Mirror, Mirror on the Wall (II Samuel 3:6-21)
Topic: II Samuel Passage: 2 Samuel 3:6–3:21
Crying for a King
Mirror, Mirror on the Wall
II Samuel 3:6-21
May 19th, 2013
(One Lord: What is Man?)
I. Scandals and Fallout
If you follow the news at all, you know that this week the current administration has been dealing with not one, not two, but three situations that many have been describing as scandals. I think only time will tell whether or not the label “scandal” really applies in comparison to past scandals. And I think only time will reveal the amount of 'fallout' these situations will generate.
But when it comes to scandals and time, we also know that scandals are nothing new. This morning, I think it is far more important for us to think about a scandal that took place over 3000 years ago, and the critical fallout that came on its heels.
As we've done throughout the month of May, let's go back together to the book of II Samuel. We left off last time in II Samuel chapter 3, verse 6.
II. The Passage: “Abner Was Making Himself Strong” (3:6-21)
This morning we will explore verses 6-21 of chapter 3. In that section, I see three distinct units that revolve around Abner, the commander of Saul's armies. You may recall that after the death of Saul, Abner countered David's kingship over the tribe of Judah by proclaiming one of Saul's sons, Ish-bosheth, to be the true king over all Israel.
So here's what we find in this section : verses 6-11 focus on Abner and Ish-bosheth's accusation, verses 12-16 focus on Abner and David's appeal, and verses 17-21 focus on Abner and Israel's allegiance. Let's look more closely at teach of these three units, starting with verses 6-11. Let me read those verses
A. Abner and Ish-bosheth’s Accusation (vs. 6-11)
While there was war between the house of Saul and the house of David, Abner was making himself strong in the house of Saul.  Now Saul had a concubine whose name was Rizpah, the daughter of Aiah. And Ish-bosheth said to Abner, “Why have you gone in to my father's concubine?”  Then Abner was very angry over the words of Ish-bosheth and said, “Am I a dog's head of Judah? To this day I keep showing steadfast love to the house of Saul your father, to his brothers, and to his friends, and have not given you into the hand of David. And yet you charge me today with a fault concerning a woman.  God do so to Abner and more also, if I do not accomplish for David what the LORD has sworn to him,  to transfer the kingdom from the house of Saul and set up the throne of David over Israel and over Judah, from Dan to Beersheba.”  And Ish-bosheth could not answer Abner another word, because he feared him.
Now we know from other information in chapters 2 and 3 that David and Ish-bosheth were at war for what was probably several years. And as we see here in verse 6, during this time, Abner is (quote-unquote) “making himself strong in the house of Saul”. We know from 2:8 that all along, Abner has been the real 'power player' behind the reign of Ish-bosheth. And very clearly here, Abner is solidifying that position.
Now we don't know if Ish-bosheth's accusation against Abner, that he was sleeping with one of Saul's concubines, we don't know if that accusation is true or not. Is that what verse 6 is alluding to, in terms of Abner solidifying his power and position. OR, is Ish-bosheth growing more and more uncomfortable with Abner pulling the strings, and therefore looking for some grounds to dismiss or execute Abner? We just don't know.
What is abundantly clear is that Abner is outraged by Ish-bosheth's accusation. He must be thinking to himself, “Who does this little punk think he is?” But look again how he responds. He never deals with the actual charge. Instead, in verse 8, Abner make two points: 1) He asks Ish-bosheth, “Do you think I'm a traitor? Do you think I'm David's dog?” 2) He also reminds Ish-bosheth that he has consistently been faithful to the house of Saul, claiming that it is only because of him that Ish-bosheth has not been conquered or captured by David.
And so in light of this, he is outraged that some issue involving a woman is really being used against him. Now notice what we learn here about the fallout from this royal concubine scandal. Abner, in verses 9 and 10, tells Ish-bosheth, that he's finished with the “house of Saul”. He is going to switch sides and use his influence to bring the rest of the tribes of Israel under David's reign.
Why is Abner taking such an extreme step? We don't know. Maybe this incident has proven that Ish-bosheth is more trouble than he's worth. Maybe Abner has been looking for a way out. Maybe he is just so ticked off that he wants nothing more than the opportunity to really stick it to Ish-bosheth. We just don't know. But what about solidifying his position? Will Abner really follow through on this threat? Look at vs. 12-16.
B. Abner and David’s Appeal (vs. 12-16)
And Abner sent messengers to David on his behalf, saying, “To whom does the land belong? Make your covenant with me, and behold, my hand shall be with you to bring over all Israel to you.”  And he said, “Good; I will make a covenant with you. But one thing I require of you; that is, you shall not see my face unless you first bring Michal, Saul's daughter, when you come to see my face.”  Then David sent messengers to Ish-bosheth, Saul's son, saying, “Give me my wife Michal, for whom I paid the bridal price of a hundred foreskins of the Philistines.”  And Ish-bosheth sent and took her from her husband Paltiel the son of Laish.  But her husband went with her, weeping after her all the way to Bahurim. Then Abner said to him, “Go, return.” And he returned.
Abner is a skilled power broker, isn't he? When it comes right down to it, he is not interested in loyalty. He is interested in opportunity. And with David, Abner sees an opportunity. But he has to present himself to David as the only man with whom David needs to negotiate. “To whom does the land belong?” (v. 12) Abner believes it belongs to him. And if David is willing to make a deal, he will “bring over all Israel” to David.
As we see from verse 13, David is pleased with this plan. He must know that Abner genuinely is the real power behind the “house of Saul”. But David issues an appeal. He has a demand, a condition he wants attached to this treaty with Abner. Unless Abner brings David's wife Michal with him when he comes to Hebron, he will not be welcomed. There will be no deal.
So why is Michal so important? Well, I think that's clear from the descriptive phrases attached to both Michal's and Ish-bosheth's names: (v. 13) “Michal, Saul's daughter”; (v. 14) “Ish-bosheth, Saul's son”. As we are reminded of in verse 14, David secured Michal's hand in marriage way back in I Samuel 18 by killing and circumcising 100 Philistines. Not the most romantic engagement and wedding story, is it?
But according to I Samuel 25, when Saul was trying to kill David, and David was hiding in the southern deserts of Israel, Saul decided to give Michal to another man. Since there doesn't seem to have been a divorce, David believes he has every right to reclaim Michal. And given those descriptive phrases about Michal and Ish-bosheth being Saul's children, I think it's fair to say that David believes it only strengthens his throne to have some legitimate connection to the “house of Saul”.
Ish-bosheth complies with David's demand, no doubt under pressure from Abner, and Michal is sent back to David. Verse 16 is a sobering reminder of the very real, very human 'collateral damage' that resulted from Saul's rebellious reign and the difficulty of establishing David's throne over Israel. But can Abner really bring all the tribes over to David? Look at 17-21.
C. Abner and Israel’s Allegiance (vs. 17-21)
And Abner conferred with the elders of Israel, saying, “For some time past you have been seeking David as king over you.  Now then bring it about, for the LORD has promised David, saying, ‘By the hand of my servant David I will save my people Israel from the hand of the Philistines, and from the hand of all their enemies.’”  Abner also spoke to Benjamin. And then Abner went to tell David at Hebron all that Israel and the whole house of Benjamin thought good to do.  When Abner came with twenty men to David at Hebron, David made a feast for Abner and the men who were with him.  And Abner said to David, “I will arise and go and will gather all Israel to my lord the king, that they may make a covenant with you, and that you may reign over all that your heart desires.” So David sent Abner away, and he went in peace.
It appears from what we read in verse 17 that many of the elders of Israel had previously wanted to David to lead them. Maybe Abner had persuaded them to follow and fight for Ish-bosheth instead. That's unclear. And it's unclear how many tribes were even loyal to Ish-bosheth. But here, Abner is persuading them to go with their 'first instincts'. Verse 19 tells us that Abner even made a special trip to Benjamin, which was his own tribe, and Saul's tribe, and therefore required more diplomacy because of their loyalties.
So when Abner and his entourage finally come to Hebron, he comes empowered by the assurances he as received from the other eleven tribes. Again in verse 21, Abner speaks of himself as Israel's 'kingmaker': “I will arise, I will go, I will gather all Israel to my lord the king”. Whatever David thought of Abner personally, he is clearly eager to extend his reign through peaceful efforts rather than war.
III. The Mirror of Abner’s Heart
So if we stop and think about this passage, as we consider how God might be speaking to us through this account, what should we conclude? Maybe the moral of the story is be very, very careful when making accusations against a power-broker. Maybe, if we focus on Ish-bosheth, this is a reminder about the fleeting nature of power and position.
I think we are safer in saying that the writer of II Samuel has included this account for a couple reasons: 1) he wants to make it clear to his readers, and even later generations, that David was seeking a peaceful resolution to his conflict with the “house of Saul”. Remember how David was unwilling to take Saul's life in the wilderness, even when he had the chance? 2) Because God is the only true kingmaker in Israel, He can even use David's enemies, He can even use a man like Abner to fulfill his purposes of bringing all Israel under David's reign.
But this morning, I want us to think about this Old Testament passage, and particularly, to think about Abner in light of these verses from the New Testament, from James 1:22-24:
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.  For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror.  For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.
Do you see what James is telling us about God's word? God's word is like a mirror, and as with any mirror, when you look into it you see your own reflection. Is that true with our passage this morning? When you read about Abner, do you, in some way, see yourself in Abner? I think we should. I think there are at least three way in which Abner's heart, Abner's motives reveal something about our own heart, our own motives. Think about these:
First of all, Abner's example reveals what is so often true of us in regard to Why We Do What is Wrong.
Abner was in the wrong to raise up Ish-bosheth as the true king. But he didn’t support Saul’s house because he was simply a loyal guy. He didn't support Saul's house because he believed it was God revealed will. He didn't fight for the “house of Saul” because he was somehow being forced to do so. Abner did it for Abner.
When you are honest with yourself, can't you see your own reflection there? We are always tempted to justify our wrongs by blaming other people, or blaming our upbringing. We are tempted to create righteous sounding rationalizations for our sins. But at the end of the day, we do what we do because I WANT TO DO IT. I do it for ME. Like Abner, as a sinner, my goal is to “make myself strong” in the house of this world. But wait, there's more...
Second, Abner's example also reveals what is so often true of us in regard to Why We Do What is Right.
David was God's anointed king, therefore, it was right to get behind David. But Abner didn’t support David because he earnestly desired God’s will, or because he simply believed in David's moral and political superiority.He didn't support David because he woke up one day and saw the error of his ways. Abner did it for Abner.
Given the details we just looked at, what is most likely is that Abner supported David because he was pushed; because he was attacked; because he was angry; Abner wanted to get back at Ish-bosheth. It was a political temper tantrum.
Now, you and I may not engage in doing what is right while thinking to ourselves, “I'll show him.” Or, “I'll show her.” But so often we help or we serve or we abstain or we bless or give because we want other people to think well of us; because we want to be applauded or accepted or appreciated. Or maybe we give to someone else with the expectation that we will get something from them. Maybe we feel pressured. Maybe it's duty or obligation.
Whatever the specific motive, so many of us who want to think of ourselves as good people, only do what is “good” because, somehow, it solidifies MY position and power. As the prophet Isaiah expressed this: We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. (Isaiah 64:6)
Third, Abner's example reveals what is so often true of us in regard to Why We Do What We Know is Wrong
What is most surprising about this passage is what we discover in verses 9 and 18. In both of those verses Abner betrays the fact that he knows, and has known, that God promised to give the kingdom of Israel to David; that David was God's chosen king. Do you see that?
But in spite of that knowledge, Abner has raised up and supported Ish-bosheth. And what's more, Abner has, for years, fought against David. Men have died for this cause. And what's more, Abner has been making himself strong. Sadly and sinfully, Abner did it all for Abner...in spite of what he knew about God's will.
Can you see your reflection there? Sadly, can't we all relate to this? Do you know what God desires of you, and then choose to ignore it. Even though He has said “Stop!”, do you go? Even though He has said “Speak!”, do you keep silent? Even though He has said “Give!”, do you hold back? You see, just knowing what God has said is not enough.
That is what James was saying. If we are hearers of the word but not doers, that is, if we walk away from the Bible without rightly responding to what we see about ourselves there, it's like getting up in the morning, and seeing your hair messed up, finding goop in your eyes, and smelling your breath, and then leaving the house having done absolutely nothing about it.
Brothers and sisters, friends, through Abner, God has graciously given us a picture of ourselves. Though we often try to rationalize it, we do what is wrong because, at the root of it all, we are SELF-grasping and SELF-exalting. And when we do the right thing, even then our motives are very often tainted by this ME-centeredness. And we do these things, knowing what God has commanded, knowing that we should be God-centered and not ME-centered.
What do we see in that mirror? We should see our guilt. We should see just how desperate our situation really is. Do you? Maybe it's easier not to see what's really there. Maybe it's safer to deny it and pretend you are somehow superior to Abner. But listen, the safest thing you can do this morning is to accept what the mirror reveals. To embrace that disturbing reflection. Why is that best? Because then, and only then, will we seek the 'makeover' God wants to give us.
You see, God’s word not only reveals our desperate situation, it also reveals God’s amazing salvation. When you look in the mirror of God’s word, God wants you to see more than just your desperate condition as a sinner. He wants you to Jesus Christ looking back at you. He wants to clothe you with Christ. And when you see Jesus there, you are seeing your true self.
You see, you are most you when the Lord Jesus is truly the Lord of your life. Only He can change you. Only He can change your reflection. Only He can give you the power to be a doer of the word, and not merely a hearer. Only Jesus can help you to accept the truth about why you do what is wrong. Only Jesus can enable you to do what is right for the right reasons. And only Jesus can empower you to obey the word of God.
Does that mean you will always do all of these things? No. But that’s why grace is so amazing. You see we should also be like Abner in the sense that we should also switch sides and stand with God’s true king. But no amount of diplomacy and posturing will accomplish that. We cannot make a treaty or covenant with God’s true King according to our own agenda. No, the covenant has already been made. Jesus, the son of David…Jesus, God’s anointed and eternal King has made that covenant on the cross. It has been ratified by His own blood.
Are you ready to rightly respond to your reflection this morning? Whether Christ already has your allegiance, or if you are just understanding this for the first time, the right response is always the response of faith, of trust. Reach out this morning. Tell God you’ve seen your reflection clearly. But also tell Him you want to serve the true King, that you want to truly make yourself strong in Him and Him alone.