Stronger and Stronger (II Samuel 2:12-3:5)
Topic: II Samuel Passage: 2 Samuel 2:12–3:5
Crying for a King
Stronger and Stronger
II Samuel 2:12-3:5
May 12th, 2013
(One Lord: So Great a Salvation)
I. Introduction: For Our Instruction
As we return this morning to the Old Testament book of II Samuel, I think it's important to remember what God has revealed in the New Testament about what we read in the Old Testament. Why is it important for us to study stories about the God's people in the Old Testament, like the ones we find in II Samuel? Because...
...These things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. (I Corinthians 10:11)
Follower of Jesus, and the end of the day, these things were recorded as Scripture for those living at the “end of the ages”. That's you! That's me! Doesn't that encourage us to listen even more carefully? It should. Let's turn together to II Samuel 2:12.
II. The Passage: “Beaten Before the Servants of David” (2:12-3:5)
Now, we've got a pretty good size section to work through this morning, so in regard to the context, let me just set things up very quickly here. Saul was Israel's first king (I Samuel 10). Saul disobeys God on numerous occasions (I Samuel 13, 15). David is anointed as the new king (I Samuel 16). Saul refuses to give up the thrown and tries to kill David instead (I Samuel 18-26). Saul dies in battle (I Samuel 31). David is anointed king of Judah (II Samuel 2:4). Abner, Saul's general, sets up Saul's son Ish-bosheth as the true heir to Saul's throne (II Samuel 2:8, 9). And it is into this climate of hostility that we walk this morning. Look at v. 12:
A. The Threatening of David's Reign (vs. 12-16)
Abner the son of Ner, and the servants of Ish-bosheth the son of Saul, went out from Mahanaim to Gibeon.  And Joab the son of Zeruiah and the servants of David went out and met them at the pool of Gibeon. And they sat down, the one on the one side of the pool, and the other on the other side of the pool.  And Abner said to Joab, “Let the young men arise and compete before us.” And Joab said, “Let them arise.”  Then they arose and passed over by number, twelve for Benjamin and Ish-bosheth the son of Saul, and twelve of the servants of David.  And each caught his opponent by the head and thrust his sword in his opponent's side, so they fell down together. Therefore that place was called Helkath-hazzurim, which is at Gibeon.
So as the nation of Israel is embroiled in this controversy surrounding which claimant is the true king over God's people, we read here that it is Abner and Ish-bosheth who make the first military move.
They move their army from Mahanaim, located a number of miles to the east of the Jordan river and well to the north, they move their army south and west to Gibeon, only a few miles away from the border of Judah. This IS a direct challenge, and David's army knows it. And so we read that David's commander, Joab, goes out to meet Abner.
But when the armies square off near what is most likely a man-made reservoir that supplied water to the city of Gibeon (discovered, by the way, by archaeologists in the 1950's), when these armies finally meet, it is Abner who suggests what's called representative warfare. This is where only a handful soldiers are used to decide the battle. But here, all twenty-four soldiers, twelve for each side, all of them are killed in a bizarre turn of events.
But the key to this passage may be the numbers. Since there are twelve warriors sent from both sides, and since their were twelve tribes in Israel, the outcome here may be God's way of communicating the tragic nature of division and civil war among His people.
B. The Relentlessness of David's Servants (vs. 17-23; 24-28)
But look at how the conflict escalates after this strange turn of events. Look at verse 17...
And the battle was very fierce that day. And Abner and the men of Israel were beaten before the servants of David.  And the three sons of Zeruiah were there, Joab, Abishai, and Asahel. Now Asahel was as swift of foot as a wild gazelle.  And Asahel pursued Abner, and as he went, he turned neither to the right hand nor to the left from following Abner.  Then Abner looked behind him and said, “Is it you, Asahel?” And he answered, “It is I.”  Abner said to him, “Turn aside to your right hand or to your left, and seize one of the young men and take his spoil.” But Asahel would not turn aside from following him.  And Abner said again to Asahel, “Turn aside from following me. Why should I strike you to the ground? How then could I lift up my face to your brother Joab?”  But he refused to turn aside. Therefore Abner struck him in the stomach with the butt of his spear, so that the spear came out at his back. And he fell there and died where he was. And all who came to the place where Asahel had fallen and died, stood still.  But Joab and Abishai pursued Abner. And as the sun was going down they came to the hill of Ammah, which lies before Giah on the way to the wilderness of Gibeon.  And the people of Benjamin gathered themselves together behind Abner and became one group and took their stand on the top of a hill.  Then Abner called to Joab, “Shall the sword devour forever? Do you not know that the end will be bitter? How long will it be before you tell your people to turn from the pursuit of their brothers?”  And Joab said, “As God lives, if you had not spoken, surely the men would not have given up the pursuit of their brothers until the morning.”  So Joab blew the trumpet, and all the men stopped and pursued Israel no more, nor did they fight anymore.
So there are two scenes recorded for us here, and both of them involve the three sons of Zeruiah: Joab, Abishai, and Asahel. We know from I Chronicles 2 that Zeruiah was David's sister, which of course means that these are David's three nephews.
Now, we've met Abishai before. He was the one who accompanied David into the camp of the sleeping Israelites in I Samuel 26. But as we just saw, the first of these two scenes involves the youngest brother, Asahel.
So if you can imagine this as a major motion picture, these two scenes would be the epic action sequences of the movie. As the armies clash, the forces of Abner begin to fall back. But wait, who is that darting across the line, and weaving through the Abner's warriors? It's Asahel, and he is intent on killing Abner, the one man who stands in the way of David's reign over all Israel.
But notice that as Abner tries to get away from this zealous soldier, he is also trying to confirm if this is Asahel, Joab's brother. The one thing that Abner does not want to do is kill Joab's brother and turn a military clash into a personal blood feud. But that's exactly what happens when Abner, the more experienced warrior, kills Asahel in this gruesome manner.
If you look again at the end of verse 23, you can tell this Asahel's death is not simply chalked up as simply another, sad casualty of war: And all who came to the place where Asahel had fallen and died, stood still. Again, if this were a movie, this would be the scene where we would find the camera locked on Joab's face as he reacts to his little brother's death with horror and rage. And so, in verse 24, Asahel's relentless pursuit of Abner turns into Joab and Abishai's relentless pursuit of Abner.
But the chase continues all day, and it is only when Abner gains the high ground and carefully appeals to Joab, that both commanders see a way out for their weary forces; a way out in which they can both maintain their dignity. Look at how 29-32 conclude these accounts.
C. The Success of David's Forces (vs. 29-32)
And Abner and his men went all that night through the Arabah [this is the valley running up along the Jordan river]. They crossed the Jordan, and marching the whole morning, they came to Mahanaim.  Joab returned from the pursuit of Abner. And when he had gathered all the people together, there were missing from David's servants nineteen men besides Asahel.  But the servants of David had struck down of Benjamin 360 of Abner's men.  And they took up Asahel and buried him in the tomb of his father, which was at Bethlehem. And Joab and his men marched all night, and the day broke upon them at Hebron.
So we see here both of the armies march hard all night to return home, but David's forces stop in Bethlehem and bury Asahel before they return to Hebron. But the real key to this small section is the numbers the writer gives us here in verses 30 and 31. Including Asahel, only 20 of David's warriors were killed in the major battle, and that's compared to 360 casualties on Abner's side. And if this includes the twelve warriors who died in Gibeon, then only eight men of Judah were slain in the clash between these two armies.
D. The Establishing of David's Kingdom (vs. 1-5)
But if we cross over into chapter three, we learn more about this struggle:
There was a long war between the house of Saul and the house of David. And David grew stronger and stronger, while the house of Saul became weaker and weaker.  And sons were born to David at Hebron: his firstborn was Amnon, of Ahinoam of Jezreel; >>>
... and his second, Chileab, of Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel; and the third, Absalom the son of Maacah the daughter of Talmai king of Geshur;  and the fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith; and the fifth, Shephatiah the son of Abital;  and the sixth, Ithream, of Eglah, David's wife. These were born to David in Hebron.
So at the outset of chapter three, the writer gives us a condensed summary of what was probably years of battles and skirmishes between Abner's and David's armies. But in addition to the clear description of David's success, notice how the conflict is portrayed in verse 1: there should be no confusion here; this is a battle between “the house of David” and “the house of Saul”. This is a continuation of the long standing tension between God's old, unfaithful, and disobedient king, and God's new, faithful, and obedient king.
I think the writer wants to make it clear that even though Saul is dead, this chapter in the history of the throne of Israel has not quite played itself out.
III. Reminders of God's Kingdom-Establishing Work
But at this point, I think it's fair to ask the question, “Why?” “Why did God allow it to work itself out this way?” If David's is truly God's anointed, why didn't God simply place David on the throne over all Israel? Couldn't God have done that? Of course He could have. But He didn't.
And I think He allowed things to work out this way for a couple reasons: First, as we talked about last time, in a world that has turned away from God, in which those created by God want to play God, in that kind of world, we need to be reminded there is no 'smooth sailing' for God's people. There will always be opposition for those who walk by faith and not by sight.
But second, in the face of opposition and trials and suffering and difficulties, God wants to remind us that in spite of those things, He is always, always, always working to establish His true kingdom. The first readers of II Samuel needed to know that no matter what political turmoil was taking place inside Israel, no matter what regional troubles were threatening Israel from the outside, no matter the challenges, God was always, always, always working to establishing His promised kingdom.
And even long after David's time, even a thousand years after David, when Israel was demoralized by the cruel and crushing heel of the Roman Empire, even then God was at work to fully and finally establish this kingdom:
And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son...And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,  and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:30-33)
The establishing of the kingdom of David is a picture for us this morning of the establishing of the kingdom of the Son of David, Jesus Christ. And through what was written down for us, God wants to encourage you. Now, I think we could think about this a broad way, in terms of the success of and the expansion of and the establishment of the church, capital “C”. But without letting go of that, this morning, I want you to think about this in terms of the establishment of the kingdom of God within your own heart.
I believe God wants us to read 3:1 and ultimately see ourselves there. Like this:
And ____________ (insert your name) grew stronger and stronger, while [our enemies, the flesh, the world, and the Devil] became weaker and weaker.
Now, how can I make a statement like that? Can we really say that? Is that an accurate way to describe a life of faith in Christ, the path of a disciple? Listen to these verses:
And I am sure of this [not, “I hope” or “I feel pretty good about”…”sure”], that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. (I Thessalonians 5:23-24)
And we know that for those who love God all things [does that include times of struggle, times of failure, times of frustration? Does it include war between the 'house of you' and the 'house of sin'? Yes! All things...] work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son... (Romans 8:28-29)
Do you see what Paul is saying there in Romans 8? If all things are working for our good, and our good is to become more like Christ the King, then that means God is all-ways working in all things to establish His kingdom in your life. Doesn't that encourage you! And that conversely means God is always working to frustrate the plans of our enemies. And if we look back to our passage, I think God also wants to remind us of several related points.
First, God's kingdom-establishing work does not preclude tragic setbacks.
Just like the death of the twelve, just like the death of Asahel, if you are a follower of Christ, there will be tragic setbacks in your life because of sin. There will be times of defeat that will spiritually stop you dead in your tracks. Remember how Paul spoke to the Galatians:
For freedom Christ has set us free…[but] you have fallen away from grace….You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?...For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. (Galatians 5:1, 4, 13)
These disciples were struggling with pride and false teaching. But notice Paul doesn’t deny God’s establishing work in the lives of these Christians. Instead, he warns them, and calls them to repentance and reformation.
Second, God's kingdom-establishing work does involve a relentless pursuit.
David’s warriors were dedicated, weren’t they? They were relentless in the midst of the battle. Shouldn’t we do the same, especially as servants of an greater King? The fact that God is most certainly fulfilling His work, should not cause us to sit back and kick up our feet. No! It should inspire us to action, with confidence that there is real power at work in our works.
Remember what the writer of the book of Hebrews said to his readers:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,  looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)
Like Asahel, let’s not turn aside to the right or the left. Let’s run the race!
Third, God's kingdom-establishing work does manifest itself in multiple blessings.
Did you notice all the ways that these verses provided examples of how David’s kingdom was getting stronger and stronger? Abner was beaten before David’s men. And Abner suffered major casualties, while most of David’s men were protected. And when we get into chapter three, we find six blessings given to David.
While Saul’s house had fallen, and with him, all but one of his sons, David is blessed with six sons. And even though none of these sons will carry on the kingdom, they are evidence of God’s abundance. And that’s in spite of the fact that David was violating Deuteronomy 17:17, where it warns Israel’s king about multiplying wives. By grace, God was continuing to establish David’s kingdom, for God’s own glory and His purposes in Christ.
In the same way, we need to do better at recognizing all the ways that God is working in our lives and how far He has truly brought us. It’s easy to fall into the trap of spiritual tunnel vision, where we get so focused on what we think God is not doing in the moment, that we forgot the amazing things God has done in the past, and very often, the recent past.
Listen to how the author of Hebrews encourages this same thing with his readers:
But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings,  sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated.  For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.  Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. (Hebrews 10:32-35)
Brothers and sisters, God has been, is, and will continue to fully and finally establishing His kingdom. While battles and skirmishes remain, the war has been won on the cross, that cross where Jesus cried out, “It is finished”. If you have come to Jesus in faith, trusting in Him and Him alone, trust only in His grace and his victory, then God wants to encourage you this morning that, even when you feel weaker and weaker, God is making you stronger and stronger. His kingdom is being fully established in your heart.
Isn’t that good news? Let it encourage you this morning. Let it drive you forward in the relentless pursuit of growth in grace. Let it cause you to look even more carefully for and rejoice even more deeply in His work in your life.