Saturday, June 25, 2022
Friday, June 24, 2022
David had hoped his alliance with Abner, the cousin and former army general of both King Saul and King Ish-Bosheth, would quickly bring about his ascension to the throne over all Israel. But Abner was deceived and murdered by David's nephew Joab in yesterday's study. Now everything seems to be up in the air with no clear path forward. Will the people Abner rallied behind David still stand up and do something for David? Or will they be too fainthearted without the powerful and persuasive Abner to cheer them on?
The most fainthearted of everyone in today's text is King Ish-Bosheth himself. "When Ish-Bosheth son of Saul heard that Abner had died in Hebron, he lost courage, and all Israel became alarmed." (2 Samuel 4:1) When he hears that the man who placed him on the throne has been killed, he loses his courage. It's true that he and Abner had a falling-out because he accused Abner of improprieties with one of the royal concubines but he probably hoped they would make peace with each other and Abner would come back to his side. Or maybe he thought Abner could arrange a peace treaty between David's kingdom of Judah and Ish-Bosheth's kingdom of the remainder of Israel, then Ish-Bosheth need not worry anymore about war between Israel and Judah. Ish-Bosheth is a weak man, too weak to have served as a commander in his father's army like his three older brothers. He is too weak to earn the loyalty of the elders of Israel (we were informed in Chapter 3 that they are all behind David). He is too weak to even stir up much enthusiasm for his administration within his own tribe of Benjamin (in Chapter 3 we found Abner convincing the "whole tribe of Benjamin"---meaning a large majority of its fighting men---to put their support behind David). Learning that Abner is dead takes all the wind out of Ish-Bosheth's sails because the people will not stand with him without Abner's influence.
It takes the wind out of the sails of most of the people too: "All Israel became alarmed," as verse 1 phrases it. They aren't sure what to do next. They don't know whether to move ahead with plans to depose Ish-Bosheth without the guidance of that shrewd political and military strategist Abner. If they don't take any action they will be stuck with Ish-Bosheth for who knows how many more years, maybe until he dies of natural causes as an old man. It's quite the conundrum but it's soon solved for them by a couple of mercenary fellows who are employed by Ish-Bosheth as raiders.
"Now Saul's son had two men who were leaders of raiding bands. One was named Baanah and the other Rekab; they were sons of Rimmon the Beerothite from the tribe of Benjamin---Beeroth is considered part of Benjamin, because the people of Beeroth fled to Gittaim and have resided as foreigners to this day." (2 Samuel 4:2-3) The author of 2 Samuel introduces us to these two men who have been working for Ish-Bosheth as raiders for an unknown period of time. They are referred to as Benjamites, which is Ish-Bosheth's own tribe, but they are not really Israelites. They are called Benjamites because their hometown of Beeroth, located within the territory of Gibeon, was incorporated into the territory of Benjamin in the book of Joshua.
This incorporation occurred because some men from Gibeon deceived the Israelites into making a treaty with them by pretending they were from a far-off country. (The Lord had commanded the Israelites to make no treaties with any of their neighboring tribes in the promised land.) Upon learning that the Gibeonites were actually their neighbors, the Israelites could not void their treaty because they made it in the name of the Lord, so instead they made the Gibeonites their subjects and incorporated Gibeon into the territory of Benjamin. We will be told later in 2 Samuel that during King Saul's reign he unlawfully violated Israel's treaty with the Gibeonites and attacked them. This may be why Baanah and Rekab harbor enough animosity toward the house of Saul to kill Ish-Bosheth in today's chapter. Or, if they aren't holding a grudge against the house of Saul, it could just be that they are the type of guys who are always looking out for themselves. They know David will soon be king and they want to perform what they think is a valuable service for him by assassinating his rival.
But before we get to the murderous scene of Chapter 4, the author of 2 Samuel provides us with some background information to explain why someone who should have been considered a likely candidate to take Ish-Bosheth's place as king---instead of David---was not considered. It also explains why this someone was not considered instead of Ish-Bosheth in the first place. "(Jonathan son of Saul had a son who was lame in both feet. He was five years old when the news about Saul and Jonathan came from Jezreel. His nurse picked him up and fled, but as she hurried to leave, he fell and became disabled. His name was Mephibosheth.)" (2 Samuel 4:4)
When King Saul and his army lost a major battle with the Philistines, Mephibosheth's nurse fled Saul's capital city with the young child when she heard that the king and his heir-apparent, Jonathan, were dead. It was a common practice for an invading army to try to kill every male of the royal family and she was acting in haste to protect the one she assumed was next in line for the throne, though Mephibosheth would have had to have an adult co-regent until he became an adult. We will be learning more about this son of Jonathan's later in the book but in ancient times his being unable to walk would prevent him from being considered a viable candidate to wear the crown. No nation of those times wanted a king who wasn't whole in both body and mind and, sadly, it was often assumed that a person with a physical disability was lacking in mental ability as well. On top of that, in those days a king had to be able to ride out in battle ahead of his troops and he had to be able to throw a spear and wield a sword as well as any man in his army. A king had to make a strong and powerful impression on the leaders of other nations. Having a king that the other nations would have called a "cripple" would have encouraged those nations to mount an invasion.
The author now moves back to his narrative to tell us the circumstances of Ish-Bosheth's death. "Now Rekab and Baanah, the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, set out for the house of Ish-Bosheth, and they arrived there in the heat of the day while he was taking his noonday rest. They went into the inner part of the house as if to get some wheat, and they stabbed him in the stomach. Then Rekab and his brother Baanah slipped away." (2 Samuel 4:5-6) Evidently these men were accustomed to getting supplies from the king's house and no one thought it the least bit suspicious when they stopped by to stock up on wheat. The king's bodyguards are almost certainly present somewhere on the property, either outside or inside the house, but Ish-Bosheth trusts these two men and they have been coming and going regularly from his house for a long time without any issues whatsoever. There's no reason for anyone to assume that this time they intend to assassinate the king.
In tomorrow's study we'll find them taking evidence of their kill to David, hoping to ingratiate themselves to the man they know will become the king of Israel. This encounter will not go the way they pictured it. They have committed a capital offense, and just because Ish-Bosheth was an enemy to David doesn't mean he won't follow the law of Israel and condemn these men to death for their crime.
Thursday, June 23, 2022
In yesterday's study Joab tricked Abner into meeting him for a private talk and stabbed him to death for killing Joab's youngest brother Asahel in battle. Today we see that Joab's other brother, Abishai, was in conspiracy with him to get the act accomplished. David, as we learned yesterday, is very grieved that such a thing has been done. He and Abner had never really been friends, and at times they were enemies, but they formed an alliance after Abner fell out with his cousin King Ish-Bosheth. Abner was working hard to rally all of David's supporters behind him so he could be declared king of Israel in place of Ish-Bosheth.
It must have seemed to David that victory was just around the corner. Finally all these years of waiting for the Lord's promise to come true were going to culminate in being crowned king over the whole nation, not just over his own tribe of Judah which has essentially seceded from the nation in order to support David. But the time is not quite yet. He will not ascend to the throne until after Ish-Bosheth is murdered by two of Ish-Bosheth's own men. In the meantime David arranges a funeral for Abner and orders a day of mourning for him.
Yesterday David said Joab had brought a curse upon himself and his household for shedding innocent blood. It might seem harsh that he said the entire family of Joab would be affected by his murderous actions but anyone's wicked actions are capable of negatively affecting the people closest to them. Joab and his surviving brother Abishai are shrewd and crafty men with bad tempers and people like that usually bring trouble on their families because they harbor a lot of anger, hold grudges, and sometimes react way out of proportion to what they perceive as wrongs done to them. We find out in our next verse that Joab's younger brother Abishai was in on the conspiracy to kill Abner. "Joab and his brother Abishai murdered Abner because he had killed their brother Asahel in the battle at Gibeon." (2 Samuel 3:30)
What they did was wrong, as we discussed yesterday, because Asahel was a casualty of war, not a murder victim. They had no right to act as those called "the avenger of blood" in the Bible because the circumstances of Asahel's death don't fit the requirements of the law to be considered murder. When a soldier kills a soldier of an opposing army on the battlefield, it's not treated as a murder case. If the shoe were on the other foot and Joab had killed a brother of Abner in battle, neither Joab nor his family would have thought it was right for Abner to take on the role of "the avenger of blood" and come to kill Joab in retaliation.
David feels terrible that such a conspiracy was hatched and carried out under his nose and without his permission. He is grieved that a man who was being honest with him has been betrayed and murdered. He wants to honor the memory of this valiant soldier who would have far preferred dying on the battlefield to being struck down secretly by someone pretending to be at peace with him. He gives Abner a funeral and commands all the people with him, including Joab, to attend the funeral and show their respect for a man who bravely led the army of Israel for so many years. "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." (2 Samuel 3:31-32)
A number of the men of Judah who are now with David once served under Abner in King Saul's army. They did not agree with Abner appointing Ish-Bosheth as king but they cannot deny he led the army fearlessly and victoriously through many battles over the years. They are saddened because a man of great renown has died and because he died at the hands of one of their own people. It should always be a sad thing for the people of God when one of their own falls into sin. As the Apostle Paul put it, when one part (one member) of the body suffers, the whole body (the family of the Lord) is affected. (1 Corinthians 12:26a) We should care about and want to see the restoration of the member who has gone astray and it's notable that although what Joab and Abishai did could have been treated as a capital crime, they are not put to death or even banished into exile. They are included in the funeral where it is hoped they will see the mourning of the people and acknowledge their sin. It is hoped they will be restored to right thinking and right living, not that they would be excommunicated from the people of the Lord and fall further into sin. The behavior of the people mirrors what the Apostle Paul instructed the Christian church to do: "Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted." (Galatians 6:1) He says the members of the body of Christ are to reach out lovingly to their fellow member who has gone astray, taking care to be a good influence on the person rather than allowing the person to be a bad influence on them.
David is a man who often expresses his feelings in song, as evidenced by the many psalms he wrote, and he composes a song in memory of Abner just as he composed a song in memory of King Saul and his son Jonathan. The song speaks of how a brave man like this should have died in battle instead of by wicked betrayers, and the song is intended to chastise Joab and Abishai as well as to honor Abner. "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." (2 Samuel 3:33-34)
"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." (2 Samuel 3:35-37) In the territories under Ish-Bosheth's control, there were likely people who thought David might have orchestrated the killing of Abner. His deep and heartfelt grief helps to put those suspicions to rest. Had he not reacted this way, a lot of the men of the other tribes might have withdrawn their support from him because they would not want to serve a king who would pretend to make an alliance with Abner in order to set him up to be killed.
"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 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!'" (2 Samuel 3:38-39) David probably should have had Joab and Abishai put to death for their murder of Abner and it may only be because they are the "sons of Zeruiah" (the sons of David's sister) that he does not. This won't be the only time David is too lenient with people related to him and it won't be the only time such people end up becoming a thorn in his side and a threat to his kingship. Many times Joab will be a help to David but many times he will be a hindrance to him. Joab is what we'd call in modern times a "loose cannon" and his killing of Abner almost certainly delayed David's ascension to the throne by several years, for Abner had already rallied a great number of people all across Israel behind him---even most of the fighting men from King Saul's own tribe.
David hasn't always been a fan of Abner but he didn't want him dead. He didn't want him dead because there was no legitimate reason to kill him and he didn't want him dead because Abner would have been a great deal of help to him politically. He probably would have been a great deal of help to him militarily as well, which may be another motive for Joab's murder of him, for Joab may have feared someday being replaced by Abner as the leader of David's army. After all, Abner was almost certainly quite a bit older than Joab and had many more years of military experience, both as a soldier and as a commander. We will find Joab obeying David when it suits his own interests and ignoring David's orders when those orders don't line up with his own agenda. I imagine it galled him to have to observe a day of mourning for Abner and to be called an "evildoer" by David in front of the entire assembly. He is not willing to accept that he did anything wrong and being compelled to attend the funeral and witness the mourning of the people doesn't have the affect on his heart David probably hoped it would. But David won't always be working with people who are willing to acknowledge their sins and do what is right; dealing with his wayward relatives provides training he will need in the future for dealing with all sorts of people with all sorts of different attitudes when he reigns as king over all Israel.