Christian Living, Church, Death & Dying

A Time to Mourn

AN EXPOSITION OF 2 SAMUEL 19:1-8

“To everything there is a season,and a time to every purpose under the heaven:A time to weep.”—Eccl. 3:1, 4

1 AND it was told Joab, Behold, the king weepeth and mourneth for Absalom.

The reference to Joab is a reference to one of David’s top military leaders. He was a “Captain of the Host”. As is often the custom to those who come into power, David was able to confer the rank of a general upon Joab, not only because he was a capable military man, like his two brothers, Abishai and Asahel, but he was a relative. Joab was one of the three sons of Zeruiah (Zer-u-i’a), the sister of David.

As a “Captain of the Host”, Joab was commander of individuals who were citizens-soldiers. In time of war a general call went out to the twelve tribes of Israel. Men over the age of 20 were expected to respond (Num. 1:45). There were exceptions provided to some so they did not have to serve in the military.

If a man were newly married, he did not have to serve. A newlywed was to stay at home for a year “and shall cheer up his wife which he hath taken” (Deut. 24:5).

If a man was from the tribe of Levi, he did not have to go to war (Num. 1:47-50).

If a man was afraid, he did not have to serve (Judges 7:3). Fear breeds fear. It is contagious.

Joab himself was a fearless man, and proved himself over many years to be faithful and loyal to David in political and private relations. He was always devoted to protecting the king’s interest, even to the point of putting an end to the life of the king’s rebellious son, Absalom. That took a lot of courage.

Of course, Absalom had proven himself to be a worthless son. He was as ambitious as Lucifer, and almost as clever. However, in the end, his treachery caused him to die a sin unto death. He did not honor the Fifth Commandment, which is the first commandment with promise. “Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee” (Ex. 20:12). The Apostle Paul referred to this promise when he wrote, “Honor thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise)” (Eph. 6:2).

A long life is promised to those who have the proper respect for their parents. A person, who does not honor their mother, or their father, will not fear or honor God. Absalom had lost his fear of his overindulging father, and stop fearing God, or he would never have tried to seize the throne of Israel by political and military force.

When the forces of Absalom were defeated on the field of battle by Joab and his soldiers, it should have been a time of celebration. But the victory that day was turned into mourning.

2 And the victory that day was turned into mourning unto all the people: for the people heard say that day how the king was grieved for his son.

The question is, “Why?” “Why did a day that ended civil war in Israel turn into mourning? The answer is given. The people of Israel learned that the king was grieving for his son. So closely were the people of Israel identified with David that, when he rejoiced, they rejoiced. And when David wept, the people entered into his sorrow.

Throughout history, there are relatively few national figures that know how to emotionally connect and bond with the multitudes, but they can be found. Some charismatic leaders are worthy of the bonding, others are not.

The characteristics that makes a great national political leader are worth studying, but, suffice it to say, for now, that David was able to identify so closely with the people that they were willing to turn a day of celebration into a period of mourning.

3 And the people gat them by stealth that day into the city, as people being ashamed steal away when they flee in battle.

Not only did the people of Israel turn a day of joy into a period of sorrow, they did so quietly, “as people being ashamed steal away when they flee in battle.”

 

4 But the king covered his face, and the king cried with a loud voice, O my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son!

The anguish of David is, on one level, very understandable. No matter how badly a child acts, a devoted parent might love the child to the end. David’s love for his rebellious, and in the eyes of many, worthless son, was authentic. As a result, David entered into what the Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross called the Stages of Grief and Loss. Her studies led her to observe five distinct stages of grief.

Stage One: Denial

Denial, the first emotion, is a defense mechanism that protects against the emotional shock, or pain of death.

Stage Two: Anger

Following denial is anger, during which intense emotions are projected onto others. For example, the anger may be directed at the doctor who diagnosed a loved one’s terminal illness. The anger may be directed at the one who has died. “Why did you have to die and leave me?” The anger may be directed at God. “Why did you let this happen?”

Stage Three: Bargaining

In the bargaining stage, feelings of helplessness are accompanied by regrets. One might have thoughts such as, “We should have noticed the signs earlier.” People may make pleas to a higher power, such as, “I promise never to lie if my loved one survives this illness.”

Stage Four :Depression

Depression follows bargaining. During this stage, feelings of loss, sadness and regret take hold. The Biblical way out of spiritual depression is found in Psalm 42. “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? Hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance. 6 O my God, my soul is cast down within me: therefore will I remember thee from the land of Jordan, and of the Hermonites, from the hill Mizar” (Psalm 42:5-6). Spiritual recovery begins with self-talk, remembering the promises of God, and finding a way to serve others.

Stage Five: Acceptance

The final stage of grief is acceptance. In this stage, terminally ill patients or their loved ones come to terms with the inevitable. During the acceptance stage, people allow themselves to feel their grief and emotions fully. The soul submits to the Hand that struck the blow. It is uncertain how long David mourned for Absalom. What is certain is the time came when Joab had enough. He saw what the emotional distress of David was doing to him, and to the nation. Therefore, as a faithful friend, Joab went to talk to the king.

5 And Joab came into the house to the king, and said, Thou hast shamed this day the faces of all thy servants, which this day have saved thy life, and the lives of thy sons and of thy daughters, and the lives of thy wives, and the lives of thy concubines;

6 In that thou lovest thine enemies, and hatest thy friends. For thou hast declared this day, that thou regardest neither princes nor servants: for this day I perceive, that if Absalom had lived, and all we had died this day, then it had pleased thee well.

Joab had thought through what he wanted to tell the king so that his arguments would be powerful, concise, and persuasive. Specific points were made.

By his public grieving, David was bringing shame to those who had been loyal to him, his servants, his military, and his personal family. Joab was not wrong. However, he had to be convincing. Joab said something shocking to David to sober him back into reality. People had come to believe that if Absalom had lived, and everyone else had died, that would have pleased the king. This was speaking truth to power, and David listened. At critical moments in his life David listened, and his life was changed for the better. It is important to be a good listener, and to be able to receive a righteous rebuke.

David could have had Joab dismissed. David could have had Joab arrested. David could have become enraged that in his time of sorrow he was being told he was wrong. But David listened, and responded in a positive way for he listened to the suggestion of Joab as to what he should immediately do.

7 Now therefore arise, go forth, and speak comfortably unto thy servants: for I swear by the LORD, if thou go not forth, there will not tarry one with thee this night: and that will be worse unto thee than all the evil that befell thee from thy youth until now.

8 Then the king arose, and sat in the gate. And they told unto all the people, saying, Behold, the king doth sit in the gate. And all the people came before the king: for Israel had fled every man to his tent.

Communication is essential to a good relationship between individuals, and between leaders and the people. In the absence of good communication, people will imagine the worse, and then act on their fears.

However, with the king sitting, speaking comforting words of gratitude to his people, with the king back in the gate where he should have sat all along, normalcy was established in Israel. David’s authority was recognized, “And all the people came before the king.” Divinely established authority is a blessing to a nation when it is honored by the people.

By way of application of this section of Scripture to our lives, may the Lord help us to fight a righteous battle, learn to grieve properly, keep open the lines of communication, and always be in the geographical will of the Lord.

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