Here is the scene. King David had sent his army into battle to stop a military coup dead in its tracks. His beloved son (though it seems the love was not reciprocated) Absalom was fighting against his father’s forces.
David’s men, under the leadership of Joab, won the battle. Absalom died.
Here is the text from 2 Samuel 19
The king covered his face and cried aloud, “O my son Absalom! O Absalom, my son, my son!”
Then Joab went into the house to the king and said, “Today you have humiliated all your men, who have just saved your life and the lives of your sons and daughters and the lives of your wives and concubines. You love those who hate you and hate those who love you. You have made it clear today that the commanders and their men mean nothing to you. I see that you would be pleased if Absalom were alive today and all of us were dead. Now go out and encourage your men. I swear by the Lord that if you don’t go out, not a man will be left with you by nightfall. This will be worse for you than all the calamities that have come on you from your youth till now.” So the king got up and took his seat in the gateway. When the men were told, “The king is sitting in the gateway,” they all came before him.
In this scene we can see made public the mostly hidden cost of leadership. It is not the heat of battle, the strain of strategising or the motivation of the crowds that catches leaders unaware and knocks the wind out of their sails. It is the all too prevalent tension between private & public, inner & outer, self & service. David had just heard he had lost his son in battle. Regardless of his son’s political sympathies, this news came as a shock to the King. He was immediately engulfed with overpowering grief. Within the hour he was also firmly urged by his closest general to pull himself together, celebrate the victory and perform his duty as motivator-in-chief to his fighting men.
What is a King to do?