David’s reign was fraught with intrigue. One of the stories that gets overlooked the most, and might have some profound implications for the way we see the world, is the story of Amasa (2 Samuel 20).
During David’s time as king, his son, Absalom, rebelled against his father. The kingdom was split, and Absalom fought against David for ultimate power. Absalom appointed his cousin, Amasa, to be the commander over his army, while David appointed Joab, another cousin, to be commander of his army. Absalom won. And David was sent away.
One day, Absalom has an accident while riding his horse, and Joab takes the opportunity to kill him, even though David has explicitly told his servants to not do any harm to Absalom because he loved him. David is restored as king, and in a classic political move, puts Amasa, Absalom’s commander, over all of the armies. In doing so, he turns the thoughts of Absolom’s supporters to himself and is able to gain control over all the people.
Of course, installing Amasa over all of the armies means that Joab was relegated to a lower position. Joab is massively resentful towards and highly suspicious of Amasa. As time goes on, a Benjamite man named Sheba starts a revolt. They considered Sheba a fool, but he was really just an anarchist of sorts, so his rebellion looked a little different.
He didn’t raise an army or fight, he simply rejected the government and David’s right to rule and told everyone who would listen to stop supporting the king and go home to their tents. Sheba, himself, went to Abel-beth-maachah and hid out there for a while, knowing the king would seek to take his life. Especially because “everyone who would listen” happened to be pretty much all of the Benjamites. Sheba isn’t your every day fool.
And Sheba was right. David told Amasa to go after Sheba quickly, taking the army of Judah with him. But Amasa dragged his feet. We don’t know exactly why he did that, but we know it make David nervous, especially considering Amasa’s rebellious past. So David goes to Abishai, another of his commanders, and Joab and has them take the remaining army and go get Sheba, worried that if Sheba has too much time he might build a fortified city and then they wouldn’t be able to get him.
Joab and Abishai head out. When they reach the “great stone in Gibeon,” Amasa comes out to meet them. Joab starts walking over to him and he lets his sword fall out of its sheath, so that when he picks it up again and keeps walking Amasa isn’t tipped off to his intentions. Joab doesn’t even give him a chance to speak. Joab feigns greeting him with a kiss and stabs him so his innards fall out. Amasa falls down and dies right there in the road. Oh, Joab.
Without even skipping a beat, Joab turns with Abishai and they keep marching towards Abel-beth-maachah to get Sheba. One of Joab’s young guards yells to the army, “He that favors Joab, and he that is for David let him follow Joab!”
But no one moves. “Amasa lay wallowing in his blood in the midst of the highway.” They’re mortified over what happened. The young guard sees what’s happening and drags Amasa’s body out into the field and covers him up with a cloth. Once Amasa is out of the way, the army walks on and follows Joab.
Let’s leave the whole part about Sheba being thus far a successful nonviolent civilly disobedient anarchist on the side for now. I want to talk about the power of being confronted with reality.
The army was largely up for the challenge of going to get Sheba, but when confronted with the reality of Joab’s brutality and the horrors of war, they started to question what they believed. It was just too hard to keep going having to step over the senseless gore. They could see so clearly that they were not on a mission of peace. But once Amasa was out of sight he was also out of mind.
We tend to want to make our lives easier, and more than that, sterile. We push the poor and the needy out to the fringes of society so we aren’t always confronted with the reality of their positions, so our consciences can rest. We fight our wars in other lands so our people won’t see the brutality of it, which makes it easier to convince them that we should fight. And the only way to motivate people to get involved in compassionate service is to show them the poor, the needy, and the war-torn.
Here we see a prime example in the scriptures of why we need to see these things. Without them, it’s too easy to forget Christ’s message of peace and healing. It’s too easy to become complacent and stagnant. Damned. “But we don’t want to think about those things! They make us sad!” I totally get it. And this is why Christ also taught that one of the primary principles of his gospel is mourning.
Immediately after Christ’s desert experience, he comes to Galilee and preaches and heals in great power. His fame begins to proceed him, rumors of him being the long-awaited Messiah. When Christ entered Nazareth, he declared himself Messiah by reading from the book of Isaiah.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord. (Luke 4:18–19)
This is the ultimate mission of Christ, and what it means to be a true Messiah. It is the mission that we all take upon ourselves when we covenant to take upon us the name of Christ. And along with that comes mourning. You can’t bring the good news of the gospel to the poor if you don’t see them. You can’t heal the brokenhearted if you don’t sit with them in their grief. You can’t liberate the captive if you don’t enter the dungeon. And all of that is going to tug on your own heart. It’s going to cause you to mourn.
So, we mourn with those that mourn. We can’t bear another’s burdens or comfort anyone until we learn how to first see them and mourn with them. And lest we think it’s just about shedding some tears, remember that the purpose of all of this is to heal, not just to feel sad, and certainly not to feel angry or frustrated. It’s about letting their voice and their pain be heard, accepted, and transformed. It doesn’t say vent with those that vent.
And it’s safe to mourn. Jesus promised us, “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). The healing will come. For both your heart and the hearts of those who you mourn with. Mourning transforms us too. It’s the death part of our baptism, just like the healing is the glorious resurrection part of that same ordinance. We need not fear the real. The real can be our guide. When we trust in Christ’s healing and we are assured that our mission is to be a part of that healing, we can confront everything this fallen world places on our highway. No need to cover it up and hide it out in a field.