Thursday, March 29, 2012

2 Samuel 18:19-19:8

19 Now Ahimaaz son of Zadok said, “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.”
20 “You are not the one to take the news today,” Joab told him. “You may take the news another time, but you must not do so today, because the king’s son is dead.”
21 Then Joab said to a Cushite, “Go, tell the king what you have seen.” The Cushite bowed down before Joab and ran off.
22 Ahimaaz son of Zadok again said to Joab, “Come what may, please let me run behind the Cushite.”
But Joab replied, “My son, why do you want to go? You don’t have any news that will bring you a reward.”
23 He said, “Come what may, I want to run.”
So Joab said, “Run!” Then Ahimaaz ran by way of the plain and outran the Cushite.
24 While David was sitting between the inner and outer gates, the watchman went up to the roof of the gateway by the wall. As he looked out, he saw a man running alone. 25 The watchman called out to the king and reported it.
The king said, “If he is alone, he must have good news.” And the runner came closer and closer.
26 Then the watchman saw another runner, and he called down to the gatekeeper, “Look, another man running alone!”
The king said, “He must be bringing good news, too.”
27 The watchman said, “It seems to me that the first one runs like Ahimaaz son of Zadok.”
“He’s a good man,” the king said. “He comes with good news.”
28 Then Ahimaaz called out to the king, “All is well!” He bowed down before the king with his face to the ground and said, “Praise be to the LORD your God! He has delivered up those who lifted their hands against my lord the king.”
29 The king asked, “Is the young man Absalom safe?”
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.”
30 The king said, “Stand aside and wait here.” So he stepped aside and stood there.
31 Then the Cushite arrived and said, “My lord the king, hear the good news! The LORD has vindicated you today by delivering you from the hand of all who rose up against you.”
32 The king asked the Cushite, “Is the young man Absalom safe?”
The Cushite replied, “May the enemies of my lord the king and all who rise up to harm you be like that young man.”
33 The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!”

19:1 Joab was told, “The king is weeping and mourning for Absalom.” 2 And for the whole army the victory that day was turned into mourning, because on that day the troops heard it said, “The king is grieving for his son.” 3 The men stole into the city that day as men steal in who are ashamed when they flee from battle. 4 The king covered his face and cried aloud, “O my son Absalom! O Absalom, my son, my son!”
5 Then Joab went into the house to the king and said, “Today you have humiliated all your men, who have just saved your life and the lives of your sons and daughters and the lives of your wives and concubines. 6 You love those who hate you and hate those who love you. You have made it clear today that the commanders and their men mean nothing to you. I see that you would be pleased if Absalom were alive today and all of us were dead. 7 Now go out and encourage your men. I swear by the LORD that if you don’t go out, not a man will be left with you by nightfall. This will be worse for you than all the calamities that have come on you from your youth till now.”
8 So the king got up and took his seat in the gateway. When the men were told, “The king is sitting in the gateway,” they all came before him.
Meanwhile, the Israelites had fled to their homes.

Points of Interest
  • ‘You are not the one to take the news today’--this is considerate of Joab. Joab is the one who actually killed Absalom, and he is convinced it was the right thing to do. But he’s under no illusion that David will be happy about it. He doesn’t want young and eager Ahimaaz to bear the brunt of David’s displeasure.
  • ‘Joab said to a Cushite, “Go, tell the king what you have seen.”’--while kind to Ahimaaz, this puts the Cushite in a difficult spot. Maybe Joab thinks that this Cushite will be more capable of delivering the news with the required gravity, while Ahimaaz is a bit over-enthusiastic; or maybe he just cares less about what happens to this Cushite. Then again, David’s later interaction with the lookout might indicate that Joab is just trying to get his signals right. If the messenger is someone he knows, David will expect good news; if it’s a stranger, he’ll know there’s bad news involved. If David is prepared well for the bad news, he’ll be less shocked, and perhaps be less likely to do something rash to the messenger. If David is expecting good news, but gets bad news, who knows what might happen? Cush, by the way, is modern Sudan; this man has traveled a long way to end up in David’s army.
  • ‘sitting between the inner and outer gates’--for purposes of defense, the outer walls of a city would be quite thick, and there would be a series of gates. I think that here, though, the point is that David is eager to hear the news; he can’t stand to be fully inside the city. It’s like he’s standing by the screen door, waiting.
  • ‘If he is alone, he must have good news’--David can’t wait to hear the message, but instead takes his signals from what he can see from a distance. What he sees makes him cautiously optimistic. If the battle went truly poorly, you might see whole groups of soldiers retreating to the city.
  • ‘the first one runs like Ahimaaz’--Ahimaaz overtakes the Cushite, which would be more impressive if this were a race. Ahimaaz is a very speedy messenger, but he’s much less competent on the whole message part of being a messenger. David is eagerly looking for news on two subjects: 1) Did his army win the battle? and 2) Did Absalom survive? Ahimaaz has only half an answer for him. Ahimaaz’s very incompetence perhaps saves his life, though. He doesn’t even know the bad news that would give David a nasty shock.
  • ‘If only I had died instead of you’--David’s first reaction is as a father, rather than a general; of course, no parent wants to outlive their child.
  • ‘Now go out and encourage your men’--David’s reaction isn’t entirely fitting to the occasion. All of David’s soldiers have put their own lives at stake to protect David’s life, and now--after the fact--he’s saying that he wishes they hadn’t succeeded. The army has done their duty and done it well, but they’re left feeling as if they’ve done something wrong. Joab reminds David that his position doesn’t afford him the luxury of a personal reaction to his son’s death, at least in public. His soldiers’ duty was to fight for him; and now his duty is to congratulate them on a job well done.

Taking it Home
  • For you: For those of you just jumping in at this point in the week, in our ‘For you’ section this week, we’re reflecting on and praying from psalms.
Psalm 143
A psalm of David.
1 LORD, hear my prayer,
listen to my cry for mercy;
in your faithfulness and righteousness
come to my relief.
2 Do not bring your servant into judgment,
for no one living is righteous before you.
3 The enemy pursues me,
he crushes me to the ground;
he makes me dwell in the darkness
like those long dead.
4 So my spirit grows faint within me;
my heart within me is dismayed.
5 I remember the days of long ago;
I meditate on all your works
and consider what your hands have done.
6 I spread out my hands to you;
I thirst for you like a parched land.
7 Answer me quickly, LORD;
my spirit fails.
Do not hide your face from me
or I will be like those who go down to the pit.
8 Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
for to you I entrust my life.
9 Rescue me from my enemies, LORD,
for I hide myself in you.
10 Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God;
may your good Spirit
lead me on level ground.
11 For your name’s sake, LORD, preserve my life;
in your righteousness, bring me out of trouble.
12 In your unfailing love, silence my enemies;
destroy all my foes,
for I am your servant.
  • For your six: Joab reminds David that regardless of David’s own conflicted emotions upon hearing about Absalom’s death, all of David’s men currently need encouragement from him. Ask God to encourage your six today. Pray that they would feel cheered by good news and hopeful about their circumstances in life. Ask God if there is something you could do specifically to encourage them.
  • For our church: David’s response to Absalom’s death makes me think that David would have gladly forgiven Absalom if Absalom had just come home and said he was sorry. Despite all the competing interests and conflict, we get the picture that David really loved his son. Ask God to make our church one that really, really loves people, even when it’s most difficult.
  • For families: Is there anything that’s happened in your family that is hasn’t been forgiven? Whether it’s something that’s fresh or that has been pushed aside for a while, if it’s still bothering you consider bringing it up today and telling your family member how you feel. Ask God for the right words to use in this conversation. Try your best to both give and receive forgiveness. And pray that the air would be cleared between you.