2 Samuel 3:17-39 – Abner sent word to the elders of Israel: “For some time past, you’ve been seeking David as your king. Now then, bring about it, for the Lord’s promised David. For the Lord said, ‘Through my servant David, I will save my people Israel from the Philistines’ hand and from all their enemies.’.”Abner also spoke directly to the Benjaminites, then went and reported back to David. Abner arrived with 20 men.
When Joab and all the soldiers with him arrived, he was told that Abner son of Ner had come to the king and that the king had just sent him away and that he had gone in peace. So Joab went to the king and said, “What have you done? Look, Abner came to you. Why did you let him go? Now he’s gone! You know Abner son of Ner; he came to deceive you and observe your movements and find out everything you are doing.” Joab then left David and sent messengers after Abner, and they brought him back from the cistern at Sirah. But David didn’t know it. Now when Abner returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside into an inner chamber, as if to speak with him privately. And there, to avenge the blood of his brother Asahel, Joab stabbed him in the stomach, and he died. Later, when David heard about this, he said, “I and my kingdom are forever innocent before the Lord concerning the blood of Abner son of Ner. May his blood fall on the head of Joab and on his whole family! May Joab’s family never be without someone who has a running sore or leprosy or who leans on a crutch or who falls by the sword or who lacks food.” (Joab and his brother Abishai murdered Abner because he had killed their brother Asahel in the battle at Gibeon.)
Then David said to Joab and all the people with him, “Tear your clothes and put on sackcloth and walk in mourning in front of Abner.” 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 sang this lament for Abner: “Should Abner have died as the lawless die? Your hands were not bound, your feet were not fettered. You fell as one falls before the wicked.” And all the people wept over him again.
Then they all came and urged David to eat something while it was still day; but David took an oath, saying, “May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if I taste bread or anything else before the sun sets!” All the people took note and were pleased; indeed, everything the king did pleased them. So on that day all the people there and all Israel knew that the king had no part in the murder of Abner son of Ner. Then the king said to his men, “Do you not realize that a commander and a great man has fallen in Israel this day? And today, though I am the anointed king, I am weak, and these sons of Zeruiah are too strong for me. May the Lord repay the evildoer according to his evil deeds!”
Wow, there’s really a lot of political junk going on here. Notice, first of all, that the reason that Abner went to David was because his pride and rising to power in Israel bit him in the butt when the king there caught him sleeping with Saul’s concubine, something and someone that only the king had authority to do. So possibly, the only reason that king didn’t kill Abner on the spot was because Abner threatened to defect to Judah, and in response, conquer Israel. So Abner lived for and served no one but himself.
Now, we can look at Joab and say that he was just sore because Abner had previously killed his brother in battle, but when you really look at it, even so, he was actually correct about him…Abner could not be trusted, and was deceiving David. One also has to wonder how things would have turned out if Joab had not killed Abner, and Abner had ended up later deceiving David. So in a sense, Joab did David a favor, even if David didn’t seem to realize it at the time.
The problem though was how Joab went about it all on his onw. We see this in David’s lament for Abner: His hands were not bound, his feet were not fettered, and he arrived (returned) by his own free will. When he arrived, Joab took him aside, confronted him and killed him on the spot…murdered him in cold blood.
The other crime was that Abner had informed the elders of Israel and the Benjaminites of his travels beforehand. So he went as a means of business on behalf of them, also. This also was not a time of war, but of peace…conflicted interests, but still, not war. So Joab, David’s military commander, killing Israel’s highest in command under the king put David into a bad spot, because the Commander often does only what is commanded of him by the king. So if Joab killed Abner, then it must have been by the deceiving and evil King David, right? This could have sparked another civil war between the 2 nations. So David had to respond quickly.
The notes in my Oxford NRSV say, “Joab was too powerful for David to order him executed. Yet, this murder greatly endangered David’s position among the northern tribes. Therefore, David did the best he could to make amends:
- He invoked a series of curses upon Joab and his descendants
- Proclaimed public mourning throughout Judah
- Himself taking the position of chief-mourner
- Fasting all the day of Abner’s funeral
- Continuing to praise Abner thereafter
So after all this, the people were then convinced of David’s innocence of the murder.
No, Abner was not a man that David could trust, for he was deceiving Israel, the Benjaminites, his king, and King David, and this is definitely a good example of going behind the back of your authority and getting burned for it. But Joab stepping out on his own and taking matters into his own hands was also wrong, and put David into a sensitive political spot. Now this is NOT to say that punishment should not occur. Punishment and discipline must occur. If somebody commits murder, they should go to prison. You may forgive them, and you may treat them kindly and lovingly, but they must still be punished/disciplined for their actions, just as Joab was later when he was killed for his murdering of Abner, and later Amasa.
We need to realize that God, like David, also has bigger plans that we don’t always see, know of, or understand.
David neither did nor had to share his plans with Joab, much like how God doesn’t always share plans with us. He doesn’t have to, and he often doesn’t…at least not until after they have been accomplished and we’re on our knees praising Him. We need to trust our good leader (God), not going behind His back to accomplish what we think should be done, and not criticizing Him for what He’s doing. Tough, yes, but it is the difference between being an Abner, a Joab, or a person of God’s Kingdom.