Joab plans to bring Absalom back to Jerusalem
v1 Joab, the son of Zeruiah, knew that King David was constantly thinking about Absalom. v2 So Joab sent for a wise woman from the town called Tekoa. Joab said to her, ‘Pretend that someone has died. And pretend that you are very sad about this. Wear the clothes that you wear at a funeral. Do not put oil on your face to make it look pretty. Behave like a woman who has been sad for a long time. v3 Then go to King David and speak these words.’ Then Joab told her what to say.
v4 The woman from Tekoa went to the king. She gave him honour. She bent down and she put her face on the ground. She said, ‘My king, please help me.’
v5 The king said to her, ‘What is the matter?’
She said, ‘I am a widow. My husband is dead. v6 I, your servant, had two sons. They were fighting in a field. Nobody was there to stop them. One son hit the other son and killed him. v7 Now my whole family is against me. They say, “Bring the son to us who killed his brother. We will kill hi m because he murdered his brother. Then neither son will be able to receive what belonged to their father.” He is like the last piece of coal in my fire. He is all that I have left. If they kill him, my husband’s family and name will disappear.’
v8 The king said to the woman, ‘Go home. I will deal with the problem for you.’
v9 But the woman from Tekoa said to the king, ‘My master and my king, I and my father’s family are guilty. The king and his royal family are not guilty.’
v10 The king said, ‘If anyone says anything bad to you then bring that man to me. He will not bother you again.’
v11 She said to the king, ‘Please make this promise to the *Lord your God. A relative of mine should kill the man who murdered my son. But I do not want my relative to kill anyone else. Do not let my relative kill my son.’
David said, ‘I promise this to the *Lord and to you. Nobody will hurt your son. I will not allow anyone to cause him any trouble.’
Absalom was now the oldest prince. He deserved to become the king when David died. But this would have caused political trouble if Absalom continued to live in a foreign country. Joab was the leader of the army. So, he knew that this situation was dangerous. If David did nothing, the nation could suffer. David should either punish Absalom or forgive him. Joab wanted David to think about the situation in a new way. This time Joab invented a story. This was how Nathan spoke to David about Bathsheba in chapter 12. God told Nathan to speak to David. But Joab’s story was not from God. It was Joab’s own plan. And Joab’s plan did not save the nation from trouble. In fact, Absalom’s return caused great trouble for *Israel.
Tekoa was about 8 kilometres (5 miles) from David’s home town of Bethlehem. Amos the *prophet also came from Tekoa (Amos 1:1). Joab told the woman how to behave. He told her what to say. But she needed to be wise. She had to reply to whatever David said. Her story was different from David’s situation. But her story would affect his emotions because his son had died too. So, he would understand how she felt.
In those days, the king was a judge. There were local judges. But people could go to the king if they had a difficult problem. If someone murdered a person, the murderer had to die (Exodus 21:12-14). In Numbers 35:16-21, the law said that the closest relative of the dead man should kill the murderer. When a woman became a widow, her sons looked after her. A widow owned nothing. Her sons owned what had belonged to her husband. Only sons and grandsons had their father’s family name. All *Israelite families wanted sons so that their family name did not end (Deuteronomy 25:5-6). If a widow had no sons, she had nothing. And nobody would look after her. She said, ‘He is like the last piece of coal in my fire.’ In other words, she only had one son who was still alive. Without this son, the family would end.
In the story (verses 5-7), the family could punish the son. But the widow wanted her son to live. She said that this would be better for the whole family. David agreed. He thought that her story was true. He did not realise his situation with Absalom was similar to the woman’s story. It was right to punish a murderer. But Joab wanted David to consider the effect on the whole family. In verses 9-11, the woman did not think that David had protected her enough. She appealed to him twice. Then David made a serious promise to her and to the *Lord. He would protect the life of her son.
v12 Then the woman said, ‘I am your servant. Please let me say something else to you.’
David said, ‘You may speak.’
v13 The woman said, ‘Your plans cause God’s people to suffer. You made this promise to me, but you yourself are guilty. You have not allowed your own son to return home. v14 One day we will all die. We are like water that spills on the ground. Nobody can gather it up again. However, God does not take away people’s lives. Sometimes people separate themselves from God. But God’s plan is always to bring people back to himself. v15 My master and king, I have come to speak to you. The people have made me afraid. I am your servant. I thought, “I will speak to the king. Perhaps he will do what I ask.v16 My son and I belong to God’s people because God has given us this right. But someone wants to destroy us. Perhaps the king will save us from this person.” v17 Now I, your servant, say, “Your reply has comforted me. My master the king is like an *angel of God. He knows the difference between good things and evil things. I pray that the *Lord your God will be with you.” ’
v18 Then the king said to the woman, ‘I am going to ask you a question. Please tell the true answer.’
The woman said, ‘My master and king. Please ask your question.’
v19 The king said, ‘Did Joab tell you to do this?’
The woman answered, ‘My master and king, I cannot deny what you have said. What you say is true. Yes, your servant Joab told me to do this. He told me what to say. v20 Your servant Joab did this so that you would see the situation in a different way. My master, you are as wise as an *angel of God. You know everything that happens in the country.’
v21 The king said to Joab, ‘I agree. I will do it. Go and bring back the young man Absalom.’
v22 Joab bent down so that his face touched the ground. He gave honour to King David and *blessed him. Joab said, ‘My master and king. I am your servant. Today I know that you are pleased with me. You have done what I have asked.’
v23 Then Joab went to the country of Geshur. He brought Absalom back to Jerusalem. v24 But the king said, ‘Absalom must go to his own house. He cannot come to see me.’ So, Absalom went to his own house. He did not visit the king.
Suddenly the woman accused David. He cared about her son. But, she said, David was unkind to Absalom. She spoke about God’s kindness too. In verse 14, when someone spills water on the ground, nobody can use that water. This may refer to the way that David was wasting Absalom’s life. Or it may refer to the murderer. If somebody killed him, nobody would be able to change it back. Colossians 1:20 and 2 Corinthians 5:17-20 show that God wants to unite people with himself and with other people. In the *New Testament, God does this by Jesus. God has great *mercy. The woman emphasised God’s *mercy. But she forgot that God is also fair. Sometimes God does take away people’s lives (for example Numbers 16:1-35; Acts 5:1-11). The woman said that ‘God’s plan is always to bring people back to himself’. This is correct. But the woman did not explain the whole truth. God does not forgive everyone. He only forgives people who confess their evil deeds to him. If people do not turn from their *sin, then God will not forgive them.
In verses 15-17, the woman continued with her story. Then she praised the king. She even said that he was like an *angel (also in verse 20). If the *Lord God was with David, then David would make the right decision.
David realised that Joab had arranged this. Perhaps Joab was already at the palace (verse 21). He was extremely pleased that Absalom could return to Jerusalem. So, Joab went to Geshur himself to get Absalom.
David could not punish Absalom because of his promise in verse 11. He did not punish Absalom for his *sin. But David still refused to see Absalom. This meant that David had not forgiven him. David did not want Absalom in Jerusalem. David let Absalom return only because of Joab. David did not behave in a wise way. That caused trouble for him in the future.
David and Absalom meet again
v25 Nobody in *Israel was as handsome as Absalom. Everyone praised him because he was so handsome. He had nothing wrong with him from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet. v26 Absalom used to cut his hair when it became too heavy. He weighed it by the royal standard. It weighed about two and a half kilos (about five and a half pounds).
v27 Absalom had three sons and a daughter. His daughter’s name was Tamar. She was a beautiful woman.
v28 Absalom lived in Jerusalem for two years. But he did not see the king. v29 Then Absalom asked to see Joab. He wanted to send Joab to the king. But Joab would not come. So, Absalom asked to see Joab again. And Joab refused again. v30 Then Absalom said to his servants, ‘Look, Joab’s field is next to my field. He is growing barley (a type of grain) in his field. Go and burn the field.’ So, Absalom’s servants burned Joab’s field.
v31 Then Joab went to Absalom’s house. Joab said, ‘Why did your servants burn my field?’
v32 Absalom said to Joab, ‘I sent a message to you. I said, “Come here. I want to send you to the king. I want you to ask him why he has brought me from Geshur. It would be better for me if I was still there.” Now I want to go and see the king. If I have *sinned then let the king kill me!’
v33 So Joab went to the king and told him. The king sent for Absalom. Absalom went in. He bent down in front of the king and put his face on the ground. The king kissed Absalom.
Absalom was handsome. He was young. He was also popular. People like handsome men (1 Samuel 16:7). He was proud of his long hair. (This hair caused his death in 18:1-17.) The royal standard was very accurate. It shows that Absalom’s hair was thick and healthy. Absalom had three sons. (But 18:18 shows that they all died when they were young.) His daughter had the same name as his sister.
Absalom was the oldest prince but David would not let him live in the royal palace. He could not do the work of a prince. David would not prepare Absalom to become the next king. David let him return to Jerusalem. But he would not see Absalom. Absalom lived in this difficult situation for two years. Absalom had lived in the country of Geshur with the king’s son. He probably had a good life there. He became very angry in Jerusalem. He disliked his father’s behaviour. But he could not go to his father. Joab had brought Absalom back. But Joab would not speak to Absalom. So, Absalom was also angry with Joab. When Absalom’s servants burned Joab’s field, Joab had to talk to Absalom.
In verse 32, Absalom thought that he had not *sinned. David had not punished Amnon. So Absalom punished Amnon because he *sinned against Tamar. Absalom was confident that he had done the right thing. He believed that he was not a murderer. Therefore, Absalom thought that he had no *sin. Joab had to deal with the situation between David and Absalom. At last, Absalom saw the king. He gave honour to the king in the usual way. But David had delayed the meeting for too long. Verse 33 describes an official meeting, not a family meeting. Genesis 45:1-15 describes how Joseph and his brothers were united. They cried and talked together. They hugged and kissed each other. Joseph forgave his brothers. King David kissed Absalom. But it does not say that Absalom kissed David. They did not forgive. There was no real unity. And soon Absalom would start to plot against David.