When you have spent some time away from home you may have found yourself saying upon your arrival, “It is good to be home.” David returns to Jerusalem in our chapter today, but it isn’t quite a “Good to be home” type of feeling since division between Judah and Israel ensues. Life for King David has not been the same since his sin with Bathsheba, a good reminder that we can be forgiven of our sins, as David was (2 Sam. 12:13-15), but that doesn’t mean the consequences for our sins magically go away (2 Sam. 12:10-12). Having touched on David’s grief, and Joab’s rebuke of the king yesterday, we’ll move beyond 2 Samuel 19:1-8a to David’s return trip to Jerusalem. Let’s take a look.
David & Co. are located east of the Jordan River and are preparing to make the return trip to Jerusalem with Absalom now dead. While the people of Israel are arguing about bringing the king back (vv. 8b-10), David sends Zadok and Abiathar the priests to the people of Judah with some persuasive rhetoric. How do we know it was persuasive? “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’” (v. 14). Swaying hearts sounds better than stealing hearts (see 2 Sam. 15:6). Why would David appeal to the elders of Judah? After all, he reigned over Judah at Hebron for seven years and six months (2 Sam. 5:4). The reason is, Absalom’s revolt started in Hebron, after David sent him away in peace because he said he vowed a vow to Yahweh (2 Sam. 15:7-10). When the people of Israel and others say “Absalom is king at Hebron!” (2 Sam. 15:10b) it must mean that he had some supporters in Judah. By making the appeal, to the elders of Judah, David reveals he doesn’t intend to destroy those who joined the Absalom bandwagon. Many in Judah likely feared for their lives because they had abandoned the ship of God’s anointed king. Once they know of David’s intentions, they came to him at Gilgal “to bring the king over the Jordan” (2 Sam. 19:15b). Too bad the northern tribes didn’t see it as a united effort with Israel and Judah together, even though half the people of Israel were there (vv. 40-43).
Along the way we find Shimei pleading with David to forgive him for his sin (v. 20a). This was the man who hurled curses and stones at David and his men, you know the one that Abishai wanted to behead (2 Sam. 16:5-10). Shimei shows his support of David, not merely by confessing his wrongdoing but by bringing one thousand men from Benjamin to pledge their allegiance to the king. Abishai says to David, “Shall not Shimei be put to death for this, because he cursed Yahweh’s anointed?” (2 Sam. 19:21). Abishai really wants to stick it to Shimei for his ill treatment of David, which is what Shimei certainly deserves, but David knows better. If Shimei is killed, many (including the thousand men with him), will wonder if David is going to purge the land of any and all supporters of Absalom. Was Shimei moved by guilt and remorse for his actions? Perhaps. Was he moved by a realization that Absalom is dead and David is still in charge? Certainly. Shimei may just be looking out for his own head. He doesn’t seem driven by love or loyalty to David, what about David’s next encounter.
Mephibosheth “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” (v. 24). What is that all about? Well remember how Ziba brought David & Co. food, and said that Mephibosheth stayed back during Absalom’s revolt because he was hoping to receive the kingdom back (2 Sam. 16:1-4)? Turns out that Ziba is a greedy liar! He failed to ready a donkey for Mephibosheth to leave with David, and then sweeps under his master to take all that belonged to him when David made that rash decision (2 Sam. 16:4). Mephibosheth appeals to David, “But my lord the king is like an angel of God; do what seems good to you” (2 Sam. 19:27b). He knows he deserves death as a part of the former king’s family, and yet David has shown him steadfast love (חֶסֶד or ḥesed), for which he is grateful. Why didn’t Mephibosheth care for himself while David was away? It was a sign that he was loyal to the true king, David, a risky deal when you are living under the shadow of Absalom. This was how Mephibosheth showed David, though absent in the body, he was present in spirit (see 1 Cor. 5:3a). David should have restored everything to Mephibosheth, for that would be just, but he divides it between them instead (Mephibosheth is happy simply for having the king back, vv. 29-30).
Barzillai is an eighty year old man who was among those who supplied David & Co. with “beds, basins, and earthen vessels, wheat, barley, flour, parched grain, beans and lentils, honey and curds and sheep and cheese from the herd, for David and the people with him to eat” (1 Sam. 17:28-29a). His generosity toward Yahweh’s anointed king, is generosity toward Yahweh. He is invited back to Jerusalem, but desires instead to finish off his days at home, and sends Chimham in his place instead (v. 37). Mephibosheth and Barzillai are not driven not out of mere self-interest, like Shimei, but out of loyalty to the crown, loyalty to David. May our loyalty to David’s Son and Lord, demonstrate itself in tangible ways, not with long toenails, but with joyful obedience (see John 14:15).