“Then the king went on to Gilgal, and Chimham went on with him: and all the people of Judah conducted the king, and also half the people of Israel. And, behold, all the men of Israel came to the king, and said unto the king, Why have our brethren the men of Judah stolen thee away, and have brought the king, and his household, and all David’s men with him, over Jordan? And all the men of Judah answered the men of Israel, Because the king is near of kin to us: wherefore then be ye angry for this matter? have we eaten at all of the king’s cost? or hath he given us any gift? And the men of Israel answered the men of Judah, and said, We have ten parts in the king, and we have also more right in David than ye: why then did ye despise us, that our advice should not be first had in bringing back our king? And the words of the men of Judah were fiercer than the words of the men of Israel” (2 Samuel 19:40-43).
It is amazing to see how the very people who had supported Absalom’s coup d’état were now claiming to be grieved that they were not part of the convoy escorting David back to Jerusalem. This reveals that there was still unrest amongst the people, something that would come to the surface very soon after the king returns to Jerusalem.
Though we often regard Israel as being a single entity, it was in fact made up of two distinct groups. Ten of tribes were part of Israel, and two belonged to Judah. The differences, both in religion and politics, would become evident in the future, but we already see the seeds of unrest between them in this passage.
Evidence of this unrest surfaced in Gilgal, even before David reached the capital. Israel was suspicious of Judah’s involvement with David and claimed that they were trying to isolate themselves from the tribes. What makes the accusation ridiculous is the fact that half of Israel was escorting the king; therefore Judah was not attempting anything underhand. The claim that Judah was stealing the king from Israel is a strong statement that suggests that they believed Judah was about to set up an independent state that was totally separate from the other tribes. “It seemed likewise as if they intended to monopolize the king’s favours when he had come back, and to be looked upon as his only friends” (Matthew Henry).
We notice that the men of Israel came and questioned the king about this matter, but the answer came from Judah. Their reply reveals that though they were not doing as Israel claimed, they did think of themselves as being closer to the king. The remark about him being of their kin was designed to cut Israel deeply and could only intensify their anger.
It is obvious by Judah’s own words that David had not awarded them any special treatment above any other tribe, yet they saw themselves as the only part of the nation that could claim the king as their own.
Judah spoke of the fact that David was of their tribe, but Israel retorted that they had a greater right to him since they were in the majority. Instead of this being a joyous event it had quickly deteriorated into a political squabble. There was intense anger on both sides. “Fiercer – Instead of mollifying them with gentle words, they answered them with greater fierceness so that David durst not interpose in the matter” (John Wesley). “Though we have right and reason on our side, yet, if we express ourselves with fierceness, God takes notice of it and is much displeased with it” (Matthew Henry). Anger such as this is not easily quelled and would make David’s attempt to unify the nation even harder to perform. This bitter jealousy was all that was needed for rekindling the fires of civil war.
This short account is offered by the writer of 2 Samuel as a prelude to the forthcoming rebellion. It reveals some of the underlying problems and the simmering discontent that existed in the nation. “The seeds were already sown for that tribal dissension which, before long, led to the dismemberment of the kingdom” (Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Bible Commentary).
No doubt David had high hopes about securing unity amongst his people, but we must not forget that this unrest is part of God’s judgement upon his sin. Sin can be forgiven, but the consequences of it might still have to be lived through.