September 19, 2023

Choose mercy or justice?

2 Samuel 18–19

Jon Mueller
Tuesday's Devo

September 19, 2023

Tuesday's Devo

September 19, 2023

Big Idea

No one is immune to sin.

Key Verse | 2 Samuel 18:14

Joab said, "I will not waste time like this with you." And he took three javelins in his hand and thrust them into the heart of Absalom while he was still alive in the oak.

2 Samuel 18–19

Absalom Killed

Then David mustered the men who were with him and set over them commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds. And David sent out the army, one third under the command of Joab, one third under the command of Abishai the son of Zeruiah, Joab's brother, and one third under the command of Ittai the Gittite. And the king said to the men, “I myself will also go out with you.” But the men said, “You shall not go out. For if we flee, they will not care about us. If half of us die, they will not care about us. But you are worth ten thousand of us. Therefore it is better that you send us help from the city.” The king said to them, “Whatever seems best to you I will do.” So the king stood at the side of the gate, while all the army marched out by hundreds and by thousands. And the king ordered Joab and Abishai and Ittai, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” And all the people heard when the king gave orders to all the commanders about Absalom.

So the army went out into the field against Israel, and the battle was fought in the forest of Ephraim. And the men of Israel were defeated there by the servants of David, and the loss there was great on that day, twenty thousand men. The battle spread over the face of all the country, and the forest devoured more people that day than the sword.

And Absalom happened to meet the servants of David. Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak, 1 18:9 Or terebinth; also verses 10, 14 and his head caught fast in the oak, and he was suspended between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on. 10 And a certain man saw it and told Joab, “Behold, I saw Absalom hanging in an oak.” 11 Joab said to the man who told him, “What, you saw him! Why then did you not strike him there to the ground? I would have been glad to give you ten pieces of silver and a belt.” 12 But the man said to Joab, “Even if I felt in my hand the weight of a thousand pieces of silver, I would not reach out my hand against the king's son, for in our hearing the king commanded you and Abishai and Ittai, ‘For my sake protect the young man Absalom.’ 13 On the other hand, if I had dealt treacherously against his life 2 18:13 Or at the risk of my life (and there is nothing hidden from the king), then you yourself would have stood aloof.” 14 Joab said, “I will not waste time like this with you.” And he took three javelins in his hand and thrust them into the heart of Absalom while he was still alive in the oak. 15 And ten young men, Joab's armor-bearers, surrounded Absalom and struck him and killed him.

16 Then Joab blew the trumpet, and the troops came back from pursuing Israel, for Joab restrained them. 17 And they took Absalom and threw him into a great pit in the forest and raised over him a very great heap of stones. And all Israel fled every one to his own home. 18 Now Absalom in his lifetime had taken and set up for himself the pillar that is in the King's Valley, for he said, “I have no son to keep my name in remembrance.” He called the pillar after his own name, and it is called Absalom's monument 3 18:18 Or Absalom's hand to this day.

David Hears of Absalom's Death

19 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.” 20 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.” 21 Then Joab said to the Cushite, “Go, tell the king what you have seen.” The Cushite bowed before Joab, and ran. 22 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?” 23 “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.

24 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. 25 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. 26 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.” 27 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.”

28 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.” 29 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.” 30 And the king said, “Turn aside and stand here.” So he turned aside and stood still.

David's Grief

31 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.” 32 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.” 33  4 18:33 Ch 19:1 in Hebrew 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!”

Joab Rebukes David

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!” 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.” 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.

David Returns to Jerusalem

Now Israel had fled every man to his own home. And all the people were arguing throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, “The king delivered us from the hand of our enemies and saved us from the hand of the Philistines, and now he has fled out of the land from Absalom. 10 But Absalom, whom we anointed over us, is dead in battle. Now therefore why do you say nothing about bringing the king back?”

11 And King David sent this message to Zadok and Abiathar the priests: “Say to the elders of Judah, ‘Why should you be the last to bring the king back to his house, when the word of all Israel has come to the king? 5 19:11 Septuagint; Hebrew to the king, to his house 12 You are my brothers; you are my bone and my flesh. Why then should you be the last to bring back the king?’ 13 And say to Amasa, ‘Are you not my bone and my flesh? God do so to me and more also, if you are not commander of my army from now on in place of Joab.’” 14 And he swayed the heart of all the men of Judah as one man, so that they sent word to the king, “Return, both you and all your servants.” 15 So the king came back to the Jordan, and Judah came to Gilgal to meet the king and to bring the king over the Jordan.

David Pardons His Enemies

16 And Shimei the son of Gera, the Benjaminite, from Bahurim, hurried to come down with the men of Judah to meet King David. 17 And with him were a thousand men from Benjamin. And Ziba the servant of the house of Saul, with his fifteen sons and his twenty servants, rushed down to the Jordan before the king, 18 and they crossed the ford to bring over the king's household and to do his pleasure. And Shimei the son of Gera fell down before the king, as he was about to cross the Jordan, 19 and said to the king, “Let not my lord hold me guilty or remember how your servant did wrong on the day my lord the king left Jerusalem. Do not let the king take it to heart. 20 For your servant knows that I have sinned. Therefore, behold, I have come this day, the first of all the house of Joseph to come down to meet my lord the king.” 21 Abishai the son of Zeruiah answered, “Shall not Shimei be put to death for this, because he cursed the LORD's anointed?” 22 But David said, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah, that you should this day be as an adversary to me? Shall anyone be put to death in Israel this day? For do I not know that I am this day king over Israel?” 23 And the king said to Shimei, “You shall not die.” And the king gave him his oath.

24 And Mephibosheth the son of Saul came down to meet the king. He had neither taken care of his feet nor trimmed his beard nor washed his clothes, from the day the king departed until the day he came back in safety. 25 And when he came to Jerusalem to meet the king, the king said to him, “Why did you not go with me, Mephibosheth?” 26 He answered, “My lord, O king, my servant deceived me, for your servant said to him, ‘I will saddle a donkey for myself, 6 19:26 Septuagint, Syriac, Vulgate Saddle a donkey for me that I may ride on it and go with the king.’ For your servant is lame. 27 He has slandered your servant to my lord the king. But my lord the king is like the angel of God; do therefore what seems good to you. 28 For all my father's house were but men doomed to death before my lord the king, but you set your servant among those who eat at your table. What further right have I, then, to cry to the king?” 29 And the king said to him, “Why speak any more of your affairs? I have decided: you and Ziba shall divide the land.” 30 And Mephibosheth said to the king, “Oh, let him take it all, since my lord the king has come safely home.”

31 Now Barzillai the Gileadite had come down from Rogelim, and he went on with the king to the Jordan, to escort him over the Jordan. 32 Barzillai was a very aged man, eighty years old. He had provided the king with food while he stayed at Mahanaim, for he was a very wealthy man. 33 And the king said to Barzillai, “Come over with me, and I will provide for you with me in Jerusalem.” 34 But Barzillai said to the king, “How many years have I still to live, that I should go up with the king to Jerusalem? 35 I am this day eighty years old. Can I discern what is pleasant and what is not? Can your servant taste what he eats or what he drinks? Can I still listen to the voice of singing men and singing women? Why then should your servant be an added burden to my lord the king? 36 Your servant will go a little way over the Jordan with the king. Why should the king repay me with such a reward? 37 Please let your servant return, that I may die in my own city near the grave of my father and my mother. But here is your servant Chimham. Let him go over with my lord the king, and do for him whatever seems good to you.” 38 And the king answered, “Chimham shall go over with me, and I will do for him whatever seems good to you, and all that you desire of me I will do for you.” 39 Then all the people went over the Jordan, and the king went over. And the king kissed Barzillai and blessed him, and he returned to his own home. 40 The king went on to Gilgal, and Chimham went on with him. All the people of Judah, and also half the people of Israel, brought the king on his way.

41 Then all the men of Israel came to the king and said to the king, “Why have our brothers the men of Judah stolen you away and brought the king and his household over the Jordan, and all David's men with him?” 42 All the men of Judah answered the men of Israel, “Because the king is our close relative. Why then are you angry over this matter? Have we eaten at all at the king's expense? Or has he given us any gift?” 43 And the men of Israel answered the men of Judah, “We have ten shares in the king, and in David also we have more than you. Why then did you despise us? Were we not the first to speak of bringing back our king?” But the words of the men of Judah were fiercer than the words of the men of Israel.


[1] 18:9 Or terebinth; also verses 10, 14
[2] 18:13 Or at the risk of my life
[3] 18:18 Or Absalom's hand
[4] 18:33 Ch 19:1 in Hebrew
[5] 19:11 Septuagint; Hebrew to the king, to his house
[6] 19:26 Septuagint, Syriac, Vulgate Saddle a donkey for me

S2:182 2 Samuel 18-19

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Dive Deeper | 2 Samuel 18–19

Raging civil war, fomented rebellion, violent death, bitter anguish, joyful reunion, love, hate. What a passage! The emotional intensity and dramatic humanity of this passage fascinates us millennia after the fact. God's sovereignty is on full display. The restless people of Israel conspire to chase out the king that God anointed who had led them mightily and strengthened their nation to new heights of prominence. Nervous and indecisive, Absalom sought the counsel of worldly men and smugly settled on a strategy to kill his own father. Yet in 2 Samuel 17:14, "the Lord had ordained to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, so that the Lord might bring harm upon Absalom." I'll say. Can you imagine Absalom's grisly end with him hanging from a tree by his hair when a crusty old war general walks up and plunges three javelins into Absalom's heart?!

Upon learning that Absalom had been killed despite David's instructions to deal gently with him (2 Samuel 18:5), David wept bitterly. He chose mercy for his son, while his general Joab chose summary justice. Joab would go on to rebuke David in his grief-stricken state and hurl the accusation at him that "you love those who hate you and hate those who love you" (2 Samuel 19:6). This has a very New Testament vibe to me. 

With the leader of their rebellion slaughtered and their army routed, the people of Israel decided that rebellion wasn't such a good plan after all and asked David to be their king again. On his return, we see more of David's noble character in his (re)ascension to the throne.  Rather than seek vengeance against the conspirators that raised an army to kill him, David declares, "This is not a day for execution, but for celebration! I am once again the king of Israel." So he spares Shimei's life, showing kindness and affection for Mephibosheth and Barzillai. Against this nobility, we end with the contrast of petty bickering between the men of Israel and men of Judah over which group should get more recognition for David's return.  It's as if these people, on their own, will just never get it figured out.

This month's memory verse

16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

– Matthew 5:16

Discussion Questions

1. Which character are you more like: David or Joab? Do you prioritize justice in your own hands or do you seek mercy? This one stings a little. If you're like me, it can be easy to seek fairness before forgiveness—especially with "enemies." How do you respond when given a clean chance to "get revenge" against your enemies who sought your downfall?

2. Is there anything in your life right now where you are taking the Absalom approach—surrounding yourself with people telling you what you want to hear and plotting how you can be the king (allegorically)? Your relationship, your education, your career, your leisure, your children, or your perceived lack of any of these?

3. It seems easy to laugh at the ridiculously fickle nature of the people of Israel—"Let's kill David; no, scratch that, let's make him king again." Does what you believe is right change from day to day, season to season? Do you believe in absolute truth and adhere to it despite the shifting sands of popular opinion?

Respond to Today's Passage

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Hugh Stephenson

Good morning, Jon. The last line of your devo really stuck with me, “It's as if these people, on their own, will just never get it figured out.” 13 years of prodigal craziness and at least 8 years post salvation and I still have struggles. Much diminished versus years ago, but I have not fully moved forward. In heart? Yes. In action? Mostly…but with some struggles that are only resolved through great counsel with my CG and with Prodigal ministry leadership. Q1. I had my share of revenge episodes. A few are quite notable. God gave me a choice and I chose revenge. I thought it would be sweet. But I was very, very wrong. Q2. Seeking affirmation versus wise counsel? I’m still vulnerable after all those years. One key piece that I learned from decades in the financial markets- if I seek affirmation of my investment case rather than contradiction, I’ll miss important truths. And lose a lot of money. The real-life corollary has been tougher to learn. Q3. I believe in God’s absolute truth. My struggle is that I can be too sure of what that is in areas that have some grey boundaries. This is where seeking a broad base of wise counsel has helped me.

Hugh Stephenson

For many years most of my waking hours, (and plenty of my sleeping ones), were on edge. I lived in fear that I would get the phone call or knock at the door that no parent ever wants to get. That risk seems very small now. Even so, I have a keen awareness of how fragile mental health is having spent many years on the edge, many years in a therapist’s office, and two separate multiyear episodes on Prozac. You always fear. And you always know that you’ll always never know. In this, I can’t imagine David’s grief. How might this have been avoided? A better understanding and application of God’s design for parenting. And Kingship. Using Genesis chapter three as model- God gave Adam and Eve provision. That provision came with boundaries that must be adhered to in order to retain the provision. The consequence of violating the boundary is the partial or full loss of the provision. The result is that the chaos created by losing the provision becomes the best way for the person to learn to appreciate the provision and not to violate the boundary again. If the provider doesn’t enforce the consequences, then they have enabled the rebellion and the sin of the other person. Adam and Eve are the first example of this model. It is repeated throughout the OT and the NT. It is the basic model that God gives us for all human relationships. David knew this. Why didn’t he obey? As good as he was as a military and political leader, he was at the other end of the spectrum as a father. And that torpedoed his reign. David was the man after God’s own heart. His problem was his own heart. He could not bring himself to set the boundaries that God called for and that Absalom so desperately needed. Absalom was his idol. I like the definition of an idol as any person or thing we put in-between us and God. Another way to think about it is that an idol is anything that drives our identity other than God. I would submit that Absalom fits this definition perfectly. God even warns us, (Jeremiah 17:9, Proverbs 4:23). Please spend a very few minutes reading this short piece form My idols seemingly give me a way to connect and cope with the world. The problem is that they are wholly of the world. My examples are material wealth, business success, reputation, resume, fancy houses, cars, and vacation- etc. 1 John 2:15-17 is my go-to verse. Years ago a sermon message hit me right in the heart. The one-liner is, “The only healthy coping mechanism is Jesus”. Somehow, David let himself be drawn off mission. He let his own heart be the object rather than God’s own heart.

Greg Jones

And Absolom was suspended between heaven and earth, 2Samuel 18:9 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:19 Concerning Absolom: Some bloodshed has been sown. Now some bloodshed is being reaped. Just prior, end of chapter 17, David’s needs are met in the wilderness by some unexpected old enemies. And David shows mercy to some recent enemies.

Michael Sisson

Re: 2Sam 18:18 What is today known as “The Tomb of Absolom” or “Absolom’s Pillar” in the Kidron Valley is a misnomer and from a much later period. Re: 2Sam 19:29 Mephibosheth calls Ziba’s account of his royal ambitions (2Sam 16:3-4) into question, claiming he (Mephibosheth) had remained loyal to David. Because David then says Mephibosheth and Ziba will share Mephibosheth’s land and holdings, it would seem David doesn’t know who to believe.

Sue Bohlin

Thanks so much, Jon. Super devo today! Loved Hugh's line: “The only healthy coping mechanism is Jesus”. Whoa. As a mother, my heart breaks for David losing his third son. And this loss was muddied by Absalom's traitorous rejection of his father as God's anointed king. Apparently he didn't pay much attention to the story of how God chose David as Saul's successor--surely he knew this? How very sad! On the other hand, it would appear that Solomon, who would have grown up eating at the king's table alongside Mephibosheth, WAS paying attention when his father had the hard conversation with Mephibosheth--"Where WERE you, my friend?" When he heard the other side of Ziba's story, and declared that Mephibosheth's land which he had awarded to the duplicitous servant should now be split between the two men, Mephibosheth released it with a generous, "Let him have it." I would imagine that Solomon's takeaway was that Mephibosheth's story was the true one. Later on, as king, Solomon would demonstrate his supernatural wisdom in drawing on this memory when declaring that a disputed baby should be cut in half, which prompted the true mother to reveal her love for her child by releasing her claim to her "half." (1 Kings 3)

Amy Lowther

1. I am similar to David because believing in the Lord helps everything improve. I believe God helps me succeed in obeying the law and in seeing justice. Believing in God for everything is better than seeking revenge because God believes in everyone. 2. Currently I am working on seeing life like God and determining my value from what is within me versus my environment. God helps present “what is.” God helps us work with others as appropriate because it strengthens us when we are positive for each other. 3. Currently God helps me not to change from day to day because of things I do or what people say. God helps me know my value, the value of things around me, and how we can help each other.

Michael Scaman

You can only imagine what Absomlon looked like after 3 javelons and 10 young men attacking with swords. It would b a trauma for David to look at. Did David womnder to himself why Joab hurled 3 javelins at Absolom and 10 men striking him to kill him was so excessive? David's use of Absolom, Absolon and my son, my son multiple times is peronal,, and intense. “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” ( I wonder. 3 heads of David's armies sounds a bit like 3 archangels that wree heads of God's army where one third fell? )