Passing the Buck.

“Moreover, you also know what Joab the son of Zeruiah did to me, how he dealt with the two commanders of the armies of Israel, Abner the son of Ner, and Amasa the son of Jether, whom he killed, avenging in time of peace for blood that had been shed in war, and putting the blood of war on the belt around his waist and on the sandals on his feet. Act therefore according to your wisdom, but do not let his gray head go down to Sheol in peace. But deal loyally with the sons of Barzillai the Gileadite, and let them be among those who eat at your table, for with such loyalty they met me when I fled from Absalom your brother. And there is also with you Shimei the son of Gera, the Benjaminite from Bahurim, who cursed me with a grievous curse on the day when I went to Mahanaim. But when he came down to meet me at the Jordan, I swore to him by the Lord, saying, ‘I will not put you to death with the sword.’ Now therefore do not hold him guiltless, for you are a wise man. You will know what you ought to do to him, and you shall bring his gray head down with blood to Sheol.” 1 Kings 2:5-9 ESV

As was pointed out in the previous blog, David had two sets of instructions for his son. One was spiritual in nature, while the other was of a more personal nature. In the first four verses of this chapter, David instructed Solomon about what it means to be a man – a godly man. He encouraged Solomon to be obedient to God, reminding him that it would be the key to the success of his kingdom. But now, David makes a slight departure and gives Solomon some last-minute instructions regarding a few personal matters. These involved some unresolved issues linked to David’s reign and involving a few individuals whom David wanted to pay back – either positively or negatively.

There are three men mentioned: Joab, the long-time commander of David’s armies; Shimei, the Benjaminite who cursed David as he fled Jerusalem during the coup by Absalom; and Barzillai, the wealthy Gileadite, who provided David and his companions with “beds, basins, and earthen vessels, wheat, barley, flour, parched grain, beans and lentils, honey and curds and sheep and cheese from the herd” (2 Samuel 17:28-29 ESV), after Absalom took over Jerusalem. In the cases of the first two men, David was passing on to Solomon the responsibility to mete out justice for what they had done to him. In the case of Berzillai, David was instructing Solomon to show favor to this man and his family by rewarding him for the kindness he had shown him.

It seems odd that David would have waited all these years to do anything about all of these situations. In the case of Shimei, David had sworn an oath before God, that he would not take his life. The exchange that took place between Shimei and David upon David’s return to Jerusalem is so significant about David asking Solomon to execute him. After the defeat of Absalom’s forces by Joab and armies of David, Shimei ran out to meet David, crying out:

“My lord the king, please forgive me,” he pleaded. “Forget the terrible thing your servant did when you left Jerusalem. May the king put it out of his mind. I know how much I sinned. That is why I have come here today, the very first person in all Israel to greet my lord the king.” – 2 Samuel 19:19-20 NLT

Shimei confessed his sin to David. He acknowledged the gravity of what he had done. He had cursed the king and even thrown stones at him as he made his way of our Jerusalem. But now, he is remorseful, perhaps even repentant, for what he had done. And he pleads to David for mercy. And while those around David counseled him to kill Shimei for what he had done, David rejected their advice and responded, “‘This is not a day for execution, for today I am once again the king of Israel!’ Then, turning to Shimei, David vowed, ‘Your life will be spared’” (2 Samuel 19:22-23 NLT). How would Shimei have received that news from David? With joy and great relief, but also with a sense of permanence. In other words, Shimei would have taken David at his word and believed that his life was permanently spared. He was forgiven and granted mercy for his entire lifetime. But that was not to be the case. Now, David was asking Solomon to take the life of Shimei. He doesn’t leave Shimei’s fate up to Solomon’s discretion, but clearly tells him, “I swore by the Lord that I would not kill him. But that oath does not make him innocent. You are a wise man, and you will know how to arrange a bloody death for him” (1 Kings 2:8-9 NLT). All that David left up to Solomon was the form of execution.

In the case of Joab, David had more than enough reasons to take his life. During the days when David had ascended to the throne after Saul, Abner, Saul’s military commander, had led a rebellion against David, placing Ish-bosheth, the son of Saul, on the throne of Israel. When Abner offered to strike a treaty with David, promising to bring all the tribes of Israel with him, the king accepted, But Joab, seeking revenge for Abner’s murder of his brother, killed Abner. His action infuriated David, but he chose to do nothing about it. Years later, when David’s son, Absalom, raised up a rebellion against his father in order to take the throne from him, Joab would kill Absalom in battle, against the clear command of David (2 Samuel 18:9-15). Finally, when David chose to demote Joab for his disobedience, and replace him with Amasa, Joab would respond by murdering Amasa in cold blood (2 Samuel 20:8-10). In each of these cases, Joab had committed murder and was deserving of death. But David had chosen to ignore his responsibility as king and had allowed Joab to live. And yet, now that David was about to die and Solomon had been crowned the next king of Israel, he was passing off his responsibilities to his son. Once again, David leaves nothing up to Solomon’s imagination when it comes to the fate of Joab, except the form of his execution. David matter-of-factly states, “Do with him what you think best, but don’t let him grow old and go to his grave in peace” (1 Kings 2:6 NLT).

So, Solomon, the newly anointed king of Israel, is being given the unenviable task of meting out vengeance on behalf of his father against two men. He would have to do his father’s dirty work and clean up what David should have taken care of long ago. In the case of Shimei, there should have been no vengeance taken, because David had sworn an oath before God that this man’s life would be spared. It is clear that David had never really forgiven Shimei. His oath had all been a show, designed to make all those around him think that he was a gracious and forgiving king. But obviously, David had never forgotten what Shimei had done. And in the case of Joab, David had never forgiven him for murdering Absalom, even though that was the very fate his son had deserved. Joab’s murders of Abner and Amasa meant far less to David than Joab’s decision to murder Absalom. And while David had every right and a royal responsibility to deal with Joab’s crimes, he had chosen not to do a thing. And now, he was passing on that responsibility to his son.

In his commentary on the book of 1 Kings, D. J. Wiseman writes:

David was wrong in passing on responsibility to Solomon to execute the judgment he himself should have ordered at the time. This was to cause his son and successors much trouble and feuding. – D. J. Wiseman, 1 & 2 Kings: An Introduction and Commentary

David had a habit of putting off the inevitable and the unpleasant. He had allowed Amnon to get away with his rape of Tamar. He had sat back and done nothing after Absalom murdered Amnon. He had ignored all the signs of Absalom’s plan to take over his own kingdom. And while Absalom had been guilty of murder and treason, David had determined to do nothing to punish him, demanding that his life be spared. Joab had three murders to his credit, but David had chosen to turn a blind eye. Part of it was probably motivated by expediency and convenience. He needed Joab. As long as David was alive, Joab was an asset he couldn’t afford to lose. But now that David was dying, Joab was no longer a necessity and Solomon could clean up David’s messes.

Call it what you will: procrastination, conflict avoidance, or merely shirking responsibility, David was guilty of putting off on his son those things he had chosen to ignore or delay. And while David had given Solomon wise counsel regarding what it means to be a man, a godly man, he was actually illustrating just the opposite. He had been disobedient to God. He had failed to listen to God’s commands and deal with his own son justly. He had neglected his responsibility as king to punish Joab for his crimes. He had made an oath before God concerning Shimei and now he was planning on breaking it by somehow convincing himself that his oath lasted only as long as he was alive. He justified his decision by rationalizing that he would not be the one to kill Shimei, Solomon would be. Not exactly godly reasoning. Not what you might call the manly thing to do. But David was far from perfect. He was a man, just like any other man, and prone to the same character flaws and moral indiscretions as the rest of us.

And one of the main lessons that jumps out of the life of David is that it isn’t how well you start, but how well you finish. David had lived a long life and had an illustrious reign. To this day, he is considered the greatest king Israel has ever had. But the closing moments of his life are not exactly his finest. His final words to Solomon, while filled with wisdom, are also marred by his own human flaws. You can see his weaknesses on display. You can sense his ongoing struggle with sin, even to the very last. He would pass on to Solomon a great kingdom. He would hand over to his son a powerful army and a remarkable legacy. But he would also pass the buck, leaving to his son the responsibility to deal with his own unfinished business.

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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Crippled By Self-Sufficiency.

When Ish-bosheth, Saul’s son, heard that Abner had died at Hebron, his courage failed, and all Israel was dismayed. Now Saul’s son had two men who were captains of raiding bands; the name of the one was Baanah, and the name of the other Rechab, sons of Rimmon a man of Benjamin from Beeroth (for Beeroth also is counted part of Benjamin; the Beerothites fled to Gittaim and have been sojourners there to this day).

Jonathan, the son of Saul, had a son who was crippled in his feet. He was five years old when the news about Saul and Jonathan came from Jezreel, and his nurse took him up and fled, and as she fled in her haste, he fell and became lame. And his name was Mephibosheth.

Now the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, Rechab and Baanah, set out, and about the heat of the day they came to the house of Ish-bosheth as he was taking his noonday rest. And they came into the midst of the house as if to get wheat, and they stabbed him in the stomach. Then Rechab and Baanah his brother escaped.  When they came into the house, as he lay on his bed in his bedroom, they struck him and put him to death and beheaded him. They took his head and went by the way of the Arabah all night, and brought the head of Ish-bosheth to David at Hebron. And they said to the king, “Here is the head of Ish-bosheth, the son of Saul, your enemy, who sought your life. The Lord has avenged my lord the king this day on Saul and on his offspring.” But David answered Rechab and Baanah his brother, the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, “As the Lord lives, who has redeemed my life out of every adversity, when one told me, ‘Behold, Saul is dead,’ and thought he was bringing good news, I seized him and killed him at Ziklag, which was the reward I gave him for his news. How much more, when wicked men have killed a righteous man in his own house on his bed, shall I not now require his blood at your hand and destroy you from the earth?” And David commanded his young men, and they killed them and cut off their hands and feet and hanged them beside the pool at Hebron. But they took the head of Ish-bosheth and buried it in the tomb of Abner at Hebron. – 2 Samuel 4 ESV

The transition of the kingdom from Saul to David had been anything but smooth up to this point. With Saul’s death, you would have thought that the path for David’s God-ordained ascension to the throne would have been cleared of all roadblocks. But then Abner had shown up and convinced Saul’s son, Ish-bostheth to claim the crown for himself. This set up a long, drawn-out conflict between the tribe of Judah and the remaining tribes of Israel. Then, when David’s men routed the army of Ish-bosheth, you would have thought that Abner, the commander of Ish-bosheth’s troops would have recommended surrender. But it would not be until Ish-bosheth made a stink about Abner sleeping with one of his concubines that Abner decided to turn his back on the house of Saul and offer his services and the allegiance of the remaining tribes of Israel to David.

David, in an effort to solidify his claim to the crown, took Abner up on his offer and made a peace treaty with him, with a special addendum, that Ish-bosheth return David’s wife, Michal, to him. The only problem with David’s deal with Abner is that he never informed Joab, his own military commander. What made this oversight particularly blatant was that Abner had murdered Joab’s brother, Ahasel. David’s treaty with Abner surprised and offended Joab, and so, he took matters into his own hands and murdered Abner. This forced David into damage control, prompting him to throw a huge state funeral for Abner and to pronounce a devastating curse on his own military commander. Now things were in a state of turmoil. Upon hearing of Abner’s death, Ish-bosheth, the son of Saul and the king of the remaining tribes of Israel, lost his nerve. Up until that point, he had been little more than a puppet king, relying heavily on Abner’s charisma and leadership to survive. Now that Abner was dead, he was on his own, a thought that left him scared to death. Not only that, the people of Israel had no confidence in his ability to lead the nation without Abner’s help. In this unstable state, Ish-bosheth found himself in a highly vulnerable spot. And it led two men, Rechab and Baanah, to plot and carry out the assassination of the king. They believed, that with Ish-bosheth out of the way, they could hand over the kingdom to David, and receive a reward for their act of allegiance.

It does not appear from the text that any of this was God’s will. This was clearly the work of two men, who were taking matters into their own hands and attempting to facilitate the outcome that best suited their own personal interests. Like Abner, Rechab and Baanah had no love affair for David. They were in it for what they could get out of it. Ish-bosheth was nothing more than a means to an end, with the end being their own personal ambitions.

What’s important to note is that all of this began with David’s decision to make an alliance with Abner, a plan that had been concocted by Abner, but not ordained or approved by God. Nowhere do we see David seeking or receiving God’s permission to sign a deal with Abner. And in doing so, David created a highly unstable and potentially dangerous atmosphere. God didn’t need David’s help in uniting the kingdom. He had not sanctioned a treaty with Abner. And because David chose to act without God’s approval, Abner ended up dead, murdered by Joab. Joab ended up cursed by David. Ish-bosheth ended up assassinated by Rechab and Baanah. And those two men would end up executed by David’s order, with their heads and hands cut off and their bodies hung up for public display. What a great way to start a kingdom!

In the midst of all this mess there’s one subtle ray of light. It’s easy to miss. In verse four, there is the mention of Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth. This verses is almost a parenthetical statement that comes out of the blue. It doesn’t seem to fit the context, but it sets up something that is going to happen later on in the story and recorded in chapter nine. Mephibosheth was the grandson of Saul, and as such, he would have been a potential heir to the throne of Saul. But he was only five-years old and suffered from a physical disability of some sort. In the middle of all the death, deceit, self-centered promotional efforts, jockeying for position, seeking of rewards and looking out for number one, Mephibosheth’s name appears as a subtle hint that it is the helpless and hopeless, the overlooked and the down-and-out who God protects. Abner could make deals, but he would eventually have to deal with God. Rechab and Baanah could come up with plans to line their pockets and improve their futures, but ultimately, their futures were in God’s hands. Joab could seek to mete out revenge on his own terms, but would learn that vengeance, when not left up to God can end up as anything but a blessing. David could attempt to speed up his ascension to the throne of all Israel, but he would learn the hard way, that trying to accomplish God’s will your own way rarely ends well.

We’re told that Mephibosheth “was crippled in his feet.” Could it be that this little description was meant to provide a not-so-subtle insight into how David, in an attempt to help God out, was actually crippling his own kingship. The helplessness of Mephibosheth provides a dramatic reminder of David’s need for God. This young boy, who lacked the ability to walk on his own, would find himself at the mercy of the king. He would have no other choice than to entrust his life to the sovereign will of his grandfather’s replacement. And David was still learning that his life, his kingdom, and his future rule over the house of Israel were completely at the mercy of God Almighty. Waiting on and resting in Him is always the best course of action.

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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

When Helping God Out Hurts.

Then David said to Joab and to all the people who were with him, “Tear your clothes and put on sackcloth and mourn before Abner.” And King David followed the bier. They buried Abner at Hebron. And the king lifted up his voice and wept at the grave of Abner, and all the people wept. And the king lamented for Abner, saying,

“Should Abner die as a fool dies?
Your hands were not bound;
    your feet were not fettered;
as one falls before the wicked
    you have fallen.”

And all the people wept again over him. Then all the people came to persuade David to eat bread while it was yet day. But David swore, saying, “God do so to me and more also, if I taste bread or anything else till the sun goes down!” And all the people took notice of it, and it pleased them, as everything that the king did pleased all the people. So all the people and all Israel understood that day that it had not been the king’s will to put to death Abner the son of Ner. And the king said to his servants, “Do you not know that a prince and a great man has fallen this day in Israel? And I was gentle today, though anointed king. These men, the sons of Zeruiah, are more severe than I. The Lord repay the evildoer according to his wickedness!” – 2 Samuel 3:31-39 ESV

There is a lot going on in this passage. It is a convoluted and confusing mixture of different events that make it difficult to truly determine what is going on. Abner, the former commander-in-chief of Saul’s armies, has been killed by Joab, the general over David’s armies. This had been an act of vengeance for Abner having killed Joab’s brother, Asahel. Abner had just made an alliance with David, promising that he could bring the northern tribes of Israel under David’s rule. And he had also agreed to David’s demand to return Michal, David’s first wife, even though she had already remarried. And the apparent motivation behind Abner’s switching of sides from Ish-bosheth to David, was because Ish-bosheth had confronted him about having sexual relations with one of his concubines. Abner, who was the one who had made it possible for Ish-bosheth to be king over Israel in the first place, didn’t like Ish-bosheth’s tone. As a result, he decided to hand the kingdom of Ish-bosheth over to David. Abner was a self-seeking opportunist who, from the very beginning, was looking out for his own interests. He had no dedication to or devotion for David. He simply knew that he would be better off moving his allegiances to the winning side.

But Joab threw a wrench into Abner and David’s plans by pursuing and killing Abner for having murdered his brother. While this outcome caught David off guard, it shouldn’t have surprised him. He had just made a treaty with a man who was a known traitor and murderer. Not only that, he had done so without even consulting Joab or at least letting him know beforehand what he had done. Joab had been caught off guard and reacted with surprise, anger and retribution against Abner.

And yet, when David received the news of Abner’s death, he reacted with shock and sadness. He lashed out at Joab, even pronouncing horrific curses on he and his household, for generations to come. In essence, David publicly chastises Joab for his killing of Abner, declaring for everyone to hear that it was his desire that God make every descendant of Joab suffer from a plague, be crippled, die by the sword, become beggars or end their lives destitute. This sounds like a bit of an overreaction. What was the motivation behind David’s response? Why did he react so strongly to what Joab had done? The passage does not tell us. And there are many commentators who go out of their way to justify David’s actions as righteous and just, reflecting his godly heart. But there may be more going on here than meets the eye. David had made his allegiance with Abner in order to solidify his kingdom. Abner had promised to bring the tribe of Benjamin, as well as the other northern tribes, under David’s rule. Now that plan was in jeopardy. David most likely feared that when the people of Benjamin heard the Abner, a fellow tribesman and hero, had been killed, they might renege on their commitment. David’s hopes of a unified kingdom could evaporate right before his eyes. So, he launched an emergency PR campaign.

David publicly chastised Joab. Why? He could have done so in private, but he wanted everyone to know his displeasure with Joab’s actions. Not only that, David planned a very public display demonstrating his sadness over Abner’s death. David even commanded Joab to publicly mourn the man who had killed his own brother. “Tear your clothes and put on sackcloth and mourn before Abner” (2 Samuel 3:31 ESV). David also called for a national day of mourning and arranged for a well-attended, highly visible state funeral for Abner.

David, not done with his public demonstration of sadness over Abner’s death, refused to eat or drink anything all day, refusing the encouragement of the people to break his fast. The result? “And all the people took notice of it, and it pleased them, as everything that the king did pleased all the people” (2 Samuel 3:36 ESV). In other words, David’s actions accomplished exactly what he had intended. The passage goes on to tell us, “So all the people and all Israel understood that day that it had not been the king’s will to put to death Abner the son of Ner” (2 Samuel 3:37 ESV). One of the things that happens when we study a character like David, is that we come to the passage with preconceived ideas about his character that can influence our interpretation of the text. Because we know that David considered by God a man after his own heart, we automatically assume that his actions were always just. But a cursory look at David’s life reveals that this was not the case. David was a man, and like any man, he had a sin nature that sometimes dictated and determined his actions. There were times when David did the right thing. But there were just as many times when he did the wrong thing. I believe David’s actions surrounding Abner’s death reflect the latter. He was simply trying to save his kingdom. He was doing everything IN HIS POWER to do damage control. He desperately wanted a unified kingdom and he probably justified his actions as being well within God’s will. After all, he was just trying to bring about the very thing God had wanted all along: His ascension to the throne of ALL Israel.

But was all of this part of God’s will? Was this the way God wanted things done? Had David sought God’s will before he made his alliance with Abner? Just like the time David decided to seek refuge and safety in the land of the Philistines, God allowed him to do so, but David’s determination to do things his way would come back to haunt him. There are far too many times when we can convince ourselves that God somehow needs our help. In our attempt to assist God in accomplishing His will for our lives, we come up with self-made plans that end up doing more harm than good. Abraham, in an attempt to help God fulfill His promise to make of he and Sarah a great nation, suggested that God just allow him to make one of his household servants his heir. After all, Abraham was old and his wife was barren. God needed a plan B. And when God refused Abraham’s idea, Sarah came up with one of her own. She suggested that Abraham take her maidservant and impregnate her. Abraham eagerly agreed to his wife’s plan and, while Haggar did bear him a son, God refused to allow Ishmael to serve as Abraham’s substitute heir. God had other plans.

I believe David was attempting to help God out. After years of wandering and waiting, he was ready to establish his kingdom once and for all. Abner had provided him with a prime opportunity to speed up the process. Yet David conveniently overlooked the red flags that accompanied his alliance with Abner. He demanded and received his wife back, even though she had to be removed by force from her husband. In doing so, David violated the law of God. Then David had to overlook Abner’s guilt regarding the murder of Asahel. David even allowed him to escape to Hebron, a city of refuge, when Abner didn’t meet the necessary requirements as provided by the law. Out of political convenience, David had ignored the possible ramifications his decision would have on Joab, one of his most faithful companions and bravest military leaders. In an attempt to solidify and secure his kingdom, David had been willing to make some risky and unwise decisions.

And yet, as God is so prone to do, He would bless David in spite of David. God did not need David’s help. God had not commanded David to make an alliance with Abner. David’s decision had resulted in the death of Abner, his rash cursing of Joab and his family, and would ultimately result in the murder of Ish-bosheth by two assassins who thought they were doing David a favor. Decisions made by godly men, but without God’s help, never result in godly outcomes. They produce confusion, dissension, and difficulties of all kinds. And while God’s will always ends up being accomplished, our attempts to help Him out usually end up making the experience far more difficult than it needed to be.


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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Complexity of Sin.

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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

When Sin Clouds Our Thinking.

While there was war between the house of Saul and the house of David, Abner was making himself strong in the house of Saul. Now Saul had a concubine whose name was Rizpah, the daughter of Aiah. And Ish-bosheth said to Abner, “Why have you gone in to my father’s concubine?” Then Abner was very angry over the words of Ish-bosheth and said, “Am I a dog’s head of Judah? To this day I keep showing steadfast love to the house of Saul your father, to his brothers, and to his friends, and have not given you into the hand of David. And yet you charge me today with a fault concerning a woman. God do so to Abner and more also, if I do not accomplish for David what the Lord has sworn to him, to transfer the kingdom from the house of Saul and set up the throne of David over Israel and over Judah, from Dan to Beersheba.” And Ish-bosheth could not answer Abner another word, because he feared him.

And Abner sent messengers to David on his behalf, saying, “To whom does the land belong? Make your covenant with me, and behold, my hand shall be with you to bring over all Israel to you.” And he said, “Good; I will make a covenant with you. But one thing I require of you; that is, you shall not see my face unless you first bring Michal, Saul’s daughter, when you come to see my face.” Then David sent messengers to Ish-bosheth, Saul’s son, saying, “Give me my wife Michal, for whom I paid the bridal price of a hundred foreskins of the Philistines.” And Ish-bosheth sent and took her from her husband Paltiel the son of Laish. But her husband went with her, weeping after her all the way to Bahurim. Then Abner said to him, “Go, return.” And he returned.

And Abner conferred with the elders of Israel, saying, “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.’” Abner also spoke to Benjamin. And then Abner went to tell David at Hebron all that Israel and the whole house of Benjamin thought good to do.

When Abner came with twenty men to David at Hebron, David made a feast for Abner and the men who were with him. And Abner said to David, “I will arise and go and will gather all Israel to my lord the king, that they may make a covenant with you, and that you may reign over all that your heart desires.” So David sent Abner away, and he went in peace. – 2 Samuel 3:6-21 ESV

Living in disobedience to God’s commands can cloud our thinking. It renders us incapable of making wise decisions because we end up making them in the flesh. As long as we harbor unconfessed sin in our hearts, we will find our minds suffering from cloudy thinking. That seems to have been David’s problem As we saw in the opening verses of this chapter, David had a problem with women – he was addicted to them. So much so, that he ended up with as many as eight wives, in direct violation of God’s law. Now, when Abner proposes to hand over to David the other tribes and solidify his kingship, David readily agrees, but on one condition. He demands that Michal, the daughter of Saul and his first wife be returned to him. And this is in spite of the fact that Michal had already remarried. We are not given David’s motives. Perhaps he was simply trying to solidify his right to be king over all the tribes and assumed that having Michal as his queen would win over the Benjaminites. But the likely reason behind David’s demand for Michal’s return was tied to his love affair with women. He wanted her back. And he emphasized to Ish-bosheth that he had every right to have her back because, he said, “I paid the bridal price of a hundred foreskins of the Philistines” (2 Samuel 3:14 ESV).

But, once again, David was making decisions with a mind clouded by sin. He wasn’t processing clearly the ramifications of his actions. First of all, Michal had remarried, and God had made it clear in His law that it was unacceptable for anyone to remarry his wife after she had married again (Deuteronomy 24:1-4). And when David demanded that she be returned to him, she was removed from her home by force, leaving her husband in tears. This decision would come back to haunt David. His relationship with Michal would never be the same. Later on in the book of 2 Samuel, there is the story recorded of when David brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. David had arranged for a royal procession, complete with music and much celebration. He led the parade, dancing with joy before the cart carrying the Ark of the Covenant. But we read what Michal thought about David’s exhibition.

As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, and she despised him in her heart. – 2 Samuel 6:16 ESV

But demanding the return of Michal was not the only poor decision David made. His negotiations with Abner would prove problematic. This man had been the one to convince Ish-bosheth, the sole remaining son of Saul, to declare himself king of all of Israel. Abner is the one who led the armies of Ish-bosheth against David. And he is the one who killed Asahel, the brother of Joab. Abner was a self-seeking opportunist who would do anything to feather his own nest. He had no love affair for Ish-bosheth. He was simply using him. And when Ish-bosheth confronts Abner about sleeping with one of his concubines, Abner becomes furious and threatens to switch sides – which he does. He had just been defeated by David’s forces in battle and he knew that Ish-bosheth was not fit to be king. So he makes a deal with David, completely motivated by self-preservation. And David, his mind clouded by sin, unwisely accepts his offer.

Had David been thinking clearly, he would have seen through Abner’s overtures. He would have recognized that Abner had no allegiance to him or his kingdom. He was in it for himself. And David didn’t even seem to consider how his decision would impact Joab, his friend and commander-in-chief. In fact, when David made this decision, Joab was just returning from a successful raid, where he and David’s men had captured a great deal of plunder. David never seems to consider how Joab would take the news of his willing acceptance of Abner’s offer. And as a result, David’s decision would bring about further, unnecessary bloodshed.

It had been one thing for David to refuse to kill king Saul, the Lord’s anointed, when he had the chance. But to knowingly overlook the unfaithfulness of Abner, and welcome him back with open arms, was another thing. Over his lifetime, David would show a propensity for avoiding doing the right thing. Years later, when his own son Absalom would have his half-brother Amnon murdered for raping his sister, Tamar,  David would take no action. He simply allowed Absalom to run away. There is no punishment meted out. Absalom was not forced to pay for his sin. And when Joab tricked David into allowing Absalom to return, he once again avoided the inevitable, refusing to meet with his son. And his lack of action would result in Absalom’s growing resentment and eventual overthrow of David’s rule.

Sin clouds our thinking. It makes it impossible to clearly hear from God. It blinds us to reality and casts a mist over the circumstances of life. We are unable to see things as they truly are. Our discernment becomes impaired. Our spiritual vision becomes blurry and our capacity to make wise choices becomes weakened. David was still a man after God’s own heart, but he was still a man who had to deal with the reality of indwelling sin.

Paul gives us a remedy for when we find our thinking clouded by sin:

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. – Romans 12:1-2 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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

David’s Achilles Heel.

There was a long war between the house of Saul and the house of David. And David grew stronger and stronger, while the house of Saul became weaker and weaker.

And sons were born to David at Hebron: his firstborn was Amnon, of Ahinoam of Jezreel; and his second, Chileab, of Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel; and the third, Absalom the son of Maacah the daughter of Talmai king of Geshur; and the fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith; and the fifth, Shephatiah the son of Abital; and the sixth, Ithream, of Eglah, David’s wife. These were born to David in Hebron. – 2 Samuel 3:1-5 ESV

We already know that David was considered a man after God’s own heart. This was not a designation made by David or any other man. It was conferred upon him by the prophet of God under the divine inspiration of the Spirit of God. Years earlier, Samuel had broken the bad news to Saul. “But now your kingdom must end, for the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart. The LORD has already appointed him to be the leader of his people, because you have not kept the LORD’s command” (1 Samuel 13:14 NLT). Centuries later, the apostle Paul, while preaching to the Jews in the synagogue at Antioch, reconfirmed this divine designation of David as a man after His own heart.

“After that, God gave them judges to rule until the time of Samuel the prophet. Then the people begged for a king, and God gave them Saul son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, who reigned for forty years. But God removed Saul and replaced him with David, a man about whom God said, ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart. He will do everything I want him to do.” – Acts 13:20-22 NLT

But as we have already see, this lofty-sounding description of David did not mean he was perfect or without sin. Like any other man, David struggled with his own sin nature. He could be prone to disobedience and doubt, just like anybody else. And he had his own unique set of sins with which he struggled. One, in particular, would prove to be a constant source of temptation and testing for him: Women.

In the opening lines of this chapter, we’re told “There was a long war between the house of Saul and the house of David.” But there was another battle brewing in the life of David. While he was growing stronger in his military position over Abner and the house of Saul, David was literally sowing the seeds of dissent and future discord that would rip his kingdom apart. It is important to note that God had made ample preparations for the arrival of a king on the scene. In fact, He had ordained that there would be a king over Israel. And He knew that the people would tend to want the wrong kind of king. So, He provided them with very clear commands:

“You are about to enter the land the Lord your God is giving you. When you take it over and settle there, you may think, ‘We should select a king to rule over us like the other nations around us.’ If this happens, be sure to select as king the man the Lord your God chooses. You must appoint a fellow Israelite; he may not be a foreigner.

“The king must not build up a large stable of horses for himself or send his people to Egypt to buy horses, for the Lord has told you, ‘You must never return to Egypt.’ The king must not take many wives for himself, because they will turn his heart away from the Lord. And he must not accumulate large amounts of wealth in silver and gold for himself.” – Deuteronomy 17:14-117 NLT

Somewhat hidden and overlooked in this divine command is God’s prohibition against polygamy. When it came to “the man the Lord your God chooses,” he must “not take many wives for himself.” And God was very clear as to His reason behind this command. “because they will turn his heart away from the Lord.” And yet, we read in these opening verses of chapter 3, “And sons were born to David at Hebron.” Nothing wrong with that statement, until you read the following verses and notice the various mothers listed: Ahinoam of Jezreel, Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel, Maacah the daughter of Talmai king of Geshur, and Eglah. And not in this list is Michal, David’s first wife, the daughter of Saul. So effectively, at this early point in his reign, David had five wives. He would go on to have as many as eight.

It doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to determine that David had an inordinate attraction to women. And he tended to act on it. Abigail is listed as one of his wives. She was the widow of Nabal, whom God destroyed. But David barely let Nabal’s body cool off before he took Abigail as his wife. David could be impulsive. And if we fast-forward to one of the most famous or infamous events in David’s life, we will see that his impulsiveness also led him to commit not only adultery, but murder. Glance over at 2 Samuel 11 and you will see the story of David and Bathsheba, a personal low point in David’s life that got permanently chronicled in the Scriptures. At a time when David, as king, should have been leading his troops in battle, he had determined to stay home. And one day, while walking about the roof of his palace, he saw Bathsheba bathing on the roof of her own home. There are some who speculate that this was not the first time David had spied Bathsheba bathing. It could have been the very reason he stayed home from battle. And his act of voyeurism resulted in him having Bathsheba brought to him. Their illicit liasson would result in an unexpected pregnancy. And since Bathsheba’s husband, a soldier in David’s own army was off at war, it was going to be hard to explain how his wife became pregnant. That’s when David launched an all-out effort to cover his sin. But his strategy failed and he ultimately resorted to having Bathsheba’s husband murdered by commanding that he be exposed to enemy fire on the front lines.

This is not a stellar moment in David’s life. But it provides a glimpse into a highly vulnerable area of his life. David’s love affair with women would prove to be problematic throughout his reign. In fact, if we look at the list of sons mentioned in these opening verses of chapter three, we see Amnon and Absalom. These two brothers born to different mothers would grow up to cause David much pain and suffering. In 2 Samuel 13, we have the sad story of Amnon’s rape of Tamar, his half-sister. Later on, in that very same chapter, we read of Absalom’s orchestration of Amnon’s murder, out of revenge for what he had done to Tamar, his sister. Absalom would be forced into exile for what he had done, but would later return, only to orchestrate the overthrow of his own father’s kingdom.

Verses 1-5 of chapter 3 seem innocent enough, but they foreshadow a future filled with brokenness, pain and suffering. And it began with David’s unwillingness to obey the command of God. And while David never seemed to allow his many wives to lead him away from his love and worship for God, his son, Solomon would. Solomon would follow in his father’s footsteps, suffering from the same addictive tendencies. In fact, Solomon would outdo his father in a major way, eventually amassing for himself a staggering 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:1-3). And just as God had warned, these women, many of whom were from foreign nations and worshiped pagan gods, would eventually cause Solomon to erect their idols throughout his own kingdom. The book of 1 Kings paints a very bleak picture of the closing days of Solomon’s reign.

Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love. He had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart. For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods. – 1 Kings 11:1-8 ESV

And it all began with David. A little compromise. A giving in to the desires of the flesh. A refusal to obey God fully and heed His warning. The long-term ramifications for sin can be devastating. Yes, David would be forgiven by God when he repented of his sin with Bathsheba, but the child she bore would die as a result. There are consequences to disobedience. God blessed David’s kingdom, but his many wives would prove to be a constant source of trouble in his life. David’s battle with the house of Saul would be nothing compared to the spiritual war he would wage as a result of his own sin nature.

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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Divided Kingdom.

And the three sons of Zeruiah were there, Joab, Abishai, and Asahel. Now Asahel was as swift of foot as a wild gazelle. And Asahel pursued Abner, and as he went, he turned neither to the right hand nor to the left from following Abner. Then Abner looked behind him and said, “Is it you, Asahel?” And he answered, “It is I.” Abner said to him, “Turn aside to your right hand or to your left, and seize one of the young men and take his spoil.” But Asahel would not turn aside from following him. And Abner said again to Asahel, “Turn aside from following me. Why should I strike you to the ground? How then could I lift up my face to your brother Joab?” But he refused to turn aside. Therefore Abner struck him in the stomach with the butt of his spear, so that the spear came out at his back. And he fell there and died where he was. And all who came to the place where Asahel had fallen and died, stood still.

But Joab and Abishai pursued Abner. And as the sun was going down they came to the hill of Ammah, which lies before Giah on the way to the wilderness of Gibeon. And the people of Benjamin gathered themselves together behind Abner and became one group and took their stand on the top of a hill. Then Abner called to Joab, “Shall the sword devour forever? Do you not know that the end will be bitter? How long will it be before you tell your people to turn from the pursuit of their brothers?” And Joab said, “As God lives, if you had not spoken, surely the men would not have given up the pursuit of their brothers until the morning.” So Joab blew the trumpet, and all the men stopped and pursued Israel no more, nor did they fight anymore.

And Abner and his men went all that night through the Arabah. They crossed the Jordan, and marching the whole morning, they came to Mahanaim. Joab returned from the pursuit of Abner. And when he had gathered all the people together, there were missing from David’s servants nineteen men besides Asahel. But the servants of David had struck down of Benjamin 360 of Abner’s men. And they took up Asahel and buried him in the tomb of his father, which was at Bethlehem. And Joab and his men marched all night, and the day broke upon them at Hebron. – 2 Samuel 2:18-32 ESV

As this chapter closes, we are given a glimpse into what will become a long-standing issue for the nation of Israel. With Saul’s death, each tribe was left to fend for itself and determine its own fate. Abner, Saul’s former commander-in-chief and fellow Benjaminite, took it upon himself to crown Ish-bosheth, the youngest son of Saul, the king of “all Israel” (2 Samuel 2:9). David had already been appointed king by his own tribe, the tribe of Judah, but Abner refused to accept him as king. Suddenly, the nation was divided into factions, and their differences quickly escalated. Forces led by Abner and made up of mostly his own kinsmen, did battle with David and the people of Judah. Abner and his men were routed and pursued by the Benjaminites. One particular man, Asahel, who happened to “as swift of foot as a wild gazelle”, took it upon himself to catch Abner. Everyone knew that Abner was the driving force behind the battle. Ish-bosheth, the supposed king of Israel, is not even mentioned as being at the battle. But Asahel’s enthusiasm got the best of him, when Abner killed him. That led the brothers of Asahel to take up the chase of Abner in order to avenge their brother’s death.

But the whole affair would end in an awkward truce. As the two parties face off once again, with Abner and the Benjaminites on one side and the forces of Judah on the other, Abner called out, “Must we always be killing each other? Don’t you realize that bitterness is the only result? When will you call off your men from chasing their Israelite brothers?” (2 Samuel 2:26 NLT). The battle had not been going Abner’s way. He had already lost more than 300 men, while David’s troops had lost only 20. He could see that things were not going his way, so he appealed to Joab to accept a cease-fire. “So Joab blew the trumpet, and all the men stopped and pursued Israel no more, nor did they fight anymore” (2 Samuel 2:28 ESV).

The battle ended, but the hostilities between the northern and southern tribes of Israel were far from over. In fact, the 12 tribes of Israel would experience ongoing hostilities for generations to come. It is interesting to look at the blessings that Jacob gave each of his 12 sons, the very men from whom the 12 tribes of Israel descended. In particular, Jacob said of Benjamin:

“Benjamin is a ravenous wolf,
    devouring his enemies in the morning
    and dividing his plunder in the evening.” – Genesis 49:27 NLT

And here were Abner and the men of Benjamin, attempting to devour David and the men of Judah, refusing to accept David as their king. And of Judah, Jacob said:

“Judah, your brothers will praise you.
    You will grasp your enemies by the neck.
    All your relatives will bow before you.
Judah, my son, is a young lion
    that has finished eating its prey.
Like a lion he crouches and lies down;
    like a lioness—who dares to rouse him?
The scepter will not depart from Judah,
    nor the ruler’s staff from his descendants,
until the coming of the one to whom it belongs,
    the one whom all nations will honor.” – Genesis 49:8-10 NLT

All your relatives will bow before you. Well, that wasn’t exactly the case at this point in time, was it? Abner and the Benjaminites were having a difficult time giving up what they believed to be their right to be the ruling tribe. King Saul had been of theirs and it only made sense to them that Ish-bosheth, Saul’s son, should be the next king. But the only problem was that Ish-bosheth was not the man God had chosen. Jacob, under divine inspiration, had clearly communicated that all the tribes would bow down to Judah. But that fact was unacceptable to Abner and his fellow Benjaminites. They had what they believed to be was a better plan. But their agenda was driven by selfishness and self-centeredness. Abner was not willing to give up his role as the commander-in-chief of the king’s armies. He had no love affair for Ish-bosheth. In fact, he was simply using him as a means to maintain his own power and significance. Abner was used to being a man of influence and importance. And the idea of having that taken away from him was unacceptable.

At the end of the day, Abner and the men of Benjamin were not doing battle with David and the forces of Judah. They were fighting God. They were opposing the will of God and attempting to achieve their own agenda their own way – by force. It is amazing how easily any of us can find ourselves doing battle with God because we simply don’t like what He is doing. Too often, we can find his will distasteful and unacceptable, and rationalize a way to reject it and replace it with a plan of our own. Even if it results in conflict with our brothers and sisters in Christ, we’ll stubbornly stick to our guns, justifying our actions as right and just. But in the end, we are doing battle with God. And that is a battle we will never win.

Accepting the idea that God’s will is always best is difficult. Especially when it seems to go against what we think best for us. Abner couldn’t imagine a kingdom without him in its leadership. He was unwilling to accept the idea that he was not a part of this particular phase of God’s plan. Self-importance and an inflated sense of self-worth can drive any of us to react to God’s in what will eventually be self-destructive ways. Rather than accept David as king, Abner was willing to risk it all for one last chance at glory. And his actions left 381 men dead and a nation divided. Demanding our way and asserting our will always results in unnecessary destruction. It may not end in death, but it will always bring pain, suffering, division, jealousy, and broken relationships. It is interesting to note that in Galatians 5, Paul tells us “When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear” (Galatians 5:19 NLT). Then he includes the following:

…hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division – Galatians 5:20 NLT

Division is destructive. And it is usually a byproduct of our sin nature, driving us to think about self more than others. Unity is critical for God’s people. God’s desire was to unite 12 tribes under a single banner, led by one man. And God still desires that His people be one. That is why Jesus prayed in the garden:

“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.” – John 17:20-21 NLT

Unity requires humility. Self-importance and pride are antithetical to God’s will for His people. Living for God requires dying to self. Experiencing His blessing both personally and corporately requires that we submit to His will, whether we like it or not and whether He chooses us use us or not.

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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Here We Go Again.

But Abner the son of Ner, commander of Saul’s army, took Ish-bosheth the son of Saul and brought him over to Mahanaim, and he made him king over Gilead and the Ashurites and Jezreel and Ephraim and Benjamin and all Israel. Ish-bosheth, Saul’s son, was forty years old when he began to reign over Israel, and he reigned two years. But the house of Judah followed David. And the time that David was king in Hebron over the house of Judah was seven years and six months. 
Abner the son of Ner, and the servants of Ish-bosheth the son of Saul, went out from Mahanaim to Gibeon. And Joab the son of Zeruiah and the servants of David went out and met them at the pool of Gibeon. And they sat down, the one on the one side of the pool, and the other on the other side of the pool. And Abner said to Joab, “Let the young men arise and compete before us.” And Joab said, “Let them arise.” Then they arose and passed over by number, twelve for Benjamin and Ish-bosheth the son of Saul, and twelve of the servants of David. And each caught his opponent by the head and thrust his sword in his opponent’s side, so they fell down together. Therefore that place was called Helkath-hazzurim, which is at Gibeon. And the battle was very fierce that day. And Abner and the men of Israel were beaten before the servants of David. – 2 Samuel 2:8-17 ESV

The fact that verse 8 starts with with the word “but” should tell us something. The is something about to happen that is going to stand in direct contrast to the events of the first seven verses. David had received a warm welcome from the people of Judah, but that was to be expected, since he was of the tribe of Judah. David knew he was going to have a more difficult time winning over the rest of the tribes of Israel and convincing them to make him their king. That’s part of the reason behind his overtures to the men of Jabesh-gilead, because they were of the tribe of Gad. The nation of Israel, while having been united under the leadership of Saul, was still little more than a loose confederation of 12 tribes. Their relationships with each other were typically fractious and contentious. Now, David was attempting to unite them under his leadership and sovereignty as king.

But that’s not the only “but” in these verses. There was yet another facing David’s quest to become the king of Israel. It seems that not all of Saul’s sons died with him on the battlefield. There was one name left out: Ish-bosheth. He was the youngest of Saul’s four sons and would have been about 40-years old when his father and brothers fell at the battle of Gilboa. His given name was Eshbaal,which provides us with an interesting insight into King Saul. Baal was a Canaanite deity. And the name Eshbaal means “man of Baal”. So Saul names his youngest son after a false god. Interestingly enough, the Jews would not repeat the name of this pagan idol, so they substituted the word, “boshesh”, which meant shame of confusion. So, Eshbaal became known as Ish-bosheth. And the son Jonathan, who will appear later on in the story, was known as Mephibosheth.
But back to Ish-bosheth. It seems that this one son of Saul either survived the battle at Gilboa or was not even present. And Abner, the commander of Saul’s armies, decided to use this sole surviving son as a tool to keep David from ascending to the throne. Keep in mind that Saul was of the tribe of Benjamin, as was Abner, his uncle. So it seems that Abner was attempting to keep the crown within the ranks of the Benjaminites.
So, Saul “appointed him king over Gilead, the Geshurites, Jezreel, Ephraim, Benjamin, and all Israel” (2 Samuel 2:9 ESV). This would have been way out of Abner’s area of responsibility as Saul’s former commander in chief. It was not up to him to choose and appoint the king. The Israelites were to be a theocracy, ruled over by God Almighty. It was up to Him to choose their king, just as He had chosen Saul. Abner did not have authority or permission from God to do what he did. But he didn’t let that small detail stand in his way.
Lest we think this was small matter that was of little or no significance, notice that Ish-bosheth was made king over Geshur. That was an area within the territory belonging to the tribe of Manasseh. Jezreel was in the land belonging to the tribe of Issachar. And then the text goes on to include the tribes of Ephraim, Benjamin and “all Israel”. So effectively, Abner crowned Ish-bosheth as king over all Israel, even countering David’s claim to be king over Judah. And we’re told that Ish-bosheth reigned for two years. This was no short-lived, flash-in-the-pan event. Once again, David found himself with serious opposition and facing another enemy from within his own nation. Saul was dead, but his son was alive and so was Abner. And Abner had probably never forgotten the little lecture David had given him at Gibeah, after David had snuck into their camp and taken Saul’s spear and water jug as he slept.
“Well, Abner, you’re a great man, aren’t you?” David taunted. “Where in all Israel is there anyone as mighty? So why haven’t you guarded your master the king when someone came to kill him? This isn’t good at all! I swear by the Lord that you and your men deserve to die, because you failed to protect your master, the Lord’s anointed! Look around! Where are the king’s spear and the jug of water that were beside his head?” – 1 Samuel 26:15-16 NLT
Abner even led his troops into battle against David and his men, meeting them at the pool of Gibeon. The initial conflict was an agreed-upon battle between 24 men, 12 from each side. This mini-battle ended in a draw, with all 24 men dead. But that was not the end of the hostilities. It was followed by a pitched battle between the forces of these two opposing kings. Many would die that day. Like our own Civil War, this battle represented brother fighting against brother. It characterized the divided nature of the kingdom at that time. And this was the contentious atmosphere in which David was forced to begin his reign.
David’s path to the throne had been anything but easy, and it was not getting any smoother. He had been anointed by Samuel years earlier, but it had taken a long time before a crown was placed on his head. And even when it was, it represented the allegiance of a single tribe, his own. Winning over the other 11 tribes and solidifying his God-appointed position as King of Israel was going to be difficult and drawn out. There were still lessons for David to learn. And God was providentially shifting the mindset of the tribes of Israel from autonomous people groups living in isolation and under self-rule to that of a single nation united under one king. God was unifying what had been fractious. He was solidifying what had been disparate. He was making of the divided tribes of Israel a great nation that would be ruled by a great king who was a man after His own heart. The days ahead would be rocky. They would be filled with disappointment. Many would die. Others would loose loved ones as a result of the battles that followed. David’s fledgling kingdom would suffer before it ever experienced any success. But it was all part of God’s sovereign plan.

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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson


A Case Of Déjà Vu.

Then David went over to the other side and stood far off on the top of the hill, with a great space between them. And David called to the army, and to Abner the son of Ner, saying, “Will you not answer, Abner?” Then Abner answered, “Who are you who calls to the king?” And David said to Abner, “Are you not a man? Who is like you in Israel? Why then have you not kept watch over your lord the king? For one of the people came in to destroy the king your lord. This thing that you have done is not good. As the Lord lives, you deserve to die, because you have not kept watch over your lord, the Lord’s anointed. And now see where the king’s spear is and the jar of water that was at his head.”

Saul recognized David’s voice and said, “Is this your voice, my son David?” And David said, “It is my voice, my lord, O king.” And he said, “Why does my lord pursue after his servant? For what have I done? What evil is on my hands? Now therefore let my lord the king hear the words of his servant. If it is the Lord who has stirred you up against me, may he accept an offering, but if it is men, may they be cursed before the Lord, for they have driven me out this day that I should have no share in the heritage of the Lord, saying, ‘Go, serve other gods.’ Now therefore, let not my blood fall to the earth away from the presence of the Lord, for the king of Israel has come out to seek a single flea like one who hunts a partridge in the mountains.”

Then Saul said, “I have sinned. Return, my son David, for I will no more do you harm, because my life was precious in your eyes this day. Behold, I have acted foolishly, and have made a great mistake.” And David answered and said, “Here is the spear, O king! Let one of the young men come over and take it. The Lord rewards every man for his righteousness and his faithfulness, for the Lord gave you into my hand today, and I would not put out my hand against the Lord’s anointed. Behold, as your life was precious this day in my sight, so may my life be precious in the sight of the Lord, and may he deliver me out of all tribulation.” Then Saul said to David, “Blessed be you, my son David! You will do many things and will succeed in them.” So David went his way, and Saul returned to his place. – 1 Samuel 26:13-25 ESV

Once again, David had found himself with a prime opportunity to take the life of Saul and end his nightmarish existence as a fugitive. He and Abishai had made their way into the camp of Saul as he and his troops slept. They stood over Saul’s sleeping form and Abishai begged David for permission to take his life. But just as before, David refused to take the life of the Lord’s anointed. But he did take Saul’s spear and water jug.

Now, David stood a safe distance away and gave Abner, Saul’s commander, an unexpected wake-up call. David yelled across the valley, accusing Abner and his troops of dereliction of duty. He informs them that while they slept, someone had snuck into their camp and could have killed their king, because they had failed to do their jobs. And David held up Saul’s spear and water jug as proof. This was not only an assault on Abner, but a clear statement to Saul that David had more respect for the Lord’s anointed than Saul’s own men did. When Saul’s men had failed to provide the king with protection, David had been the one to prevent Abishai from taking his life. David was still a faithful servant of the king.

Not only that, there was no proof that he had done anything to deserve the treatment he had received from the hand of Saul. He even asked Saul to provide evidence. If Saul could provide David with a specific crime he had committed that was in violation of the law of Moses, David was willing to do the appropriate thing and offer a sacrifice as atonement. But if, as David seems to suspect, Saul’s actions against him were based on nothing more than the bad advice of men, then David calls down a curse from God on them. Why? Because David had not only become persona non grata in the kingdom of Israel, he had no access to the tabernacle. That meant he was not able to offer sacrifice for sins and receive forgiveness. David’s despair over this matter was clearly evident in his words to Saul:

“For they have driven me from my home, so I can no longer live among the Lord’s people, and they have said, ‘Go, worship pagan gods.’ Must I die on foreign soil, far from the presence of the Lord?” – 1 Samuel 26:19-20 NLT

The tabernacle was where the presence of God dwelt. The Israelites were the people of God. By being forced to live apart from the people and without access to the tabernacle, David was effectively being forced to seek another god to worship. And the thought of that was too much for him to bear. David craved restoration with the people of God and restored access to the tabernacle of God. This is reflected in one of the psalms he wrote during his days in the wilderness.

O God, you are my God;
    I earnestly search for you.
My soul thirsts for you;
    my whole body longs for you
in this parched and weary land
    where there is no water.
I have seen you in your sanctuary
    and gazed upon your power and glory.
Your unfailing love is better than life itself;
    how I praise you! – Psalm 63:1-3 NLT

I lie awake thinking of you,
    meditating on you through the night.
Because you are my helper,
    I sing for joy in the shadow of your wings. – Psalm 63:6-7 NLT

And David’s passion-filled words to seem to get a compassionate reaction from Saul. Just as he had before, Saul appears to see the error of his way and confesses, “I have sinned. Come back home, my son, and I will no longer try to harm you, for you valued my life today. I have been a fool and very, very wrong” (1 Samuel 26:21 NLT). But David was no fool. He knew better than to trust the words of Saul. He had heard this speech before and had learned that “The mouths of fools are their ruin; they trap themselves with their lips” (Proverbs 18:7 NLT). Saul had no intention of calling off his hunt for David, and David knew it. Which is why, after their conversation ended, “David went his way, and Saul returned to his place” (1 Samuel 26:25 ESV).

David’s exile would continue. His longing for the presence of God would increase. His desire to be with the people of God would grow with each passing day. But during those dark days of the soul, God would be with David. He would guide him, protect him, teach him and mold him into the kind of king He desired David to be. Taking Saul’s life would not have put an end to David’s problems. To do so would have simply created bigger issues for him. He would have been in violation of God’s law. He would have been guilty of taking matters into his own hands and trying to accomplish God’s will his own way. So, David returned to the wilderness. But he was going to learn that he was not alone. Contrary to what David and the people of Israel believed, God was not restricted to the tabernacle. His presence was not bound to a building. He was right beside David every step he took in the wilderness. He was with David as he sought sanctuary in the caves. He was watching over David as he slept under the stars. He was David’s constant companion, ever-watching protector, wise counselor, and faithful guide. It was David’s experiences in the wilderness that would lead him to pen the words of his most famous psalm:

The Lord is my shepherd;
    I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
    he leads me beside peaceful streams.
He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
    bringing honor to his name.
Even when I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid,
    for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
    protect and comfort me.
You prepare a feast for me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil.
    My cup overflows with blessings.
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
    all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord
    forever. – Psalm 23 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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson