The author C.S. Lewis is well-known for writing books such as Mere ChristianityThe Screwtape Letters, or The Chronicles of Narnia. Those are wonderful reads in themselves but one of his most powerful books is a bit lesser known and came from one of his most painful moments. In 1960 his wife Joy died. And Lewis already believing that God speaks to us in our suffering as through a megaphone, he wanted to lean into this pain of losing Joy and one year later the book A Grief Observed was the result. It’s a refreshingly honest look at grief and in it Lewis concludes that Joy’s “…absence is like the sky, spread over everything.” Later he said, “The death of a beloved is like an amputation.” He concludes the book by saying, “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” It was right for Lewis to feel like this and by pressing into his grief he learned a great deal about himself, his wife, and God.

I begin telling you this today because our passage this morning is filled with a similar kind of grief as David deeply grieves the loss of his oldest son Absalom. But surprisingly we’ll see David not only express his grief, we’ll see him rebuked for his grief.

Allow me to catch you up or remind you where we’re at in our venture through 2 Samuel. Last week Pastor Andrew led us through the a war that had long been coming. On one side was the exiled king David and on the other side was his son and usurper to the throne, Absalom. Ultimately in the first half of 2 Samuel 18 what we see is David winning a tragic victory over his son, who was killed in the process. But, before David’s army went out to battle he had commanded them to deal gently with his son. But Joab, one of David’s commanders, thought differently and violently killed Absalom when the opportunity arose. Now, as the back half of chapter 18 comes to us Joab must do something that could put him in an awkward spot. He must inform David of the outcome of the war. Will he divulge the details of Absalom’s death? Probably not. What then will he do? We’ll see in today how Joab, in a self-preserving manner, doesn’t tell David what he did but does nonetheless try to break the bad news to David as tactfully as he can.[1] This brings us to our first point this morning…

A Grief Expressed (18:19-33)

Let’s begin looking at v19-23, “Then Ahimaaz the son of Zadok said, “Let me run and carry news to the king that the LORD has delivered him from the hand of his enemies.” And Joab said to him, “You are not to carry news today. You may carry news another day, but today you shall carry no news, because the king’s son is dead.” Then Joab said to the Cushite, “Go, tell the king what you have seen.” The Cushite bowed before Joab, and ran. Then Ahimaaz the son of Zadok said again to Joab, “Come what may, let me also run after the Cushite.” And Joab said, “Why will you run, my son, seeing that you will have no reward for the news?” “Come what may,” he said, “I will run.” So he said to him, “Run.” Then Ahimaaz ran by the way of the plain, and outran the Cushite.”

Ahimaaz here in v19 is the son of Zadok the priest. Both of them are close to David and both had been spies within the city of Jerusalem for David while David was out in the wilderness. It appears that after David’s army had won the battle Ahimaaz enthusiastically desires to carry this news to David, telling him that the Lord had delivered him from his enemies. Joab though, stops him and says he should not be the one to carry this news to David in v20. Why? Because the king’s son is dead. See what’s happening here? Ahimaaz is rejoicing in the victory won while Joab sees more complexity to this ‘good news.’ Joab knows the news of victory also includes the news of the death of David’s son Absalom. And Joab also knows how David hasn’t received news like this very well in the past, that he has on a few occasions lashed out at and killed those who brought supposed ‘good news’ to him. So Joab in v21 calls one of his servants, a Cushite, and orders him, “Go, tell the king what you have seen.” Unsure of how David would respond perhaps Joab thought the foreigner was more expendable than Ahimaaz[2] or perhaps he thought the foreigner wouldn’t give David many details about their victory but just an brief report.[3] Which, of course, would’ve helped Joab because he happened to be the one who killed his son. So the Cushite goes off to bring news to David and Ahimaaz, still not quite seeing the gravity of the situation, once again presses Joab to let him go carry this news in v22, and Joab warns him (almost in a fatherly manner calling him ‘my son’[4]) that bringing this news won’t bring him anything good. Ahimaaz won’t hear it, presses Joab for the third time in v23, Joab lets him go, and we read that Ahimaaz took a different route and outran the Cushite. Let’s see what unfolds next in v24-30…

“Now David was sitting between the two gates, and the watchman went up to the roof of the gate by the wall, and when he lifted up his eyes and looked, he saw a man running alone. The watchman called out and told the king. And the king said, “If he is alone, there is news in his mouth.” And he drew nearer and nearer. The watchman saw another man running. And the watchman called to the gate and said, “See, another man running alone!” The king said, “He also brings news.” The watchman said, “I think the running of the first is like the running of Ahimaaz the son of Zadok.” And the king said, “He is a good man and comes with good news.” Then Ahimaaz cried out to the king, “All is well.” And he bowed before the king with his face to the earth and said, “Blessed be the LORD your God, who has delivered up the men who raised their hand against my lord the king.” And the king said, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?” Ahimaaz answered, “When Joab sent the king’s servant, your servant, I saw a great commotion, but I do not know what it was.” And the king said, “Turn aside and stand here.” So he turned aside and stood still.”

The scene now shifts to David’s perspective. He’s back in the city of Mahanaim where his troops went out from waiting for news of the outcome. A watchman near him looks out, sees a lone runner and tells David. David takes this as good news because if defeat had occurred many soldiers would be returning home. But as this runner drew nearer the watchman saw another runner coming behind, and he also was alone. The watchman then recognizes the first runner as Ahimaaz and David says in v27, “He is a good man and comes with good news.” Optimistic for sure. Realistic? Not so much. The feeling we get is that David’s desperately grasping for anything hopeful here.[5] Ahimaaz arrives and the enthusiastic young man happily gives the news he thinks David wants to hear in v28 saying, “All is well…Blessed be the LORD your God who has delivered up the men who raised their hand against my lord the king.” David though, quickly makes it clear what he’s truly concerned about in v29, “It is well with the young man Absalom?” Now, after hearing this and likely seeing the vexation in David’s face it finally dawns on Ahimaaz why Joab tried to stop him from bringing this news to David. This caught Ahimaaz off guard, it unsettles him, he loses his nerve[6], and grows frightened seeing David’s misguided heart in all this, and what comes out of his mouth next in v29 is a fearful, confused, mumble of a response. “When Joab sent the king’s servant, your servant, I saw a great commotion, but I do not know what it was.” David didn’t like this. He probably sensed fear and uncertainty in Ahimaaz, and that he was also holding something back from him. But David knows another runner is coming soon, so he tells Ahimaaz to stand aside and wait.

v31-33, “And behold, the Cushite came, and the Cushite said, “Good news for my lord the king! For the LORD has delivered you this day from the hand of all who rose up against you.” The king said to the Cushite, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?” And the Cushite answered, “May the enemies of my lord the king and all who rise up against you for evil be like that young man.” And 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!”

Like Ahimaaz the Cushite thinks he’s bringing good news, but again David shows his fatherly concerns far outweigh his kingly concerns as he asks about his son once again. So the Cushite tells him in a clear but indirect way what occurred in the battle. On hearing the news of Absalom’s death David was deeply moved, went into a private chamber over the gate weeping and wailing in grief. But pause and notice something here. In giving us the gift of His Word God could’ve just told us at this point, ‘David learned of his son’s death and grieved deeply.’ But God told us more, and gives us an extended scene of grief here, purposely. Why? Two reasons I think. First, to show us much about grief, but second and perhaps more prominent, to show us much about this king grieving.[7] His grief was about loss and longing. His armies and commanders viewed Absalom only as the proud, arrogant, rebellious, usurping false king. But David views him differently, as only a father could. In this sense his grief was true, it was real, as any parent would feel if their child died.

But we know more don’t we? David’s grief, even in this moment, is mixed with David’s sin. Perhaps the dreaded phrase ‘if only’ begins swirling around his mind and heart in this moment: ‘if only’ he had only married one wife, ‘if only’ he had gone out to war that day long ago instead of staying home and wandering up to his roof, ‘if only’ he had turned his eyes away from Bathsheba when he saw her bathing from that roof, ‘if only’ he had not given room for his lust, ‘if only’ he had not tried to cover it all up by murdering Uriah, ‘if only’ he had stopped Amnon from raping Tamar, ‘if only’ he had confronted Absalom about his wandering ways sooner, ‘if only’ – ‘if only’ – ‘if only.’ Understandable words to any parent – we get it don’t we (?), but David’s grief reveals much of David’s failures as a man and as a father. His words that show David not only desires to bear the guilt of these things instead of Absalom, but that he deserves to bear this guilt instead of Absalom. “Would I had died instead of you!” Impossible words for sure, but sad words indeed…words which ought to remind each of us of much.[8] Sadness is clear here. How deep do we feel for David as we watch him here? He knows it’s too late for Absalom but still expresses that it could’ve been different. But more is also seen here. It seems David has forgotten the nature of the God’s Kingdom. Think about it, no one fighting cancer ever tells the doctor to ‘deal gently’ with the cancer but to attack it and get rid of it at all costs. By holding his fatherly concerns over his kingly concerns David, it seems, has forgotten that if God’s Kingdom is going to be delivered, God’s enemies must be destroyed. If God’s Kingdom will persevere, God’s enemies must perish. Even if it’s his own son doing the destroying. Hard truth for sure, but true.

I do wonder if we’ve forgotten this in our own day. People love to speak of God as love, as for us, as our friend, and are quick to leave all the stuff about his wrath behind. ‘God is not a God a wrath but a God of love.’ Yet, a bare reading through the Bible will remind us that the world God made perfectly has gone wrong terribly, that God is angry at sin, that God hates sin, and is wrathful at sin. I think one reason we have a dislike of the idea of God as wrathful is because we know what our wrath looks like. When we get very angry it’s never a good thing, it seems to be an uncontrolled rage that reveals our lack of control or weakness of character. But Go’s wrath isn’t like that. Not at all. For Him to be wrathful doesn’t mean He is out of control or weak in heart, no. “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). God is holy and therefore it is not weakness in Him to hate sin, it is right for Him to do so. You’re free to do what you like, you can throw out the idea of God as wrathful if you like, but be sure of this, you’ll no longer believe anything close to what we find in the Bible, you may call yourself a Christian but your belief has nothing to do with Christ the King who taught us to pray, “Your Kingdom come”, and “Deliver us from evil.” Do you see when we pray those requests we’re asking for God to come judge all that is evil, all that is against Him and His gospel message, and save us from it ultimately and eternally? From a fatherly point of view it’s understandable to see David here, and sad to know his grief is mixed with his own guilt. But from a kingly perspective, this is inexcusable. Yes we have a safe kingdom here once again, but we also have a sad king.[9] Victory has meant sorrow for David. Only in a fallen world can such things be.

Well, a grief has been expressed, now see…

A Grief Rebuked (19:1-8a)

v1-4, “It was told Joab, “Behold, the king is weeping and mourning for Absalom.” 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.” And the people stole into the city that day as people steal in who are ashamed when they flee in battle. The king covered his face, and the king cried with a loud voice, “O my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son!”

Can you picture this? A joyful army slowly but surely returning victorious from war, expecting to be received with thanks and praise only to hear the sound of their king wailing as they return? They had remained faithful to David when many deserted him. They had wept with David and went with David out into the wilderness, into exile. They had bravely fought for David, and now, because of David, on the day they return from battle their joy is turned to shame as they hear him crying out loudly for Absalom. They should’ve been celebrating and leaping in joy for defeating their enemies as they came back into the city, but they came in quietly as if they had actually lost the battle and were ashamed of it, trying to sneak back into camp in their sorrow. When Joab heard this was happening and how the army reacted to it, it was simply too foul for Joab to stomach. Look at his reaction in v5-7…

“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, because 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, 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.”

As David’s despair for his son was understandable but beyond the bounds, so too Joab’s anger against David is understandable but beyond the bounds. David had not only proclaimed his sorrow once he heard the news of his sons death but had prolonged his sorrow so that by the time his whole army returned he was still grieving loudly.[10] Joab wouldn’t have it. In his mind David was appallingly mistaken. Why?[11] To Joab, David had loved a disloyal son while rejecting loyal troops. To Joab, David hadn’t recognized the just penalty Absalom deserved, from him as king, and from God as the true King. To Joab, David was ungrateful to God’s mercy in granting him a great victory. And to Joab, David indulged in a sinful grief publicly bringing shame on his troops and on the nation. David did have many eyes on him as king, and he should’ve therefore governed his emotions more strictly. In all of this Joab was right to call David to account here. But as right as he was do you see how Joab’s manner was similarly appalling? Yes Joab reasonably represented how David’s troops felt and yes Joab correctly called out David for loving a faithless son more than his faithful men. But Joab’s not speaking to just anyone here, he’s speaking to the king. Joab’s words are disrespectful, rude, exaggerated, vulgar, and even contain veiled threats to David.[12] It was nothing less than a verbal assault on the king. Was he right to do this? Was he right in his interpretation of the events? Was he right to hide from David that it was he who killed Absalom? As you can imagine opinions abound in answering these questions, but I’d urge you to not miss the forest for the trees here. David’s overgrown love for Absalom could not save him from the justice he deserved, and yet Joab’s overgrown sense of justice had no room for David’s true love and grief for his dead son.[13] I think we can say both of them were right and wrong in many ways?

Well, David did end up listening to Joab. Look at v8a, “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.” This is a twist on what has happened before. A while back Absalom stood in a gate of a city stealing the hearts of men as a false king, now David stands in the gate of a different city before the hearts of his people as the true king.[14]

Grief has been expressed, and grief has been rebuked. What are we to do with this now?

Conclusion:

Two things to takeaway from this.

First, we may try to avoid it or deny it but it’s impossible to live in this world without suffering grief and loss.[15] C.S. Lewis wrote about it, David experienced it, and we do too. The reason for this is clear: our world is not what it and we ourselves are not what we…ought to be. While dreadful, I think this virus is awakening people to this very thing. We have long convinced ourselves that we’re far safer and more secure than we really are. Yet it seems now that a hefty sense of our frailty has been driven home to us, and that has in turn, driven many to turn to Christ once again. I pray this turning is true and lasting, and I praise God for this reminder! He is the only Savior of the world, and in Him only can the vexed, anxious, guilty, and wayward soul find escape from God’s wrath against our sin.

Second, see the gospel here in the text and savor it. In a mixture of guilt and grief David longed to save his son from the justice he rightly deserved but wasn’t able to. How contrasting is that image to God the Father, who sent His son into the world to bear a penalty on the cross He didn’t deserve so save us from justice we do. Into our sinful plight comes the power of God! What love! What grace!

Praise Him evermore!


[1] Richard D. Phillips, 2 Samuel (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2018), 327.

[2] 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, Ill.: Crossway, 2019), 425.

[3] Phillips, 2 Samuel, 328.

[4] Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible, Vol. 2, The Prophets (New York, New York: Norton, 2019), 387.

[5] Alter, The Hebrew Bible, 388.

[6] Bill T. Arnold, 1-2 Samuel, NIVAC (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2003) 597.

[7] Phillips, 2 Samuel, 329.

[8] Dale Ralph Davis, 2 Samuel: Out of Every Adversity, Revised edition (Fearn, Ross-Shire Scotland: Christian Focus, 2013), 234.

[9] Davis, 236.

[10] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary’s, Vol. 2, Joshua – Esther (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1991) 424.

[11] Phillips, 2 Samuel, 334. See also, Henry, 423.

[12] David Toshio Tsumura, The Second Book of Samuel – NICOT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2019) 268..

[13] John Woodhouse, 2 Samuel: Your Kingdom Come, ed. R. Kent Hughes (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2015), 457.

[14] Alter, The Hebrew Bible, 390.

[15] Phillips, 2 Samuel, 335.

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