Say to Amasa, ‘Are you not my bone and my flesh? May God do so to me, and more also, if you will not be commander of the army before me continually in place of Joab. ‘” Thus he turned the hearts of all the men of Judah as one man, so that they sent word to the king, saying, “Return, you and all your servants.” (2 Samuel 19:13,14 NASB)
David, you’ve just won the battle against your rebellious son and all of Israel. What are you going to do now? Well, whatever he should have done, could have done, or might have done; what he did was ball his eyes out demoralizing his faithful victorious troops, sit in the gate to cheer them up, send word to Judah to rebuild relationships, and sort of forgave his enemies all around. But it’s not really clear whether this is one of David’s shining moments or not.
David initially is totally devastated by Absalom’s death. This account through Absalom’s rebellion, David seems to exhibit signs of depression, not just his grief here. So, here’s my theory: I think David’s sin with Bathsheba was actually protracted, not nearly as quick as the narrative in 2 Samuel. And I think that the after effects continued on in his heart long after Nathan’s confrontation with him. I think Amnon, Absalom, and all that convoluted nasty behavior was brewing partly because their father had checked out in depression rather than engage with his family and his national responsibilities.
Ironically, Saul did somewhat of the same thing after becoming king. It’s possible that, for these warriors, the daily grind of being a judge and putting up with the shenanigans of ‘royal court’ turned out to be a lot less ‘fun’ than cracking skulls. David seems consumed by guilt, ashamed, and so on. He’s told by Nathan that he’s forgiven and he won’t die, but on his conscience is the death of his faithful soldier and his newborn son. In the midst of this fog of depression, he looses another son, and then another son, the murder of his first born.
I think he’s overwhelmed because he believes this is his fault. I believe he really did want to die, that death would be what he deserved and would make all things right. He was forgiven, but could not forgive himself. The failure of this king was more than he could take. And yet he loves his God. How is this possible? And what effect does that love for God seem to have in the midst of these events?
David listens to others
David is still able to listen. It’s not always easy to hear what’s said, but he listens. He’s sluggish to respond perhaps, and there’s the expectation that he shouldn’t need to be told in the first place, but he listens. Not everyone can say that. It’s not easy to hear others in the midst of depression. But he did. I think that’s one effect of his love for God in this time of his life.
He listens to Joab, the murder of his son (or executioner, depending on how you look at it), and comes down to bless his victorious troops. He listens to Israel, and moves to reach those lagging in their support. He listens to Shimei and (sort of) forgives his curses. He listens to Mephibosheth and (kind of) restores his fortunes. He listens to Barzilai and favors his son.
David is able to pray to God
Another thing David does through this difficult time in his life is pray and seek God. When his newborn son is sick he fasts and prays. After he dies, he cleans himself up and worships in the temple. Only then does he eat and take care of his family. Here, he sends word through the priests. He relies on his worship leaders. We don’t read of him worshiping, but we do hear of his connection with those interceding on his behalf.
David attempts to engage with others
But David also attempts to engage. I have to admit that I’m not terribly impressed with his skills in doing so in this chapter. Commentators are mixed on whether or not David acts prudently here. Some call his actions sinful and misguided, others simply are either confused or supportive of his decisions; especially with Shimei and Mephibosheth. For instance, putting Amasa over the army in Joab’s place is a strange move, but we simply don’t know enough about Amasa to know why this made sense. Absalom trusted him enough, and the people followed him, so they thought he was leader-worthy. But he’s nowhere else in Scripture, so commentators judge according to the information we have. Either way, it’s an odd move.
Engaging with others in the midst of depression is necessary, but difficult. I know I don’t feel like it in the midst of my own depressive moments. And I know that difficulty often makes many of my attempts clumsy and ineffective. I have to do it anyway. David does try to engage, and whether you think he made mistakes in Amasa, Shimei, and Mephibosheth, you have to give David points for trying.
David doesn’t give up
Finally, another effect of David’s love for God on his life in this time is that he doesn’t give up. He sure feels like it. His words are that he would have died instead of Absalom. He didn’t want to keep going. It’s possible he didn’t want to go back to Jerusalem and be king. I doubt that he wanted to go down to the gate and bless his people. But he did all those things.
He could have caved when Judah wasn’t participating in the discussion to bring him back as king. He could have opted to setup shop there in Mahanaim, like Saul’s son Ishbosheth. Truly, David didn’t have to do anything. Why go any further with these rebellious, shifty, fickle tribes? Even his own tribe didn’t want him back at first. He could have let his troops and followers slip away and just stayed in the fetal position. But it’s a testimony to his faith in his God, the One who anointed him over these frustrating people, that he didn’t quit.
That David is depressed is a matter of opinion. That he did these things is recorded in Scripture. What we learn from what he does really depends on a lot of varying factors. My lesson is that, in the midst of depression (and yes, I’m probably projecting one of my own problems into this account) I need to seek my Master, listen, engage, and not give up. It’s a simple lesson, and really true regardless of whether David’s life here teaches it or not. But it is also comforting to me to think that even David may have struggled as I do. If he is a man after God’s heart, perhaps, even as I struggle with depression, I can be too.
That’s my view through this knothole. What do you see through your knothole?