2 Samuel 3 (NRSV)
Abner Goes Over to David
There was a long war between the house of Saul and the house of David; David grew stronger and stronger, while the house of Saul became weaker and weaker.
2Sons were born to David at Hebron:
his firstborn was Amnon, of Ahinoam of Jezreel;
3his second, Chileab, of Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel;
the third, Absalom son of Maacah, daughter of King Talmai of Geshur;
4the fourth, Adonijah son of Haggith;
the fifth, Shephatiah son of Abital;
5and the sixth, Ithream, of David’s wife Eglah.
These were born to David in Hebron.
One year, six wives, six sons.
Wives: Through his marriages David enters into relations with many families. Numerous wives and children were considered a sign of status.
Sons: Sadly, the sons turn out to be kind of a bad lot. Three will be guilty of significant crimes: murder, rape, political betrayal.
6While there was war between the house of Saul and the house of David, Abner was making himself strong in the house of Saul. 7Now Saul had a concubine whose name was Rizpah daughter of Aiah. And Ishbaal said to Abner, “Why have you gone in to my father’s concubine?”
This was a serious accusation. To take the wife or concubine of a king was to appropriate what belonged to the king alone. It was, in effect, seen as a bid for the throne.
8The words of Ishbaal made Abner very angry; he said, “Am I a dog’s head for Judah?
Comparison to a dog was a common way to express contempt. We are not talking about a family pet here — in ancient days, most dogs were scavengers.
Today I keep showing loyalty to the house of your father Saul, to his brothers, and to his friends, and have not given you into the hand of David; and yet you charge me now with a crime concerning this woman. 9So may God do to Abner and so may he add to it! For just what the Lord has sworn to David, that will I accomplish for him, 10to transfer the kingdom from the house of Saul, and set up the throne of David over Israel and over Judah, from Dan to Beer-sheba.” 11And Ishbaal could not answer Abner another word, because he feared him.
Abner is so angry at the accusation (because it was false? because he was found out?) that he says he will take his marbles and play at David’s house.
12Abner sent messengers to David at Hebron, saying, “To whom does the land belong? Make your covenant with me, and I will give you my support to bring all Israel over to you.”
13He said, “Good; I will make a covenant with you. But one thing I require of you: you shall never appear in my presence unless you bring Saul’s daughter Michal when you come to see me.” 14Then David sent messengers to Saul’s son Ishbaal, saying, “Give me my wife Michal, to whom I became engaged at the price of one hundred foreskins of the Philistines.”
15Ishbaal sent and took her from her husband Paltiel the son of Laish. 16But her husband went with her, weeping as he walked behind her all the way to Bahurim. Then Abner said to him, “Go back home!” So he went back.
David demands his first wife, Michal, be returned to him. Is it love? Or is it a political move to strengthen his hold on Saul’s throne? At any rate, Michal’s current husband seems heartbroken to lose her.
17Abner sent word to the elders of Israel, saying, “For some time past you have been seeking David as king over you. 18Now then bring it about; for the Lord has promised David: Through my servant David I will save my people Israel from the hand of the Philistines, and from all their enemies.”
19Abner also spoke directly to the Benjaminites; then Abner went to tell David at Hebron all that Israel and the whole house of Benjamin were ready to do.
Abner even gets the tribe of Benjamin on board for David — and Ishbaal is of the tribe of Benjamin!
20When Abner came with twenty men to David at Hebron, David made a feast for Abner and the men who were with him. 21Abner said to David, “Let me go and rally all Israel to my lord the king, in order that they may make a covenant with you, and that you may reign over all that your heart desires.” So David dismissed Abner, and he went away in peace.
So Abner gets together with some of the other tribes, to encourage them to support David as king. David then shows his appreciation and his new friendship by hosting a feast for Abner and his men.
Abner Is Killed by Joab
22Just then the servants of David arrived with Joab from a raid, bringing much spoil with them. But Abner was not with David at Hebron, for David had dismissed him, and he had gone away in peace. 23When Joab and all the army that was with him came, it was told Joab, “Abner son of Ner came to the king, and he has dismissed him, and he has gone away in peace.”
24Then Joab went to the king and said, “What have you done? Abner came to you; why did you dismiss him, so that he got away? 25You know that Abner son of Ner came to deceive you, and to learn your comings and goings and to learn all that you are doing.”
Joab does not trust Abner or his motives. Remember that Abner killed Joab’s brother. And Abner has the kind of experience that could lead David to give Joab’s job to Abner. Distrust, fear, revenge — all may bubble in Joab’s heart.
26When Joab came out from David’s presence, he sent messengers after Abner, and they brought him back from the cistern of Sirah; but David did not know about it. 27When Abner returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside in the gateway to speak with him privately, and there he stabbed him in the stomach. So he died for shedding the blood of Asahel, Joab’s brother.
Hebron was a city of refuge (Joshua 20:7) so Joab could not kill him inside the city. Instead, he personally did the deed just outside the gate.
28Afterward, when David heard of it, he said, “I and my kingdom are forever guiltless before the Lord for the blood of Abner son of Ner. 29May the guilt fall on the head of Joab, and on all his father’s house; and may the house of Joab never be without one who has a discharge, or who is leprous, or who holds a spindle, or who falls by the sword, or who lacks food!”
30So Joab and his brother Abishai murdered Abner because he had killed their brother Asahel in the battle at Gibeon.
31Then David said to Joab and to all the people who were with him, “Tear your clothes, and put on sackcloth, and mourn over Abner.” And King David followed the bier. 32They buried Abner at Hebron. The king lifted up his voice and wept at the grave of Abner, and all the people wept.
33The king lamented for Abner, saying, “Should Abner die as a fool dies?
34Your hands were not bound,
your feet were not fettered;
as one falls before the wicked
you have fallen.”
And all the people wept over him again.
35Then all the people came to persuade David to eat something while it was still day; but David swore, saying, “So may God do to me, and more, if I taste bread or anything else before the sun goes down!”
Fasting until evening was an expression of mourning.
36All the people took notice of it, and it pleased them; just as everything the king did pleased all the people. 37So all the people and all Israel understood that day that the king had no part in the killing of Abner son of Ner.
38And the king said to his servants, “Do you not know that a prince and a great man has fallen this day in Israel? 39Today I am powerless, even though anointed king; these men, the sons of Zeruiah, are too violent for me. The Lord pay back the one who does wickedly in accordance with his wickedness!”
But there will be much violence during David’s reign.
Abner made a wise choice to follow where King David would lead. David was fortunate to have Abner decide to follow him. Then Joab followed the leading of his own revengeful heart . . .
Time for some other blood, shed blood that brings healing rather than only death. HERE is “Lead Me to the Cross.”
The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.