Crowned with Full Consent
I. Prolonging the Reign of Saul’s House
A. Abner established Ish-Bosheth as king of Israel (2:8-10).
- This was not because he thought of Ish-bosheth as worthy of the position, but because he was of Saul and of the tribe of Benjamin. Ish-bosheth was forty and yet had not fought in the battles with the Philistines (1 Samuel 31:2). Later he shows himself as fearful, lazy, and pliable.
- Abner had been a leader of the army of Saul, had been outwitted by David and even reprimanded soundly for his carelessness of the life of the king (1 Samuel 26:13-16). He knew that the only way for him to maintain power and the impression of integrity was to continue to defend the cause of the house of Saul, though he knew that David was more worthy, a greater leader, and had been anointed by Samuel as the future king.
- Abner’s attempts to maintain his place of importance will eventually be his downfall.
B. Conflict Between Abner and Joab
- Abner proposed a contest, a game of sport that would result in the shedding or loss of life, and Joab consented. Perhaps this was an attempt to settle the inevitable conflict by allowing a small group to battle with each other to determine the outcome. In a strange display of careless aggression, all twelve young fighters in each respective army attacked with a headlock and a sword thrust. The 24 died on the spot.
- With nothing settled in this manner, the two armies engaged with Joab, David’s general (as well as his nephew, the son of his sister Zeruiah – 1 Chronicles 2:16), gaining the upperhand. Abner retreated to save himself and end the slaughter of brother against brother.
- Joab’s brother, Asahel, foolishly set aside every concern except the capture or destruction of Abner. In spite of a warning to turn back or turn aside, he ran to Abner who killed him with the butt end of his spear. Asahel was quick and determined, but inexperienced; Abner knew that Asahel could not survive an attack on him and obviously used an unexpected tactic of hand-to-hand combat to dispose of him quickly as a matter of self-defense.
- It seems that the army stopped when they saw the body of Asahel, but Joab and Abishai took up Asahel’s pursuit and went all day in an effort to avenge Asahel. The army of Abner regathered and stood with him on a hill. Abner called for a cessation of the conflict and appealed to their common brotherhood. Were not Judah and Benjamin brothers, and have not all of the sons of Israel possessed the land by divine promise and orderly arrangement?
- Joab laid the blame on Abner who, that morning, had proposed the initial conflict that led to the deaths of so many fellow Israelites. Joab consented to a cessation of hostility. They had lost twenty men including Asahel and the twelve who perished initially. Abner’s army counted the dead at 360. This is a rate of about 50 to one. The maintenance of the house of Saul was in decline from the beginning. They buried Asahel in his Father’s tomb at Bethlehem and traveled all night to return to Hebron.
II. The Turning of the Tide
A. The Strengthening of David
- In the continued conflict between David and the house of Saul, David’s forces gained in strength while Saul’s diminished. This probably was as a result of victors on the battle field, and the gradual movement of people who supported David from Israel to Judah. We must recall that David had been popular in all of Israel, and many were desirous of his being king (See 1 Samuel 18:6-8, 12-16).
- David had sons by six different women. This gave the impression of a strengthening household, but also was scattering seeds that would bear fruit of sadness and discord. Amnon, Absalom, and Adonijah all brought great distress to the line of David and to Israel. Sometimes events that appear to be shows of strength and causes of joy in the short term become unbearable weights that pull us down.
B. The Weakening of Ish-Bosheth (3:6-11)
- As Abner probably had surmised from the beginning, his personal power was increasing due to the weakness of Ish-bosheth. Note that the text says that he was gaining strength “in the house of Saul.” He was Saul’s cousin, his father and Saul’s father being brothers. Abner envisioned the possibility of his being king, replacing the weak Ish-bosheth.
- In order to counter this, Ish-bosheth accused Abner of having violated one of Saul’s concubines.
- Abner is enraged at the public accusation. He has been presented as a filthy creature that is in league with Judah, when he has risked his life to protect the interests of the entire family of Saul.
- Though he could have done so, he did not deliver the pusillanimous king into the hands of David (probably much kinder hands than those of Abner!)
- He makes a great show of being offended by the accusation, but does not outright deny the truth of its substance. It could be a part of Abner’s quickly developing scheme to shame Ish-bosheth and present himself as having possession of the place of Saul (cf. 16:20-22).
- He now vows to do what Ish-bosheth implied that he was doing. Abner shows that he knew that David had been anointed by God as the rightful king and so put himself in the position of bringing to pass the covenantal promise of God to David: “as the Lord has sworn to David.” Abner now presented himself as the one who would “accomplish this for him” (9).
- With this threat, Ish-bosheth shows his personal weakness and his lack of confidence in any power to deal with Abner. The puppet-king sees no one who would be so loyal to him and committed to his command that he can arrest Abner and put a stop to his threatened treason.
III. Arranging a Peaceful Transition
A. Abner sent messengers to David with the recognition that the land of right belonged to David. Abner was committing himself, even as he had told Ish-bosheth, that he would work to make the transition of the throne to David and the house of Judah as seamless as possible. Avoidance of further conflict within Israel would be a welcome prospect to David.
B. David consented under the condition that Michal be restored to him. Several reasons make this a just and a highly symbolic request.
- David loved her and felt overwhelmed when he was able to marry the daughter of the king (1 Samuel 18:20-29). She had risked her life, in fact, to save David from the wrath of her father (1 Samuel 19:11-17). Saul had given her to another man because he knew this would inflict a deep emotional blow on David.
- This would serve to remind Israel that he had risked his own life to gain her because of the price that Saul had demanded. David consented to virtually unreasonable demands for her hand and in honor of the request, as dangerous and ridiculous as it was, that Saul had made.
- This would, in a sense give continuity between himself and the house of Saul, as he was by all rights the son-in-law of the royal Benjaminite.
C. Ish-bosheth cooperated as an act of good faith, perhaps to gain some standing in the favor of David when the inevitable change of power would occur (14, 15).
D. Abner’s arrangements
- Abner first of all went to the people of Israel, and particularly of Benjamin, and spoke to the elders among them about the need to make this transition of power.
- He reminded them of their great fondness for David and their desire for him to be king over them. Using that as leverage he said, “Now is the time to do it.”
- He reminded them of the Lord’s having set apart David as the future protector of Israel. This move would be in accord with the will of God and would secure the safety and prosperity of Israel.
- Then he went with twenty men who could testify to the stability of these arrangements and spoke with David. David held a great banquet for them. Obviously, all went just as Abner planned and as David hoped. The transition would be made soon and with little to no civil strife.
- Abner would go on his mission and arrange a covenant with all the leadership of Israel to make David king.
- Abner also appealed to David’s own desire (“all that your soul desires”). Though Abner might see this as an appeal to the vanity of a man and the intrinsic desire for power and importance, for David those aspects were in a distant second place to his desire for the honor of God and his fulfillment of God’s covenantal proclamation. “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you . . . Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you” (Psalm 63:1, 3).
IV. Abner and Ish-bosheth both are eliminated.
A. Joab killed Abner by vengeful treachery. Joab returned from a battle bringing great amounts of spoil with him. What does he find?—Abner, the leader of the enemy army and the killer of his brother has just finished peaceful negotiations with David.
- Joab first confronted David. The boldness and rudeness of this encounter shows how deeply enraged Joab was with Abner. He accused Abner of deceit and hiding under his attitude of conciliation a purpose to spy and gain a fatal advantage over David and Judah. He accused David of unguarded naivete—well, stupidity—and assumed an air of authority over the king.
- Joab and his brother then had messengers run to retrieve Abner and bring him back. Abner, elated with the sense of mission and success in the meeting with David, did not suspect that David’s chief officer would act out of accord with the decision of the king and went to the meeting with Joab unprepared. There, in Hebron, a sanctuary city, in the gate, the place of hearing cases to render just verdicts, Joab struck down the man who was on the verge of giving unity and peace under the kingship of David to all Israel.
- David was utterly distraught. As in the case of the death of Saul, he looked only at the noble, positive, and useful features of the life and character of Abner.
- He uttered a curse on Joab, his father’s house, and Joab’s descendants. Eventually he would arrange for the stroke of justice to visit Joab (3:39; 1 Kings 2:5, 6). For the present, however, due to family connections and necessities of state he allowed Joab to live, but knew that he would bring more trouble in compromise of his value.
- He lamented Abner and made Joab himself and all the people join him in this lament. He died as “one falls before the wicked.” David fasted, and said that “a prince and a great man has fallen this day in Israel” (3:38).
- The people knew that David had nothing to do with the murder of Abner and they were pleased with his response to this tragedy.
B. Ish-bosheth was executed by two of the commanders of his army. With the death of Abner, Ish-bosheth, the people of Israel, and the army all lost courage and fell into fear.
- Two commanders in the army executed the king while he slept, knowing that no further heir could claim the throne (in light of the physical condition of Mephibosheth), beheaded him and brought the head to David in Hebron. They thought this would endear them to David that they had removed his only rival in establishing his rule over all Israel. They were wrong. Had they not heard of David’s mourning for Saul, his mourning for Abner, and his attitude toward those who engaged in such summary execution. If so, their action showed an absurdly unfounded confidence.
- Instead of congratulating them and thanking them, David demonstrated the fatal stupidity of their action. David had the bearer of the news of Saul’s death executed simply on the basis of the Amalekite’s confidence that David would approve of the death. How much more will David demand the death of those who killed a king, and a righteous man, while he was helpless just to curry favor with David. The hands and feet of the executioners were hung on a wall.
V. David King Over All Israel (5:1-5) The tribes of Israel initiated this culmination of the unity of Israel under the Davidic throne. Some time elapsed between the burial of the head of Ish-bosheth and the consolidation of the kingdom. Perhaps a couple of years also passed before “the king and his men went to Jerusalem against the Jebusites.” The total would be the difference between 7 ½ years and 2 years.
A. They recognized their kinship. The tribes of the north recognized an important truth of their unity in Abraham through Jacob: “We are your bone and your flesh.”
B. They recognized David’s leadership. They recalled with clarity that even during the reign of Saul, “You were the one who led Israel out and in.” Note that the order is not “in and out,” but “out and in.” When they went outto battle with David at the head, they also came back in with victory.
C. They recognized God’s establishment of a covenant with David. They also knew that the Lord had said to David, “You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will be a ruler over Israel.”
A. The Bible always presents the operations of divine sovereignty within the details of human responsibility. God never commands us to violate his laws in order to accomplish his purpose. Perpetrators of treachery and violators of divine commands will be held accountable for their actions and will be found guilty. God, however, makes the wrath of man to praise him (Psalm 76:10) and uses human actions, even sinful ones, to bring about his will (Acts 4:27, 28).
B. As a specific manifestation of that, we also see the certainty of covenantal promise within the framework of a cryptic Providence. God makes promises and arranges covenants with people according to his eternal decrees and the provisions of the eternal covenant of redemption. “Whatever the Lord pleases, he does. In heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps” (Psalm 135:6). David would be king according to divine announcement and eternal purpose, but the hands by which he would bring this about act according to a mysterious providence. David maintained his integrity and sought to assuage and win by kindness (2:5-7), but his eventual crowning came by the circuitous route of the malfeasance of others.
C. In the establishment of David’s throne we see the typical precursor to Christ’s eternal kingdom. In David’s lament for Saul and Jonathan, we find a double-type of Christ in David’s recognition that (1) Jonathan emptied himself of the honor and power that was his by earthly succession (2) to give to David the throne that was his by divine decree. The one presents to us the self-emptying of Christ in accord with the covenant of redemption and the other is the eventual enthronement of Christ according to that same covenant. All of God’s arrangements are made to lead to the eventual display of the perfections of his holy character in the fulfillment of the covenant of redemption.