David’s mercy is immediately compared with Absalom’s ruthlessness; where the latter wished his father to be dead, David’s first command to Joab, Abishai and Ittai is that they are to be merciful (v.4). Yet, in the irony of Absalom’s own vanity failing him (2 Samuel 14:25-27 – v.9), whereupon he was suspended between heaven and earth (v.9b), he was murdered by three branches in Joab’s hands. Where David desired mercy, Joab desired raw justice. Absalom was David’s own son, whom he felt did not deserve to hang on the oak tree between heaven and earth; whom he loved dearly. However, justice requires the sin to be paid, just as the Father had sent his beloved begotten Son to die on our behalf (John 3:16). Though David desired such mercy, Joab understood the ramifications of providing mercy in the face of the one, when he understood that Absalom’s death would bring certain peace within Israel. It is here that we see the sense of Christ’s painful death on the cross – a necessary though saddening act for our salvation. That is why day two of creation was not good, as the waters were parted between the heavens; as Christ himself hung on the cross between heaven and earth on the tree, so here we see Absalom as a type of Christ’s necessary sacrifice, however painful it is for the father to bear.
Though God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Absalom’s line ends here. He had no children – the only evidence left of his existence is on a pillar after his own name, called Absalom’s hand (v.18). So also, in Christ’s death on the cross we see the wrathful judgment of the Father on the Son. Yet, unlike us who are baptized into his death and resurrection (Romans 6), Absalom’s death on the oak is a perverted typology of Christ’s death. Where Christ rose again, Absalom remained dead – and that is the truth for all those standing outside of Christ. Where Christ was crucified, so also the rest of the world who stand outside of him. Yet, Where Christ rose again, the rest will but experience their second deaths.
And it is from v.19 onwards that we see how the news is brought to David; though Ahimaaz the priestly son brought good news of deliverance, the non-Israelite Cushite, as a second messenger, delivered the more accurate news and addressed David’s true concern. The Cushite may have ran first (v.21), but came second in delivering the news – and though Ahimaaz was eager to share of the good news (v.23) to outrun the Cushite, his news fell on deaf ears (v.25). In both instances, David said “Is it well with the young man Absalom” (v.29 and v.32)?
It is important that we stand back here and look at the sparse but noteworthy participation of Gentiles in David’s army – from Ittai the Gittite who had no obligation to cling onto David, who was instead gloriously made into a commander of a third of David’s army (v.2); to the Gentile who though coming second, was able to display the fuller truth. Here we may see an allegory of the priestly line of Ahimaaz seeing but the grander picture of Israel’s restoration under David’s kingship; yet it is in the end times after Christ’s work on the cross that the Gentiles can equally if not more fully proclaim that they have witnessed the death of Christ.
So also, we ask – is it well with our beloved Son Christ Jesus? In both instances, David displayed such affection for his son, and cared only secondarily for the victory of the Israelites. David is ultimately a man of compassion, not a man of war. How true it is in v.33 that this is Yahweh’s heart for his people, as David was a man after Yahweh’s heart (1 Samuel 13:14; Jeremiah 3:15; Hebrews 10:22) –
And the king was deeply moved and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept. And as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”
What beautiful and soothing words! And they are not words from an irresponsible king; they are not words from a king who did not seek the victory of Israel. No – these are simply words of a father who would have rather sacrificed his own flesh rather than the flesh of his son; and here is the great gospel love of the Father and the Son portrayed back in Genesis 22: that the LORD would indeed provide the lamb for the burnt offering, though Isaac be made into a type of Christ. Yet here is a more graphic portrayal of Absalom’s death in achieving Israel’s peace; and indeed, what true good news which both Ahimaaz and the Cushite can both preach, representing the world of Israel and the Gentiles, were they to stand under the banner of the victorious Christ who united heaven and earth in his death, resurrection and ascension.