Just then the servants of David arrived with Joab from a raid, bringing much spoil with them. But Abner was not with David at Hebron, for he had sent him away, and he had gone in peace. When Joab and all the army that was with him came, it was told Joab, “Abner the son of Ner came to the king, and he has let him go, and he has gone in peace.” Then Joab went to the king and said, “What have you done? Behold, Abner came to you. Why is it that you have sent him away, so that he is gone? You know that Abner the son of Ner came to deceive you and to know your going out and your coming in, and to know all that you are doing.”
When Joab came out from David’s presence, he sent messengers after Abner, and they brought him back from the cistern of Sirah. But David did not know about it. And when Abner returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside into the midst of the gate to speak with him privately, and there he struck him in the stomach, so that he died, for the blood of Asahel his brother. Afterward, when David heard of it, he said, “I and my kingdom are forever guiltless before the Lord for the blood of Abner the son of Ner. May it fall upon the head of Joab and upon all his father’s house, and may the house of Joab never be without one who has a discharge or who is leprous or who holds a spindle or who falls by the sword or who lacks bread!” So Joab and Abishai his brother killed Abner, because he had put their brother Asahel to death in the battle at Gibeon. – 2 Samuel 3:22-30 ESV
Sin is simple to commit. For most of us, it comes far easier than we would like. We can find ourselves committing sins as the result of the slightest temptation. But the ramifications of sin are rarely simple or easy. Sins can be addictive and habit-forming, with one leading to another, then another. And our own sins can lead others to sin. That happens to be the case in these verses concerning David, Abner and Joab. David, in his desire to have Michal, his first wife, returned to him, made an unwise decision that was non-sanctioned by God. In exchange for Michal and the allegiance of the rest of the tribes of Israel, DAvid made an alliance with Abner, the former commander-in-chief of Saul’s army. This was the very same man who had convinced Saul’s son, Ish-bosheth, to claim the throne as the rightful heir of Saul. Abner, without God’s counsel of approval, appointed Ish-bosheth king of the Benjaminites and all the other tribes of Israel. In doing so, he stood against not only David, but God, who had chosen David to be Saul’s replacement. Abner did not do what he did in ignorance, because he had told the elders of Israel:
“For some time past you have been seeking David as king over you. Now then bring it about, for the Lord has promised David, saying, ‘By the hand of my servant David I will save my people Israel from the hand of the Philistines, and from the hand of all their enemies.’” – 2 Samuel 3:16-17 ESV
His decision to make Ish-bosheth king of Israel was an act of rebellion, against the God-ordained choice of David as king. And yet, David, in his desire to get his wife back and in hopes of solidifying the kingdom, made an agreement with Abner.
When Joab, a commander in David’s army, returned from battle with his troops, he heard the news of what David had done and was shocked. He even confronted David, saying, “What have you done? What do you mean by letting Abner get away? You know perfectly well that he came to spy on you and find out everything you’re doing!” (2 Samuel 3:24-25 NLT). Joab was not only appalled by David’s naiveté, but with his insensitivity to what Abner had done to his brother, Asahel. From Joab’s point of view, David should have been seeking to punish Abner for murder, not making alliances with him. And it’s interesting to note that Abner, upon leaving David’s company, made his way to Hebron, a city of refuge. God had commanded that the Israelites establish six cities of refuge within the promised land.
When you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan, designate cities of refuge to which people can flee if they have killed someone accidentally. These cities will be places of protection from a dead person’s relatives who want to avenge the death. The slayer must not be put to death before being tried by the community. – Numbers 35:10-12 NLT
Notice the very important qualifier: “if they have killed someone by accident.” This had not been the case in Abner’s killing of Asahel. He had run Asahel through with the butt-end of a spear. There was nothing about it that had been accidental. And yet, Abner, knowing that Joab would be seeking vengeance for the death of his brother, sought refuge in Hebron. Once again, our sins have a way of not only expanding, but of infecting those around us. David’s lust for Michal, who had remarried and was therefore off limits for David, caused him to make an unwise allegiance with Abner. Rather than punish him for his murder of Asahel, David rewarded him with freedom. Which then caused Joab to take matters into his own hands. He did what David had been unwilling to do. And what he did was in keeping with the commands of God. Consider carefully what God had said about the matter:
But if he struck him down with an iron object, so that he died, he is a murderer. The murderer shall be put to death. And if he struck him down with a stone tool that could cause death, and he died, he is a murderer. The murderer shall be put to death. 18 Or if he struck him down with a wooden tool that could cause death, and he died, he is a murderer. The murderer shall be put to death. The avenger of blood shall himself put the murderer to death; when he meets him, he shall put him to death. And if he pushed him out of hatred or hurled something at him, lying in wait, so that he died, or in enmity struck him down with his hand, so that he died, then he who struck the blow shall be put to death. He is a murderer. The avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death when he meets him. – Numbers 35:16-21 ESV
Abner deserved death for what he had done, not a get-out-of-jail-free card from the king. Joab did what David should have done. But in his life, David showed a disinclination to deal with those whose actions deserved judgment. When Amnon raped his half-sister, Tamar, David did nothing to punish him. When Absalom, Tamar’s brother, arranged for the murder of Amnon, David did nothing. Years later, after David had allowed Absalom to return to Jerusalem, unpunished, Absalom fomented a rebellion against his own father. And what did David do? He abandoned the city. He gave up. He walked away.
It’s interesting to note that, if David believed what Joab did to Abner was wrong, he did nothing about it. Rather than punish Joab, he pronounced a curse on he and his family, saying:
“Joab and his family are the guilty ones. May the family of Joab be cursed in every generation with a man who has open sores or leprosy or who walks on crutches or dies by the sword or begs for food!” – 2 Samuel 3:29 NLT
David placed all the blame of Joab. He distanced himself from what had just happened. This was probably great political policy, since David was attempting to establish his kingdom, and he feared the reactions of the Benjaminites when they heard of Abner’s death. But David’s curse on Joab appears to be completely uncalled for and without divine authorization. Abner had been a traitor and a murderer. He had led a rebelli0n against the God-ordained king of Israel. Rather than face capture, he had brutally murdered his pursuer, Asahal. And according to the command of God, he deserved death. In fact, David had violated the very word of God by making his agreement with Abner. In essence, he had allowed Abner to buy his way out of his guilt. Listen to what God has to say about that:
Also, you must never accept a ransom payment for the life of someone judged guilty of murder and subject to execution; murderers must always be put to death. And never accept a ransom payment from someone who has fled to a city of refuge, allowing a slayer to return to his property before the death of the high priest. – Numbers 35:31-32 NLT
The truly fascinating thing about all of this will be David’s reaction to the death of Abner. How much of it is based on political posturing, we will never know. Was David simply attempting to win over the northern tribes by assuring them of his love for Abner? Only David and God know for sure. But suffice it to say that David showed far more sadness over the death of Abner than he did of Asahel, one of his own men, who had been murdered by Abner. There is no record of David having mourned Asahel’s death. No tears were shed. No memorial service was held. And yet, we will see David go out of his way to memorialize and eulogize the death of a traitor and a murderer.
Sin has a way of growing, like a cancer. Unchecked, it can spread, infecting our life and destroying our spiritual health. Not only that, it can contaminate those around us. It is never simple or easily controlled. We may think we have a handle on our sin and are able to manage it, but we are deluded and naive. Sin is dangerous and deadly. And when we attempt to apply logic to our sins in order to rationalize our behavior, we run the risk of opening the door to additional and even more deadly forms of rebellion against God.
The apostle John gives us some sobering counsel regarding the sin in our lives:
If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts. – 1 John 1:8-10 NLT
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.