'Studies in the Old Testament'

Early Trials of King David - 3

April 2020

(Continued from page 562)

The political implications from the events surrounding the assassination of Abner!


Chapter 3 informs us of a long war (approximately one year) between the house of the deceased King Saul and the house of King David. David's armed forces increased in strength, while those of the North under King Ish-bosheth and Abner, became weaker.  David's personal household was also becoming stronger, for by this time he had six wives and many sons.  Among the many recognized social and political customs, it was also assumed that if a man took the wife, or mistress, of a deceased monarch, he was laying claim to the throne by succession.4 According to II Samuel 3:75,
"Saul had a concubine, whose name was Rizpah. . . . and Ish-bosheth said to Abner, Wherefore hast thou gone in unto my father's concubine?"   The significance of what Abner had done was recognized by Ish-bosheth and he was both fearful and angry, for this symbolic act publicly declared Abner's right to rule in Saul's place (ref. 2 Samuel 16:20-23; 1 Kings 2:19-25).  Ish-Bosheth was clearly only a puppet in Abner's hands, and Abner's lengthy reply confirmed this (v8-105): 

Am I a dog's head, which against Judah do shew kindness this day unto the house of Saul thy father . . . and hath not delivered thee into the hand of David, that thou chargest me today with a fault concerning this woman? So do God to Abner, and more also, except, as the Lord hath sworn to David, even so I do to him; To translate the kingdom from the house of Saul, and to set up the throne of David over Israel and over Judah, from Dan even to Beer-sheba.


Abner now began negotiating to transfer the kingdom from the control of Ish-bosheth over to King David and Ish-bosheth realised he was helpless against this great warrior.  Abner now changed sides, apparently recognising God's will for David to reign as king over all Israel and that it is inevitable. But he also seems to reason that he is the one who will be the king-maker and make it happen and so approaches David with the offer of a covenant to make him king over all Israel (3:125): "Behold, my hand shall be with thee, to bring about all Israel unto thee."  David was interested, but imposed one condition, "Thou shalt not see my face, except thou first being Michal Saul's daughter, when thou comest to see my face.  We remember that Michal had shown her allegiance to David in I Samuel 19:11-12 when she let him out of the window to escape the wrath of Saul, her father. She had shown her love for David by strong action but had been re-married by Saul to Paltiel the son of Laish  for the last six years or so and, when she had to return to David, we read (v162) that 'her husband went with her, weeping as he went, and followed her as far as Bahurim' until Abner used strong language and forced him to return to his house.  Ish-bosheth, admitting his own inadequacy, approved the request and while arrangements were being made to take Michal from her husband (v14-16), Abner was negotiating with the elders of the northern tribes, persuading them to change their allegiance to David and acknowledge him as King. Verses 17-185 record his argument:  Ye sought for David in times past to be king over you: Now then do it: for the Lord hath spoken of David, saying, By the hand of my servant David I will save my people Israel out of the hand of the Philistines and out of the hand of all their enemies.  He also gave special attention to persuading his own tribe Benjamin which, because of its historical allegiance to Saul, could have persuaded the others to refuse.  When he was sure of his position in representing the northern tribes, he went down to Hebron with twenty men. David received him royally, entertained him lavishly, and sent him away in peace to complete the transfer of allegiance which would put him in control of all twelve tribes.

While this summit conference was in progress, Joab, with some of his soldiers, was away on a raid and returned with spoil.  When he returned and heard what had been transpiring between the King and Abner, he was furious. Rushing in to the king, Joab cried (v24-255):  What hast thou done? behold, Abner came unto thee, why is it that thou hast sent him away, and he is quite gone?  Thou knowest Abner the son of Ner, that he came to deceive thee, and to know thy going out and thy coming in, and to know all that thou doest.  Joab, in anger, took matters into his own hands. Without King David's knowledge, he sent messengers to Abner asking that he return and meet with him. Then, he arranged for the two of them to be alone. Under the guise of friendship, Joab killed him. So, verse 275 informs us that, "he died, for the blood of Asahel his brother."  Ironically, this act of revenge took place in Hebron, which was one of the Cities of Refuge.

There were clearly two reasons for Joab's action. The first, of course, was to avenge his brother's death. Second, he was afraid of losing his position as commander of the Army. He knew that in negotiating with David, Abner would demand some concession for himself and that there was not room for two military commanders. He knew his job, his prestige, and his future, were in the balance. These factors added fuel to his desire for vengeance against Abner. Since this was now officially a time of peace (3:21-23), and not war, the killing of Abner was murder.  David was quick to indicate that he has had no part in it, and that he did not approve of it (3:28ff.5):  I and my kingdom are guiltless before the Lord forever from the blood of Abner the son of Ner: Let it rest on the head of Joab and on all his father's house". 

The history of Joab shows him to be a very violent man who murdered two men in cold blood, and many others in war. We know, for example, that his brother Abishai killed 300 men single-handedly in one battle (2 Samuel 23:18-19), and he was more than willing to kill King Saul (1 Samuel 26:6-12). But in addition to Joab's murders, the Bible speaks of many commendable qualities and actions on the part of Joab.  We must acknowledge that God accomplishes His purposes through less then perfect people. God is not limited by our failings and can use us in our sin and rebellion to accomplish His ends, as He did with Joseph's brothers (Genesis 50:20) or with Pharaoh himself (Romans 9:17-18), or as He will do with every unbeliever (Romans 9:19-24). Nothing we can ever do will undermine God's sovereign plans and purposes for nothing is impossible for Him (Luke 1:37) and He can use our rebellion and disobedience to achieve His purposes as easily as He can use our obedience. We will be used of God to bring about His glory, and even our own good, one way or the other. God's sovereignty means that He can and does use less than perfect people to achieve His purposes and to fulfill His promises.  We thank God for that but must beware of  suggesting in any way that, if we do not live up to some standard, or on the 'highest spiritual plane,' God cannot and will not use us. He will use us, one way or the other. This must not be an excuse for sin or sloppy living as some are doing in the church today. Rather, it should motivate us to give ourselves wholeheartedly to serving God, knowing that even when we fail to live the holy lives that are commanded of us (Ephesians 4:24; 1 Thessalonians 3:13; Hebrews 12:10), God's purposes and promises are sure.  Our Lord Jesus Christ alone is without sin, and we thank God for this because this is what makes His death on the cross of Calvary of benefit to us. His death was not for His sins, but for ours and He bore the punishment for our sins on the cross of Calvary and gives us His righteousness in place of our unrighteousness. All this is by simply acknowledging our sin and our need for salvation, and trusting in the work Jesus Christ has done at Calvary on our behalf.

The 'new wave' of Gnostic and mystic leaders, such as Benny Hinn and the Copelands, are idolized by their followers, as though they live sinless, spectacular lives, and are doing God's work.  These men may want us to think they are a cut or two above the norm, more pious, more spiritual, and thus more successful.  Although we recognise that God uses cracked pots and imperfect instruments to accomplish His purposes, we also need to deal with those who are clearly heretical and factious.  Abner came to David with a delegation of men and a deal had been made and a truce declared, so that the war between Israel and Judah was formally ended. Twice in our text we are told that Abner left "in peace" (3:22, 23) and we can understand this to mean that the war had ended. This means that Joab cannot kill Abner legally; for to kill Abner now would be murder, because it is not in a time of war (ref. 1 Kings 2:5).  Thus Joab's actions in killing Abner were divisive in the extreme, for he now put at risk more than his own life and that of his family, and the result could have total Civil War.  The Old Testament law clearly distinguished between what we might call killing in war, manslaughter, and murder.  In our text, Abner is not considered at fault for killing Asahel, nor would Asahel have been guilty of murder had he killed Abner. Joab would not have been guilty of murder either had he killed Abner in war, but the killing of Abner in peace, along with the underhanded killing of Amasa later on (2 Samuel 20:8-10), are clear cases of murder. Murder is carefully defined, and so is clearly evident, as it was to David and all Israel when Joab murdered Abner.  The Commander-in-Chief of the armies of Israel was murdered, assassinated, under a flag of  truce, by the General of the army of King David and now there was the very real threat of an attack from the whole northern kingdom.

When David learnt of the murder of Abner by Joab, he acted quickly and decisively. He publicly renounced the actions of Joab as reprehensible. There was no excuse for what he did and David  declared a time of mourning to Joab and all the people:
"Rend your clothes, and gird you with sackcloth, and mourn before Abner" (v315).  He not only condemned the murder, but also  called down divine judgment on Joab and his family (3:28-29). David then mourned the death of Abner, seeing to it that his burial was honourable, even if his death was not.  David not only walked behind the bier, weeping loudly and chanting a lament for Abner, he refused to eat all day long. He declared his opinion of the deceased commander in the highest terms (v382): "Do you not know that a prince and a great man has fallen this day in Israel?"  Thus it was obvious to all that David had no part in the death of Abner. Everybody recognised this (3:31-395) and David's standing with the people continued to increase: "as whatsoever the king did pleased all the people"  and verse 37 declares that "all the people and all Israel understood that day that it was not of the king to slay Abner."  So, with this strategic move, David was successful in averting catastrophe.

(Continued on page 564)

Early Trials of King David!

An Amalekite foolishly claims to have killed King Saul!

Conflict places the burden of being the "blood avenger" on Joab!

The political implications from the events surrounding the assassination of Abner!

The political and military structure in the North and South Kingdoms (1009 B.C.)

King David's two coronations (1010 B.C. and 1003 B.C.)

King David's major post-coronation accomplishments over Israel and Judah (1003 B.C.)

King David's early history reveals a clear spiritual gulf from King Saul!

The Davidic Covenant (2 Samuel 7)

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