To Such Great Lengths (II Samuel 3:22-39)
Topic: II Samuel Passage: 2 Samuel 3:22–3:39
Crying for a King
To Such Great Lengths
II Samuel 3:22-39
May 26th, 2013
(One Truth: Walk in Truth)
Our church memory verses from a few weeks ago reminded us that God’s word is “a lamp to our feet and a light to our path” (Psalm 119:105). Therefore, this morning we come in order to find God’s guidance. We come asking Him to show us the way. So let’s seek that very thing by returning to our ongoing study of the book of II Samuel and looking together at II Samuel 3:22-39.
II. The Passage: “It Had Not Been the King's Will” (3:22-39)
Let me give you a super brief review of where we are in this story. After many long years, God has finally removed Israel's first king, Saul. While God's people were eager to have a human king, Saul had failed to lead them well because Saul had failed to listen to God. He could not lead well because he would not be led. But even though Saul has died, Saul's general, Abner, would not accept that David was God's choice to be the next king over Israel. So, Abner puts one of Saul's sons on the throne to rule in the north while David rules in the south as the anointed king over the tribe of Judah.
But as we saw last time, after growing impatient with and being insulted by Saul's son, Abner has decided to switch sides and use his considerable influence to bring the support of the northern tribes over to David. As we pick up the story this morning, Abner has just secured a deal with David, and has left David's capital in the city of Hebron to return to the north. So look with me at verse 22...
A. Joab and David: Resentment (vs. 22-25)
Just then the servants of David arrived with Joab from a raid, bringing much spoil with them. But Abner was not with David at Hebron, for he had sent him away, and he had gone in peace.  When Joab and all the army that was with him came, it was told Joab, “Abner the son of Ner came to the king, and he has let him go, and he has gone in peace.”  Then Joab went to the king and said, “What have you done? Behold, Abner came to you. Why is it that you have sent him away, so that he is gone?  You know that Abner the son of Ner came to deceive you and to know your going out and your coming in, and to know all that you are doing.”
So here's where the other general in the story reappears. Joab is the commander of David's troops. We first met Joab back in chapter 2, along with his two brothers, Abishai and Asahel. We know from I Chronicles that Zeruiah, the mother of these men, was in fact David's sister. Which would mean that Joab, Abishai, and Asahel were David's nephews.
But while all of that is interesting, the most important thing for us to remember is what we learned in chapter 2 about Joab and Abner, these two generals. As you might remember, in the midst of the first battle between Joab's army and Abner's army, Abner had killed Asahel, Joab and Abishai's brother. And when David's men discovered the body of Asahel, we are told in 2:24 that “Joab and Abishai pursued Abner”. These brothers were out for blood. But the pursuit was long and drawn out, and in the end, the two armies agreed to go their own ways.
So knowing all that, it's no surprise that, as we see here, Joab is extremely anger when he finds out that not only has Abner come to Hebron, but that he was allowed to leave in peace. Now you can see from verses 24 and 25 that Joab frames the issue for David as a matter of national security. How could David have been so foolish! No matter what he claimed, Abner was really there to spy on David and the size of his army and the extent of his fortifications.
We know from the first half of chapter 3 that that isn't true, but this is how Joab wants to explain his bitterness and resentment. But Joab cannot accept the idea of a deal with Abner, and he certainly cannot accept the idea that Abner has been allowed to leave Hebron unscathed. So look at what he does in verses 26-30.
B. Joab and David: Revenge (vs. 26-30)
When Joab came out from David's presence, he sent messengers after Abner, and they brought him back from the cistern of Sirah. But David did not know about it.  And when Abner returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside into the midst of the gate to speak with him privately, and there he struck him in the stomach, so that he died, for the blood of Asahel his brother.  Afterward, when David heard of it, he said, “I and my kingdom are forever guiltless before the LORD for the blood of Abner the son of Ner.  May it fall upon the head of Joab and upon all his father's house, and may the house of Joab never be without one who has a discharge [like a running sore] or who is leprous or who holds a spindle [that is, a man who can only do what was considerd a woman's work...”may Joab's family never be without one] who falls by the sword or who lacks bread!”  So Joab and Abishai his brother killed Abner, because he had put their brother Asahel to death in the battle at Gibeon.
Obviously, Abner had not made it very far out of the city, and Joab knew this. He knew he had just missed Abner. So he sends messengers and has Abner turn around and return to the city. Clearly Abner believes there is some diplomatic, some political matter that was forgotten. And so when he returns, he meets Joab, right in the middle of one of the busiest parts of the city, the city gate.
Now, in such a public place, it's doubtful that Abner sensed there was anything suspicious about this meeting. But just as Abner's spear pierced the stomach of Asahel, Joab drives a sword into the stomach of Abner and gains his so-called revenge.
But notice how David reacts when he learns about what has happened in the city gate. Look again at verses 28 and 29. Not only does he defend his ignorance and innocence in the matter, but he also condemns and curses Joab and Abishai for their deception and violence. But look at how David continues to distance himself from his nephews and their actions. Look at verses 31-39.
C. Joab and David: Rebuke (vs. 31-39)
Then David said to Joab and to all the people who were with him, “Tear your clothes and put on sackcloth and mourn before Abner.” And King David followed the bier [that's the frame or poles on which the coffin was carried].  They buried Abner at Hebron. And the king lifted up his voice and wept at the grave of Abner, and all the people wept.  And the king lamented for Abner, saying, “Should Abner die as a fool dies  Your hands were not bound; your feet were not fettered; as one falls before the wicked you have fallen.” And all the people wept again over him.  Then all the people came to persuade David to eat bread while it was yet day. But David swore, saying, “God do so to me and more also, if I taste bread or anything else till the sun goes down!”  And all the people took notice of it, and it pleased them, as everything that the king did pleased all the people.  So all the people and all Israel understood that day that it had not been the king's will to put to death Abner the son of Ner.  And the king said to his servants, “Do you not know that a prince and a great man has fallen this day in Israel?  And I was gentle today, though anointed king. These men, the sons of Zeruiah, are more severe than I. The LORD repay the evildoer according to his wickedness!”
Now, there's a lot going on here, but the main thing we need to see in this passage is that David, through a variety of expressions of public grief and private proclamation, David is continuing to rebuke Joab and the deed he has carried out. In the final verse, verse 39, Joab is described as an “evildoer” and his actions as “wickedness”.
But a question we might ask is this: “Since Abner killed Joab's brother, couldn't Joab's actions be considered just in some way?” Well, this is when we need to remember how Joab's brother, Asahel, died. Listen to how David, many, many years later, listen to how David counsels his son Solomon as Solomon prepares to take over as king. This is I Kings 2:5...
“Moreover, you also know what Joab the son of Zeruiah did to me, how he dealt with the two commanders of the armies of Israel, Abner the son of Ner, and Amasa the son of Jether (chp. 20), whom he killed, avenging in time of peace for blood that had been shed in war, and putting the blood of war on the belt around his waist and on the sandals on his feet."
Abner had killed Asahel in battle, and if you recall, that was after many attempts to dissuade Asahel from pursuing him. But as David's song of lament described in verse 34, Abner had not been taken as a bound captive, as a shackled prisoner of war. His death was not the result of any kind of official justice. Now Abner was no saint, but David seemed to regard him as an honorable man; as a man of his word. And therefore, three times, in verses 21, 22, and 23, we are told that Abner was sent away from David “in peace”. And yet, he certainly didn't die in peace, did he?
One of the things we need to understand is what David understood about Joab's wicked act. Listen to what God told the Israelites about murder in Numbers 35:
“You shall not pollute the land in which you live, for blood pollutes the land, and no atonement can be made for the land for the blood that is shed in it, except by the blood of the one who shed it.  You shall not defile the land in which you live, in the midst of which I dwell, for I the LORD dwell in the midst of the people of Israel.” (Numbers 35:33-34)
And we know David understood this idea of “blood guilt”, because of what Solomon goes on to say about Joab in I Kings 2:
The king replied to him, “Do as he has said, strike him [Joab] down and bury him, and thus take away from me and from my father's house the guilt for the blood that Joab shed without cause.  The LORD will bring back his bloody deeds on his own head, because, without the knowledge of my father David, he attacked and killed with the sword two men more righteous and better than himself, Abner the son of Ner, commander of the army of Israel, and Amasa the son of Jether, commander of the army of Judah.  So shall their blood come back on the head of Joab and on the head of his descendants forever. But for David and for his descendants and for his house and for his throne there shall be peace from the LORD forevermore.” (I Kings 2:31-33)
Now, a fair question to ask at this point is “Why didn't David have Joab executed for his deception and for the murder of Abner? Couldn't he have done that?” The answer is “yes”. He could have. And that would have satisfied the issue of guilt. It would have been just.
So why didn't David do this? Well, we don't know. The most likely reason is that David was still too weak politically and Joab was still too influential with the army. David needed Joab, especially as he extended his reign over all Israel.
III. How Far Would You Go
Three men: Abner, Joab, and David. You may remember that last time we talked about the the idea of God’s word as a mirror. James 1:22-24 tells us that we should be able to come to God’s word and see ourselves in these pages; see ourselves in the people that fill these pages. As we talked about previously, that should be true in regard to stubborn generals like Abner and Joab, men who, like us, are so often living for their own agenda.
But I think we should also look for own reflection when we think about David. Did you notice the great lengths that David went to in order to distance himself from Joab’s actions?
He publicly decries Joab’s deed (v. 28). He invokes a curse upon Joab and his family (v. 29)(remember, these are his nephews). He orders Joab and his men to publicly humble themselves and mourn for Abner (v. 31). Then David follows the funeral procession and weeps over Abner’s grave (vs. 31, 32). Then David composes a lamentation, a song of lament to honor Abner’s memory (vs. 33, 34). Then he committed himself to a fast until the end of the day, even making an oath to express his seriousness (v. 35). Finally, just as he publicly denounced Joab’s deed, in verses 38 and 39, he privately denounces Joab and praises Abner in the midst of his servants.
Wow! One might think Abner was David’s father or David’s best friend. But he is neither. And in some sense, having Abner out of the way is politically beneficial to David. You see, David did not go to these great lengths because he was devoted to Abner. No, David went to such great lengths because he was devoted to God.
Listen…David could have tried to cover the whole thing up. Or he could have congratulated Joab on doing what was politically expedient.
David could have claimed that what Joab did was the king’s will. He could have used Abner’s death to send a message to all of his enemies; to prove his strength and resolve.
But David knew what Joab did was wrong. And so not only did he genuinely grieve for Abner, and grieve over the wicked act that was done, but he made every attempt to distance himself from Joab and Joab’s actions. Treacherously
Is it any wonder then that David’s first words in the book of Psalms express this same heart: Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers… (Psalm 1:1) And he says in Psalm 26:5, I hate the assembly of evildoers, and I will not sit with the wicked.
You see, it’s this godly impulse in David that brings about the response of the people in verses 36 and 37: And all the people took notice of it, and it pleased them, as everything that the king did pleased all the people.  So all the people and all Israel understood that day that it had not been the king's will to put to death Abner the son of Ner.
Those are really the key verses here. They help us understand why the writer of II Samuel wanted to carefully explain what took place in terms of Joab, Abner, and David. Everyone needed to understand that God’s chosen king was not seizing power through deception and violence. As he had done for so many years, on the run in the desert, David was continuing to trust in God and God’s timing for the establishing of his kingdom.
But what about you? Do you love God? Do you love His word? Then to what lengths are you willing to go to distinguish yourself from those who ignore God and His word? How far will you go to demonstrate that you are set apart, distinct?
I’m not talking about being arrogant or self-righteous. I’m talking about taking a stand. Haven’t God’s people always been tempted to not take a stand, to not seem different? Think about how the NT writers speak to this:
Do not be conformed to this world (Romans 12:2)…whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4)…Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord…but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God… (II Timothy 1:8)…that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,  holding fast to the word of life… (Philippians 2:15, 16)
When unbelieving family begins to gossip, when co-workers start telling dirty jokes, when a neighbor is slandering another neighbor, when a friend begins tearing down what is good and right and true and/or glorifying what is wrong and corrupt, to what lengths are you willing to go to be set apart? To be distinct?
We are often tempted to believe that being distinct will simply bring ridicule and rejection. Does that happen? Of course it does. But there’s another side to this. While being set apart can result in persecution, it can also result in favor, just as we see here in II Samuel 3. The people were “pleased” with David’s actions. We actually find a similar response in Acts 2 in reference to the church.
As the disciples of Jesus devoted themselves to prayer and the Apostle’s teaching, as the ate together and share with one another, we are told in Acts 2:47 that they were praising God and having favor with all the people. And [it goes on to tell us] the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
You see, God wants to use our distinctiveness as a light to others. Are you letting your light shine?
Where does the power come from to go even to great lengths to be set apart? It comes from the reality that Jesus Christ went to great lengths for us. Remember, David’s righteousness was only a shadow of Jesus, the perfectly righteous King of Kings! David condemned an unjust killing, but Jesus was condemned in our place. Jesus was unjustly killed for us.
Only through the new heart that Jesus gives can we care more about God’s opinion and less about the world’s. Only when we are confident in the love and promises of God that Jesus secured for us, can we confidently take a stand for what is right. And when we do, God wants to use that stand to point those around us back to Christ, so that they will be pleased with everything Jesus has done; so that they will give their allegiance to the true King.