2 Samuel 18:1-18
18 David brought together the men who were with him. He appointed commanders of thousands over some of them. He appointed commanders of hundreds over the others. 2 Then David sent the troops out in three companies. One company was under the command of Joab. Another was under Joab’s brother Abishai, the son of Zeruiah. The last was under Ittai, the Gittite. The king told the troops, “You can be sure that I myself will march out with you.” 3 But the men said, “You must not march out. If we are forced to run away, our enemies won’t care about us. Even if half of us die, they won’t care. But you are worth 10,000 of us. So it would be better for you to stay here in the city. Then you can send us help if we need it.” 4 The king said, “I’ll do what you think is best.” So the king stood beside the city gate. The whole army marched out in companies of hundreds and companies of thousands. 5 The king gave an order to Joab, Abishai and Ittai. He commanded them, “Be gentle with the young man Absalom. Do it for me.” All of the troops heard the king give the commanders that order about Absalom. 6 David’s army marched into the field to fight against Israel. The battle took place in the forest of Ephraim. 7 There David’s men won the battle over Israel’s army. A huge number of men were wounded or killed that day. The total number was 20,000. 8 The fighting spread out over the whole countryside. But more men were killed in the forest that day than out in the open. 9 Absalom happened to come across some of David’s men. He was riding his mule. The mule went under the thick branches of a large oak tree. Absalom’s head got caught in the tree. He was left hanging in the air. The mule he was riding kept on going. 10 One of David’s men saw what had happened. He told Joab, “I just saw Absalom hanging in an oak tree.” 11 Joab said to the man, “What! You saw him? Why didn’t you strike him down right there? Then I would have had to give you four ounces of silver and a soldier’s belt.” 12 But the man replied, “I wouldn’t lift my hand to harm the king’s son. I wouldn’t do it even for 25 pounds of silver. We heard the king’s command to you and Abishai and Ittai. He said, ‘Be careful not to hurt the young man Absalom. Do it for me.’ 13 Suppose I had put my life in danger by killing him. The king would have found out about it. Nothing is hidden from him. And you wouldn’t have stood up for me.” 14 Joab said, “I’m not going to waste any more time on you.” So he got three javelins. Then he went over and drove them into Absalom’s heart. He did it while Absalom was still hanging there alive in the oak tree. 15 Ten of the men who were carrying Joab’s armor surrounded Absalom. They struck him down and killed him. 16 Then Joab blew his trumpet. He ordered his troops to stop chasing Israel’s army. 17 Joab’s men threw Absalom’s body into a big pit in the forest. They covered his body with a large pile of rocks. While all of that was going on, all of the Israelites ran back to their homes. 18 Earlier in his life Absalom had set up a pillar in the King’s Valley. He had put it up as a monument to himself. He thought, “I don’t have a son to carry on the memory of my name.” So he named the pillar after himself. It is still called Absalom’s Monument to this very day.
As I read this passage, I am struck by how, in the midst of upcoming war, David continues to show his leadership qualities. He organises his troops, knowing that he had a considerably smaller number of men available to him than Absalom did. He mustered the men with him, he appointed leaders over various units in his army, he sent out his troops (vs 1-2). He continues to keep a clear head and goes about what he does best – organising his men for battle.
However, he also continues to seek the advice of his leaders and is prepared to take that advice, even when it contradicts his own wishes (vs 4). Good leaders recognise that they need good men and women around them – people who are prepared to speak up if something doesn’t seem right. A good leader does not surround himself with a bunch of “yes-men”.
I love the fact that David’s followers so have his best interests at heart – he must have engendered a great sense of loyalty in them, often a sign of a good leader. Sometimes, those “best interests” actually mean going against David’s wishes, but such is the devotion of David’s followers that they can see what is best for him and the nation, even if David cannot. In the end, Joab and his men kill Absalom, going against David’s expressed desire to “protect the young man, Absalom”. But
Joab knew that the battle would continue on and that David would not be restored to his rightful throne until Absalom was gone.
I need to remember, even when it seems like “all hell is breaking loose”, that I should continue to do what I do best. God will then take care of the rest. I also need to place people around me who I trust and who are not just prepared to agree with everything I say, but instead are ready to challenge my thoughts and ideas.
Lord, I pray that I will continue to grow my leadership skills. I pray that when I place people around me whom I trust and they bring a different opinion to mine, may I not see that as threatening, but instead see it as a real blessing of doing leadership and life in community.
Written by Ps. Jen Irving