2 Samuel 03


Do you remember? There was a lot of blood and guts in last week’s chapter, because in last week’s chapter we read how Abner — who had been the commander of Saul’s army — opposed and resisted David’s kingdom by setting up a rival king. And Abner’s army and David’s army — under the command of Joab — met one another at the pool of Gibeon. Twelve men from each side were chosen to fight against one another in pairs. And all at the same time, each man grabbed his opponent by the head and thrust his dagger into his opponent’s side, so that all twenty-four of them fell down dead at the same time. And then Joab’s brother, A-sah-el, was chasing after Abner, and though Abner warned A-sah-el to stop chasing him, A-sah-el would not give up the chase. And in the end, Abner thrust the butt of his spear into A-sah-el’s belly and he died. And the battle between the two armies was very fierce; and in the end, while only 20 of David’s men were killed, 360 of Abner’s men were killed.

And the killing continues in today’s chapter, because we read how Joab got his revenge on Abner, when he took him aside, as if to talk to him; but instead of talking to him, he stabbed him in the stomach so that Abner died.

So, there’s been a lot of blood and guts. But what about David? David is now the main character of these stories. What kind of a person is he?

Ever since he killed Goliath, we’ve seen how David was a mighty warrior; and the woman used to sing that while Saul had killed thousands of Philistines, David had killed tens of thousands of Philistines. And in previous chapters we read about some of the battles David fought and won. So, he was a mighty warrior.

However, we’re also seen that David was only willing to fight the enemy nations: people like the Philistines and the Amalekites and other pagan nations who were living in the Promised Land at that time. He was prepared to go to war against them. But he’s always been unwilling to fight against his own people. When he had the opportunity to kill Saul, he refused. Whenever Saul and his men came to catch him, he did not fight, but withdrew. In fact, he went off to live among the Philistines for a time to avoid having to fight against Saul. And last week we saw how he appealed to the men of Jabesh-Gilead to accept him as their king. He did not threaten them, but he invited them to accept him and he promised to do them good. And in today’s chapter, when Abner came to David to make peace with him, David was willing to welcome Abner and to make a covenant of peace with him. And at the end of today’s chapter, David says about himself that he is … what? Well, what did he say about himself? The NIV has translated his words in verse 39:

And today, though I am the anointed king, I am weak.

However, what he said can also be translated:

And today, though I am the anointed king, I am gentle.

He wasn’t weak. David was not a weak king. He was a mighty warrior. But he was willing to be gentle towards someone like Abner, who was willing to accept him as king. He was willing to be gentle, because he was the pattern for the one to come, who is Jesus Christ our King, who will one day come in glory and with power to destroy once-and-for-all his enemies who refuse in this life to repent and believe in him. But while he will destroy his enemies one day, he is gentle towards all those who trust in him as the only Saviour of the world and who submit to him as their king. And he’s willing to make peace with them.

And so, once again the things we read in today’s chapter are part of God’s great plan of salvation to send his Son into the world to be the True and Final King who would save his people from their sin and misery and give them everlasting life in God’s everlasting kingdom. And though the Lord Jesus is a Mighty King, he is gentle and lowly in heart and he invites all those who are weak and weary to come to him for rest.

So, let’s study this passage today to see what more we can learn about David and about the Lord Jesus Christ. And there are really three parts to today’s passage. It begins with a note about David’s children. Then there’s the making of this covenant of peace between Abner and David. And then there’s the death of Abner. You might be interested to know that the next passage after this one also contains a death and the making of a covenant of peace and a note about David’s children. So, today’s passage and the next passage mirror one another. But let’s turn to today’s passage.

Verses 1 to 5

We looked at verse 1 last week, but let me remind you that it says the war between the house of Saul and the house of David lasted a long time. And while the house of Saul grew weaker and weaker, David grew stronger and stronger. And, as I said last week, this was inevitable, because the Lord had decreed that David would one day be king. The Lord God Almighty rules over the heavens and the earth and over all that he has made and he determines what will be; he raises up and tears down; he exalts and he humbles. He governs the whole of history and he had decreed that David would one day be king. And so, it was inevitable that the house of Saul would become weaker and David would become stronger. And the Lord God Almighty who decreed that David would one day be king has decreed the end of history and how every earthly kingdom will come to nothing and Christ the King will come in glory and with power to judge the living and the dead and to punish his enemies who refused to believe in him and to bring his people into God’s everlasting kingdom which will never end. The end of history has already been decided and we’re just waiting for the day when Christ the King will come again.

But having told us that David grew stronger and stronger, our narrator inserts this note about David’s children. Sons were born to David, we’re told. And the narrator lists the six sons who were born to David in Hebron when he was king of the tribe of Judah. More sons and daughters were born to him when he became king over all of Israel, but here are his first six sons. And there are perhaps three interesting things about this list. Firstly, some of these children will cause problems for David in the future. His first-born son, Amnon, raped his half-sister which led to a family feud. His third son, Absalom, turned the people against David and he tried to take the kingdom from him. And when David was old, his fourth son, Adonijah, set himself up as king in place of Solomon. And so, though David was growing stronger and stronger, his own children would grow up to cause trouble in his kingdom.

The second thing to note is that David had several wives. The narrator doesn’t comment on this, but in Deuteronomy 17, where the Lord gave his people instructions about the duties of the king, the Lord made clear that the king of Israel must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. And so, this is a reminder to us that though David was a far better king than Saul, he was not a perfect king. Though he was God’s choice to be king, he was still a sinner who needed God’s forgiveness. Though he was God’s anointed king, he was not the True and Final King, who is Jesus Christ the Lord, who alone is perfect and who never did anything wrong when he was on the earth, but he was obedient to God in everything, even to the point of death on the cross, when he died to take the blame for sinners like David and like you and me, so that all who trust in him and in his death for sinners are pardoned by God and accepted as right in God’s sight.

And the third thing to note here is that this list of David’s sons is perhaps given here to set up a contrast with Saul. Most of Saul’s sons had died in the last battle with the Philistines, when Saul himself had died. Saul’s last remaining son was Ish-bosheth, but he will die in chapter 4. And so, Saul’s family is dying out, whereas David’s family is growing just as his kingdom is growing.

Verses 6 to 21

That’s the first part of today’s passage. In the second part, we have the making of a covenant of peace between Abner and David.

We’re told how Ish-bosheth accused Abner of sleeping with his father’s concubine. The commentators are divided over whether they think Abner was guilty, but they seem to be agreed that if this were true, if Abner really did sleep with this woman, it was a sign that he wanted to be king himself. Taking the king’s wives and concubines would have been regarded in those days as a sign that here’s a person who wanted to take the king’s throne as well. Whether or not Abner was guilty, Ish-bo-sheth accused him; and that made Abner very angry. And he complained that Ish-bo-sheth was insulting him, treating him like a dog’s head. And he complained that Ish-bo-sheth clearly didn’t appreciate everything Abner had done for him. ‘This very day I am loyal to the house of your father’, he says. In fact, another way of translating what he said is that up to that day he had shown steadfast love to the house of Saul. He used the Hebrew word which we normally use to refer to God’s commitment to his people. Just as God has bound himself to his people, so Abner had bound himself to the house of Saul. ‘And now you accuse me of this!’, he’s saying. As the narrator says, he’s very angry. And he’s so angry that he’s had enough of Ish-bo-sheth and he decides to switch sides and to do everything he can to transfer the kingdom from the house of Saul to David. He’s going to do what he can to make sure that David becomes king of all Israel.

And so, Abner sent messengers to David to invite David to make an agreement or a covenant with him. If David is so willing, then Abner will help to bring over the whole of Israel to David’s side. David is willing. After all, it’s a great offer, isn’t it? But he has one demand: he wants his first wife back. Remember Michal? She was Saul’s daughter and she was given in marriage to David after he killed Goliath. And when Saul once sent soldiers to their house to capture David, Michal warned David and helped him escape. That was back in chapter 19 of 1 Samuel. In chapter 25 of 1 Samuel we were told that Saul had given Michal in marriage to this man Paltiel. But now David wants her back.

The commentators are again divided about this and whether David was right to make this demand. They point out that Paltiel is obviously heart-broken, because we read in verse 16 how he followed after her, weeping for her. And so, it seems that David had broken up a happy family. And some think this was a political move on David’s part: being married to Saul’s daughter would strengthen his position and might help unite the country. So, it was a political move, some of the commentators say, and David showed no affection for Michal. He didn’t really care about her. However, having said that, the commentators also point out that David had the right to ask for her back, because she was, after all, his wife. So, it’s not clear what to make of this. However, Abner was willing to do what David wanted; and even Ish-bo-sheth was prepared to do what David asked. And perhaps the return of Michal to David can be seen as a symbol of how the whole of Israel would soon be given to David.

And so, in verse 17 we read that Abner conferred with the elders of Israel about making David their king. And look at verse 18: Abner is somehow aware that the Lord had promised to rescue his people from the Philistines by the hand of David. In that case, let’s make him our king. And not only did he confer with the elders of Israel, but he also spoke to the Benjamites in particular. And that was important because Saul had been from the tribe of Benjamin; and, if any tribe would remain loyal to Saul’s son, it would have been them.

And having spoken to all these people, and presumably having reached an agreement with them, Abner went to David at Hebron. And David had prepared a feast for Abner and his men. Now, when David first became king, Abner opposed and resisted his kingdom, setting up Ish-bo-sheth as a rival king. For a time, David would have regarded Abner as his enemy. But now that Abner was prepared to come over to David’s side, David was willing to welcome him and to make peace with him. And in those days, whenever a covenant had been agreed between two sides — whenever two enemies had decided to make peace — the two sides would sit down together and share a meal to celebrate their new relationship. And Abner promised that he would assemble all of Israel so that they could make an agreement with David and make him their king. And look at verse 21:

So David sent Abner away, and he went in peace.

Verses 22 to 39

So, he went off in peace. And then Joab, the commander of David’s army, came in. And someone told Joab that Abner had been there and the king had sent him away in peace. And remember: Abner was not only the enemy, but he had killed Joab’s brother, Asahel. And so, Joab went to David and said:

What have you done! He came to you. And you let him go! Joab then left David and sent messengers to bring Abner back. David isn’t aware of any of this. And Abner comes back, thinking nothing is wrong. After all, he and David have made peace. However, Joab takes him aside and stabs him and he dies. As verse 27 tells us, he stabbed Abner to avenge the blood of his brother.

When David discovered what Joab had done, he makes clear in verse 28 that he and his kingdom are innocent before the Lord concerning the blood of Abner. In fact, in the Hebrew, the first word he says is ‘Guiltless’ which emphasises his innocence: ‘Guiltless am I….’ And then he pronounced a curse on Joab in verse 29. And then, in verse 31, he commanded Joab and his men to mourn for Abner. Tear your clothes. Put on sackcloth. Walking in mourning. And David himself walked behind the coffin as it was taken to the grave. And according to verse 32, David wept for Abner and all the people who were there wept too. And just as David wrote a funeral song for Saul and Jonathan, he now wrote one for Abner. And we’re told that the people wept for him. And after the funeral, David refused to eat anything for the remainder of the day.

Now remember, up until very recently, Abner was his enemy. Abner had opposed and resisted David’s kingdom and he had set up a rival king. He had attacked David’s army with his men. Up until very recently, Abner was David’s enemy. But once Abner was prepared to accept David as his king, David was willing to welcome Abner and to make peace with him. And when Abner was killed, David mourned for him and wept for him and fasted for him. And we read in verse 36 that all the people took note of David’s reaction and they were pleased. That is, it was good in their eyes. In fact, everything the king did was good in their eyes. They were struck by the goodness of David; and all the people who were there at the funeral knew, and all the people of Israel knew, that David was a good king and he had nothing to do with Abner’s death.

And so, the anointed king was gentle, whereas Joab and his brother Abishai, the sons of Ze-ru-iah, were … what? The NIV says ‘too strong for me’, but that’s not right. It should be, ‘more severe than I’. They were severe, hard, cruel, but David was gentle. The same Hebrew words is used in the book of Proverbs to refer to the gentle answer which turns away wrath. And because David was gentle, he had been willing to give up his fight with Abner and to make peace with him.

Application 1

David displayed the lamb-like gentleness of the True and Final King who was coming into the world. When the Lord was on the earth, he described himself as being gentle and humble in heart. And so he invited the weary and the burdened to come to him and he would deal gently with them and give them the rest they needed. And on one occasion, when some Samaritans did not welcome the Lord and his disciples, James and John wanted to call down fire from heaven to destroy them. But the Lord rebuked them for wanting to destroy them. And think of what his whole life must have been like, because every moment of every day that he lived on the earth, he was surrounded by sinful men and women. And those sinful men and women must have provoked him in his spirit, because he’s the Eternal Son of God, whose eyes are too pure to look upon evil. Every moment of every day, he was surrounded by men and women who were sinners. But instead of calling down fire from heaven to destroy them, he was gentle with them and patient with them and kind to them. He put up with them. In fact, he not only put up with them, but he laid down his life for them, to pay for their sins in full and to cleanse them from their guilt with his blood.

And that’s the way he has been with you, because you were born a sinner and every day of your life you have sinned against him in thought and word and deed. You have provoked him by the things you have said and done and thought. But instead of calling down fire from heaven to destroy you, which is what you deserve for your many sins, he has been gentle with you and patient with you and kind to you. He’s put up with you. And not only has he put up with you, but he laid down his life for you to pay for your sins, so that by trusting in him as the only Saviour of the world, you can have forgiveness and peace with God forever.

And no matter what a person has done wrong in their life, no matter how many times they have sinned, and no matter what wicked things they have done, the Lord Jesus is willing to make peace with anyone who comes to him, confessing their guilt and asking for forgiveness. When Abner came to David, David did not drive him away or kill him, even though Abner was his enemy. He was willing to make peace with Abner whenever Abner was willing to submit to David. And that’s what the Lord Jesus is like with every person who comes to him in this life, confessing their sins and asking for forgiveness. Instead of driving them away, instead of calling down fire from heaven, he’s willing to make peace with anyone who comes to him.

There is a day when his mercy will end, and he will no longer be gentle towards his enemies. There is a day when he will come in glory and with power to destroy his enemies: all those who refused to believe in him in this life. But until that day comes, he’s gentle with us and he holds out his hands — as it were — and he beckons us to come to him for forgiveness and for peace. And so, you should believe in him. And you should give thanks to God for him, because he is gentle with you and he’s willing to make peace with you.

Application 2

And he also gives us his Spirit to renew us in his image, so that we will become gentle people and patient people and kind people. He doesn’t want us to be severe and hard and cruel to one another. He doesn’t want us to fight with one another and to hold grudges against one another and to attack one another with our words or our fists. He wants us to be gentle with one another and to live in peace with one another, and to be kind and considerate to one another. And this is especially important in these days, when we’re under pressure and feeling stressed and it’s so easy to take it out on one another. But no, the Lord’s people are not to be like that. Instead we’re to display the lamb-like gentleness of the Saviour, who gives us his Spirit to help us to live like that.