A Blood Soaked Transition – 2 Samuel 3&4

As the war between the respective camps of David and Saul waged on, the house of David grew stronger day by day. By this time, David had been married seven times and had an heir through each of his six wives who were currently with him (2 Samuel 3:2-5). On the other side, Saul had two remaining heirs, one was Ish-Bosheth and the other was Johnathan’s son, Mephibosheth, who was crippled since he was a child. Ish-Bosheth depended heavily on Abner, the commander of Saul to consolidate the kingdom of Israel for him. However, Abner was strengthening his own position by apparently sleeping with Rizpah, the concubine of Saul.

Now Saul had had a concubine named Rizpah daughter of Aiah. And Ish-Bosheth said to Abner, “Why did you sleep with my father’s concubine?” Abner was very angry because of what Ish-Bosheth said.

2 Samuel 3:7-8a (NIV)

By sleeping with Saul’s concubine, Abner was subtly claiming himself as Saul’s rightful heir. To Ish-Bosheth, the act seemed treasonous as he was the elect and all that was of Saul, rightfully belonged to him including his wives and concubines. Abner was looking out for himself and the temptation of taking over the throne from Saul’s weak son would have been too sumptuous to ignore. Seeing how Abner reacted to the accusation made by Ish-Bosheth gives us more clarity into his intentions as he quickly sided with David from thereon.

May God deal with Abner, be it ever so severely, if I do not do for David what the LORD promised him on oath

2 Samuel 3:9 (NIV)

Abner was doing what was best for himself. Being related to Saul and having a place in his army from day one, he knew that he superseded the rest of Saul’s men and was second in command to only the king. With David, he knew the bond that had been formed between David and the thirty men, that there would have been no room for him to establish his authority.

Now that Ish-Bosheth found out about his plans to dethrone him, Abner feels that he would rather consolidate the kingdom in favour of David. He would rather be a part of David’s army than have his image tarnished by the man whom he helped claim the throne of Israel.

Abner Goes to Hebron

Abner first sent messengers to David calling for a treaty and to make an agreement with him to transfer the kingdom of Israel under his reign.

“Good,” said David. “I will make an agreement with you. But I demand one thing of you: Do not come into my presence unless you bring Michal daughter of Saul when you come to see me.”

2 Samuel 3:13 (NIV)

David officially had not divorced or separated from Michal and perhaps still loved the woman who helped him flee when Saul was after his life. Even after marrying several times over and having many heirs to his kingdom, perhaps Michal reminded him of his roots and his friendship with Jonathan her brother. In the context of consolidating his claim to be the heir of Saul, Michal will only help his case.

Being called Saul’s son-in-law will help sway some of the northern countrymen and those from the tribe of Benjamin, who hated David’s every fibre and were ready to embark on a civil war than have him replace Saul. Michal was the missing piece he needed, as he had already been ordained both by Samuel and the elders of Judah. Having Michal back in his house will shift all the momentum and with it the favour of the people towards his kingship. Perhaps he also wanted to remind everyone about his great feats, how he slayed a hundred Philistines in one night.

Ish-Bosheth obliged and gave in to David’s wishes. He ordered that her sister Michal would be taken over from her husband and given over to David, perhaps as a peace offering. In the meantime, Abner conferred with the elders of Israel and the Benjamites for them to concede and make David, who was from the tribe of Judah, king over all of Israel. He brought this news to David at Hebron and was welcomed with open arms. David prepared a feast for Abner and the twenty men that had accompanied him.

Then Abner said to David, “Let me go at once and assemble all Israel for my lord the king, so that they may make a covenant with you, and that you may rule over all that your heart desires.” So David sent Abner away, and he went in peace.

2 Samuel 3:21 (NIV)

David seems more level-headed than the men he had surrounded himself with. Even when he was given the opportunity to kill Saul (twice), his men urged him to drive a spear through Saul’s head but he refused to give in to the temptation before him and let God work according to His own time. He could have killed Abner and weakened Ish-Bosheth’s claim to the throne all the while avenging for the blood of his fallen soldier, Asahel. He wanted to hear out Abner and the proposition that he was bringing forward especially since it was favourable to him.

Blood for Blood

When Joab heard about Abner’s visit to David’s court, he went berserk that his brother’s killer was not only allowed to meet the king but left his presence in one piece. He went to David and criticised him for being foolish and falling for the trap that Abner was preparing for him.

Joab then left David and sent messengers after Abner, and they brought him back from the cistern at Sirah. But David did not know it. Now when Abner returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside into an inner chamber, as if to speak with him privately. And there, to avenge the blood of his brother Asahel, Joab stabbed him in the stomach, and he died.

2 Samuel 3:26-27 (NIV)

David proclaimed his innocence before the Lord and the Israelites concerning the murder of Abner, son of Ner.

May his blood fall on the head of Joab and on his whole family! May Joab’s family never be without someone who has a running sore or leprosy or who leans on a crutch or who falls by the sword or who lacks food.”

2 Samuel 3:29 (NIV)

David does not order any punishment for Joab like he had done for the man who killed Saul for the men who killed his son Ish-Bosheth. But with Joab, he is cautious and simply gives him a verbal reprimand. He needs Joab to consolidate his kingdom and needs him on his side. He ensured that he separated himself from his actions and fasted and mourned, performing outward acts to prove to everyone that he was not in on it. But he did not dare kill Joab perhaps fearing a revolt from the men whom Joab had groomed. He needed Joab in his army for greater things and for not-so-great things when he gave into satan’s temptations and killed one of his own men. David has the flip-flop attitude of judgement even later in his reign, once when he is confronted by Nathan and again when his sons are at war with each other.

We also tend to judge people differently. The ones who are close to us or because of whom we seek to benefit, we hold to softer standards. The ones who are not related to us and are not part of the inner circle we treat in a harsh manner. Jesus never taught us to add up to the misery of the person who is low but that’s what we do, with the man struggling to feed his family we say that it is his wasteful spending that has gotten him where he is today. But with our family member indicted of embezzlement, we give more rope and even try to defend his actions among our friends. We need to treat all of God’s creatures with the same love that God has shown all of us, sinners saved by His Grace.

A State of Mourning

Then David commanded Joab and all his men to go into mourning for the death of Abner. He told them to tear off their clothes and put on sackcloth and walk in front of Abner’s body. Abner was buried in Hebron and David wept out loud at his tomb, with his men following suit.

The king sang this lament for Abner:
“Should Abner have died as the lawless die?
Your hands were not bound,
your feet were not fettered.
You fell as one falls before the wicked.”
And all the people wept over him again.

2 Samuel 3:33-34 (NIV)

The above lament seems empty, especially when coming from the mouths of David’s men, who just a few days ago wanted Abner dead and buried. Back then it was customary for people to mourn the dead and remember their ancestors with the annual recitation of the Passover story. No one truly expressed what they believed and a genuine turn of the heart was missing among most men.

Sometimes the hymns that we sing in our churches also echo the same sentiment as we are singing about Christ’s death on the cross that freed us from the slavery of the sins but many of us have no idea of what that means. Let our words and action be in line with what we believe and let us come to Christ with an honest heart and genuinely worship Him.

David’s Justice

When Ish-Bosheth heard about the death of Abner, he lost all hope along with the rest of the Israelites. One day while he was resting, two former members of Saul’s raiding party, came to his house on the pretext of buying wheat and killed him in cold blood. They cut off his head and slipped out of his palace and made their way across the Jordan to Hebron.

They brought the head of Ish-Bosheth to David at Hebron and said to the king, “Here is the head of Ish-Bosheth son of Saul, your enemy, who tried to kill you. This day the LORD has avenged my lord the king against Saul and his offspring.”
David answered Rekab and his brother Baanah, the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, “As surely as the LORD lives, who has delivered me out of every trouble, when someone told me, ‘Saul is dead,’ and thought he was bringing good news, I seized him and put him to death in Ziklag. That was the reward I gave him for his news! How much more—when wicked men have killed an innocent man in his own house and on his own bed—should I not now demand his blood from your hand and rid the earth of you!”
So David gave an order to his men, and they killed them. They cut off their hands and feet and hung the bodies by the pool in Hebron. But they took the head of Ish-Bosheth and buried it in Abner’s tomb at Hebron.

2 Samuel 4:8-12 (NIV)

David is on the cusp of a new dawn for both himself and the nation of Israel. All that God had promised him and foretold through His prophet Samuel had come true. But still, the blood-soaked way the kingdom was being transferred to him would not have sat well with David. Everyday lives were being lost because of the civil war. People were killing each other on his behalf trying to gain his favour. Men of valour were deduced to cheap political games to try and gain the upper hand and secure their futures.

Everyone including us would have expected David’s reign to be different from that of his predecessor. Though initially, it was different, over time David stopped listening to the voice of God and started following the desires of his own heart. Like Saul, David was also only a man living in this sinful world surrounded by tempestuous opportunities at every turn. This is what God had warned Israel, that no matter who will be their king it would not be the same as the Creator Himself leading their country.

The blood-soaked transitions would have reminded us of what every civilisation went through when the transfer of power was initiated. Perhaps due to war or the sudden death of the king, the country would be in turmoil as everyone would form their own tribes for support. All the tactics employed by Abner, Joab and even David are no different than what our politicians do to claim their rightful place in the Senate. Throughout history, there has been only one leader who truly loves His people, regardless of their faith in Him. Let us not be fooled by our modern leaders, and allow Christ to claim His rightful throne in our hearts.

Discussion Questions

3:8 – Why was Abner angry at Ish-Bosheth if he was fighting for him to become the king of Israel?
3:9 – If Abner knew that David was God’s chosen one, then why was he helping Saul and now Ish-Bosheth secure the throne of Israel?
3:13 – Why does David want Abner to bring back Michal who is now married to another man?
3:21 – Why is David trusting Abner and not killing him for what he did to his men?
3:29 – Why does David not deal the same brand of Justice for the killer of Abner, as he did for the man who assisted in Saul’s suicide?
3:34 – Is this not an empty lament sung by the same people who literally wanted Abner dead?
Summary – What can we learn about David’s character from how he handled the above situations?


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