Now Joab the son of Zeruiah perceived that the king’s heart was inclined toward Absalom. So Joab sent to Tekoa and brought a wise woman from there and said to her, “Please pretend to be a mourner, and put on mourning garments now, and do not anoint yourself with oil, but be like a woman who has been mourning for the dead many days; then go to the king and speak to him in this manner.” So Joab put the words in her mouth. (2 Samuel 14:1-3 NASB)
In chapter 12, Nathan the Prophet (I think that was his last name actually) goes to David and confronts him about his sin with Bathsheba. To do so, he tells the Shepherd-Warrior King a little story about two guys with sheep. Using that story, he brings David face to face with what he has done, and David repents. I believe Joab saw the effects of the story (since he was so involved with David’s sin), and thought Nathan was such a genius for it, he decided to copy it. I’m not sure, the Scripture doesn’t say that Joab wanted to be, or thought he was, a genius too; I just suspect something of the sort was involved.
Playing the King…And Surviving
The story Joab puts in the mouth of this wise woman of Tekoa (where everyone finds wise women) isn’t on par with what God puts into the mouth of Nathan. This story is made up of a lot of begging on the woman’s part, ‘They want to kill my only remaining son!’ ‘I’ll not let that happen.’ ‘Please help me, they’ll kill my son!’ ‘Send ‘them’ to me, I’ll not let that happen.’ ‘My son will DIE!’ ‘No, I won’t let that happen!’ I sort of think this should have been called, “How to annoy your king and live.”
One of the pieces to this story that irks me is the application to the king. The supposedly wise woman applies the story of her son to the king by saying, “We’re all going to die because you won’t bring back your murdering spoiled brat Absalom!” That had to be the words of Joab since this woman is supposed to be wise. My only confusion is that, since she is so wise, why agree to such a preposterous story. She probably could have come up with a better one herself.
It seems David thought so too, because he sees right through her as soon as she tries to apply the story to him. Enter Joab, stage…well, actually he seems to be standing right there (as I said, he’s not actually a sociopolitical genius). David relents to bring Absalom back, just not to see the king. Why is that?
The Legal Problem
One of the problems with bringing Absalom back is that David, the king of Israel, is responsible to uphold the law. As king he hears cases all day long (or it probably seems like it takes all day). That’s why the woman was supposedly there, for the king’s judgment. It would not look great for the king to break the law for his own family, although God had done so for him in his sin with Bathsheba. So, what’s a father/king/judge to do with a son who has committed such a sin as murder?
There is a set of esoteric laws in the Hebrew Torah regarding a Gaal, pronounced with two syllables, ‘ga-al’, no long vowels…we think, there’s actually an unpronounceable consonant in between the two ‘a’s. This family role is responsible for redeeming lost property back into the family (redeemer), carrying on the line of a dead relative (leverite), and sometimes avenging the death of a relative (avenger). It was part of their legal system that families, particularly this Gaal, avenge murders or even accidental deaths. They were to do so upon meeting the man-slayer, no trial needed.
Two texts regarding this are found in Numbers 35:6-8 and another in Deuteronomy 19:1-13, those are the two I found regarding the avenger role specifically. Included in these legal records are also the rules for ‘Cities of Refuge’ where someone could go if they killed another accidentally. They could remain there until the death of the high priest, and the avenger could not slay them. But, it first had to be proved that they did, in fact, kill by accident, and rules are found in the text to differentiate between intentional ‘murder’ and unintentional ‘man-slaying’. It sounds convoluted and complex, but it’s not that hard to understand, and it makes a certain beautiful sense. The hardest part is the cultural gulf needed to be spanned between 21st Century America and Second Millennia BC cultures.
Since the circumstance of Absalom’s exile was that he avenged his sister’s rape, a case could be made that he was within his rights to do so. On the other hand, the circumstances surrounding how he did it place him in the wrong of the intentional murderer rather than the family Gaal avenger. It’s a case for the king to decide, but it would be between his two sons, one having killed the other. Certainly a mess.
So, this wise woman from Tekoa is used by Joab to influence the king to restore Abasalom, partly because Joab sees David wants to. Joab thinks he’s helping David get what he wants to do, but doesn’t see how to do. I think Joab is wrong here. I wasn’t there, I didn’t see David’s face and Joab does know David really well (see 2 Samuel 11:18-21, in the Greek text of this passage, David says exactly what Joab said he would). But I think David was embroiled in a deeper dilemma than Joab knew.
In seeking the will and desire of my Master, I have a few things to hold on to. First, I believe that my Master truly wants me to know what He wants. But He wants me to know that as I grow closer to Him. He wants that close, intimate relationship where it’s relatively easy for me to know what He wants. The description in Scripture of God’s love and desire for His people is deeply intimate. His practice of speaking with His people and directing them is often also very intimate.
Therefore I believe David was trying to discern the will of God for this circumstance with Absalom. And he wasn’t getting the answer he wanted. I don’t believe that David was comfortable doing what he wanted to do, which was bring Absalom back. I think that is why he brings him back but won’t let him come into his presence.
One of the comments Joab puts into the woman’s mouth is that God always makes a way for the ones He banishes to come back to him. In other words, we might see it as God always leaving a way for repentance. I agree with this to a point. My understanding of repentance is more than physically relocating. In this account, Absalom never actually repents for what he does. Instead, he consistently requires everyone else to simply accept what he does, including the king. So, in receiving him back, the king has ‘rubber stamped’ the sin of murder, and in this case, without a trial, and without repentance. He’s the king, and he can do that. But as we see from what follows, this wasn’t God speaking to him to give him guidance. It was Joab intervening to give the king what he thought he wanted.
I can be quick to jump on something that I think God is telling me because what I sense is exactly what I want. That’s probably where I need to be most cautious, the most hesitant, and the most unwilling to go. My heart is not the heart of God, and as much as I would like to see myself as one, I don’t think I am truly a ‘man after God’s own heart’ as David was. In my own personal circumstances God has revealed to me, just last night, that I am harboring a huge amount of resentment toward someone (or something, depending on how you look at it). This resentment is causing me no end of problems. It’s not hurting the one(s) I resent though.
The key application here is that my resentment and the resulting bad attitude at work was not my Master telling me to find another job. If I did that I would simply be carrying my resentments along with me. That would disastrous for the next job/employer that picked me up. I think it’s very easy to believe, and we like to think that, our Creator guides us using our desires; usually misusing the verse that He gives us the desires of our heart. Our hearts are deceitful and lie to us. Why would the One having made our hearts, tell us how bad our hearts are, but then turn around and give us what our hearts desire? Wouldn’t it make more sense that He would instead, plant new desires as He changes our hearts?
I realize that I need to send away my resentments before I can really understand the direction my Master has for me. That’s my view through this particular knothole. What’s yours?