“The king was shaken and wept.”
19 And it was told Joab, Behold, the king weepeth and mourneth for Absalom.
(2 Samuel 19:1 ASV)
“As we look back, David seems to stand out apart from all others in the history of Israel. Moses truly is a far more majestic and awe-inspiring figure; Abraham exemplifies the nobility of a patient, enduring faith through a long and weary pilgrimage; but it is into the heart of David that we enter most closely. His life seems crowded with every variety of experience, and ranges from the purest God-fearing courage of his youthful encounter with Goliath to the ugly depths of adultery and murder. His life was a battle between the highest and most intimate spiritual conceptions of God on the one hand, and all the strong currents of human nature on the other. That he repeatedly failed is true, but what is far more important is that he freely and humbly recognized his failures and continued to press on, accepting every form of tribulation with unresentful resignation.
His life, on the whole, was a broken and frustrated one. A long period he spent as a hunted fugitive — a wanderer away from his country and kindred, attended by a motley following whose company must have been on the whole small comfort and a constant burden. Then, after his wanderings end and he finally becomes king and has subdued all his enemies, he stumbles into a grievous sin which plagues him without respite for the rest of his life.
“Had Jonathan lived, much may have been different in David’s life, but such was not the purpose of God. The affection between them was of the most exceptional character, calling for the strongest terms of description. In the friendship of Jonathan, David could have found satisfaction and guidance for the restless desires that led him into pitfalls. But it was God’s will that he should learn alone.
“After Jonathan’s death, David seems to have found affinity with no one, and such comfort as he could get in the course of a life of disappointment and turmoil he must get by a direct and lonely approach to God by himself which, while infinitely more difficult, was perhaps in the ultimate for the best.
“The Psalms could never have been written by a man who could find satisfaction and comfort in anything short of a direct and individual communion with God. And therefore, in the wisdom of God, it was Joab and not Jonathan who became David’s lifelong companion, though such would never have been David’s choice.
“God’s purpose with David was very high, and David had much to learn. Therefore considerations of his present comfort must give way to those which through long and bitter tribulation would develop in him the peaceable fruits of purity and righteousness.
“The wisdom of God chose a vessel ideally suited to His purpose, and no small part of that purpose was the recording of the Psalms. The strong light of the inspiring Spirit, shining through every facet of David’s character and experiences, threw as on a screen each detail of hope and despair, of failure and triumph.
“Moses’ character is made before we meet him as he comes on a divine mission from the wilderness to deliver Israel from bondage. But in the Psalms every aspect of David’s development is laid bare before us. Christ alone combined the exalted and prophetic majesty of Moses with the keen humanity of David. Tried and tempted in all points like his brethren, he alone as the representative of mankind fulfilled all the experiences portrayed through David in the Psalms and emerged triumphant and unspotted from them.
“David typifies the body of Christ, those whom Christ came to redeem, the chosen generation, the spirit willing and eager but the flesh weak, a man after God’s own heart, who through much tribulation must learn the way to the kingdom.
“But David, as the writer of the Psalms, was permitted to be the instrument by which Christ was encouraged and strengthened. And each of the members, too, can in some small way share in this honor. For it was for the joy that was set before him that he was enabled to endure, and that joy consisted in the love and affection of those who gratefully accept the benefits he procured.
“Our participation in the victory is measured, therefore, by our affection for him, and the value of that vice-royalty is increased by each one that lays hold upon it.
“Between Joab and David there was no affinity. David was a man of God. Joab was not. No greater gulf could separate two men than that. They lived in different worlds. David repeatedly struggled and fell, but from beginning to end he was a man of God, intensely loyal and devoted.
“Joab was a man of the world. Wiser at times than David, and strangely enough, sometimes his perception rose higher than David’s, but to the deeper currents of divine communion which were the basis of David’s life, Joab was a stranger.
“In his reaction to David’s grief for Absalom, Joab is practical and wise. But David could see many things to which Joab was utterly blind. David could see that day many years earlier when the prophet Nathan had stood before him and had solemnly spoken of the great anger of God and the consequences he would have to suffer. David could now see the humiliation of Tamar and the murder of Amnon, his firstborn. He could see that now another wayward son had been taken, leaving behind an ignoble memory of treachery and dishonor, all the consequences of his own folly and sin. And he would wonder where and when the next blow would fall.
“But Joab’s rough counsel would sharply remind him that his pilgrimage was not yet ended. Those terrible words would always be before his mind — ‘Now, therefore, the sword shall never depart from thine house,’ and he would see dimly, stretching into the future, a continuation of that trail of wickedness and bloodshed which he had set in motion. And so, aroused once again by Joab’s brusque prodding, he concealed his grief that no one would understand, and carried on”