II Samuel 3:1-21
3 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 Sons were born to David in Hebron: His firstborn was Amnon the son of Ahinoam of Jezreel; 3 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; 4 the fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith; the fifth, Shephatiah the son of Abital; 5 and the sixth, Ithream the son of David’s wife Eglah. These were born to David in Hebron. 6 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. 7 Now Saul had had a concubine named Rizpah daughter of Aiah. And Ish-Bosheth said to Abner, “Why did you sleep with my father’s concubine?” 8 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! 9 May God deal with Abner, be it ever so severely, if I do not do for David what the Lord promised him on oath 10 and transfer the kingdom from the house of Saul and establish David’s throne over Israel and Judah from Dan to Beersheba.” 11 Ish-Bosheth did not dare to say another word to Abner, because he was afraid of him. 12 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.” 13 “Good,” said David. “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.” 14 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.” 15 So Ish-Bosheth gave orders and had her taken away from her husband Paltielson of Laish. 16 Her husband, however, went with her, weeping behind her all the way to Bahurim. Then Abner said to him, “Go back home!” So he went back. 17 Abner conferred with the elders of Israel and said, “For some time you have wanted to make David your king. 18 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.’” 19 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.20 When Abner, who had twenty men with him, came to David at Hebron, David prepared a feast for him and his men. 21 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.
1. Public and Domestic Matters 1-5
David struggled further with the house of Saul before his settlement to the throne was completed, “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” (1). Both sides contested. Saul’s house, was beheaded and diminished, but it would not fall easily. One would wonder why it should be a long war, when David’s house had right and therefore God on its side. But an all-wise God was not finished perfecting David’s faith and character so the growing, learning, maturing process continued. God, using this period for wise and holy ends, prolonged the conflict. The length of this war further tried the faith and patience of David, and made his eventual establishment as king even more welcome. Likewise God may seem to be extending the training process He is using to develop you to be the kind and patient leader He wants you to become. So stay with the process.
While the house of David was growing stronger, the house of Saul grew weaker and weaker, lost places, lost men, sunk in its reputation, grew less considerable, and experienced reversals in every engagement. Many deserted the declining cause of Saul’s house, and prudently came to David’s side, being convinced that he would certainly win the day some day. This is like another tournament in each of our lives. The contest between grace and corruption in the hearts of believers, who are sanctified but need more sanctification, cleansed but need more cleansing, matured but need more maturing, may rightly be compared to this match. There is a long war between them, the flesh works against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh; but, as the work of sanctification is carried on, corruption, like the house of Saul, grows weaker and Grace, like the house of David, grows stronger and stronger, until it becomes a perfect man, and the process at last shows its fruit.
The growth of David’s own family also is recorded here in an account of six sons he had by six wives, in the seven years he reigned in Hebron. Solomon and Bathsheba, of course, are not mentioned. Perhaps this personal note indicates something which strengthened David’s public image. Psalm 127:5 says, “Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court.” David’s quiver was getting more and more full. And, as every thoughtful parent knows, raising children is an education in itself. The death of Saul’s sons weakened Saul’s image, so the birth of David’s strengthened his.
It was not good, however, for David to multiply wives contrary to the law. Deuteronomy 17:17 says, “He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.” David was a bad example and Solomon’s was even worse. Evidently he had one son per wife during the seven years. Some godly persons with more honor and comfort domestically have had that many children by just one wife. None of these sons came to fame and three of them were infamous, Amnon, Absalom, and Adonijah. This can make us cautious to give our best efforts to raising up our children in the fear of the Lord as David did not do early in his adult life. Eventually, David apparently became a better father for Solomon speaks highly of his relationship with his father and tells of things he learned from him. None of the other earlier sons seem to have benefited so much from their famous and beloved father, King David. David apparently had a much better husband and wife friendship with Bathsheba than with his other wives. The two of them together had five sons including the first son which died.
David’s son by Abigail is called Kileab in 2 Sam. 3:3 and Daniel in I Chron. 3:1. Here is a speculative and interesting possible explanation for David’s son by Abigail to have two names. His first name was Daniel, meaning God has judged, implying God has justified, since God judged favorably toward David and against Nabal. David’s enemies, however, criticized David saying, “It is Nabal’s son, not David’s.” At this, God so ordained that as Daniel grew up his physical features became more and more like Davids; eventually extremely like David’s. Daniel resembled David more than any of his other children, so David gave him another name: Kileab, which means: like his father, or the father’s picture.
Absalom’s mother was the daughter of Talmai king of Geshur, a heathen king who lived in a city that later became the fishing community called Bethsaida, where Andrew, Peter, James and John grew up. During our years in Tiberius, Israel, we visited that site many times. Perhaps David through this marriage hoped to strengthen his political position with a strategic marriage, a common practice in those days. But, generally speaking, the issue of marriage was one that proved his grief and shame.
The last in this list is called David’s wife which may have been Michal, his first and most rightful wife, called by another name. If this was she, though she had no child after she mocked David, she might have had one before.
2. Abner Requests a Ceasefire and Joab Grants the Appeal 24-28
We do not have a detailed record in Scripture of the war, battles and hardships endured. We only know that it lasted about seven and half years and that it finally came to an end because of a disagreement between Abner and Ish-Bosheth. Abner broke with Ish-Bosheth, and deserted his partnership with him on the occasion of a little provocation which Ish-Bosheth unadvisedly gave him. God can serve his own purposes by the sins and follies of men. Ish-Bosheth accused Abner of no less a crime than immoral sexual conduct with one of his father’s concubines, Ish-Bosheth said to Abner, “Why did you sleep with my father’s concubine?” (2 Sam. 3:7).
The record does not say whether it was true or not or on what grounds Ish-Bosheth suspected Abner, but, in either case it would have been better for Ish-Bosheth if he had remained quiet. Abner was, after all Ish-Boshet’s best friend and hope. “This very day I am loyal to the house of your father Saul.” So Abner strongly resented the charge, “now you accuse me of an offense involving this woman! The fact that he does not expressly deny it may hint that he was, in fact, guilty, but he still let Ish-Bosheth know he would not receive correction from him. “Am I a dog’s head—on Judah’s side” (8)? Is this how you intend to repay me for my kindness? Abner emphasized his loyalty in rather self-righteous expressions suggesting he would help fulfill: “what the Lord promised him on oath and transfer the kingdom from the house of Saul and establish David’s throne over Israel.” If Abner thought the Lord wanted to give the kingdom to David, why did he wait seven and a half years to do it? For seven and a half years he had acted against his conscience.
And this is probably the reason. He would not have been so zealous for the house of Saul if it had not gratified his own ambition. Proud men do not like to be reproved and will soon seek to clear their names and seek revenge. Verses 9-10 say, “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.” Abner claims that as he had raised him up, so he could and would pull him down again. He knew that God had sworn to David to give him the kingdom, and yet opposed it with all his might from a principle of ambition; but now he complies with it from a principle of revenge.
He now pretended to highly regard the will of God, but it was a mere pretense. If we are slaves to our desire, we have many masters. Abner’s ambition made him zealous for Ish-Bosheth, and now his revenge made him as zealous for David. If he had sincerely regarded God’s promise to David, and acted single-mindedly, he would have been steady, uniform and consistent with himself. Abner is an example of the lack of integrity—he did not have consistency, integrity, between what he thought, said and did.
Yet, while Abner served his own lusts, God by him served his own purposes, made even his wrath and revenge to praise him, and ordained strength to David by it. Ish-Bosheth was thunder-struck by Abner’s insolence. 2 Sam. 3:11 says, “Ish-Bosheth did not dare to say another word to Abner, because he was afraid of him.” If Ish-Bosheth had had the heart of a noble leader, he might have pointed out Abner’s inconsistencies and stated that he would not be served by so base a man. “I can do well enough, even better, without you.” But he was aware of his own weakness and said nothing for fear of making bad worse. He now became as David had said of his enemies, “How long will you assault me? Would all of you throw me down—this leaning wall, this tottering fence?” If the king of the house of Saul was a leaning wall and tottering fence, how could there be unity in it? This house was divided against itself and was about to fall.
If you, my friend, as a Christian leader today, are a leaning wall and tottering fence, if you do not know how to define a clear boundary for those who follow you, if you cannot hold the line and require proper attitudes and behavior among your followers, if you lack backbone, you would resemble Ish-Bosheth; your leadership is weak and your house will deteriorate. Define your convictions clearly. What do you stand for? What do you approve or disapprove of? Do you have convictions? Do you enforce your convictions? What lines will you neither cross nor allow others to cross? Ish-Bosheth means “man of shame.” Are you or do you want to be a leader? Who will follow an Ish-Bosheth?
3. Abner’s Diplomacy 12-18
Abner made an overture to David. We can suppose that he had already begun to grow weary of Ish-Bosheth’s cause, and perhaps had started looking for the opportunity reach out to David. Even though he had perhaps as many as seven years earlier killed Asahel, David’s nephew, apparently Abner’s personal dissatisfaction with Ish-Bosheth and his awareness of the weakness of Sauls house, emboldened Abner to send a message to David. Perhaps he thought, “If I can’t beat them, I will join them.” If Abner had not already thought about this, how else could he have contacted David so soon after his threat to Ish-Bosheth? Verse 12 says, “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.’” This suggests that Abner acted soon after the incident with Ish-Bosheth.
Whose land is it? Is it not yours? Abner, though the general of the enemy army, seemed to know the lay of the land. God can find a way to use people who are not a part of the Kingdom of Christ to support Kingdom causes. Enemies are sometimes made a footstool, not only to be trodden on, but by which to ascend. The earth (Revelation 12:13) helped the woman. Pray to God and let God use whomever or whatever whenever and however.
David made a treaty with Abner on the condition that he will have Michal, his wife, restored to him. David showed the sincerity of his marital affection to his first and most rightful wife; apparently neither her marrying another man, nor his having married other wives, had emotionally separated him from her. Many waters could not quench that love. He showed his respect to the house of Saul. He would not trample on that fallen house. Even in his present advancements he still took satisfaction from being a part of Saul’s family. He would not be happy with the honors of the throne without his wife, Saul’s daughter. He bore no bitterness toward the family of his enemy. Either that or, it is also possible, that David was only looking at political appearance and wanted to remind everyone that he was Saul’s son-in-law.
Abner evidently sent him word that David must apply to Ish-Bosheth, which he did even mentioning the price he had paid Saul for her. Ish-Bosheth could not dare deny his demand without Abner’s support, so he took her from Phaltiel, to whom Saul had married her. Abner brought her to David, thinking David would surely welcome him when he brought him a wife in one hand and a crown in the other.
No sympathy is given to her latter husband for when he took her he knew she was the wife of another. Let no man set his heart on something to which he is not entitled. And if any disagreement has separated husband and wife, if they expect the blessing of God, let them be reconciled and come together again. May God give the grace that all former quarrels would be forgotten, and let them live together in love, according to God’s holy ordinance. This is God’s path of blessing.
Abner knew that if the elders of Israel would move to David’s side, so would the common people. So, “Abner conferred with the elders of Israel” (v 13). Now that it served his own purpose he can plead in David’s behalf that he was Israel’s choice (2 Sam. 3:17): “For some time you have wanted to make David your king. Now do it!” He successfully fought against the Philistines and has done so much good service for Israel. No one is more deserving. You have tried both Ish-Bosheth and David, now, “Give the crown to him that best deserves it.” Let David be your king.
David was, of course, also God’s choice (2 Sam. 3:18): “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.’”Who would have expected such careful reasonings as these to come out of Abner’s mouth? But God can make the enemies of his people to acknowledge that He has loved His people. Revelation 3:9 says, “I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.” He particularly gave personal attention to the men of Benjamin, those of his own tribe, on whom he had the greatest influence, and whom he had drawn in to be loyal to the house of Saul. He was the man that had deceived them, and therefore he was concerned to enlighten them. If the multitude are like sheep, where will the shepherd lead them? The responsibilities of leadership are made clear in stories like this in which we observe the many following the opinions of the few. Abner had led people away from David and now he led them to David. Which time was he right?
4. Abner and David Finalize their Agreement 19-21
David wisely accepted the treaty with Abner and did well to do it because, whatever induced Abner to do it, it was a good means to put an end to the war, and to settle the Lord’s anointed on the throne. Logically, it was as lawful for David to make use of Abner as it is for a poor man to receive alms from a Pharisee, who for selfish motives gives it in pride and hypocrisy. In our work for a sovereign Lord, regardless of the motives of others, God is at work and His purpose is accomplished. Abner reported the sense of the people and the success of his communications with them to David. This time he did not come privately, but with a group of twenty men, and David entertained them. “When Abner, who had twenty men with him, came to David at Hebron, David prepared a feast for him and his men” (20). Try to imagine the conversation, joy, laughter, story-telling and jokes that made up the social exchanges of this feast. These men had been enemies though they were all Israelites. Now they were feasting together. Genesis 26:30 tells of another feast based on an agreement between Abimelik and Isaac, Philistine and Hebrew, about the wells: “Isaac then made a feast for them, and they ate and drank” but they were not all Israelites.
Abner, pleased with his entertainment, the prevention of his fall with Saul’s house (which was inevitable if he had not taken this course), and much more with the prospect he had of promotion or appointment to a position under David, decided and acted in a little time to bring about the revolution; to bring all Israel into cooperation with David (v 21).
He told David, “you may rule over all that your heart desires.” He knew David’s promotion to kingship arose from God’s appointment, yet he insinuates that it sprang from David’s own personal ambition and desire to rule. It seems that this is an example of someone psychologically projecting on another the way that they themselves think; he measured that good man by himself. Proverbs 19:11 says, “A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.” David apparently overlooked the offense as his son would later counsel others to do, so he and Abner parted good friends, and the healthy relationship between them seemed well settled. All of us who fear God and keep His commandments can follow this example, resist the temptation to always justify ourselves, avoid contention even with the wicked, live at peace with all men, and show the world how God can be honored through the attitude and behavior of children of light—humble, yielded and not defensive.