Saturday, June 25, 2022

The Second Book Of Samuel. Day 15, David Executes The Men Who Assassinated Ish-Bosheth

Two of the men working for Ish-Bosheth as raiders, who were brothers named Rekah and Baanah, assassinated him while he was taking a nap during the heat of the day in his own home in his own bed. He wasn't aware that he had anything to fear from these men. He didn't have a chance to defend himself. This was a case of premeditated murder.

These two men have committed a capital offense but don't expect to be punished for it. They believe they've done David a favor because they know the majority of Ish-Bosheth's subjects were loyal to him only as long as he had Abner---the real power behind the throne---on his side. But he became jealous and suspicious of Abner and accused him of having an inappropriate relationship with one of the royal concubines (we discussed why this was almost certainly a false charge) and Abner transferred his loyalty to David and began campaigning for him throughout all Israel. But David's nephew Joab murdered Abner in retaliation for the death of his brother Asahel in battle. So now Rekah and Baanah, along with all the other citizens of the nation, know it's just a matter of time before David is king over all Israel. Ish-Bosheth cannot hold onto the support of the people because the only reasons they ever stood with him at all is because they loved and respected Abner and because Ish-Bosheth, though not suited to the role of king, was a son of King Saul. But at the same time it appears to have been widely known that the Lord had rejected the house of Saul as the royal family of Israel and had chosen and anointed David to be the king. 

We already know Rekah and Baanah killed Ish-Bosheth in his sleep but this is what they did next. "They had gone into the house while he was lying on the bed in his bedroom. After they stabbed and killed him, they cut off his head. Taking it with them, they traveled all night by way of the Arabah. They brought the head of Ish-Bosheth to David at Hebron and said to the king, 'Here is the head of Ish-Bosheth son of Saul, your enemy, who tried to kill you. This day the Lord has avenged my lord the king against Saul and his offspring.'" (2 Samuel 4:7-8) They even invoke the Lord's name when admitting to their crime, as if they were on a mission for Him when they did what they did. 

Rekah and Baanah want to ingratiate themselves to the man who will soon be their king. They want to make him grateful and beholden to them by hastening his ascension to the throne. Wicked people tend to think everyone else thinks just like they do. If they were in David's shoes, they'd want to highly honor the men who took Ish-Bosheth out of the way. The last thing they expect is for him to have them executed, which is what he will do. In Israel there had to be two or more eyewitnesses to a capital crime in order to sentence a person to death. (Deuteronomy 17:6) But that law doesn't apply to this case in which these two men freely admit to their crime and present the severed head to David as proof of their kill. They are testifying against themselves when they admit to their crime and provide the evidence for it. This is the same as a guilty plea and when we think of it that way they appear very foolish to have done what they did and to have said what they said but, again, they assume David will react to the news the same way wicked men like them would. They assume David will react to the news like a heathen king would. Assassinating kings was something that happened on a regular basis in the ancient world and the incoming king usually rewarded whoever had killed his rival. But David doesn't think the way wicked men do or the way pagan people do. He values the laws of a holy God and he intends to abide by those laws.

"David answered Rekah and his brother Baanah, the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, 'As surely as the Lord lives, who has delivered me out of every trouble, when someone told me, 'Saul is dead,' and thought he was bringing good news, I seized him and put him to death in Ziklag. That was the reward I gave him for his news! How much more---when wicked men have killed an innocent man in his own house and on his own bed---should I not now demand his blood from your hand and rid the earth of you!'" (2 Samuel 4:9-11) You'll recall from Chapter 1 how an Amalekite came to David at Ziklag and claimed to have come upon and killed King Saul after Saul was critically wounded in the battle at Mount Gilboa. He presented Saul's crown and arm band as proof of his death. We discussed how this was really a lie on the Amalekite's part, for the Scriptures had already told us that Saul killed himself by deliberately falling on his spear. He knew he was mortally wounded and would die of his injuries soon but he didn't want the Philistines to find him first and make sport of him while he was dying. What probably happened was that the Amalekite was looting the bodies of the fallen soldiers, came upon Saul after he was dead, and thought he'd hit the jackpot. He thought he could take Saul's crown and arm band to David, claim he killed Saul, and be rewarded by David for killing his enemy. Instead David put him to death for admitting to such a crime (David having no way of knowing that the story about killing Saul was likely a lie). 

To paraphrase David's words, he's saying to these men, "Surely you've heard how I reacted when that Amalekite told me he killed King Saul! Your crime is even worse than his, for the Amalekites and Israelites are enemies of each other and but you killed a man---who trusted you and thought you were on his side---while he was in a helpless state. You will meet the same fate as the Amalekite. I didn't need or ask you or anyone else to remove the rival king from the throne. The Lord, who has been with me all my life and who has helped me with every problem I've ever had, would have removed Ish-Bosheth in the right time and in the right way. I will not reward you for committing cold-blooded murder. I will instead administer the law that says you have committed a crime worthy of death."

"So 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. But they took the head of Ish-Bosheth and buried it in Abner's tomb in Hebron." (2 Samuel 4:12) To have one's dead body desecrated and displayed publicly was the ultimate humiliation in the ancient world. These two men did a dishonorable thing in life and they are given no honors in death. But the head of Ish-Bosheth is given a proper burial. Even though he wasn't the Lord's chosen and anointed king, he was accepted as king by the people for a time and the office of king is worthy of respect. Ish-Bosheth is worthy of having his remains treated with respect because he did nothing to deserve having two of his men turn against him and stab him to death in his sleep. There's no evidence he was trying to have David killed, as his father Saul was, and it's quite possible as we said yesterday that he hoped to make a treaty between his kingdom of Israel and David's kingdom of Judah. David refers to him as an "innocent man" and I think David harbored no ill will against him. 

Ish-Bosheth was mostly a pawn in Abner's political game and we might even say he was victimized by Abner. We have no proof he ever wanted to be king; we were just told that Abner took him and made him king. I think Ish-Bosheth was weak in body and weak in character and that he was easily manipulated by his cousin Abner who had a very forceful and dominant personality. I wouldn't be surprised to know that Ish-Bosheth was much happier while he lived a life of obscurity, away from Saul's capital city, in the decades before his father and three elder brothers died in battle. He never expected to be king and probably didn't enjoy being king. Now he is dead because he was made king because of another man's ambitions and David gives him the honor and respect in death that he didn't always receive in life.

Friday, June 24, 2022

The Second Book Of Samuel. Day 14, Ish-Bosheth Is Murdered

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

The Second Book Of Samuel. Day 13, David Holds A Funeral For Abner

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.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

The Second Book Of Samuel. Day 12, Abner Gathers Supporters for David/Joab Murders Abner To Avenge His Brother Asahel

Abner, who was the army general of the late King Saul and then the general of Saul's son Ish-Bosheth, turned against Ish-Bosheth after being accused by him of something that constituted a threat to the crown. Abner was so offended by Ish-Bosheth's words that even though they are close cousins, Abner turned against Ish-Bosheth and transferred his loyalty to David. Abner vowed his allegiance to David and promised him that he can get many brave men to rally behind him. David accepted an alliance with him on the condition that he retrieve his first wife Michal for him, which he did. Now Abner gets on with the job of gathering support for David.

"Abner conferred with the elders of Israel and said, 'For some time you have wanted to make David your king. Now do it! For the Lord promised David, 'By My servant David I will rescue My people Israel from the hand of the Philistines and from the hand of all their enemies.'" (2 Samuel 3:17-18) Abner's words reveal that his cousin Ish-Bosheth, who was placed on the throne by his own power and influence, is not the preferred king of the wise elders of Israel. He displays an awareness that they would far rather have David as king and that they have been seeking a way to depose Ish-Bosheth and declare David their king. He also displays an awareness that David is God's chosen king. He cannot plead ignorance regarding what the Lord said about David; it's clear that the prophecies made about him are widely known throughout the nation of Israel. Abner even quotes a prophecy regarding the Lord's intention to use David to relieve the Israelites from their enemies.

Up until now Abner has been living in rebellion against the Lord's words concerning David. Abner has been concerned only with his own interests which he thought would be best served by placing on the throne a man he felt he could control. But Ish-Bosheth, due to his growing jealousy of Abner's popularity, tried to get out from under Abner's control by accusing him (probably falsely) of sleeping with one of the royal concubines, which in the ancient world was perceived as a man announcing his intention to take over everything that belongs to the king. I think Abner was surprised to learn Ish-Bosheth had enough backbone to attempt to discredit him. I think he was shocked to realize the king harbored so much bitterness toward him that he was willing to make up an accusation capable of getting him demoted as general and as advisor to the king, at best, and charged with a capital crime, at worst. But now that he knows this, he has irrevocably severed his relationship with the king and is working against his kingdom as much as he once worked for it. 

Abner confers with the elders of Israel first and then he campaigns on David's behalf all throughout the territory of Benjamin, which is his own tribe and the tribe of King Saul and Saul's descendants. "Abner also spoke to the Benjamites in person. Then he went to Hebron to tell David everything that Israel and the whole tribe of Benjamin wanted to do. When Abner, who had twenty men with him, came to Hebron, David prepared a feast for him and his men. Then Abner said to David, 'Let me go at once and assemble all Israel for my lord the king, so that they may make a covenant with you, and that you may rule over all that your heart desires.' So David sent Abner away, and he went in peace." (2 Samuel 3:19-21) The twenty men with Abner are only a small fraction of the number of men willing to fight for David and install him as king over the entire nation. Abner's words imply that the majority of the men he talked to would prefer David over Ish-Bosheth, either because they don't feel Ish-Bosheth is capable of effectively managing the government and the military or because they know David is the Lord's choice and they want to be in obedience to the Lord. 

While Abner goes to do what he promised to do, David's nephew and army general, Joab, returns from a raid on one of the nation's enemies and learns that the man who killed his younger brother Asahel is now in alliance with David. "Just then David's men and Joab returned from a raid and brought with them a great deal of plunder. But Abner was no longer with David in Hebron, because David had sent him away, and he had gone in peace. When Joab and all the soldiers with him arrived, he was told that Abner son of Ner had come to the king and that he king had sent him away and he had gone in peace." (2 Samuel 3:22-23) 

Some scholars suggest that David purposely kept Abner and Joab apart and that he was trying for a time to conceal from Joab that he'd made an alliance with Abner because he knows the hot-headed Joab will react poorly to such knowledge. Joab and his soldiers previously tried to pursue Abner and his men all night in order to kill them after Abner stabbed Joab's brother Asahel with the sharpened butt of his spear as Asahel chased him during battle. But David did not consider the death of his nephew Asahel to be murder. He mourned the loss of Asahel but considered him a casualty of war, not a murder victim. Abner acted in self-defense when he killed Asahel because Asahel intended to kill him. This was an incident that occurred in war and did not constitute a premeditated act on Abner's part. David never ordered or condoned Joab or his surviving brother, Abishai, taking revenge for Asahel.

When Joab learns that Abner has been taken into David's confidence, we will find him accusing David of being gullibly taken in by a shrewd and deceptive man. Time and again we'll find Joab talking to David as if he is his elder and that may actually be the case. David is the youngest of eight sons and may be younger than his two sisters as well. Joab is the eldest son of one of David's sisters, so although David is the uncle and Joab is the nephew, Joab might be older than David by several years. In my own family I'm only eighteen months older than my eldest niece due to the long age gap between me and my older siblings. It could easily have been the other way around: my niece could have been born before I was. If Joab is older than David, that could explain why he often scolds or advises David even though David outranks him. Then again, it could just be Joab's personality to try to take charge. In the New Testament we frequently see Peter trying to scold and advise the Lord Jesus, not necessarily because he's older than Jesus (he probably wasn't because it wasn't typical for disciples to be older than the rabbis they followed) but because Peter has a dominant and take-charge type of personality. 

Joab goes to David now in a temper and tells him Abner lied to him in order to be in a position to spy on the king and the people of Judah in order to plan an attack. "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 is gone! You know Abner son of Ner; he came to deceive you and observe your movements and find out everything you are doing.'" (2 Samuel 3:24-25) Joab is wrong. Abner really is working on behalf of David. But Joab is blinded by his hatred of the man. When he is unable to convince David that Abner is plotting against him and that he's been duped into trusting him, he takes matters into his own hands.

"Joab then left David and sent messengers after Abner, and they brought him back from the cistern at Sirah. But David did not know it." (2 Samuel 3:26) We don't know what the message consisted of but nothing about it made Abner feel uneasy. He's not afraid to meet with Joab. He's operating under the assumption that he and Joab have made a truce with each other because in our previous chapter he talked Joab and his men out of continuing to pursue him and his men. When Joab called a halt to the pursuit and took his soldiers home, Abner thought that was the end of the matter. As a kinsman of the dead Asahel, Joab would be the person the Bible refers to as "the avenger of blood" if Abner had committed murder against Asahel. But under the rules of engagement for battle, Abner's slaying of Asahel does not meet the conditions for a murder charge. He simply stabbed a man who was pursuing him to kill him during wartime. David did not consider this a murder. If he had, he could have avenged Asahel himself during Joab's absence from Hebron when Abner came to visit him there, for David is also a close kinsman of the dead man. 

Joab cannot accept that his brother was a casualty of war. He is angry that David didn't avenge Asahel when he had the chance. He knows David is not going to avenge Asahel. He decides to do it himself and makes up some sort of pretext for calling Abner back to meet with him privately. "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." (2 Samuel 3:27) 

Hebron is one of the cities of refuge to which an accused murderer could flee and remain safe until his case could be heard. The avenger of blood could not touch him in a city of refuge. If Asahel's death truly fit the bill for murder charges being brought against Abner, Joab could not lawfully assault Abner at Hebron. David is extremely grieved when he hears what has happened. The circumstances of Asahel's death do not permit anyone to avenge him. Joab has committed cold blooded, premeditated murder. Joab has committed this sin in a location where Abner would have been granted asylum until trial even if the charges against him appeared legitimate. David views Joab's actions as something that has brought a curse upon Joab's family but he declares himself innocent of this sin: he did not order it done (had almost certainly given orders against anyone harming Abner) and he did not know it was being done until it had already been done. "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.'" (2 Samuel 3:28-29)

These are some very harsh words but the Bible is clear that an avenger of blood is not allowed to pursue or lay hands on the person he's accusing of murder if that person is in a city of refuge. On top of that, Abner was innocent of murder. What he did was kill a man in battle in wartime, something that no nation I know of considers murder. Joab is the only one guilty of murder here and by rights I think he probably should have been sentenced to death. David grants him the mercy of keeping his life but pronounces a curse that essentially says, "May you and your family line never achieve success. May you endure troubles and hardships due to this blood that is on your hands." 

This isn't the last time Joab will "go rogue" to use a modern expression. He will be a thorn in David's side many times, culminating in conspiring with David's son Adonijah to prevent David's son Solomon from inheriting the throne. Joab knows this is against David's will and against the Lord's will, but as usual he'll follow his own inclinations instead of the wishes of the king of Israel and the King of kings.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

The Second Book Of Samuel. Day 11, David Gets His First Wife Back

Yesterday we found Abner defecting to David after King Ish-Bosheth accused him of sleeping with one of the concubines of the late King Saul. (These concubines now belong to Ish-Bosheth. Whether or not he has any interest in consummating a relationship with any of them, all other men are forever banned from any type of emotional or physical intimacy with them.) We talked about how, if Abner really had slept with the concubine, in the ancient world this would have been the same as announcing his candidacy for the throne, as if he were saying, "All that the king has will be mine!" 

Abner was so outraged and insulted by the accusation of treason that he abandoned his cousin the king and went over to David's side, leading many mainstream Bible scholars to conclude that he was innocent of Ish-Bosheth's charges. When he pledged his allegiance to David, David was pleased to have him on his side, knowing that Abner is a well-respected army general and a well-known adviser to the king, making him a man with a great deal of influence in Israel. After David and Abner agreed to let bygones be bygones and to work together for the good of the nation, Abner prepared to speak with the elders of Israel and with the men of his tribe of Benjamin to rally them all behind David. In today's text David places a condition upon his alliance with Abner. This condition will prove Abner's loyalty to him and it will strengthen David's claim to the throne. 

"'I will make an agreement with you. But I demand one thing of you: Do not come into my presence unless you bring Michal daughter of Saul when you come to see me.' Then David sent messengers to Ish-Bosheth son of Saul, demanding, 'Give me my wife Michal, whom I betrothed to myself for the price of a hundred Philistine foreskins.'" (2 Samuel 3:13-14) Saul promised to make David his son-in-law if David would bring back the proof that he killed one hundred Philistines. David met this price and doubled it; he brought back proof that he killed two hundred Philistines. Saul secretly hoped David would lose his life fighting the Philistines because he was already beginning to harbor unfounded suspicions that David was plotting against him. It wasn't long after David and Michal were married that Saul gave in to his obsessions about David, causing David to have to live on the run for an unspecified number of years. You'll recall that David fled Saul's hometown of Gibeah when Saul sent his troops to David's and Michal's house to arrest David so Saul could put him to death. Michal helped him escape over the wall and stalled the troops by claiming he was sick in bed so he would have a head start on his pursuers. But while David lived in exile, Saul unlawfully gave Michal to another man in marriage, probably out of spite toward David but perhaps also to punish Michal for taking David's side against her father. She was in love with David when they first married and was willing to defy her father due to this love.

But she isn't in love with him now. (We'll see later that she actually despises him.) She may have felt abandoned by him when he fled Gibeah without her. It's understandable that at first she would have been a hindrance to his escape and to his ability to successfully hide out in the wilderness. David was used to traveling miles at a time over rough ground and camping out with the army whereas she was a princess who was used to being waited on by servants. But she probably thought a brave and brilliant man like David would orchestrate a plan in which to extract her from her father's city so she could be reunited with him. She may have daydreamed about such a thing for a long time until she realized he wasn't coming back for her. I'm not sure there's any way he could have entered Saul's fortified city to retrieve her without losing his life in the process but that doesn't mean she didn't cling to the romantic notion that he would do it somehow. In time her father married her to another man who, fortunately for her, loves her as we'll see momentarily. We can't be sure whether David ever loved her, for the Scriptures only inform us that she loved him. When her brother Ish-Bosheth receives David's stern message regarding the return of his wife, Ish-Bosheth does what David wants. "So Ish-Bosheth gave orders and had her taken away from her husband Paltiel son of Laish. Her husband, however, went with her, weeping behind her all the way to Bahurim. Then Abner said to him, 'Go back!' So he went back." (2 Samuel 3:15-16)

This is a sad scene. We can't know whether Michal loved her second husband but it seems clear that he loved her. Women in those days had very little control over who their marriage partners would be and not all of them ended up with husbands who loved and respected them and treated them well. Michal has been fortunate in that respect. Paltiel cares deeply for her. We know practically nothing about him but Saul would not have given his daughter to a man who didn't have wealth and an impressive pedigree, but many a man with wealth and an impressive pedigree has treated his wife horribly. But Michal has been well loved and well provided for during the years she has been Paltiel's wife. She won't lack for anything materially as the wife of the man who will soon be king of all Israel but her emotional needs will not be met by the man who already has six other wives and who will take more wives besides. The only thing she'll be gaining by becoming David's wife again is that, as the woman who was his first wife, she will be considered his chief wife and queen. But she'll be losing the companionship and affection of Paltiel who has given her his heart in a way that David never has and never will.

When Abner orders Paltiel to go home, I can't help picturing him putting his hand on his sword as he does so. I think he says, "Go home!" in a harsh and threatening manner, leading Paltiel to believe he will lose his life if he doesn't stop following his beloved mate. We are not told how Michal reacted to being torn from the arms of a good husband, but even though she is the daughter of a king, she lived in an era when speaking out against her circumstances would have done her no good. Weeping would have done her no good. She is at the mercy of powerful men who are using her as a pawn in a political game. It's doubtful David wants her back because he loves her, though he has no plans to treat her poorly. After all, he owes her his life for helping him escape from Gibeah many years earlier. But he wants her back because their "divorce" was unlawfully orchestrated by Saul and she is still his legal wife according to the laws of Israel. He wants her back because being married to the daughter of Israel's first king reminds everyone in the nation that David is a member of the royal family. It wasn't uncommon in ancient times for a son-in-law of a king to reign in his stead if the king had no male heirs or if his male heirs were incompetent to serve as king. Being married to Michal gives legitimacy to David's claim to the throne. Also David wants her back because not taking her back makes him look bad. If he can't get his woman back from the kingdom of a man as weak as Ish-Bosheth, can he successfully defend Israel from her enemies? 

Speaking of the weakness of Ish-Bosheth, it is never more evident than when he acquiesces to David's demand to return Michal to him. If Abner had still been standing with him, I believe he might have opposed David in this matter. But Ish-Bosheth, because he was beginning to feel jealous and paranoid over Abner's popularity with the house of Saul and with the people of the tribe of Benjamin, attempted to accuse him of a treasonous act, offending him deeply. I think Ish-Bosheth agrees to David's demand because he is afraid of him and because he hopes to smooth things over with Abner who is making the request on David's behalf. He may even be hoping for some sort of truce between Israel and Judah since his troops lost the first battle against David's men in spite of having Abner's shrewd military strategy working on the side of Israel. 

Soon it will be immaterial whose side Abner is on because Joab, David's oldest nephew and commander of his army, will learn about the alliance between Abner and David. He will be outraged but he will use this opportunity to avenge his youngest brother Asahel's death. Not long after that, some of Ish-Bosheth's own men will assassinate him, at which point all the tribes of Israel come together and at last---fifteen to twenty years or more after being anointed king by the prophet Samuel---David becomes king over the entire nation just as the Lord promised.

Monday, June 20, 2022

The Second Book Of Samuel. Day 10, Ish-Bosheth Accuses Abner Of Treason, Causing Abner To Defect To David

There has been much speculation that Saul's son Ish-Bosheth is little more than a puppet king, put in place by his ambitious cousin and army general Abner. I am not sure whether Abner wants to just be the power behind the throne or whether he hopes someday to wear the crown in Ish-Bosheth's place. It is clear from today's text that he is busy trying to make himself popular among the royal family and its supporters, but whether or not that's simply to make himself indispensable to them or whether he's hoping someday to sit on the throne of Israel, I can't be sure. But Ish-Bosheth apparently believes Abner wants to take his place. He feels threatened by Abner's growing popularity. In an effort to mitigate what he perceives as a threat, he accuses Abner of something that on the surface seems merely to be an act of immorality but it's far worse: it's an act of treason.

"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. Now Saul had a concubine named Rizpah daughter of Aiah. And Ish-Bosheth said to Abner, 'Why did you sleep with my father's concubine?'" (2 Samuel 3:6-7) The Bible doesn't tell us what Abner was doing to strengthen his position in the house of Saul and it's tempting to conclude he actually did sleep with the concubine. But we will find Abner outraged and insulted by Ish-Bosheth's claim. Abner's severing of their relationship will be so irrevocable that I really think he is innocent of the king's charges. 

These charges are serious. When a king dies or is deposed by his people or is overthrown by an enemy, his royal harem goes to the man who takes his place. This means that Saul's concubines are now the concubines (legal wives but usually foreign wives without the same legal rights as Israelite wives) of Ish-Bosheth. In the ancient world, any man who slept with one of the royal concubines was announcing his bid for the throne. It was a way of saying, "I intend to take over all that belongs to the king." Later in the Bible we'll find one of King David's own sons, Absalom, sleeping with David's concubines as a way of declaring himself king in place of his father. After David's death another of his sons, Adonijah, will ask King Solomon to give him one of David's concubines in marriage but Solomon will refuse, for acceding to this request would bolster Adonijah's claims that he is the rightful heir to the throne. Also Solomon is not obligated or expected to give any woman from the royal harem to anyone in marriage; these are his wives, regardless of whether he ever consummates a relationship with any of them. 

Ish-Bosheth is accusing Abner of putting himself forward as candidate for the kingship when he accuses him of sleeping with Rizpah. We'll find Abner so angry that it's generally assumed by many scholars that he did no such thing. While he may or may not have hoped to be king someday, there's no evidence he would have announced his candidacy by sleeping with a royal concubine. A man as skilled in political intrigue and military strategy as Abner would be unlikely to make a bid for the throne by committing such a lewd and disrespectful act that's capable of backfiring by alienating him from the people's affections. I think he's more likely to have been busy winning the hearts of the people by making himself likable, by putting himself in the public eye far more than Ish-Bosheth, and by presenting himself as the real power in Israel. He may never have intended any harm to Ish-Bosheth but instead may have hoped to be crowned king upon Ish-Bosheth's natural death. If it's true that Ish-Bosheth was in ill health (because evidently he never served in his father's army although he was of age, being forty years old when Abner proclaimed him king after Saul's death), Abner may have thought Ish-Bosheth would not live much longer and that he himself would seem to the people as the logical choice to succeed Ish-Bosheth. The offended speech he makes leads us to think that he was not planning a coup.

"Abner was very angry because of what Ish-Bosheth said. So he answered, 'Am I a dog's head---on Judah's side? This very day I am loyal to the house of your father Saul and to his family and friends. I haven't handed you over to David. Yet now you accuse me of an offense involving this woman! 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.' Ish-Bosheth did not dare to say another word to Abner, because he was afraid of him." (2 Samuel 3:8-11) He says, "What kind of man do you take me for? Did I ever do anything disloyal to your father Saul? Have I ever been anything but faithful to all of Saul's family and friends? What I've wanted more than anything is always for a relative of Saul's to wear the crown of Israel. I've been opposed to having David as king, even though I am aware he was anointed king upon command of the Lord. But I've done everything within my power to keep David from ruling the nation. If I'd really been your enemy I'd have handed you over to him, and don't think that's just an empty threat! I have enough power and influence to command soldiers to seize you and take you in chains to David in Judah. The people of your kingdom love and trust me enough that I could have led a coup against you at any time, installing David in your place---or even installing myself in your place. The people would far rather follow my lead than yours. If you don't believe me, just watch what happens as I transfer my loyalty to David. And I won't be going to him alone. Many valiant fighting men of Israel will go with me!"

Giving his allegiance to David means Abner can never be king. But we can't be sure he ever wanted to actually be king or whether he was content to run things from behind the scenes while the ineffective Ish-Bosheth sat on the throne. The fact that he's insulted enough by Ish-Bosheth's accusations to lay his own ambitions aside serves as proof that he never slept with one of the concubines or even thought of doing such a thing.  

David welcomes the news that Abner is now on his side. "Then Abner sent messengers on his behalf to say to David, 'Whose land is it? Make an agreement with me, and I will help you bring all Israel over to you.' 'Good,' said David. 'I will make an agreement with you.'" (2 Samuel 3:13a) The man who placed Ish-Bosheth on the throne will be the man who helps bring about the downfall of his kingdom. Abner has never liked David and probably still doesn't like David but the two of them can be useful to each other. David won't insult Abner's honor as Ish-Bosheth did. Abner likely expects to be rewarded handsomely for his assistance, with wealth and fame and perhaps a high position in David's government. David can use a man with Abner's influence to bring on board all the people of the remaining eleven tribes who are in a position to rally support behind him. David is not a perfect man but we will never be able to doubt that he loves the Lord or that he has faith in the Lord. The Lord rewards him by doing something David's son King Solomon says the Lord does for those with whom He is pleased: "When the Lord takes pleasure in anyone's way, He causes their enemies to make peace with them." (Proverbs 16:7) 

Abner and David were once enemies but are now allies for the common good of Israel and to fulfill what each of them views as his calling in life: David to the throne over the entire nation, Abner to a position of power and influence in the kingdom. But Abner still has an enemy in David's camp---a deadly enemy---who is just waiting for an opportunity to strike. As we move on through the book of 2 Samuel we'll find David's nephew Joab seizing his chance, against David's orders, to take vengeance against Abner for the death of his brother Asahel. What Joab does is wrong, for his brother wasn't murdered in cold blood but was a casualty of war, but in the long run it may be that it was best for David that the shrewd, hot-headed, and ambitious Abner doesn't remain on the scene much longer. 

But before Joab carries out his revenge, Abner is instrumental to David in gaining support for his kingship, and Abner will soon relay a commanding message from David to Ish-Bosheth. Ish-Bosheth's obedience to this message reveals his fear of David and Abner and it displays his weakness of character and his unfitness to rule the Lord's people Israel.

Saturday, June 18, 2022

The Second Book Of Samuel. Day 9, David Takes Six Wives In Opposition To Deuteronomy 17:17

As we move on into Chapter 3 we learn about the first six sons born to David while he is king over Judah in Hebron. 

David has taken additional wives during the time he's lived in Hebron. We've already been told that his first wife, Michal, was given to another man after Saul murderously turned against David and caused him to live in exile. Sometime after that he married a woman named Ahinoam from Jezreel, then later he also married Abigail the widow of Nabal. By the time we arrive at Chapter 3 he has four additional wives: Maakah, Haggith, Abital, and Eglah.

Why did David marry so many women? Has he become somewhat worldly in his thinking? It was common among the heathen nations for kings and other wealthy men to take many wives. Sometimes this was done to forge political alliances. In some cases it was done to ostentatiously display enormous wealth. It was also done as a means of securing the dynasty; the mortality rate was high in infants and small children and a king or wealthy man would have numerous children to make certain at least one male heir survived to adulthood. 

But David didn't have to worry that the Lord would leave him without a son to inherit the throne after him, so why did he take all these wives? He could not have been ignorant of the Lord's very specific command regarding kings: "He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray." (Deuteronomy 17:17a) A king (or any man) with many wives will not have as much time for the Lord as a man with only one wife. A king of David's time would have some foreign wives and that means these women are in a position to tempt their husbands into idolatry. A king with many wives and many children will not have peace in the home, (David will be no exception), and conflicts in the home will take some of his attention away from the Lord. A man cannot have multiple wives and multiple families without causing a great deal of rivalry, jealousy, and bitterness among his family members. This is especially true when there is much power and money at stake. I think David did become somewhat worldly in his thinking as he gained power and money, for although he is not yet king over all Israel, he's come a long way from being the young man who once fled for his life with nothing but the clothes on his back. As he's accumulated power and wealth, he's accumulated many wives like most other powerful and wealthy men of his day. And as human beings have a tendency to do, he probably justified his mode of living by saying to himself, "Everybody else is doing it. No other man in my position from any other nation has only one wife. It wouldn't even look good if I didn't have multiple wives; kings of other nations would assume I'm not a good provider and that I'm not virile and manly. This would make them think I'm weak and that they can attack my nation."

Here is a list of David's six first sons: "Sons were born to David in Hebron: His firstborn was Amnon the son of Ahinoam of Jezreel; his second, Kileab the son of Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel; the third, Absalom the son of Maakah daughter of Talmai king of Geshur; the fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith; the fifth, Shephatiah the son of Abital; and the sixth, Ithream the son of David's wife Eglah. These were born to David in Hebron." (2 Samuel 3:2-5)

David is not living within the will of God by taking all these wives, for he is operating in direct opposition to what the Lord said about kings and wives. We don't find the Lord speaking out against David's actions in our text but that doesn't mean David won't face any consequences from disobeying the Lord. He is not going to "get away with" doing something the Lord said not to do. These many sons by many different wives are going to cause him heartbreak and hardship. There will be rivalries between the households and rivalries against David himself. Amnon will attack and rape his half-sister Tamar, and when David does nothing to discipline Amnon for his violent and unlawful deed, Amnon's half-brother Absalom will murder him to avenge his sister's honor. Absalom will be so resentful of David's failure to act that he will begin campaigning against his father in an effort to usurp the throne. (Evidently the son born between Amnon and Absalom, Kileab, died or was unfit either mentally or physically to rule the nation. This meant Absalom was the heir-apparent to the throne but he wanted to be king in place of his father, not to inherit the throne after his father's natural death.) Absalom will lose his life in a freak accident caused by his vanity over his long and luxuriant hair. Absalom's death places Adonijah next in line for the throne but he too will rebel against his father. He will not be successful in gaining the throne and will be put to death by the king the Lord chooses to succeed David: the young Solomon, who must have appeared to David's other sons as an unlikely contender. Nothing is ever told to us about the lives of his sons Shephatiah or Ithream so they either died young or were unfit to be considered for the crown. 

There is a reason why the Bible solemnly warns us, "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows." (Galatians 6:7) We can't break the Lord's rules and get away with it. Either He will discipline us Himself  or else He will allow the natural consequences of our poor choices to be our discipline. He might even have to do both, depending on how far our hearts have gotten away from Him. But just as it's impossible to plant corn and have beans sprout up instead, it's impossible to sow seeds of disobedience and reap blessings. Bad decisions naturally have unpleasant consequences. David didn't need six wives---and he will take more than these six as time goes on! He will even seduce another man's wife and end up ordering his army general, Joab, to make sure the man dies in battle. It probably seemed harmless to David when he first began accumulating wives, when he told himself it was fine because all other political leaders did such things, but disobedience is never harmless. We cause harm to ourselves and we cause harm to those around us, especially since disobedience has a tendency to grow as time goes on. Our hearts can grow harder as we deliberately disobey the Lord time after time until we find ourselves committing a sin we never imagined ourselves committing. That's what will happen to David, but the seeds that led to such a sin are planted a number of years before, right here where we find him taking multiple wives and siring children by all of them.