These chapters read like a modern novel, with characters who leap from the page – David the king losing touch with his people and no longer quite the force he once was; Absalom the frustrated and neglected son who sees his chance to take the throne; wise advisors, courageous spies and Joab, David’s loyal hard-man lieutenant. Joab comes across to me throughout the story of David as a good man to have behind you in a fight, but not necessarily someone I’d like much personally.
At the heart of the story is the conflict not just between David and Absalom but between David the father and David the king. As father he longs to protect his son and mourns at the news of his death. But Joab has to tell him that his public grieving dishonours the memory of those who have fought and died to protect David’s throne; as father he may value the life of his son, but as king he may value his troops and his nation. To act as if he wishes they had not won the battle risks everything, and can gain nothing. He cannot bring Absalom back, thanks to Joab, but he can
David’s grief is natural. But he has to rise above his personal feelings to fulfil his role as king. Hopefully we will never have anything like such a tragedy to deal with, but for many of us there are times when our public role or our vocation do come into tension,if not conflict, with our own feelings.
Perhaps one of the tests of true leadership is to be able to rise above our instincts and personal feelings when we need to. Not to deny them or to feel that they are wrong (any more than it was wrong for David to mourn his son’s death) but to face our feelings and do what we know to be right anyway.