Battle of Brothers

Read 2 Samuel 2:8-3:39

nerf war“The war between the house of Saul and the house of David lasted a long time.  David grew stronger and stronger, while the house of Saul grew weaker and weaker.” 2 Samuel 3:1






In story books, the crowning of kings seems such a simple thing, a quick thing, an accomplished-in-one-day thing.  Not so here.  Yes, David was anointed by the prophet, Samuel as the next king of Israel after Saul.  Yes, David waited his turn – not rushing Saul’s death so he could reign sooner. Yes, David waited for God’s timing even after  Saul’s death.  But when he went to Hebron, he was only anointed king over Judah – a portion of the nation of Israel. Ruling over the other tribes of Israel only happened over time.  You see, the head of Saul’s army is still loyal to Saul’s family and he, Abner, makes Ish-Bosheth, son of Saul, king over the rest of Israel (2:8-9).

What follows is a convoluted, often bloody battle for power in which the commanders of the armies seem to have just as much say (or more) over what happens than the kings themselves. The two big players are Abner, commander of Saul’s army and Joab, commander of David’s army.  Abner is more loyal to himself than Ish-Bosheth (3:6).  In an effort to strengthen his own position perhaps, he slept with one of Saul’s concubines.  When Ish-Bosheth calls him on it, he responds so defensively it seems he is ashamed.  I believe he also sees which way the political wind is blowing as he uses this as an excuse to change his loyalty to David. [I’m not sure loyalty is the right word but Abner does start pulling together support for David (3:17-21)].

Joab doesn’t trust Abner and feels free to yell at David, “What have you done? Look, Abner came to you.  Why did you let him go? . . . You know Abner. . . he came to deceive you.” (3:24) He takes it on himself to solve this problem and, without David knowing, he murders Abner.  But there’s more going on than concern for his king for Joab as well. Verse 30 tells us the reason he murdered Abner was because he had killed Joab’s brother Asahel.

No, there’s nothing simple about David becoming king. But David used even this to win people over.  He demanded mourning for Abner and fasted and mourned himself. “All the people took note and were pleased; indeed, everthing the king did pleased them. . . all Israel knew that the king had no part in the murder of Abner son of Ner.” (3:37)

I can’t help but notice that David has learned the value of mourning his enemies in garnering the support of their followers.  He mourned Saul and Jonathan.  He mourned Abner. Later he will mourn Ish-Bosheth.  I don’t know if he’s genuinely sad because he sees their value as people chosen by God or if he’s just wise politically.  I do know that through the bloody battles and the mourning, God keeps bringing him closer and closer to the kingship He has promised.

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