Return to Jerusalem – 2 Samuel 19

Read the Passage: 2 Samuel 19

David’s Mourning (19:1–8)

2 Samuel 15–16 describe Absalom’s rebellion and David’s flight from Jerusalem, including the individuals whom he encountered on his journey. 2 Samuel 17–18 narrates events leading to Absalom’s fall and death, including the conflicting advice he received from his counselors Ahithophel and Hushai. In the conflict between Absalom’s men and David’s guards, David’s care for his son is evident, in that he commanded that Absalom not be killed (cf. 2 Sam. 18:5). Despite the fact that this was a public command, and even being reminded of David’s instructions by a servant, Joab nevertheless intentionally killed Absalom in battle (cf. 2 Sam. 18:9–15). This resulted in the end of the rebellion and the return of the people to David in the city of Mahanaim, which was ~10 miles east of the Jordan River. When David learned of the death of Absalom, perhaps surprisingly, he publicly mourned.

The death of Absalom and David’s excessive public grief turned a day of victory into a day of sadness, as the army shamefully returned. Perhaps David felt guilty at the death of Absalom, feeling that his past parenting mistakes set in motion events that led to his son’s death. In any event, David’s grief provoked Joab to rebuke David for his failure to congratulate the victorious army, even suggesting that the army would desert David if he did not appear before the people. Given (1) that Joab was David’s nephew, (2) that David had failed to confront Joab for the murder of Abner, and (3) that Joab participated in David’s murder of Uriah, David was not in a position to resist Joab. Therefore, David appeared in the city gate to thank and to congratulate the returning army. Note that these events would lead David to set Amasa, Absalom’s former general, over his army (cf. 2 Sam. 17:25; 19:13).

David’s Return (19:9–18)

While one might assume that David would have immediately been restored to the throne after Absalom’s death, we must remember that David was in exile in Mahanaim, which was on the border between Israel and Ammon, some 50 miles from Jerusalem. Moreover, the hearts of the people of Israel had been with Absalom, whom David’s army had killed. Therefore, there was some discussion and debate as to whether or not to restore David as king. In a shrewd political move, David had the priests Zadok and Abiathar recommend to the elders of Judah—David’s home tribe—that the king be restored. Furthermore, David appointed Amasa to be commander of his army. This would have gained support from those who had earlier supported Absalom. 2 Samuel 19:14 records that these political maneuvers helped to sway the hearts of the people, resulting in David being invited to return as king.

David’s Mercy (19:19–39)

2 Samuel 19:19–39 records David’s trek back to Jerusalem. Recall that 2 Sam. 15–16 reported David meeting five individuals during his exodus from the city: Ittai (15:19–23), Zadok (15:24–31), Hushai (15:32–37), Ziba (16:1–4), and Shimei (16:5–14). On his return to Jerusalem, David re-encounters two of these individuals. 2 Sam. 19:16–23 details David’s meeting with Shimei. Just as he had done previously, so here Abashai, the brother of Joab and one of David’s chief men (cf. 2 Sam. 23:18), asked to take Shimei’s life (cf. 2 Sam. 16:9; 19:21). Yet, as he had done earlier, David again spared Shimei’s life (cf. 2 Sam. 16:11–12; 19:22). Note, however, that on his deathbed David ordered his son Solomon to “not hold him guiltless” (1 Kings 2:8–9). Solomon then executed Shimei after he failed to pass a test that Solomon had designed to gauge the loyalty of Shimei (cf. 1 Kings 2:36–46).

Earlier when David fled from Jerusalem, he had met Ziba, Mephibosheth’s servant. Ziba provided the king with material supplies and informed David—falsely, it seems—that Mephibosheth believed, as Saul’s grandson, that he would receive the throne of Israel. Consequently, David had given Ziba all of Mephibosheth’s lands (cf. 2 Sam. 16:4). When David returned to Israel, Ziba had greeted him (cf. 2 Sam. 19:17). Yet, at 2 Sam. 19:24–30 we read that Mephibosheth also met David, clearly showing signs of prior mourning about David’s flight. He informed David that Ziba had deceived and slandered him. In response David curiously divided the land between Mephibosheth and Ziba. It is unclear if David did this because he was unsure of the truth, was unable to investigate, or if he was simply too tired and distracted. 2 Sam. 19:31–39 records David meeting with his supporter Barzillai (cf. 2 Sam. 17:27).

Application Questions:

  1. If David is a picture of Christ (cf. Mark 12:35), why is there so much material in 2 Samuel related to David’s moral and spiritual failures?
  2. What is the difference between murdering someone and killing one’s enemy in warfare? Was Joab’s slaying of Absalom murder?
  3. Why was David so emotional at Absalom’s death? Was David’s reaction to his son’s death reasonable? How have you handled personal losses in the past?
  4. Does David’s engineering of an invitation to return as king, as described in 2 Sam. 19:8–14, seem to be too political and/or to display a lack of faith?
  5. Was David’s decision to divide the land between Mephibosheth and Ziba a wise decision? What are some biblical steps in making a good decision?