You have today covered with shame the faces of all your servants, who have this day saved your life. (2 Samuel 19:5)
Absalom, the great conspirator now at war with his father, swung from a tree in the forest, defenseless. This third son of David, riding through the forest battlefield, caught his hair, it is thought, on a low-hanging branch of a large tree. Absalom swung from that branch until one of David’s chief soldiers, Joab, defied David’s explicit command to “deal gently with him” (2 Samuel 18:5), and killed him instead.
When two messengers returned triumphantly to inform David of their victory, David’s response to each showed his one great concern.
The first arrived and said, “Blessed be the Lord your God, who has delivered up the men who raised their hand against my lord the king.” And the king said, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?” (2 Samuel 18:28–29).
The second arrived and reported, “Good news for my lord the king! For the Lord has delivered you this day from the hand of all who rose up against you.” The king said again, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?” (2 Samuel 18:31–32).
When this servant responded, “May the enemies of my lord the king and all who rise up against you for evil be like that young man” (2 Samuel 18:32), David knew, went up to his chambers, and wept, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 18:33).
Now, anyone can imagine the great pain of losing a son in the way David did. Even after Absalom failed horribly to live up to his name, which means “father of peace” (having murdered his half-brother Amnon in an act of vengeance and having usurped the kingship from his father), David still loved his son. His death stabbed at his heart. There would be no reconciliation, no redemption for this his evil son. God’s word against David had come to pass: “Thus says the Lord, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house’” (2 Samuel 12:11).
How David Shamed His Servants
David, the now-reinstated king of Israel, let his sorrow over his fallen son cast shame on his soldiers. David lost himself in his sorrow for his son, forgetting the many men who died —fighting not against him, like Absalom, but for him.David’s servants who survived the bloody battle should have been welcomed back as heroes, but because of the king’s sadness, they slouched back into Israel not as victors, but as men who had turned and fled from the enemy in defeat (2 Samuel 19:3).
Joab, when he heard of David’s consuming grief, confronts him:
You have today covered with shame the faces of all your servants, who have this day saved your life and the lives of your sons and your daughters and the lives of your wives and your concubines, because you love those who hate you and hate those who love you. For you have made it clear today that commanders and servants are nothing to you, for today I know that if Absalom were alive and all of us were dead today, then you would be pleased. (2 Samuel 19:5–6)
David forgot his faithful men who bled for him, risked all for him, died for him, all while refusing to even let him go into battle with them, saying, “You shall not go out. . . . If half of us die, they will not care about us. But you are worth ten thousand of us” (2 Samuel 18:3).
The Lord of Our Shame
Many aspects of King David’s life stand as a whisper for what the true King, Jesus Christ, would be like. But how he treated his faithful servants that day (however unintentionally) is not one of them. Where David shamed his faithful men, King Jesus took the rightful shame of his people upon himself on the cross. Naked, alone, ridiculed.
Come and see, look on this mystery,
The Lord of the universe, nailed to a tree,
Christ our God, spilling his holy blood,
Bowing in anguish, his sacred head.
He who was worth far more than ten thousand of us, or ten thousand worlds of us, swung like Absalom from a tree — not for his evil, but for ours. He set his love upon us, who, like David, set our love on our soul’s enemies — the world, the flesh, and the devil — and despised our great God. And because he poured out his own life unto death, and took it up again, we sing to Jesus, the Lord of our shame, who became our great Redeemer.