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2 Samuel 2:8-5:5
Key Verse: 5:3

In the first lesson of 2 Samuel, 1:1-2:5, we learned how David was anointed king over Judah. When an Amalekite brought the news, saying that he had killed Saul, expecting for reward, David had such a deceitful man struck down and dead. Knowing the death of Saul and Jonathan, David lamented at their death in a song of the lament of bow. Then, David was anointed king over Judah bearing good fruit of God’s long training. David also credited the men of Jabesh Gilead who buried the body of Saul and encouraged them to be strong and brave, although their master Saul was dead. In this way David showed what his kingdom would be like. His kingdom would be the kingdom of righteousness and peace beyond tribes. Yet, it would take more time. In today’s passage we can see how David was finally anointed king over Israel, as God had promised him. We learn God’s way of working and David’s consistent way of living with his God-fearing heart and with trust in God.

First, the tragic fight between brothers (2:5-3:5). While David was anointed king over Judah, what happened to the house of Saul? Verses 8 and 9 say, “Meanwhile, Abner son of Ner, the commander of Saul’s army, had taken Ish-Bosheth son of Saul and brought him over to Mahanaim. He made him king over…all Israel.” Abner, cousin of Saul and general of his army (1 Sam 14:50,51), did not desire to follow the Lord’s new anointed king, but placed Ishbosheth (meaning ‘man of shame’) on the throne in Mahanaim, a town in Gilead east of Jordan River. Ish-Bosheth son of Saul was forty years old when he became king over Israel, and he reigned two years. The house of Judah, however, followed David. So there was a tension between Judah and the rest of the tribes in Israel. Now the nation seemed to be divided with two kings after the death of Saul. Surely this was against David’s wishes. Verse 11 says, “The length of time David was king in Hebron over the house of Judah was seven years and six months.” Several years passed before Ish-Bosheth assumed the throne of Israel, so that Ish-Bosheth’s two-year reign came at the end of David’s seven year-and six-month reign over Judah. It must have taken Ish-Bosheth about five years to regain the northern territory from the Philistines.

In the following stories the author wrote what had happened for the two years Ish-Bosheth was king over Israel, There was a war between the house of Saul and the house of David. At the first confrontation, rather than all-out war, Abner proposed a representative contest between champions on behalf of the opposing armies. Twelve representatives were counted from each side, and they fought and killed each other. Verse 16 says, “Then each man grabbed his opponent by the head and thrust his dagger into his opponent’s side, and they fell down together.” What a tragic event! Their falling down was not by the people of the enemy’s country, but by each other, of their own people. It was so tragic that the place in Gibeon was called Helkath Hazzurim, meaning field of daggers or field of hostilities. In the history of Israel the place would be remembered by such a terrible name.

Because all twenty-four of the contestants lay fallen and dying in combat, the contest settled nothing, but excited passions so that a battle between the two armies ensued. The battle that day was very fierce, and Abner and the men of Israel were defeated by David’s men led by Joab. There was a bit-long description of Asahel, one of three brother generals of David’s men, chasing Abner. Asahel was as fleet-footed as a wild gazelle. He wanted to gain the honour of possessing the greatest trophy by taking the enemy general’s armor. Abner kept warning him and suggested that he take the armor of some other soldier for his trophy, since he was not able to defeat Abner. But Asahel was single-minded and deterministic in his ambition. And when Asahel refused to give up the pursuit, Abner thrust the butt of his spear into Asahel’s stomach, and the spear came out through his back. He fell there and died on the spot.

At this death of Asahel, his brothers, Joab and Abishai pursued Abner until the sun was setting. Abner called out Joab, “Must the sword devour forever? Don’t you realize that this will end in bitterness? How long before you order your men to stop pursuing their brothers?” Joab answered, “As surely as God lives, if you had not spoken, the men would have continued the pursuit of their brothers until morning.” The two captains realized that they were killing and pursuing their brothers which would end in bitterness, and the sword must not devour forever. At this the battle ceased. The author wrote the outcome of the battle: Besides Asahel, nineteen of David’s men were found missing. But David’s men had killed three hundred and sixty Benjamites who were with Abner. It was the victory of David’s men. Yet, it was not a victory to be celebrated. The battle was a needless one. It was an unnecessary kind of civil war. From David’s viewpoint he could wonder why such an event had to take place since he became king over Judah. It was likely that the situation of the whole nation was worse than the time of King Saul. 3:1 says, “The war between the house of Saul and the house of David lasted a long time.” It was possible that during such a time David could not understand what was going on in the nation and how long it would go. He could have questioned, “Did I become the king only to see these things, after such a long hard training in the desert?”

In our lives there are also times when things do not go as we have expected and our situations even seem to become worse. But Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” In such a situation God wants us to do is to love him with a faithful heart and with full trust in him, holding to his calling purpose.

Second, the kingdom of Saul transferred to David (3:6-4:12). 3:2 says, “David grew stronger and stronger, while the house of Saul grew weaker and weaker. Sons were born to David in Hebron. Then what was going on in Israel? Verse 6 says, “During the war between the house of Saul and the house of David, Abner had been strengthening his own position in the house of Saul.” This would be a great threat to the house of David. Who could stop this growing power of Abner in the house of Saul? Then something really strange happened in the house of Saul. In verse 7, “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?’” At that time going in to the king’s concubine was a statement of power and rightful clam to the throne (cf. 16:21, 22 in regard to Absalom). Ish-Bosheth clearly saw this and reacted strongly against Abner, saying, “Why did you sleep with my father’s concubine?” At this Abner’s pride was greatly hurt. He could not admit it. Rather, he tried to cover it up by saying that he who had been very loyal to the house of Saul would not do such an indignant act and Ish-Bosheth was accusing him of such an offense involving the woman. Then, in his emotional anger Abner was compelled by revenge, and determined to transfer all the weight of his influence and power to David’s side. He said to Ish-Boshetheth, “May God deal with Abner, be it ever so severely, if I do not do for David what the LORD promised him on oath and transfer the kingdom from the house of Saul and establish David’s throne over Israel and Judah from Dan to Beersheba.” We wonder how Abner could make such a radical decision triggered by an event that did not seem so serious. Humanly, it is not easy to understand. We remember the words of Proverbs in 16:32, “Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than cone who takes a city.” Yet, as for Abner, still in his calculation, he selfishly wanted to be on the winning side and to be honoured as the one who brought all the people under David’s rule. We cannot deny that he was also an opportunist. However, from spiritual viewpoint, God was working out to unify the two houses in his way and at his time.

Abner had been David’s unavoidable troublesome enemy both before and after the death of Saul. But David was a person who knew how to use this chance for the sake of God’s people, overcoming personal feelings and prejudice. Absolutely, he did not want civil war. So when Abner sent messengers to David, David welcomed his offer without hesitation. He said, “Good. I will make an agreement with you.” But one condition was to bring Michal daughter of Saul when Abner would come to meet him. For it was a rightful claim since he had paid the price (actually double price in 1 Sam 18:20, 28) of having Michal as his wife and also it would serve to strengthen David’s claim to the throne of all Israel by inclining some of Saul’s house to be favourable to his cause. This would be done. Then Abner conferred with the elders of Israel and also spoke to the Benjamites in person and arranged everything. When he came to David at Hebron with his twenty men, David prepared a feast for him and his men. Abner was assured of David’s acceptance and his heart was wide open, He said to David, “Let me go at once and assemble all Israel for my Lord the king, so that they may make a compact with you, and that you may rule over all that your heart desires.” So David sent Abner away, and he went in peace. In this way amazingly peaceful unification was at hand. At this David must have been so thankful to God and so happy. David’s sending Abner away peacefully is written repeatedly in 22, “…David had sent him away, and he had gone in peace” and in verse 23, “…that the king had sent him away and that he had gone in peace.”

But at this time something totally unexpected took place. It was really a peaceful time and everything went smoothly. No blood shed would be expected. But when Joab returned from a raid with much plunder and found what had happened between King David and Abner, he was greatly troubled. Joab went to the king and said, “What have you done? Look, Abner came to you. Why did you let him go? Now he is gone! You know Abner son of Ner; he came to deceive you and observe your movements and find out everything you are doing.” Joab was making a fool of the king, speaking deceptively. And then he let Abner be brought to him and killed him, acting deceptively. Verse 27b says, “to avenge the blood of his brother Asahel, Joab stabbed him in the stomach and he died.” It is written again in verse 30 in parenthesis. “(Joab and his brother Abishai murdered Abner because he had killed their brother Asahel in the battle at Gibeon.) Joab was one to whom his personal feeling was above the king’s and the nation’s concern, not to mention God’s will.

As for David, this presented a potential disaster, which could soon destroy the precious unifying work. It could make the nation’s situation worse, hardening the hearts of the people of Israel and causing them to revolt against him in misunderstanding that the king did this indirectly by commanding Joab. It would not be a small matter. How David resolved this matter is written in detail and it is remarkable. He did not fight a human battle with Joab at all. He was not dragged down by anger. First of all, when David heard about Joab’s killing Abner, he said, “I and my kingdom are forever innocent before the LORD concerning the blood of Abner son of Ner.” And then he proved it. He showed his genuine sorrow and let all the people including Joab also express their sorrow, tearing their clothes and putting on sackcloth and waling in mourning. King David himself walked behind the bier. They buried Abner in Hebron and the king wept aloud at Abner’s tomb. All the people wept also. The king even sang a lament for Abner and all the people wept over him again. He even refused to eat that day. Then verse 30 says, “All the people took note and were pleased; indeed, everything the king did pleased them. So on that day all the people and all Israel knew that the king had no part in the murder of Abner son of Ner.” David’s conduct in response to Abner’s death tended not only to remove all suspicion of guilt from him, but even turned the tide of public opinion in his favour and paved the way for his reigning over all the tribes much more honourably than the way by the negotiations of Abner. In a situation where things could be worse, the matters seemed to be even better with more support from the people because of David’s genuine heart and godly and wise act. And he also expressed his agony that although he was king, he was weak while the sons of Zeruiah, Joab and Abishai was too strong. And his prayer was clear, “May the LORD repay the evildoer according to his evil deed!” Again, he did not fight a human battle but entrusted the matter to God in prayer.

In chapter 4, other two vicious men appeared, Baanah and Recab, sons of Rimmon from the tribe of Benjamin, the tribe of Saul. They were leaders of raiding bands in the house of Saul. They killed Ish-Bosheth, while he was taking his noonday rest in his house. They cut off his head and brought it to David at Hebron, being sure of a great reward from David for removing the last remaining power in the house of Saul, his enemy. David’s attitude toward such opportunists was unchanged and very clear. He said to them, “As surely as the LORD lives, who has delivered me out of all troubles…” David knew how God had delivered him out of all troubles. God’s way of delivering him was different from people’s way of betraying, rebelling and revenging. God delivered him out of every trouble, when he kept the fear of God in his heart. David told Baanah and Recab about his previous case that in Ziklag he seized and put to death the man who told him, “Saul is dead,” and thought he was bringing good news, expecting a certain reward from him. Then to consistent David, how much more in the case of the wicked men killing an innocent man in his own house and on his own bad! David lost no time in dealing with such matter. 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. Such people would have no place to reside in David’s kingdom.

But David had the head of Ish-Bosheth buried in Abner’s tomb at Hebron. It was surely out of honouring Ish-Bosheth king over Israel, the son of Saul. And this was David’s expression of embracing Ish-Bosheth and Abner. He knew whom to embrace and whom to reject. David was truly godly and also very wise. This act would also win the hearts of Israel more.

Third, David, anointed king over Israel (4:1-5:5). Then in 5:1-2, “All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, ‘We are your own flesh and blood. In the past, while Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel on their military campaign. And the LORD said to you, ‘You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler.’” Three reasons were given by the Israelites for wanting to make David king. Firstly, they said, “We are your own flesh and blood,” meaning David was an Israelite brother. For God said in Deuteronomy 17:15, “…He (the King) must be from among your own brothers, not a foreigner.” And then they said, “In the past, while Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel on their military campaign”, meaning David was a Israel’s best warrior and commander over Israel. We have seen this in the study of 1 Samuel: In 1 Samuel 18:5, “Whatever Saul sent him to do, David did it so successfully that Saul gave him a high rank in the army. This pleased all the people, and Saul’s officials as well,” and in 18:13, “...all Israel and Judah loved David, because he led them in their campaigns.” Lastly they said, “The LORD said to you, ‘You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler”, meaning, “David had been chosen by the LORD to be the king of Israel.” It is true that God promised this in the words of Samuel to Saul in 1 Samuel 13:14, “But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people…” All the tribes of Israel were eager to have David as their shepherd and ruler with their reasonable claim.

Then in verse 3, “When all the elders of Israel had come to King David at Hebron, the king made a compact with them at Hebron before the LORD, and they anointed David king over Israel.” It is interesting that David was anointed king over Judah at Hebron (2:4) and also king over Israel at Hebron. Verses 4 and 5 are the author’s comment, when David became king over Israel. “David was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned forty years. In Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months, and in Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years.” In 2 Samuel 1-5, the word, “Hebron” is written 20 times (2:1, 3, 4, 11, 32; 3:2, 5, 19, 20, 22, 27, 32; 4:1, 8, 12 (2); 5:1, 3, 5, 15). After this Hebron is not seldom mentioned in 2 Samuel and the whole Bible. When we think of David, two places, Bethlehem and Jerusalem, are familiar to us, not Hebron. The two places are known the cities of David. Yet, Hebron was also a very meaningful and historical place in the life of David.

David may have thought why he had to spend such a long time in Hebron, when God promised that he would be king over Israel after Saul. Surely he could not understand what was going on when the brothers were killing one another in the division of the nation. But God was working out in his way rapidly for the peaceful unification of the nation. Totally against David’s wishes, the blood of two powers of the house of Israel, Abner and Ish-Bosheth was shed, and so they were gone. The house of Saul was demolished by themselves. For this the evil men were used, Joab and Abisha, the brothers of David’s men, and Baanah and Recab, the two brother leaders of Ish-Bosheth. God used all for the unification of the whole Israel. It was like what Joseph said to his bothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” All other people in this passage were reactionary trying to get immediate benefit only seeing the present moment. But David knew God’s purpose for him, and he trusted in God and waited on God, showing his godly response at each moment, even at heart-breaking times. Then finally he was anointed king over the whole Israel by all the tribes. David’s seven and half years of life in Hebron was the wonderful preparation for the thirty years of the succeeding greater reign in Jerusalem. We are reminded of what Jesus said in the parable of the talents, “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things” (Mt 25:21).

May we firmly believe God’s absolute goodness and greater purpose for us and learn to wait on God, being faithful at God’s given mission and trusting in him at all times.

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