“And it was told Joab, Behold, the king weepeth and mourneth for Absalom. And the victory that day was turned into mourning unto all the people: for the people heard say that day how the king was grieved for his son. And the people gat them by stealth that day into the city, as people being ashamed steal away when they flee in battle. But the king covered his face, and the king cried with a loud voice, O my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son! And Joab came into the house to the king, and said, Thou hast shamed this day the faces of all thy servants, which this day have saved thy life, and the lives of thy sons and of thy daughters, and the lives of thy wives, and the lives of thy concubines; In that thou lovest thine enemies, and hatest thy friends. For thou hast declared this day, that thou regardest neither princes nor servants: for this day I perceive, that if Absalom had lived, and all we had died this day, then it had pleased thee well. Now therefore arise, go forth, and speak comfortably unto thy servants: for I swear by the LORD, if thou go not forth, there will not tarry one with thee this night: and that will be worse unto thee than all the evil that befell thee from thy youth until now. Then the king arose, and sat in the gate. And they told unto all the people, saying, Behold, the king doth sit in the gate. And all the people came before the king: for Israel had fled every man to his tent” (2 Samuel 19:1-8).
The failed revolt of Absalom and the return of David to Jerusalem did not automatically reunite the nation, for unless the king got his act together he would break up the people on a bigger scale than his son did. We can understand why David took the death of his son so badly, but it seems that those around him thought he was going too far with his mourning over Absalom. It would take the boldness of Joab to bring the king back to his senses and encourage him to take control of the nation once again.
The land ought to have been filled with the sound of rejoicing over the victory David had gained that day, but instead he mourned while the people hid themselves in their tents. “Not openly and triumphantly, as conquerors use to do; but secretly, as if they were afraid and ashamed, lest David should see them, and look upon them with an evil eye, as those that had an hand in killing of his beloved son” (John Wesley). No-one was brave enough to talk openly about how quickly Absalom and his forces were overcome. Nobody spoke of the joy they felt about returning to their homes and families. David was making them feel that they had done something really evil rather than return Jerusalem and the throne to him. They expected to return to Jerusalem in a celebratory mood rather than hear their moaning and weeping in the room above Mahanaim’s city gate.
David was, probably unintentionally, showing that he was ungrateful for all those who had been faithful to him had gone through to bring him the victory over the enemy. Had not twenty thousands men died in battle that day, and though they were disloyal to him, they were still Israelites? These men were the sons, brothers and husbands of the families of Israel, but all David could think about was the death of his own son. He only had thoughts of his own loss, which both angered and dismayed the people. We see then that David’s distress was making things worse for him than before any of this happened.
Fortunately Joab understood the situation better than David and so went and warned him of what was going to happen if he continued in this fashion. He basically told the king that both he and all Israel thought his mourning over Absalom was excessive and deplorable, for in not acknowledging the victory he was dishonouring his faithful and brave troops. He questioned why they should have to creep into their own tents in shame rather than have a victory parade. Should not the victors return to Mahanaim in great honour and have the women sing about their courage in battle? David ought to have congratulated his men on the way back from the battle. The cause of the shame, according to Joab, was that everyone held the impression that David loved his enemies and hated his loyal friends. Though this was not strictly true, his bold and sharp speech was designed to rouse David out of his morose state of mind.
There was nothing about Absalom’s life that brought blessing to David, yet ever since he fled from King Saul his friends had stuck with him through many terrible circumstances and risked their lives for him. They believed in him, but it appears that he no longer believed in them. Everyone was uncertain about the future of the nation with their king in such a state of mind, for if he continued to be consumed with grief then he would not be an effective leader.
Joab did not advise David, but actually ordered him to shake himself free from the inordinate mourning, to think less of his own loss and go out to thank the people for what they had done. If he did not, then he would not only suffer the loss of Absalom but would lose the loyalty of the nation. He had to go and show he cared for them otherwise he would alienate them forever. David’s grief was spreading like a cancer and so it needed to be cut away immediately, and unless he did so he would soon have much more than Absalom to morn over. “The rumour of the king’s disconsolate condition spread a universal and unseasonable gloom” (Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary).
David did exactly what Joab prescribed and went out and sat at the city gate to thank everyone for their courage and faithfulness, and no doubt he commiserated with the families of those who had lost their lives. His actions brought everyone out of the tents they were hiding in. At last David put a smile on their faces instead of shame.
David won several battles that day. He had defeated Absalom, he had overcome his own selfishness, and he saved the day by honouring his men publicly. No doubt David’s grief was mixed with the guilt of knowing that his own sin had brought all this upon him and his people, but until he realised that he could not do anything to avert the consequences of that sin he would not be able to function as king of Israel. Thankfully he did come to his senses and took responsibility instead of burying his head in the sand.