The Returning King
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Bible Passage: 2 Samuel 19
Last Sunday, we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus. Christians believe that Jesus died and three days later, God raised him from the dead. There were hundreds of eyewitnesses, people who saw Jesus alive after the cross. And of course, those people believed.
They gave their testimony. They told people what they saw. They began connecting the dots between Old Testament prophecies and the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
And many, many people responded in faith – even though they had not seen the risen Christ. Two thousand years later, there have been many generations of people – billions of people – who sincerely believe that Jesus rose from the dead – and none of us saw it with our own eyes. The story is compelling, and we keep telling it. We keep believing it.
But not everyone receives the news of the resurrection in faith. Then and now, many people reject the message – or at least they aren’t sure what to do with it. And I think our text for today was written, in part, to meet those people in their doubts. It is not a particularly exciting story, like the one we read last week. But I think it is important. Let’s look together at 2 Samuel 19, beginning in verse 9:
9 All the people were arguing throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, “The king delivered us from the hand of our enemies and saved us from the hand of the Philistines, and now he has fled out of the land from Absalom. 10 But Absalom, whom we anointed over us, is dead in battle. Now therefore why do you say nothing about bringing the king back?”
The popular, young usurper is dead. The old king is returning home, but the people are torn.
If this happened in the 21st century, you might see bumper stickers and social media posts that say, “Not My King” or “I voted for Absalom”.
David won the battle, but the people don’t really want him back.
11 And King David sent this message to Zadok and Abiathar the priests: “Say to the elders of Judah, ‘Why should you be the last to bring the king back to his house, when the word of all Israel has come to the king? 12 You are my brothers; you are my bone and my flesh. Why then should you be the last to bring back the king?’
Notice that even David’s own tribe hesitated to welcome him back. He’s pleading with them as family – something he shouldn’t have to do!
13 And say to Amasa, ‘Are you not my bone and my flesh? God do so to me and more also, if you are not commander of my army from now on in place of Joab.’”
You may not remember, but Amasa was the commander of Absalom’s army. He was the enemy general. David is offering this man Joab’s place by his side. That’s not going to end well, but it shows us David’s willingness to forgive even the worst of enemies.
14 And he swayed the heart of all the men of Judah as one man, so that they sent word to the king, “Return, both you and all your servants.” 15 So the king came back to the Jordan, and Judah came to Gilgal to meet the king and to bring the king over the Jordan.
This was a symbolic event. David crossing the Jordan demonstrated that the king was returning home. He was being received by his people.
Imagine the queen of England returning home from a long voyage. Everyone lines up to greet her. They roll out the red carpet. The band plays “God Save the Queen”. I think that’s the idea here.
But the writer wants us to know about three men in particular who came to this ceremony.
The first is Shimei. Again, you may not remember this name – but do you remember the man who threw dirt at David and cursed at him as he left Jerusalem? That was Shimei.
And Shimei the son of Gera fell down before the king, as he was about to cross the Jordan, 19 and said to the king, “Let not my lord hold me guilty or remember how your servant did wrong on the day my lord the king left Jerusalem. Do not let the king take it to heart.
20 For your servant knows that I have sinned. Therefore, behold, I have come this day, the first of all the house of Joseph to come down to meet my lord the king.” 21 Abishai the son of Zeruiah answered, “Shall not Shimei be put to death for this, because he cursed the Lord’s anointed?”
22 But David said, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah, that you should this day be as an adversary to me? Shall anyone be put to death in Israel this day? For do I not know that I am this day king over Israel?” 23 And the king said to Shimei, “You shall not die.” And the king gave him his oath.
This is the first person who comes out to meet David. We have no idea if Shimei’s repentance was real. It is entirely possible that his “change of heart” was motivated only by his desire to keep his head. His words and actions did not age well.
And Abishai is right. Shimei deserved to be executed, not publicly forgiven with an oath. But when Abishai speaks up, David rebukes him. He even calls him an adversary!
It reminds me of Matthew 16. Jesus tells the disciples that He’s going to die. Peter took Jesus aside and begged Jesus not to say things like that. Do you remember what Jesus said to his closest friend? “Get behind me Satan! You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”
Likewise, David intended to forgive Shimei and not even his closest advisors could talk him out of it. This is remarkable grace.
The next person to welcome David home was Mephibosheth.
24 And Mephibosheth the son of Saul came down to meet the king. He had neither taken care of his feet nor trimmed his beard nor washed his clothes, from the day the king departed until the day he came back in safety. 25 And when he came to Jerusalem to meet the king, the king said to him, “Why did you not go with me, Mephibosheth?”
26 He answered, “My lord, O king, my servant deceived me, for your servant said to him, ‘I will saddle a donkey for myself, that I may ride on it and go with the king.’ For your servant is lame. 27 He has slandered your servant to my lord the king. But my lord the king is like the angel of God; do therefore what seems good to you.
28 For all my father’s house were but men doomed to death before my lord the king, but you set your servant among those who eat at your table. What further right have I, then, to cry to the king?”
After hearing this explanation and Mephibosheth’s humility, we might expect David to respond with even more grace than he showed Shimei. But that’s not what happens at all.
29 And the king said to him, “Why speak any more of your affairs? I have decided: you and Ziba shall divide the land.” 30 And Mephibosheth said to the king, “Oh, let him take it all, since my lord the king has come safely home.”
This is kind of a surprising response by David. We all know that Ziba was in the wrong, not Mephibosheth. Some commentaries suggest that David was testing Mephibosheth and that he passed the test. He doesn’t seem to care about the inheritance. He only cares that David is home.
And this reminds me of a lesson Jesus repeatedly tried to teach his disciples. They were constantly fighting among themselves about who was the greatest disciple. Jesus always responded the same way. The first shall be last and the last shall be first. He said this as a challenge.
Did they care more about being with Jesus or getting the benefits of being with Jesus? Both the first person in the kingdom and the last person in the kingdom get essentially the same reward – they get to be with Jesus. Is that enough for us, or are we more concerned with what God can do for us? Is HE our joy, or do we only want him to give us what we want?
There’s a concept for a reality show that has been done several times in different ways, but the first version was called “Joe Millionaire”. Does anyone remember that show? They took a normal, middle-class guy and put him in a mansion. They gave him nice clothes and cars and watches, and he pretended to be a millionaire. Then they brought in a bunch of single women who competed for the chance to marry Joe.
It was a disaster. Why? Because Joe had no way of knowing – are these women interested in me or the money?
No one wants to be in a relationship like that. And God is no different. If you give to God only to get something from Him, then you are really just giving to yourself. If you do stuff for Jesus only to get His favor, then you are doing it for yourself… not for God.
God means so much more to the Christian than what He can do for us. And Mephibosheth gets it. But we have one more character to read about.
31 Now Barzillai the Gileadite had come down from Rogelim, and he went on with the king to the Jordan, to escort him over the Jordan. 32 Barzillai was a very aged man, eighty years old. He had provided the king with food while he stayed at Mahanaim, for he was a very wealthy man.
33 And the king said to Barzillai, “Come over with me, and I will provide for you with me in Jerusalem.” 34 But Barzillai said to the king, “How many years have I still to live, that I should go up with the king to Jerusalem?
35 I am this day eighty years old. Can I discern what is pleasant and what is not? Can your servant taste what he eats or what he drinks? Can I still listen to the voice of singing men and singing women? Why then should your servant be an added burden to my lord the king?
36 Your servant will go a little way over the Jordan with the king. Why should the king repay me with such a reward? 37 Please let your servant return, that I may die in my own city near the grave of my father and my mother. But here is your servant Chimham. Let him go over with my lord the king, and do for him whatever seems good to you.”
38 And the king answered, “Chimham shall go over with me, and I will do for him whatever seems good to you, and all that you desire of me I will do for you.” 39 Then all the people went over the Jordan, and the king went over. And the king kissed Barzillai and blessed him, and he returned to his own home.
One thing is clear – of the three men in this story, Barzillai is David’s favorite. He’s an old friend and a faithful servant.
In contrast, we have no idea who Chimham was and he is never mentioned again in the Bible, but on the word of Barzillai, David accepts Chimham into own his household. He basically transfers the blessing of Barzillai to Chimham and together they walk across the Jordan River.
This chapter is absolutely teeming with Gospel imagery, and hopefully you are used to it by now. This is the beauty of Scripture. They cross the Jordan River – moving from east to west back into the Promised Land. They are going home from exile.
And this is the same place where Jesus was later baptized – where Jesus received the blessing of the Father and the Holy Spirit descended on Him. Like David, Jesus came out of that water with a heart full of forgiveness – eager to bless people like Shimei who didn’t deserve it… eager to heal and restore people like Mephibosheth. And all those people wanted to do after they met Jesus was follow Him. They just wanted to be with Him.
David transferred the blessing of Barzillai, a faithful servant, to Chimham – a nobody. David said, “I will do for him whatever seems good to you, and all that you desire of me I will do for you.” Barzillai traded places with Chimham, willingly.
In the same way, Jesus traded places with us. He asked the Father to forgive us and give His blessing to us and that’s exactly what the Father did.
That’s what Paul means in Colossians, when he says this:
The Father has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
In Jesus, we are carried over the Jordan from exile to eternal sonship. In Jesus, we are home.
But consider 2 Samuel 19 as a whole. The response of most people in receiving David was lukewarm, half-hearted and motivated by only by self-protection. Only a few of them seemed to genuinely love David and want David as their king. The people may have been lukewarm toward David, but David was fierce in his forgiveness and his radical forgiveness won their hearts. That’s what the story teaches us.
So, who am I in the story? Who are you? Are you one of the nameless Israelites only interested in what God can do for you? Is your relationship with God one of self-protection? I believe basically because I just don’t want to go to hell?
Are you Shimei – once cursing the name of God and now at his mercy? This is the doubter. This is the skeptic. This is the one angry at God until he reveals his grace and wisdom to you.
Are you Mephibosheth – broken and cast aside by this world, now waiting for God to take you home? These are the people who feel like they have no place in this world. Life has been difficult and God is your only hope.
Are you Barzillai – you’ve known and loved God for many years and you’re eager to share His blessing with others? And you know you don’t deserve it.
In truth, most of us are just Chimham – grateful to be counted among the king’s people knowing we did nothing at all to earn it.
But I want to leave you with this: When is it time to receive Jesus? When is it time to meet Him at the Jordan River? When is it time to pledge your allegiance to Him? And what does it look like to trust and love and follow the King? That’s between you and Him, but I would not delay. Tomorrow is not promised. Repent and believe, for the kingdom of God is at hand.