2 Samuel 2:1 – 5:5

Jimmy Jo1 & 2 Samuel, SermonsLeave a Comment

You can read the passages starting here.

So right off the bat, I’m going to apologize because we are looking at a long section of text today (2:1 – 5:5).  But I want to look at this whole section because of the way it hangs together and, consequently, what I want to bring out of it.  So we will obviously not read every word of the text.  Rather, I want to give you an overview of what’s going on, and then focus in on a few passages. 

Now there are a couple of over-arching themes that I want to pay attention to as we consider this text:

Firstly, I want to keep in mind the theme of God’s kingdom – that is, Israel (in particular) is God’s kingdom.  And what do the events of this passage tell us. 

Secondly, I want to focus on the character of David (that is, David’s character).  Again, David is described as a man after God’s own heart – what does this passage show us about David’s character? 

So, chapters 2:1 – 5:5 take us from David’s hearing of Saul’s death (which we looked at last week).  It begins with David being crowned as king of Judah and then ends with his being crowned as the king of the rest of Israel.  So here’s a brief outline. 

  • 2:1-7 – David is crowned king over Judah.  We should remember that Judah is one of the twelve tribes of Israel.  And what may be significant about this is that, firstly (after Saul’s death) David is not crowned king over all of Israel.  But what is also worth noting is that David is crowned king over only part of Israel.  Which sounds like I’m simply saying the same thing.  But we remember back at the end of Judges, the tribe of Benjamin was separated from the rest of Israel (because of their sin).  And the point that we emphasized was that this demonstrated a fracturing of the nation of Israel; God’s chosen people were broken.  So, while David being crowned might conceivably be a good thing – again, we’re seeing Israel fractured. 
  • 2:8—3:5 – this passage builds on this.  Or, it states emphatically that Israel is fractured.  At the beginning of this section, we find out that Saul’s son, Ish-Bosheth, is crowned king over the rest of Israel.  The rest of the passage describes some of the conflict between David’s armies and Ish-Bosheth’s armies.  We will come back and look at some details about this, but for now, we’ll carry on. 
  • 3:6-21 – tells us about Abner, the commander of Ish-Bosheth’s armies – it was Abner who placed Ish-Bosheth on the throne of Israel.  Abner, angry because of something Ish-Bosheth said to him – goes over to David, essentially to hand over the rest of Israel to David. 
  • 3:22-39 – However, Joab, one of David’s commanders, kills Abner.  Joab finds out that Abner had been to see David and suspects treachery.  He lures Abner to a meeting and then murders him (previously, we learn that Abner had killed Joab’s brother).  David, however, is not pleased at the death of Ish-Bosheth’s commander.  Rather, at the close of this chapter, David mourns for Abner. 
  • 4:1-12 – In these verses, we read that Ish-Bosheth is murdered by two of his own men.  They cut off his head and present it to David.  David, as with the Amalekite in last week’s passage, does not reward the two men for killing his enemy.  Instead, he has them killed for killing Ish-Bosheth, whom David calls “an innocent man.” 
  • 5:1-5 – Our passage concludes with David becoming king over the rest of Israel. 

Now we’ve gone over that very quickly.  Obviously, there’s a tremendous amount of detail that we are skipping so I encourage you to read the entire passage for yourselves.  But as I said, we are looking at this entire section in order to think about how it hangs together.  And as we also mentioned, the first theme that I want to think about is that of God’s kingdom.  Specifically, I want to frame it with the question, “what’s going on with Israel?” 

Now to consider that question, let’s think about what’s going on here.

The first thing that we learn in this passage is that David is crowned king of Judah.  And we’ve already mentioned that, though this may be a good thing (David’s anointing is being confirmed), it may in fact be problematic because we have a divided nation, a divided people. 

With Ish-Bosheth being crowned king of Israel, division is confirmed.  And David’s armies and Ish-Boshet’s armies go to war.  And I want to call your attention to a few verses.  Remember Abner?  He was Ish-Bosheth’s commander.  Abner was in battle with Joab and his brothers.  One of Joab’s brothers, Asahel, was pursuing Abner and we get this exchange. 

18 The three sons of Zeruiah were there: Joab, Abishai and Asahel. Now Asahel was as fleet-footed as a wild gazelle. 19 He chased Abner, turning neither to the right nor to the left as he pursued him. 20 Abner looked behind him and asked, “Is that you, Asahel?”

“It is,” he answered.

21 Then Abner said to him, “Turn aside to the right or to the left; take on one of the young men and strip him of his weapons.” But Asahel would not stop chasing him.

22 Again Abner warned Asahel, “Stop chasing me! Why should I strike you down? How could I look your brother Joab in the face?”

23 But Asahel refused to give up the pursuit; so Abner thrust the butt of his spear into Asahel’s stomach, and the spear came out through his back. He fell there and died on the spot. And every man stopped when he came to the place where Asahel had fallen and died.

2 Samuel 2: 18-23

On the one hand, this is a pretty unremarkable battle report.  However, I want to bring your attention to vv. 20-22:

20 Abner looked behind him and asked, “Is that you, Asahel?”

“It is,” he answered.

21 Then Abner said to him, “Turn aside to the right or to the left; take on one of the young men and strip him of his weapons.” But Asahel would not stop chasing him.

22 Again Abner warned Asahel, “Stop chasing me! Why should I strike you down? How could I look your brother Joab in the face?”

2 Samuel 2: 20-22

Now we need to pay attention to these verses because it is obvious (at least it is to me) that Abner had a personal relationship with Asahel and with Joab.  While in the midst of his fight, Abner looks behind him and recognizes the person chasing him.  “Is that you, Asahel?” says Abner.  And Abner says he doesn’t want to kill Asahel because then, “How could I look your brother Joab in the face?” 

These aren’t anonymous combatants.  Abner isn’t running from faceless enemies.  While there’s no particular reason to think that these are friends, it seems clear that Abner knew Asahel and Joab on a personal level. 

So what is going on with Israel?  What we are reading is not just accounts of battle.  What we are reading about is a house divided.  The tribe of Judah is at war with the house of Israel.  Brother is set against brother. 

However, as we continue to read, it’s not just the division that we see.  I want to call your attention to several other passages. 

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 had a concubine named Rizpah daughter of Aiah. And Ish-Bosheth said to Abner, “Why did you sleep with my father’s concubine?”

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 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.

2 Samuel 3: 6-11

Now on the one hand, we are seeing conflict and division within Saul’s own house (Ish-Bosheth’s).  Ish-Bosheth clearly doesn’t trust Abner, and Abner lets his pride get the best of him.  But what strikes me is how quickly and easily Abner is willing to betray his own king, the king that he himself put on the throne.  Presumably, the crown of Israel doesn’t mean all that much to him. 

Continuing on:  After this incident, Abner goes to David and promises to bring the rest of Israel to David’s side.  When Joab finds out, he is incensed.  Remember, Joab then murders Abner.  So let’s look at those verses: 

26 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. 27 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: 26-27

Now what’s worth noticing about this passage is that the narrator tells us that Joab murders Abner, not out of concern for David (though this is what Joab said to David’s face), but as revenge for the death of his brother (this is reiterated in v. 30).  What’s also worth noticing is that Joab doesn’t kill Abner in battle.  Rather, he lures Abner to an inner chamber, “as if to speak with him privately,” and murders him. 

The last passage I want to look in a little more depth is from chapter 4, which reports the death of Ish-Bosheth.  We learn that there are two men who are leaders in his army:  Baanah and Rekab.  We don’t know why, but these two men decide to betray Ish-Bosheth.  Presumably, they thought that Ish-Bosheth was going to lose to David and decided to kill Ish-Bosheth to curry favour from David.  So we read: 

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.

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: 5-8

Now we’re going to talk more about David’s response in a little bit.  But what’s important for our purposes right now is that Rekab and Baanah betrayed Ish-Bosheth.  They snuck into his house and murdered him while he was asleep. 

So at this point, we can discern a pattern in these chapters.  We might see the first story of Ish-Bosheth and Abner as reinforcing the state of division and in-fighting in the nation of Israel.  And then Abner immediately seeks to betray Ish-Bosheth.  Then we read that Joab murders Abner through questionable tactics.  And in our last story, we read that Rekab and Baanah betray Ish-Bosheth, murdering him again through underhanded means.  So we can see: 

  • 3:6-11:  A house divided
  • 3:12-21:  Abner betrays Ish-Bosheth
  • 3:22-39:  Joab murders Abner
  • 4:1-12:  Ish-Bosheth betrayed and murdered

And what I simply want to say is that, if we place this in the context of the framework we introduced earlier, what we see is a pretty discouraging answer to the question of, what is going on with Israel?  Through these few short vignettes, we see division, betrayal and murder. 

God’s people, God’s nation, after the death of their first king, Saul, seems very much to be following in Saul’s footsteps.  Now that may be a bit of an over-statement or somewhat unfair to Saul.  But what we can clearly see is that Israel is not what God has created her to be.  Israel is not doing what God has created her to do.  She is not living in a way that honours God and God’s purposes. 

Now into this situation, David is introduced as first king of Judah, and later king over all of Israel.  And so I want to explore the character of David, a man after God’s own heart, as he enters into this context. 

And in short, it seems to me that David does not support or condone the way others go about things.  He doesn’t want to participate in all that is wrong with Israel.  And this is seen in two particular episodes. 

Firstly, as we noted, Abner (Ish-Bosheth’s commander) is murdered by Joab by nefarious means.  This is what we read about David’s response when he finds out about Abner’s death: 

28 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. 29 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

And then we read: 

31 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. 32 They buried Abner in Hebron, and the king wept aloud at Abner’s tomb. All the people wept also.

33 The king sang this lament for Abner:

“Should Abner have died as the lawless die?
34     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: 31-34

In the other instance, this is how David responds to the murder of Ish-Bosheth, his enemy:

David answered Rekab and his brother Baanah, the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, “As surely as the Lord lives, who has delivered me out of every trouble, 10 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! 11 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!”

12 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 at Hebron.

2 Samuel 4: 9-12

Now obviously, both these instances deserve more attention.  However, what I want to note is the fact that David responded negatively – with grief and with anger – to the betrayal and murder of each of his enemies (Abner and Ish-Bosheth).  Now one might expect that no one is particularly thrilled with deceit, betrayal, and murder.  But on the other hand, one might also expect David to be pleased that his enemies are dead.  The war between Judah (David’s armies) and Israel (Ish-Bosheth’s, or Saul’s, armies) is now over.  And immediately after the death of Ish-Bosheth, we read that David is crowned king over all Israel, not only Judah. 

But the fact that David mourns his enemies and is incensed at their betrayers tells us something about David’s character.  It tells us something about the importance of how he ascends to the throne.  And it tells us something about David’s view of the kingdom that he is supposed to rule – that is, what kind of people, what kind of nation, is Israel supposed to be? 

Though I can’t give you the exact reference, Eugene Peterson talks about the importance of “ways and means.”  And in short, what Peterson is essentially talking about is the importance of ways and means as opposed to a perspective that privileges the ends – i.e. the end justifies the means (i.e. Machiavelli).  David’s concern is not merely that he gets the throne, that he gets the kingdom – how he gets it seems to be equally important.  For David, the ways and means by which he gets the kingdom are just as important as the kingdom that he gets.  (At this point, there should be obvious connections for us as to how Jesus obtains his throne – he doesn’t take it by might and force as many of the people expected and wanted.  He ascends to the throne through the cross. 

Now I have a lot of thoughts about this (something I say a lot, I know).  But it seems to me that western society is often fixated on the end, the result.  So long as we get what we think we’re supposed to get, so long as we produce what we think we’re supposed to produce, we have done what we think we’re supposed to do.  We focus on the ends. 

And it also seems to me that western churches are not immune to this inclination.  Or, to put it another way, western churches and Christians are often inclined to emphasize the thing we are trying to accomplish rather than how we are trying to accomplish them.  And more to the point, I think that we might often be guilty of using the ways and means of the world in order to accomplish what we think (or what we merely claim) are kingdom ends. 

Now, for the sake of time, I’m not going to parse that further.  And indeed I might be wrong in that assessment.  But what I’m simply saying is that the ways and means matter.  Because the ways and means say a lot about our character.  How we go about things says much more about who we are than the result or the product.  Because the ends are driven by our ambition or our desire.  But the ways and means flow out of our character.  And character matters. 

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