Scripture reading – 2 Samuel 3

With the LORD’s guidance, David, his men, and their families relocated to Hebron, in Judah, where he was crowned king of Judah (2 Samuel 2:1-3).

Six Sons Born to David in Hebron (2 Samuel 3:1-5)

“Now there was long war between the house of Saul and the house of David: but David waxed stronger and stronger, and the house of Saul waxed weaker and weaker” (2 Samuel 3:1).

As was the custom of ancient monarchs, David had taken several wives who gave him six sons while he lived in Hebron (2 Samuel 3:2-5). Of the six sons, I invite you to commit to memory the names of two: Amnon, David’s firstborn son (2 Samuel 3:2), and Absalom, his thirdborn son (2 Samuel 3:3). Amnon and Absalom will become bitter rivals when sin shadows David’s life, home, and throne in the years ahead.

The Provocation and Betrayal of Abner (2 Samuel 3:6-11)

The ongoing war between Ishbosheth and “the house of Saul” and “the house of David” (2 Samuel 3:6) gave an opportunist like Abner a means to assert himself “strong for the house of Saul” (2 Samuel 3:6). Riding on a wave of growing influence in Israel, Abner committed a grave offense against Ishbosheth and took a woman of Saul’s harem (2 Samuel 3:7), a concubine (a wife of lesser standing). Ishbosheth’s feeble response to Abner’s offense was to question him, “Wherefore hast thou gone in unto my father’s concubine?” (2 Samuel 3:7).

Abner’s response to Ishbosheth, the son of the deceased king, revealed his disdain for the king’s son. Abner impudently challenged Ishbosheth, contending, “Am I a dog’s head, which against Judah do shew kindness this day unto the house of Saul thy father?” (2 Samuel 3:8) In a word, Abner defied the king and dared Ishbosheth to charge him “with a fault” (2 Samuel 3:8). He then committed an offense that should have cost him his life. Abner threatened to betray Ishbosheth and vow allegiance to David (2 Samuel 3:9-10). Tragically, and to his undoing, Ishbosheth failed to respond to Abner’s threats “because he feared him” (2 Samuel 3:11).

Abner Betrayed Ishbosheth (2 Samuel 3:12-21)

Abner made good on his threat and “sent messengers to David” (2 Samuel 3:12) and offered to betray Ishbosheth if David would covenant with him and unite Israel (2 Samuel 3:12). David agreed with Abner, but with one stipulation: that his first wife, “Michal Saul’s daughter,” would be restored to him (2 Samuel 3:13-14; 1 Samuel 18:25, 27). David understood that having Saul’s daughter as his wife would strengthen his claim to Israel’s throne. When Ishbosheth received David’s demand for his wife to be restored to him, he obliged his enemy and most likely sent Abner to convey Michal to David (though Saul had given her to another, 2 Samuel 3:15-16).

Abner then made public his plan to betray Ishbosheth (2 Samuel 3:17-18) and came to David with an entourage of twenty men. The two men sealed their agreement with a feast, and soon after, Abner departed to betray Ishbosheth (2 Samuel 3:19-21).

Joab’s Indignation, Deception, and Dishonorable Murder of Abner (2 Samuel 3:22-27)

During David and Abner’s meeting, Joab had been away with a raiding party. When he returned to David’s camp, he was furious to learn that he was in league with Abner, who killed his brother (2 Samuel 2:22-23). Joab dared to challenge David and asked, “What hast thou done? behold, Abner came unto thee; why is it that thou hast sent him away, and he is quite gone?” (2 Samuel 3:24)

Joab went on to accuse David of being naive and asserted, “Thou knowest Abner the son of Ner, that he came to deceive thee, and to know thy going out and thy coming in, and to know all that thou doest” (2 Samuel 3:25). The Scriptures do not reveal David’s response to the inquiry; however, Joab was furious. He then determined to deceive, ambush and kill Abner to avenge his brother’s death (2 Samuel 3:26).

David Rebuked Joab and Honored Abner as a Fallen Champion (2 Samuel 3:28-39)

When David learned that Joab had slain Abner, he was grieved and declared he was free of his blood (2 Samuel 3:28). Yet, he pronounced a curse on Joab and his household for the provocation (2 Samuel 3:29). David understood his desire to unite Israel was imperiled by Joab’s evil actions. He demanded the nation, and Joab and his men would honor Abner by outward signs of mourning (2 Samuel 3:30-31).

David publicly lamented how Abner had been betrayed and cried out against it and said, “Died Abner as a fool dieth? 34Thy hands were not bound, Nor thy feet put into fetters: As a man falleth before wicked men, so fellest thou. And all the people wept again over him” (2 Samuel 3:33-34).

David’s mourning moved Israel to judge that he had not betrayed Abner, for “all Israel understood that day that it was not of the king to slay Abner the son of Ner” (2 Samuel 3:37). David confessed, “I am this day weak, though anointed king; and these men the sons of Zeruiah [Zeruiah was David’s sister, 1 Chronicles 2:16] be too hard for me: the Lord shall reward the doer of evil according to his wickedness” (2 Samuel 3:39).

Joab would be a thorn for David for the rest of his life. When he was old and dying, he challenged his son Solomon to avenge Abner’s death (1 Kings 2:5).

Closing thoughts:

Scripture narratives like the one we read today (2 Samuel 3) remind me that “times have changed,” but man has not.

Jealousy, anger, bitterness, betrayal, vengeful plots, and murder continue to be the way of the world and man’s sinful pattern. Men and nations tend to promote weak leaders to places of authority. Those men and women invariably fall into the company of evil men who use them to seek riches, power, and advancement.

Lesson – It behooves all believers to be students of other men’s character.

Questions to consider:

1) What was the consequence of the war between the house of Saul (Ishbosheth) and the house of David? (2 Samuel 3:1)

2) How did Abner take advantage of Ishbosheth’s weakness as a leader? (2 Samuel 3:6)

3) How did Abner betray Ishbosheth? (2 Samuel 3:12)

4) How and why did Joab betray David’s league with Abner and kill him? (2 Samuel 3:26-27)

Copyright © 2023 – Travis D. Smith

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