OK its all about how David reacts.
There is a battle, David wants to ride with them, but the grizzled, wiley general Joab says no, and strategically he has to agree, he’s too valuable a chess piece. But he asks them to be merciful to Absalom, his usurper son
The battle is in a forest, unfocussed, dangerous – 20,000 men die, “more claimed by the forest than the sword.”
And it works out that Absalom could easily have been spared, Joab had a clear choice. But like a proper military man, he finishes him, finishes the bloodshed and the battle. I think I know why he didn’t want David on the battlefield.
They run with news to David. Joab carefully picks who will take the news. We wince.
2 Samuel has hung off three decisive battles, the defeat of Saul, the end of the civil war that unified Israel, and now the defeat of the impatient heir. The last two times, David loved his enemies so much that he killed the jubilant messenger in a rage. Now his son is dead, Joab knows it, we know it.
The running of men to tell David is played out with considerable suspense. But its a misdirect. David doesn’t kill anyone this time – he simply cries, he wails for his son.
The useless son who turned the people against him, who wasted his leadership skills and charisma undermining David and now contributing to the slaughter of many countrymen.
“If only I could have died in your place! Absalom, my son, my son!”
I pray for my family every day. They aren’t as bad as Absalom, but they aren’t always that great either. My parents loved me too despite many faults, til the day they died. This is a picture of the love of God, which David has learned at such a deep level. Crying over the one sheep who is lost.
David is a great leader, he’s been a relentless and mighty warrior, his battle will seemingly never end, as the prophet declared, for his sin. He’s the classic bold leader who always seems to win because he’s never afraid of losing. But inside he’s still that boy tending sheep, singing. Whatever in him that ever cared about the politics is gone. The lord is his shepherd.