1 The House of Saul and the House of David
1 Now there was a long war between the house of Saul and the house of David; and David grew steadily stronger, but the house of Saul grew weaker continually.
This verse still belongs to the previous chapter. It is not just a communication on military force ratios. The verse also says that David must patiently learn how God will lead his cause. He has to wait for God’s time and he does. In the long battle between the house of Saul and the house of David, the first house is getting weaker and weaker and the second stronger and stronger.
That’s how it goes in the life of the believer. In the battle between the house of Saul and the house of David, we can see the spiritual growth of someone who has come to know the Lord Jesus. As he begins to live more with Him, he will increase in spiritual strength and the flesh will have less chance to assert itself. If we give the Spirit authority in our lives, the flesh will not have a chance to express itself.
2 - 5 The Sons of David
2 Sons were born to David at Hebron: his firstborn was Amnon, by Ahinoam the Jezreelitess; 3 and his second, Chileab, by Abigail the widow of Nabal the Carmelite; and the third, Absalom the son of Maacah, the daughter of Talmai, king of Geshur; 4 and the fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith; and the fifth, Shephatiah the son of Abital; 5 and the sixth, Ithream, by David’s wife Eglah. These were born to David at Hebron.
These verses are between two verses about the battle between the house of Saul and the house of David (verses 1,6). While David waits quietly, our attention is focused on his family. This develops in a way that is not after God’s mind. Sprouts are laid, from which later many troubles for David will come forth. This suggests that we can quietly wait for God’s time, but that it is not intended that we should be dealing with wrong things. Not that starting a family is wrong, but the way David does is.
David is not only a picture of the Lord Jesus. He is in His weakness and sins also a picture of us. We find in these verses that he has taken even more wives than Abigail and Ahinoam. In so doing he has not only gone even further against the order of God’s creation, but also against God’s explicit law for the kingship, in which it is forbidden to take more than one wife (Deu 17:17a). Of his several wives, he has sons who have caused major problems.
In Hebron David has six sons. They are not boys who has given him much pleasure. In particular Amnon, Absalom and Adonijah will break David’s heart as father. Hebron means ‘fellowship’, but to be in a place that speaks of fellowship is not yet a guarantee that everything that happens there is also a consequence of fellowship with God. What later becomes the fall of Solomon, his many wives, is unfortunately not strange to David either. Having 'only' one wife is not a guarantee for a good marriage, nor is it a guarantee that children born in this marriage only cause joy. Having more than one woman, however, is completely against the will of God and is guaranteed to cause problems. How much troubles and worries David would have saved if he had limited himself to Abigail.
Through Abigail he receives his second son, Chileab, also called Daniel (1Chr 3:1). From him we hear nothing else. He may have died young.
The third son, Absalom, is born from his relationship with “Maacah, the daughter of Talmai, king of Geshur”. How he got to her is not known. It may have been a political marriage. Maybe she was taken prisoner by him (1Sam 27:8). Geshur is located in Syria (2Sam 15:8), a neighboring people. David had a particular weakness for this son. This could not prevent and possibly even led Absalom to revolt against his father and to kick him off the throne to take place there himself (2 Samuel 14-18).
Adonijah, the fourth son, is also someone who wants to kick his father off the throne to become a king himself (1Kgs 1:5-10,41-53). That is after Absalom died.
Of the fifth and sixth son we only know their names.
6 - 11 Ish-bosheth and Abner
6 It came about while there was war between the house of Saul and the house of David that Abner was making himself strong in the house of Saul. 7 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?” 8 Then Abner was very angry over the words of Ish-bosheth and said, “Am I a dog’s head that belongs to Judah? Today I show kindness to the house of Saul your father, to his brothers and to his friends, and have not delivered you into the hands of David; and yet today you charge me with a guilt concerning the woman. 9 May God do so to Abner, and more also, if as the LORD has sworn to David, I do not accomplish this for him, 10 to transfer the kingdom from the house of Saul and to establish the throne of David over Israel and over Judah, from Dan even to Beersheba.” 11 And he could no longer answer Abner a word, because he was afraid of him.
Here the history of the civil war continues. Abner is the actual ruler in the house of Saul and not Ish-bosheth. This is clear when Ish-bosheth Abner asks about his adulterous behavior with the concubine of his father Saul. Apparently Abner has taken this sideline. He did so not only because she liked him, but to strengthen his position in Saul’s house even more. It increases its standing in Israel. We also see it later with David when he wants Michal back. We also see it at Absalom and Adonijah. It is all for the same purpose: to obtain more power.
Abner feels Ish-bosheth’s question as a reproach. That is also right, because his behavior is culpable. But Abner doesn’t accept the reproach. He makes himself angry and accuses Ish-bosheth of ungrateful. He wants to show ‘mercy’ and then Ish-bosheth dares to blame him for an iniquity with a woman! In his wounded pride and proudness Abner says that he will give David the kingdom. That will be a new temptation for David, after in 2 Samuel 1 an Amalekiet has already offered it to him (2Sam 1:1-10).
Abner seems to know that the LORD has given the kingship to David. Therefore his resistance by making Ish-bosheth king is sin. He acts consciously against the will of God. Abner has joined Ish-bosheth to exercise power himself. Noting that David will eventually win and become king, he proposes to go over to David. He wants to do that in a way that will benefit him the most.
Abner threats affect Ish-bosheth. He tones down and doesn’t let himself be heard anymore. It shows his weak character and who really is in power.
12 - 21 Abner Negotiates with David
12 Then Abner sent messengers to David in his place, saying, “Whose is the land? Make your covenant with me, and behold, my hand shall be with you to bring all Israel over to you.” 13 He said, “Good! I will make a covenant with you, but I demand one thing of you, namely, you shall not see my face unless you first bring Michal, Saul’s daughter, when you come to see me.” 14 So David sent messengers to Ish-bosheth, Saul’s son, saying, “Give me my wife Michal, to whom I was betrothed for a hundred foreskins of the Philistines.” 15 Ish-bosheth sent and took her from [her] husband, from Paltiel the son of Laish. 16 But her husband went with her, weeping as he went, and followed her as far as Bahurim. Then Abner said to him, “Go, return.” So he returned. 17 Now Abner had consultation with the elders of Israel, saying, “In times past you were seeking for David to be king over you. 18 Now then, do [it]! For the LORD has spoken of 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.’” 19 Abner also spoke in the hearing of Benjamin; and in addition Abner went to speak in the hearing of David in Hebron all that seemed good to Israel and to the whole house of Benjamin. 20 Then Abner and twenty men with him came to David at Hebron. And David made a feast for Abner and the men who were with him. 21 Abner said to David, “Let me arise and go and gather all Israel to my lord the king, that they may make a covenant with you, and that you may be king over all that your soul desires.” So David sent Abner away, and he went in peace.
Abner puts the deed to the word and sends messengers to David. They propose on his behalf to David to make a covenant with him to have all Israel turn to David. In his weakness David consents. He will have been glad that the matter would finally be decided. Here, however, he should have said that he was waiting for God’s time.
Immediately following Abner’s proposal and his agreement to it, David acts as if the matter has already been resolved. He sends messengers to Ish-bosheth with the request to send Michal, his wife, to him. Maybe he still loved her. Michal was and remained his wife, because marriage is inextricable.
Abner does not only consult with David. He also consults with the elders of Israel. He knows their feelings for David. He cleverly responds to make his intention to succeed and to give David the kingdom. With the encouragement “now then, do [it]!” he directs, without any time for reflection, towards a decision for his plan. He tells them it is now or never. That’s how he puts pressure on the case. He has a special consultation with the tribe of Benjamin. It is important that this tribe, to which also Saul belonged, should join his plans.
After his diplomatic tour around the parties involved, which he had to win for his plan, Abner goes to David with the results. He has managed to get all the parties on his side. They are all ready to make a covenant with David, so that he can rule over what his soul desires, that is over what the LORD has promised him. David is completely won over to the plan and lets Abner go in peace.
However, there is one absent in this matter and that is the LORD. We don’t hear David consulting Him. Abner will do it, not the LORD. This makes this matter not only a precarious undertaking, but an undertaking doomed to failure.
The lesson is that we should not let ourselves be taken in by all kinds of diplomatic attempts to win us for a certain point of view, but that we should ask the Lord for His will. We can apply this, among other things, to changes within the church, for which sometimes frantically can be lobbied to get them implemented. Let us test proposals for change against God’s Word.
22 - 27 Joab Kills Abner
22 And behold, the servants of David and Joab came from a raid and brought much spoil with them; but Abner was not with David in Hebron, for he had sent him away, and he had gone in peace. 23 When Joab and all the army that was with him arrived, they told Joab, saying, “Abner the son of Ner came to the king, and he has sent him away, and he has gone in peace.” 24 Then Joab came to the king and said, “What have you done? Behold, Abner came to you; why then have you sent him away and he is already gone? 25 You know Abner the son of Ner, that he came to deceive you and to learn of your going out and coming in and to find out all that you are doing.” 26 When Joab came out from David, he sent messengers after Abner, and they brought him back from the well of Sirah; but David did not know [it]. 27 So when Abner returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside into the middle of the gate to speak with him privately, and there he struck him in the belly so that he died on account of the blood of Asahel his brother.
It is not inconceivable that Abner planned his visit to David so that it took place during the absence of Joab. When Joab hears of it, he is very displeased. He blames David for having let Abner leave unhindered. He does not hesitate to make false accusations. What he says to David is a reminder of Abner’s attitude towards Ish-bosheth.
David has listened too hard to this wicked man. The language and tone of Joab are inappropriate for a cousin who speaks to his uncle and are certainly inappropriate for a commander who speaks to his king. But David accepts it, without any resistance.
We may wonder how it is possible that a powerful king is so weak against a man like Joab. Why is it that David could not free himself from this man? It is not clear from history. Perhaps family relationships have played a role. As the history continues, David does not seem to possess the spiritual power in his family that he possesses as king. His performance as a father is downright weak and in some respects even wrong and culpable.
The fact that God is going to use Joab to prevent David’s foolish intention to make a covenant with Abner does not mean that Joab is acting well. It is more often the case that God uses the sinful actions of people to achieve His goal. That is the wisdom of God. God does not encourage Joab, but uses his jealousy to kill Abner and thus prevent the covenant. We can suppose Joab’s jealousy, because in Abner he saw a formidable competitor for his position as a general in David’s army. If Abner would go over to David, it could mean that Abner would be placed above him.
After his collision with David Joab follows his own course. He does not care about David and the agreements made, but acts as judge himself. Completely apart from David he has Abner brought back with an excuse. He pretends to discuss something personal with Abner and lures him into a trap (cf. Psa 55:21). Abner falls into the trap. When Joab is alone with Abner, he kills him.
What Joab does is a mean, cunning action. In this way, he brings upon himself the curse of the law: “‘Cursed is he who strikes his neighbor in secret.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen’” (Deu 27:24). Abner had killed Joab’s brother in battle and that after two warnings (2Sam 2:18-23). Joab kills Abner in peacetime. Later David gives this to his son Solomon as a reason to let Joab be killed (1Kgs 2:5-6).
28 - 30 David Condemns the Deed of Joab
28 Afterward when David heard it, he said, “I and my kingdom are innocent before the LORD forever of the blood of Abner the son of Ner. 29 May it fall on the head of Joab and on all his father’s house; and may there not fail from the house of Joab one who has a discharge, or who is a leper, or who takes hold of a distaff, or who falls by the sword, or who lacks bread.” 30 So Joab and Abishai his brother killed Abner because he had put their brother Asahel to death in the battle at Gibeon.
When David hears of Joab’s deed, he clearly distances himself from it. He judges Joab’s performance. His reaction makes it clear that he really regrets this event. That is, after all, the reason why the other tribes accept him as their king.
David’s grief over Abner is real. Israel needs to see that there is no intention on David’s part. It is also an indication for us to take away the appearance of partiality wherever we can. We do not take away that appearance by defending ourselves, but by showing the right attitude.
David curses Joab and his whole family. In doing so, he shows his disgust at Joab’s crime. His curse, however, is without much strength. He should have punished as well. Verse 30 shows that Joab also involved his brother Abishai in the complot against and murder of Abner. It is a reprehensible revenge action, which they set in motion because Abner killed their brother Asahel. The Holy Spirit adds that Abner has put “Asahel to death in the battle”. This shows superfluously that the retaliatory action by Joab and Abishai is unjustified.
31 - 39 David Mourns the Death of Abner
31 Then David said to Joab and to all the people who were with him, “Tear your clothes and gird on sackcloth and lament before Abner.” And King David walked behind the bier.
32 Thus they buried Abner in Hebron; and the king lifted up his voice and wept at the grave of Abner, and all the people wept.
33 The king chanted a [lament] for Abner and said,
“Should Abner die as a fool dies?
34 “Your hands were not bound, nor your feet put in fetters;
As one falls before the wicked, you have fallen.”
And all the people wept again over him. 35 Then all the people came to persuade David to eat bread while it was still day; but David vowed, saying, “May God do so to me, and more also, if I taste bread or anything else before the sun goes down.” 36 Now all the people took note [of it], and it pleased them, just as everything the king did pleased all the people. 37 So all the people and all Israel understood that day that it had not been [the will] of the king to put Abner the son of Ner to death. 38 Then the king said to his servants, “Do you not know that a prince and a great man has fallen this day in Israel? 39 I am weak today, though anointed king; and these men the sons of Zeruiah are too difficult for me. May the LORD repay the evildoer according to his evil.”
David calls Joab and the people to mourn. If Joab has mourned, it will not have gone warmly. David himself goes after the bier. He is close to the dead, as if Abner was his best friend. Also at the grave of Abner the grief of David is great. He cries loudly and the people share in the grief with him. From Joab we read nothing.
We see with David the same attitude he showed after the news of Saul’s death. Just as he did about Saul and Jonathan, David also chants a lament for Abner. Through his attitude and reaction to the murder of Abner, the people are won over to the king. David calls here Joab and Abishai “the wicked” (verse 34). He praises Abner and calls him “a prince and a great man”.
David acknowledges his weakness. He has just become king and faces an enormous task. On the other hand are “these men the sons of Zeruiah”, who are Joab and Abishai, whom he calls “too difficult for me“ or “harder than I”. That David feels weak and is not as hard as “these men” shows a good mind. It is important that the people are governed with care and tenderness and not with a hard hand. We see the effect of a hard government when the son of Solomon, Rehoboam, comes to power. It results in the division of the empire (1Kgs 12:1-19).
God’s king is someone who in the first place shepherds God’s people and then also is prince over that people (1Chr 11:2). Caring for God’s people comes first.
Anyone who has been given a place by the Lord as pastor among His people may pray that the Lord will teach him a lot from Himself as the good Shepherd. When he restored Peter after his denial of Him, He said to Peter in the first place: “Tend My lambs.” Only then did he speak of the shepherding of the sheep (Jn 21:15-17).