Murders in the Land - 2 Samuel 3:22-4:12
Prayer: Lord help us to forgive those who harm us, help us to never seek vengeance but to remember that vengeance belongs to you & you alone. God, only you are a perfect judge & able to dispense perfect justice, teach us to trust you to make things right.
Quickly Form Groups:
1. Briefly have each person share about 1 person they need to forgive (think single sentence), say a brief (think single sentence) prayer for each. (share, pray, share, pray, ....)
2. Have you ever had to deal with the aftermath of a violent act perpetuated against yourself or a friend or a family member? What emotions did you deal with & how did God help you through it?
A peace delegation has come & the civil war had ended. The leaders of all the tribes of Israel, even the tribe of Benjamin, have chosen David as their king. Abner, formerly the general for Ish-Bosheth's forces, has allied with David & been the man who has worked to bring peace to all Israel. Abner is a hero, he has done the right & godly thing, he has promoted David as God's choice for king of Israel.
2 Samuel 3 v22-23: Joab & the army return from a raid, presumably against the enemies of Israel, and they come back successful - lots of plunder. Joab's probably in great spirits, feeling pretty successful, but then... he hears the news that Abner has been to visit, Abner who killed his baby brother Asahel, and that David let Abner leave in peace.
Again, for those who may not have been with us during the last couple lessons, I want to remind everyone that all these people are related (family) and that all the fighting men had once served together - in fact David would have trained under & served under Abner in Saul's army, since Abner was Saul's commander at least as far back as when David slew Goliath (1 Samuel 17). It's possible that Joab & his brothers also trained & served under Abner, though I didn't find any specific references to back up that possibility. With that in mind let's continue to see how Joab reacts to Abner coming in peace.
v24-25: Joab is angry, Joab can't believe that David would let Asahel's killer simply walk in & walk away in peace. Joab accuses Abner of deception, that he came to spy out David's stronghold & David's ways. Joab is trying to discredit Abner, to undermine Abner's character - Joab may have even felt threatened that this obviously strong general was coming to join David. I don't believe that Joab really believed that Abner was there to spy, he knew Abner's loyal & honorable character, but his anger & hatred of Abner were so strong that his thinking in this matter may not have been clear. Notice that Joab isn't being particularly respectful of David here either, and David is his uncle & the king he is supposed to be serving.
v26-27: Apparently David didn't believe Joab's accusations because he doesn't act on them, he knows Abner well and knows Abner's character. At this point Joab takes matters into his own hands, goes behind David's back, and has Abner brought back. Abner returned, and Joab pretended to want to speak to him privately, but once alone Joab murders Abner. Abner had killed Asahel in battle, after trying to turn Asahel aside, and when he had no other choice. Joab's murder of Abner is premeditated, motivated by vengeance, in opposition to David's desires and in opposition to God's ways. God's laws allowed for blood vengeance in the cases of murder, but not in cases of accident or from the results of battle - Joab was in the wrong. Deuteronomy 19:11-13
v28-30: David condemns this act of murder, he makes it clear that he neither ordered nor condoned it. David proclaims his innocence & the innocence of his kingdom (remember Joab is his nephew) before the Lord regarding Abner.
David had many reasons to proclaim his innocence, these might include:
- It would reflect on his kingship and kingdom, how he treated people, especially those who came in peace. This murder put the newly brokered peace treaty at risk.
- It would reflect on his personal character, he had entered into an alliance, and had received Michal back as a part of that agreement.
- He had made promises to Jonathan & Saul regarding their family which may or may not have included Abner (more on that later).
- It would reflect on his spiritual state if he allowed / condoned this murder since this was an offense to God.
David calls down a curse on Joab & his family, the blood of Abner would be on Joab & all his father's house, his curse was a sort of prayer that God would avenge by having sickness / wounds / violent death / hunger within Joab's family that would cause them to be in distress. Why on the whole family? Apparently Abishai, Joab's other brother, was in on the murder plot as well.
v31-32: What was Joab & his men's immediate punishment for their act? They were forced to tear their clothes, to put on sackcloth (clothing of grief & repentance) and join in with the mourning process - forcing them to pay their respects to Abner. David as well is mourning, but his mourning is genuine & he wept aloud along with the people.
v33-34: Here we see David's soft side come out, this warrior king is also a musician and man of compassion. David sings a lament to his former general & friend, and even his lament proclaims Abner's murderers wicked men. David's song moves the people to weep over Abner.
v35-37: David in his grief refused to eat, he fasted all that day because of his grief, and this was an important witness to all the people of Israel (not just the people of Judah) that he had no part in Abner's murder - his grief was genuine. Because of David's actions the newly brokered peace treaty was no longer at risk, and the people of Israel knew they could trust their king.
v38-39: David addresses his men directly, he clearly points out that a significant man "a prince and a great man" has fallen, a hero has been slain. The slaying of this hero, of this loyal and honorable general, of this man who brokered peace - this slaying has undermined David's authority as king. Joab & Abishai have acted in a manner to undermine David's authority and he's pointing it out, but he leaves the rest of their punishment in the hands of God - that God would avenge their evil deeds.
David hasn't just "let it slide", he's pointed out the error, attempted to humble and correct these men, and then left it in God's hands to deal out whatever punishment He sees fit. Some say David should have had these men killed because of their actions, and the passage we read earlier in Deuteronomy seems to back that up. Once again David may not have been aware of that scripture, or he may have been trying to keep from stirring things up more within his family & his army, but at the very least he is attempting to put a halt to the bloodshed that has been the result of this civil war.
2 Samuel 4 v1-4: This passage makes me think "meanwhile, back at the ranch..." because I'm thinking that this news is reaching Ish-Bosheth prior to the news of the funeral & mourning over Abner. Remember that this isn't necessarily happening sequentially, but at least it is happening after the death of Abner. Perhaps it's possible that they think that Abner was ambushed & killed when he came to broker peace, perhaps they've not yet received news regarding the peace treaty - they didn't have the "instant" communication methods we have today. This would explain their fear when getting the news of Abner's death.
Two important side notes are added at this point in the narrative:
- Ish-Bosheth (son of Saul) has lost his general, but still has other fighting men - two specifically named here are part of a clan that was "adopted" into the tribe of Benjamin, we'll get back to them in a bit.
- There is still another member of the royal line of Saul, Mephibosheth (son of Jonathan & grandson of Saul), but he was already lame because of an accident that happened when the family was fleeing for safety after the deaths of Jonathan and Saul. We'll run in to Mephibosheth again in chapter 9.
v5-8: These two fighting men that Ish-Bosheth still thought were his have turned against him. They pretend to go into the king's residence to get some provisions but that's not their intent. They go into Ish-Bosheth's room while he is taking a nap and stab him in the stomach (perhaps the heart), killing him, then they remove his head. They take the head of Ish-Bosheth to David, perhaps thinking that if Abner couldn't prove alliance by coming peacefully they could prove alliance by producing the head of Saul's heir. Their words tell David that they have taken vengeance against Saul & Saul's offspring on his behalf.
v9-12: Oops!! These two fighting men have made a grave error where David is concerned. David had killed the one who told him of Saul's death, the one who claimed he had helped end Saul's life when Saul asked him to. How much more upset will David be at these men, who have killed Saul's son when he was asleep in bed, a son who's general has just been killed - both of whom were seeking peace with David. He deals with these two men harshly, they have acted traitorously & treacherously, and David has them killed. Remember these are some who were "adopted" into Benjamin, foreigners that were living as aliens in Israel (we would call them "legal aliens"), and this may be why David treated them more harshly than he treated Joab & his men. David may also have been more harsh due to the fact that they acted against the pledge that David had made to Saul (1 Samuel 24:16-22). The men are killed and their bodies left exposed, but the head of Ish-Bosheth is treated with dignity and buried with the body of Abner.
Closing Prayer: Lord, it seems that sometimes even our best efforts don't bring about peace. We see how David again & again had to keep correcting the fighting men to try to stop the bloodshed within Israel, how heartbreaking and frustrating that had to be. Lord keep us from acting impulsively, help us to patiently wait for You to work out Your will in Your way and in Your time.
Quickly Form Groups Again:
3. From this lesson what character traits to you see in David? Are these traits good or bad? Which of these traits do you see in yourself?
4. Think about the things impacting our world, wars, alliances & treaties at risk, removal / deaths of leaders, changes in political or religious leaders, etc. How might we pray for our world & the peoples of the world? Time permitting, spend some time in your group in prayer for our world.