“Now Joab the son of Zeruiah perceived that the king’s heart was toward Absalom. And Joab sent to Tekoah, and fetched thence a wise woman, and said unto her, I pray thee, feign thyself to be a mourner, and put on now mourning apparel, and anoint not thyself with oil, but be as a woman that had a long time mourned for the dead: And come to the king, and speak on this manner unto him. So Joab put the words in her mouth. And when the woman of Tekoah spake to the king, she fell on her face to the ground, and did obeisance, and said, Help, O king. And the king said unto her, What aileth thee? And she answered, I am indeed a widow woman, and mine husband is dead. And thy handmaid had two sons, and they two strove together in the field, and there was none to part them, but the one smote the other, and slew him. And, behold, the whole family is risen against thine handmaid, and they said, Deliver him that smote his brother, that we may kill him, for the life of his brother whom he slew; and we will destroy the heir also: and so they shall quench my coal which is left, and shall not leave to my husband neither name nor remainder upon the earth. And the king said unto the woman, Go to thine house, and I will give charge concerning thee. And the woman of Tekoah said unto the king, My lord, O king, the iniquity be on me, and on my father’s house: and the king and his throne be guiltless. And the king said, Whosoever saith ought unto thee, bring him to me, and he shall not touch thee any more. Then said she, I pray thee, let the king remember the LORD thy God, that thou wouldest not suffer the revengers of blood to destroy any more, lest they destroy my son. And he said, As the LORD liveth, there shall not one hair of thy son fall to the earth. Then the woman said, Let thine handmaid, I pray thee, speak one word unto my lord the king. And he said, Say on. And the woman said, Wherefore then hast thou thought such a thing against the people of God? for the king doth speak this thing as one which is faulty, in that the king doth not fetch home again his banished. For we must needs die, and are as water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again; neither doth God respect any person: yet doth he devise means, that his banished be not expelled from him. Now therefore that I am come to speak of this thing unto my lord the king, it is because the people have made me afraid: and thy handmaid said, I will now speak unto the king; it may be that the king will perform the request of his handmaid. For the king will hear, to deliver his handmaid out of the hand of the man that would destroy me and my son together out of the inheritance of God. Then thine handmaid said, The word of my lord the king shall now be comfortable: for as an angel of God, so is my lord the king to discern good and bad: therefore the LORD thy God will be with thee. Then the king answered and said unto the woman, Hide not from me, I pray thee, the thing that I shall ask thee. And the woman said, Let my lord the king now speak. And the king said, Is not the hand of Joab with thee in all this? And the woman answered and said, As thy soul liveth, my lord the king, none can turn to the right hand or to the left from ought that my lord the king hath spoken: for thy servant Joab, he bade me, and he put all these words in the mouth of thine handmaid: To fetch about this form of speech hath thy servant Joab done this thing: and my lord is wise, according to the wisdom of an angel of God, to know all things that are in the earth” (2 Samuel 14:1-20).
Just as David had condemned himself in his response to the story the prophet Nathan had told him (2 Samuel 12:1-14), so here he is made to believe that Absalom should not remain in exile.
Absalom had been in exile for three years and seeing that David pined for him, Joab thought up a cunning plan to bring him home. Joab had great influence upon David, but even he realised that he could not go directly to the king regarding Absalom in fear of opening old wounds and causing further alienation. We should not suppose though that Joab had anything but self-interest at heart, for if Absalom became the next king he would have much to gain by it. In appearing to be Absalom’s ally he would maintain his high position in the new government. We will see in a later study that Joab had no love for Absalom.
Joab came up with a plan to trick David into bypassing what the Law commanded regarding the murderous act of Absalom. He found a wise woman who agreed to go to the king. The word “wise” he is not in a good sense but means “subtil” and was used of Jonadab in 2 Samuel 13:3. It is possible that she was chosen because she was an actress or a storyteller in Tekoah, where she no doubt was held in high esteem.
Though the woman spoke to David it was Joab’s words that were heard, for she was merely reading from a script that he taught her. The parable was cleverly crafted to cover every argument that David could come up with against bringing Absalom home. The woman also claims to be a widow, but this is likely to be a lie to win the immediate sympathy and concern of David. Joab probably knew that he could get through to the king on an emotional level since he was already sad because of Absalom.
The invented story about the widow’s two sons got David’s attention since he found himself in exactly the same situation. The problem was that the one who had murdered the other was the only one who could carry on the family name, and to execute him would mean the extinction of the family line. To make matters worse, everyone wanted him dead. In saying this she was trying to get David to consider that the death penalty was both unjust and too cruel, for if it were carried out then it would cause worse problems for her. Those who wanted her son dead only wanted his inheritance anyway. Since heritage was very important, this part of the story would have resonated in David’s heart. This was Joab’s intention, but we cannot fail to notice that the similarities between the story and the events caused the death of Amnon are very different and so David ought not to have been tricked into comparing the two. The warning light should have come on when the suggestion was made that the Law was unjust.
After listening to this terrible account David told her not to worry about anything, no one was going to bother her or her son, and promised to protect him from the Law. No sooner are the words out of his mouth that the woman denounced him for being unjust. David had trapped himself with his own words.
The story was designed to make David feel that he was the one in the wrong, that he was unloving and had no concern over the future of Israel. It also made out that David was not tolerant, but in reality we know that he was too tolerant of his sons for he ought to have had Amnon and Absalom executed for their crimes. Joab wanted him to forgive Absalom for a sin only God could forgive. His version of forgiveness made no provision for the punishment of the crimes committed and might introduce a dangerous loophole in the laws of Israel. Just as with modern laws, Joab’s amendment discriminated against the innocent and allowed criminal to walk free. Lastly, it did not require the guilty party to repent or show any remorse for what he had done.
Suddenly it dawned on David that this story had Joab’s name all over it. We should not forget that Joab had complied with David over Uriah, so the king knew that he had to tread carefully. He realised he had to follow Joab’s wishes and bring Absalom back to Israel. David found himself in a predicament; he had to obey God’s Law but he had to compromise with Joab, but in effect the Law was totally ignored.
This story was given to trick David into disobeying God’s word. It contains all the necessary flattery to soften him up so that he would accept Joab’s will. David is commended for being wise but no truly wise person breaks the word of God.