Now that Absalom had died, the growing consensus among the tribes of Israel was to bring back David to Jerusalem as their king. They recounted the great feats of David and the countless times he had rescued them in battle. They had a rosy memory of his time as king and remembered the days of his youth and wanted to bring back those glory days. They needed a king and having David was an acceptable result rather than appointing another man in place of Absalom.
When David heard of his growing support among the elders of Israel, he sent this message to Zadok and Abiathar, the priests in Jerusalem saying,
Ask the elders of Judah, ‘Why should you be the last to bring the king back to his palace, since what is being said throughout Israel has reached the king at his quarters? You are my relatives, my own flesh and blood. So why should you be the last to bring back the king?’ And say to Amasa, ‘Are you not my own flesh and blood? May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if you are not the commander of my army for life in place of Joab.2 Samuel 19:11-13 (NIV)
A Hard Nut to Crack
Even after gaining widespread support from the masses in the northern part of the kingdom of Israel, David had not yet won the hearts of his own tribe members as they remained inconspicuously silent. Perhaps they wanted to wait and see the direction in which the country was headed to take decisions according to the majority. The country was in a confused state after Absalom’s death, especially the tribe of Judah who had heavily backed him as the successor to the throne. Seeing the reluctance of the tribe of Judah to support one of their own, is reminiscent of Jesus’ rejection by the Nazarenes. Or maybe the Judeans were distraught by the guilt of betraying David by replacing him with his younger version.
To win over his detractors, David made the bold move of committing to replacing his nephew and his long-time confidant, Joab, with Amasa as the commander of his troops. This would have served a twofold purpose for David as he was angry at Joab for killing his son and by replacing him with the commander of Absalom, he was offering an olive branch to the tribe of Judah. Amasa was the choice made by Absalom to lead the army of Israel and putting him back in charge was a savvy political move on David’s part. It also gave him the added benefit of replacing Joab who knew all of his secrets and weaknesses.
He won over the hearts of the men of Judah so that they were all of one mind. They sent word to the king, “Return, you and all your men.” Then the king returned and went as far as the Jordan.2 Samuel 19:14-15 (NIV)
The Vultures Turned into Sheep
The men of Judah assembled at Gilgal to go and meet David across the Jordan. They were accompanied by Shimei, the Benjamite, who had with him a thousand Benjamites, among whom was Ziba, the steward of Saul’s household.
When Shimei son of Gera crossed the Jordan, he fell prostrate before the king and said to him, “May my lord not hold me guilty. Do not remember how your servant did wrong on the day my lord the king left Jerusalem. May the king put it out of his mind. For I your servant know that I have sinned, but today I have come here as the first from the tribes of Joseph to come down and meet my lord the king.” Then Abishai son of Zeruiah said, “Shouldn’t Shimei be put to death for this? He cursed the LORD’s anointed.”2 Samuel 19:18-23 (NIV)
David replied, “What does this have to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? What right do you have to interfere? Should anyone be put to death in Israel today? Don’t I know that today I am king over Israel?” So the king said to Shimei, “You shall not die.” And the king promised him on oath.
David could have taken his revenge on Shimei, who publicly shamed him on the day he was ousted as the king of Israel. Yet he chose to remain calm and apparently forgive all the trespasses of Shimei, though he had not forgiven him in his heart, as on his deathbed he asked his son Solomon to kill Shimei.
But now, do not consider him innocent. You are a man of wisdom; you will know what to do to him. Bring his gray head down to the grave in blood.1 Kings 2:9 (NIV)
How do we react when our enemies fall at our feet? It’s easy to forgive our enemies when they have turned their hearts towards us or in David’s case they are praising him while showing him humility. David is already angry at Abishai and his brother Joab, and he does not want to give them an opportunity to spoil his homecoming. People like Shimei and Ziba are trying to get into the good books of David, though their hearts would have been yearning for a king from their own tribe. David’s acceptance of these people was not based on trust but was rather forged out of the necessity of showing a united front to the tribes. David was putting on a show of humility and forgiveness like a proper politician but on his deathbed, he asked for Shimei’s blood, a request that would have been gladly adhered to by one of Solomon’s commanders.
Mephibosheth, Saul’s grandson also went down to meet David and as a show of solidarity, he had not taken care of his feet or trimmed his moustache or washed his clothes from the day the king left Jerusalem. But Ziba had poisoned the king against his master by saying that he was waiting to be made king in place of David. When the king questioned Mephibosheth on his loyalty, this is what he had to say,
My lord the king, since I your servant am lame, I said, ‘I will have my donkey saddled and will ride on it, so I can go with the king.’ But Ziba my servant betrayed me. And he has slandered your servant to my lord the king. My lord the king is like an angel of God; so do whatever you wish. All my grandfather’s descendants deserved nothing but death from my lord the king, but you gave your servant a place among those who eat at your table. So what right do I have to make any more appeals to the king?2 Samuel 19:26-28 (NIV)
After hearing out Mepohibosheth’s justification and his denial of participating in the revolt against him, David offered the son of Jonathan, half of his earlier property with the other half going to his servant, the presumably loyal Ziba. David was indifferent between the two stories that were told to him by Ziba and Mephibosheth and on this day of his return, he couldn’t care less about their bickering. He had also made a promise to his friend to take care of his family and so he spared Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s son.
Soon all the men of Israel were coming to the king and saying to him, “Why did our brothers, the men of Judah, steal the king away and bring him and his household across the Jordan, together with all his men?”2 Samuel 19:41-43 (NIV)
All the men of Judah answered the men of Israel, “We did this because the king is closely related to us. Why are you angry about it? Have we eaten any of the king’s provisions? Have we taken anything for ourselves?”
Then the men of Israel answered the men of Judah, “We have ten shares in the king; so we have a greater claim on David than you have. Why then do you treat us with contempt? Weren’t we the first to speak of bringing back our king?”
But the men of Judah pressed their claims even more forcefully than the men of Israel.
The men of Israel were the ones who wanted to bring back David as their king, but the tribe of Judah were the ones who were seemingly getting notoriety by publicly leading David back to Jerusalem. To the onlookers, it would have seemed like David had sided with the men of Judah but he still wanted to be the head of all tribes. David wanted to please the tribe of Judah as they were the ones deadset against bringing him back. It would have been easier to get Israel back on his side than having the most powerful tribe of Israel as his opposers. For the tribe of Judah, their incentive to get back on David’s good side was to re-establish their influence in Jerusalem and to ensure that the kingship remained within their control. The other tribes caught a whiff of the plan of the tribe of Judah and were indignant about the Judeans taking credit for the movement that they had started. Like with his family matters, David did little to quell the infighting between the tribes of Israel but his siding with the tribe of Judah would later give the Benjamites grounds for starting a rebellion.
- Why did Israel want to bring back David to Jerusalem? Why did Judah not want to bring back the king?
- Why is David replacing his loyal commander for the disloyal Amasa?
- Why is David not punishing Shimei?
How do we react when our enemies fall at our feet?
- Is David easily swayed by Mephibosheth?
- Why is David siding with the tribe that replaced him with a younger king so easily?