Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible, Vol. 2, The Prophets (New York, NY: Norton, 2019) 365.
 Woodhouse, 2 Samuel, 368.
 Dale Ralph Davis, 2 Samuel: Out of Every Adversity, Revised edition (Fearn, Ross-Shire Scotland: Christian Focus, 2013), 178.
 Woodhouse, 2 Samuel, 370.
 Mackay and Millar, ESV Expository Commentary, 391.
 Davis, 2 Samuel, 184.
 Woodhouse, 2 Samuel, 374–75.