Read: 2 Samuel 19:1-15

Then Joab came into the house to the king and said “Today you have covered with shame the faces of all your officers who have saved your life today, and the lives of your sons and your daughters, and the lives of your wives and your concubines, for love of those who hate you and for hatred of those who love you. You have made it clear today that commanders and officers are nothing to you; for I perceive that if Absalom were alive and all of us were dead today, then you would be pleased (2 Samuel 19:5-6, NRSV).

Imagine General Joab sitting in his tent, knocking back a hard-earned goblet of wine with his fellow commanders, Abishai and Ittai. They’re swapping stories of the recent victory over the up-start Absalom in the forest of Ephraim. Laughter fueled by relief, adrenaline, and alcohol ricochet around the tent. Just when Joab is getting to the good part about finding Absalom hanging by his hair from a tree, a tentative voice interrupts the tale. A young soldier hesitates by the open tent flap requesting a word with the general.

“Well, speak up if you’ve got something to say, soldier!” Joab barks, impatient to get back to the story of how he thrust three spears into Absalom’s heart.

“Begging the general’s pardon, sir,” the soldier stammers, “but I’ve been sent to tell you that the king is weeping and mourning for his son, Absalom.” The mood in the tent plummets. The soldier bravely continues, his voice barely suppressing a quaver. “You can hear him all over camp, crying, ‘O my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son!’

The young man had meant to say something more about how the king’s loud lament was affecting morale, but one look at the general’s face makes him think better of it.

“That will be all, soldier,” Joab thunders, and nearly knocks the man down as he storms out of the tent on his way to confront the king.

I don’t usually feel much sympathy for General Joab, but it’s hard not to feel sorry for him in this situation. He recognizes that everything they’ve won is about to be lost. Nothing short of an intervention will suffice.

So, he confronts David with three points, thrust like spears into the grieving heart of the king. First, there is his ingratitude. These people have risked their lives for you, and all you can do is whine about your dead son. Your dead son who betrayed you. Second, there is his delusion. In spite of all we’ve risked, it’s obvious that you’d be happier if all of us were dead, and Absalom were alive. Third, there is imminent danger. If you don’t dry your eyes and get out there to thank your troops, you won’t HAVE any troops by morning.

It works. Joab’s words pierce David’s grief—at least enough for him to rise to the occasion. A swift series of messages manages to turn the tide of the political situation, and the end of this episode finds David’s position secure. It also finds Joab out of a job, but that’s often what happens to people who speak truth to power.

Ponder: Shakespeare once wrote, “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown” (Henry IV, Part 2). How does this story illustrate the truth of that quote?

Pray: Help all those in leadership to wear the weight of that leadership wisely—especially when personal feelings are at odds with professional responsibilities.