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.