Abner has finally decided to get on board with God’s plan for David to be king of Israel. He meets David in good faith with good results. But Joab’s hatred run over.
Let’s do a quick review of the story between Abner, Joab and David.
David first met Abner in Saul’s court or at the very latest after the battle with Goliath. Abner didn’t take much notice of him until he left to face Goliath in battle. Apparently Saul hadn’t really looked at David beyond knowing that he was the one who played the harp that soothed his mind. As David walked onto the field of battle that day Saul and Abner both questioned who he was. It could have been a question of ‘awe’ instead of missing information though.
David would serve in Saul’s army and be a commander of his own troops. I have no doubt that he was in many meetings with Abner concerning battle plans and kingdom defense. After Saul began pursuing David, Abner was the one standing at Saul’s side every time. Following Saul’s death Abner was the force behind the throne and directed Israel for five years before installing Ish-bosheth to the throne.
At this point in our story, Abner has been deeply insulted by Ish-bosheth and has torn his allegiance away from the house of Saul. He has propositioned David, met with Israel’s leaders, and met with David. All is in place for him to return to Israel’s leaders and bring about the reunification of the kingdom of Israel.
David and Joab have probably know each other all their lives. Joab is David’s cousin. At some point Joab joined David while he was hiding from Saul. Joab’s military might was well known to David and Abner. I have no doubt Abner and Joab had encountered one another before the fateful battle we just studies but this is the first time Joab is mentioned in scripture. Joab and Abner apparently respected one another as equals and as leaders.
Joab and Abner’s relationship was severed when Asahel, Joab’s brother, pursued Abner in battle and Abner struck him dead to save his own life. Abner knew this would create a rift and he tried to avoid it but he was left with no other option. Joab pursued Abner that night with all his might and only turned back after being faced with Abner’s escape into a larger military contingent.
Joab was absent when Abner came to David to work out terms for reunification. I have a sneaking suspicion that this was done on purpose. David probably knew of Joab’s hatred and arranged his meeting to occur when Joab was otherwise engaged.
This triangle is about to get even more complicated.
Peace has finally been restored between David and Abner. I don’t know if this meant between the house of Saul and David or not though as Abner had cut ties with Saul’s house. It did mean peace between David and the rest of Israel. I’m wondering if tribes besides the tribe of Benjamin (Saul’s tribe) fought with David during those seven and a half years. Was there war between Judah and Israel during that time or only the houses of David and Saul? (Sorry, got off track again.)
Joab arrives back in town shortly after Abner and David’s meeting ended. Joab’s hatred of Abner is NOT bound by his loyalty to David nor has it diminished since it began. Joab checks in with David upon his return and tries to sow seeds of doubt in David’s mind against Abner. David doesn’t rise to the bait.
Joab is cunning and good at putting on a smile when he needs to. He has fooled David into thinking that the matter is ended. And now he will trick Abner into returning to Hebron and meeting him alone.
I would like to back up and look at our story through Abner’s eyes. I want to step back to the place where he is accused by Ish-bosheth. I know it is a long way back but I have felt compelled to go there for a while. I have the time now and since it’s my fingers on the keyboard, here we go!
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A weariness has filled Abner of late. He has been feeling the strain of maintaining his allegiance to Ish-bosheth for the sake of Saul. He is nothing like his father Saul. Abner was honored to serve Saul, even in the days he least understood Saul’s heart. But Ish-bosheth is a child in a man’s body. He knows nothing of the matters of running Israel. Abner has been the one working with the leaders of the tribes. His own standing with them has eclipsed Ish-bosheth’s. Abner is the real power behind the throne but the one sitting on it is dragging him down; bringing about true regrets for ever having placed him there.
Abner appears before Ish-bosheth this day as usual. It is the king’s custom to hear updates of the battle between Saul’s house and David’s each week. He isn’t interested in strategy or even hard facts. All he wants is to know if they are ‘winning’. Abner tries hard each week to find something encouraging to bring to Ish-bosheth. He hasn’t the strength to do so today.
“Abner; what news do you bring me of David’s defeat?”
“I have none to report this morning. Perhaps the day will bring about something more encouraging for my king.”
“As I suspected. You have been distracted. Maybe if you would leave the bed of Rizpah you could rejoin the hunt for David!”
Abner can’t believe his ears. He is stunned into silence.
“You have been seen following her about as a doting lover.”
Anger and indignation ignites Abner’s tongue. “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” (verse 8b). Fire flashed in Abner’s eyes and he spat at Ish-bosheth’s feet. “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” (verses 9-10).
Ish-bosheth’s face drains of all color. It was clear that he has gone too far. Abner’s response made it clear that the reports were malicious unfounded gossip. He was a fool to believe them and even a bigger fool to confront Abner with them publicly. He can do nothing but watch as Abner turns around and storms from the throne room.
Abner wastes no time in penning a letter to David. He writes what his heart had been longing to write for some time. “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” (verse 12).
As soon as Abner is done with his letter he called for three messengers. Once they arrive he hands their leader the scroll he had just penned. “Take this to David in Hebron. Wait for his reply and bring it directly to me.”
The messengers set off immediately for David’s residence. It will be a while before Abner hears David’s answer but he has no doubt the reply will be favorable. Abner also dispatches messengers to assemble the leaders of Israel. He will need to address them regardless of David’s answer.
Two days pass before the messengers reach David. Abner spends this time preparing his remarks for the leaders of Israel. He knows they have long wished an end to the feud between Saul and David’s houses. If not for Abner’s installation of Ish-bosheth they would have requested David be their king. They have come to trust Abner over the years and will follow his lead.
While Abner makes his plans, David receives the messengers. He is surprised but pleased to learn of Abner’s proposal. David has desired the fighting to end since the day he first fled Saul’s court.
David knows Abner to be a man of integrity. Never has he heard a false word from his lips. Yet this is a HUGE change from the man who faithfully served at Saul’s side. How can he know for certain that Abner is able to do as he proposes?
In the back of David’s mind is a hollow spot that has plagued him for more years than he cares to think about. It is a wound inflicted by Saul that the mere mention of it sends him into probing it like a newly missing tooth. The wound inflicted by Saul’s theft of Michal, David’s first wife. Righting this wrong will be the test of Abner’s ability to bring the leaders of Israel to David.
David composes two messages. The first is to Abner. The second to Ish-bosheth.
To Abner he writes, “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” (verse 13). This message David sends with Abner’s messengers.
To Ish-bosheth David pens his demand. “Give me my wife Michal, for whom I paid the bridal price of a hundred foreskins of the Philistines” (verse 14). His own messengers carry his demand to Ish-bosheth. David plans for both his messengers and Abner’s to arrive at the same time and for both messages to be delivered in the same day. Now he only needs to wait and see if his demands are met.
Leaders of the different tribes of Israel are arriving in Gibeah. Abner has not received word from his messengers yet but has anticipated their speedy return. He scheduled his meeting with Israel’s leaders first thing in the morning of the day following their expected arrival. This meeting is where he will address the leaders of Israel with David’s agreement for peace, or extended war without the house of Saul. Abner KNOWS to trust the word of the Lord so he has only prepared remarks that line up with David’s positive answer.
Abner reclines after finishing his midday meal. The sound of hurrying feet rouses him from his thoughts. He hurries to the door in anticipation. He ushers the messengers into is home before they even have an opportunity to knock.
“What news do you bring from David?”
“He sends his reply my lord.” The head messenger withdraws a scroll from his bag and hands it to Abner.
Abner quickly opens it and reads David’s words. The smile on his face is enough to let the messengers know that David’s reply was indeed favorable. “This is good news for all Israel” mused Abner. To his messengers he says, “You may leave now.”
Ish-bosheth receives messengers at his residence too. These messengers were not anticipated. After being announced by the guard they stand before Ish-bosheth’s throne. “Speak” commands Ish-bosheth.
“We come bearing a message from David, king of Judah.”
“And what does this message say?”
“Give me my wife Michal, for whom I paid the bridal price of a hundred foreskins of the Philistines” (verse 14).
Ish-bosheth is stunned by David’s words. His initial thought is to refuse David’s demand. He would then send David a message by beating his messengers then dispatching them back to whence they came. But before his mouth spoke the words he saw his folly. He didn’t have Abner to back him on the throne any longer and without Abner he didn’t have Israel.
To his guards he spoke, “Bring Michal to me. I don’t care if you have to drag her from her home kicking and screaming. Have her here before nightfall.”
Ish-bosheth’s guards appeared at the door to Michal’s home. “Your king requires your presence immediately.”
“What is this about” asked Michal.
“It’s about your rightful husband.”
Michal’s hands flew to her face. She knew without a doubt who the guards were speaking of and it was not Paltiel, the husband her father had given her to long ago.
Without another word Michal retrieved her cloak and followed the guards. Paltiel caught her arm as she moved past him. She looked at him with love and shook her head. Her steps left no doubt as to her resolution to follow the king’s command.
Michal arrived with the guards at the throne room of Ish-bosheth. Paltiel stood behind them. She waited quietly until addressed.
“David has demanded the return of his wife; the one he paid the bride price of 100 Philistine foreskins. For the sake of Israel I believe it is time we corrected this wrong.”
Michal bowed her head. “This day has long been coming. I will do as my king commands.”
“NO” yells Paltiel. He steps around the guards to stand in front of Michal. “She is MY wife!”
“YOU knew this day was also coming” replies Ish-bosheth with steel in his voice. He looks directly at Michal. “You have two days to prepare for travel. You will join your rightful husband in Hebron at that time.” He then turns his attention back to Paltiel, “And don’t even think about defying me or trying to flee with my sister. I will hunt you down and pry her from your dead hands if necessary.”
Michal and Paltiel spend the night in town. It is not safe to travel after the sun has set. They will spend the night with Merab, Michal’s sister. This may be their last time to see one another. Who knows what their futures hold for them.
Morning breaks and Abner is ready to meet with the leaders of Israel. As soon as all are assembled Abner presents his case. “For some time past you have been seeking David as king over you” (verse 17b). Heads nod around the room. Abner smiles to himself. “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’” (verse 18).
“And how do you propose we do this?”
“Wait a minute! What about our king” called the leader of the tribe of Benjamin.
“Ish-bosheth is no king” growled one of the leaders from Issachar.
“Brothers” spoke Abner “please hear me.”
Once the room was quiet again Abner laid bare his heart before them. “You know I have served the house of Saul from the moment the Lord called him to be king over Israel. I attempted to maintain his house by putting forth his son, Ish-bosheth, in his place. But he was not called by the Lord for this role. Another was. He is not the king his father was. He seeks only his own pleasures and leaves the matters of Israel to others. I repent of my folly before you here today.
If we are to be a nation that follows the Lord we must do His will, not our own. If you will give me your blessing, I intend to meet with David and make a covenant with him to deliver to him what was has been withheld. I will also be restoring his first wife to him as a demonstration of good faith.”
Abner waited while the leaders considered his proposal.
“We have to follow the will of God if we ever expect His deliverance from the Philistines.”
“David has already proven that the Lord stands with him. His victories over Saul’s house speak clearly of this. How can we refuse to follow the Lord’s anointed and still call ourselves His people?”
“You have our blessing Abner. We await your return with David’s answer.”
Shortly after the meeting concluded Abner received a summons from Ish-bosheth. “The king requests your presence” informed the messenger.
Abner made his way to the throne room. “I have come at the king’s request” said Abner to the guard at the door.
“He has been expecting you. Enter.”
Abner stepped through the door and waited to be addressed.
“Abner, I have a task for you.”
Abner remained silent. He would see what this task was before he said anything. He would NOT commit himself to following this king’s command blindly.
“David has sent for his wife, Michal. I have decided to honor his request. She has need of escort to Hebron.”
“I would be honored to provide her, and you, such a service.”
“She was told to be ready to depart tomorrow. This will give you enough time to also prepare for the journey.”
“As you wish my king.” Abner bows his head in respect before leaving the throne room.
As Ish-bosheth has never been concerned with affairs of state Abner feels no remorse for not sharing the events of the morning with him. He will deal with Ish-bosheth’s removal as king when the time comes.
Abner spends the day deciding on the best men to bring with him to meet David. He intends to show respect as well as strength. He also chooses a few gifts he thinks David might enjoy. By evening all is ready for an early morning departure.
Abner’s contingent arrives at the home of Paltiel and Michal shortly after their morning meal. Michal has three bundles waiting by the door. Abner’s steward ties them to one of the donkeys while Abner speaks with the couple.
“It’s time to leave. David is waiting.”
“I’m ready” replies Michal. Her face is blotchy as if she has been crying but there are no tears evident on her face.
Paltiel on the other hand is inconsolable. He clings to Michal’s hand. “Please don’t leave me!”
Abner pulls Michal’s hand from Paltiel’s grasp. He gives Paltiel a withering look and walks Michal to a donkey that she will ride during the journey. As the group begins to move forward two of the guards block Paltiel from hindering them.
As they make their way towards Hebron, Paltiel continues to follow behind. He is openly weeping and calling out to Michal. “You can’t leave me! I’m your husband. I love none but you!” Abner hopes he will tire of this display.
Abner has reached the end of his patience with Paltiel after several hours of listening to him calling out to Michal. He stops the company and walks to where Paltiel is standing. With steel in his voice he speaks. “Go, return” (verse 16b). Abner’s words leave NO room for discussion. They are a command that must be obeyed. Paltiel recognizes this. He drops his head, turns in his tracks and slowly makes his way back to the home he shared with Michal.
Abner and his men reach Hebron. David sees Michal among them. She sits atop a donkey regal as ever he remembers her. He smiles as he welcomes the group. “Come, the table is ready and waiting. All that remains is for my honored guests to grace it with their presence.”
Servants stand ready to wash the feet of their honored visitors. Once all have been refreshed they join one another again at the banquet table David has prepared. Michal takes her place with David’s other wives. There will be much for them to work out among themselves but now is not the time.
Pleasantries are exchanged early on in the meal and soon talk turns to the true purpose of Abner’s visit while the meal nears its conclusion.
“Abner, I would not take Israel by force. I will defend Judah against any aggressor. What say the leaders of the tribes of Israel concerning your proposal?”
“I spoke with the many of them before coming to join you. They are in agreement with me on this matter.”
“How soon would this come about? What must I do and what must be done at this point?”
Abner rubs his stomach and smiles at David. “Having been finely fed and refreshed, ‘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’” (verse 21) says Abner while bowing deeply to David.
When Abner straightens, David grasps his shoulders in the fashion of brothers. “Go in peace my friend. I eagerly await your return and that of Israel’s leaders.”
David walks with Abner to the door. He watches as they make their way through the city. He is very pleased with the outcome of today’s meeting. He believes God’s promise for his life is only days away from fulfillment.
Before David even has time to close the door, several of David’s servants who had accompanied Joab on a raid approach. Their arms are loaded with spoils from their raid.
“It looks as though your efforts were VERY successful” offers David.
“Indeed they were my king. Joab sends his greetings and these gifts.”
“Where is Joab?”
“He is seeing to the men. He sends word that he will be along shortly to share stories of his deeds.”
David smiles. He is glad Abner is safely away. He knows of Joab’s hatred of him. He purposefully sent Joab on a mission to ensure the two not encounter one another.
Joab is loosening his armor and tending to his mount when one of David’s men approach him.
“Abner the son of Ner came to the king, and he has let him go, and he has gone in peace” (verse 23b).
Joab’s blood begins to boil. David KNOWS Abner killed his brother Asahel. How could he meet with the man and let him go without atoning for that crime? Joab throws the brush he was using on his mount to the ground and storms off to the home of David.
Without waiting for invitation or permission to speak Joab gives voice to his outrage. “What have your 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” (verses 24b-25).
“This is not so Joab. Your anger blinds you. The Lord is at work in Israel and His will shall soon be done.”
Struck dumb by David’s reply, Joab pastes on a pleasant face and inclines his head in respect to David. He then turns and leaves. As soon as he clears the door of David’s home he seizes one of his men.
“Go and catch up with Abner. Bring him to me. I will be waiting by the gate. I have an urgent matter I must discuss only in his hearing.”
The messenger hurries to find Abner. They haven’t been gone long. They may even be at the cistern preparing their water skins for their journey back to Gilead.
Pleased to know his assumption was correct, the messenger approaches Abner. “My lord Abner, Joab has sent me to bring you back to Hebron. He says he has an urgent matter that he must speak with you about.”
“Did he say what this matter was?”
“No my lord. Only that it was urgent and that it was for your ears only.”
Abner turns to his men. “I will return shortly. Continue the preparations for our journey.”
Abner and the messenger quickly make it back to the gates of the city where Joab waits.
“Thank you for coming back so quickly” Joab says to Abner. He turns to the messenger and says, “You may go now. You have discharged your duty most admirably.”
With a nod and a smile the messenger turns and walks away.
Joab puts his arm around Abner’s shoulder and steers him towards a quiet place near the gate. “I have to tell you of something of great importance…” As he is speaking Joab slips his hand to the sheath of his dagger and slowly withdraws it. Joab raised his head for a quick look to see is anyone is watching them. Seeing no eyes immediately on him he continues his words to Abner. “…this is for Asahel” Joab growls as he plunges his dagger into Abner’s stomach, twists the knife and runs it upward. As his hand withdraws the knife Abner slumps to the ground.
Joab looks up and sees the messenger he sent standing a short distance away. He has seen it all. Although he knew the history between the two men he had no idea this was in Joab’s heart when he sent him to retrieve Abner.
Joab rises from Abner’s body and strides towards the messenger. “It was bloodguilt for Asahel.”
The messenger turns on his heels and sprints to the home of David before Joab could reach him. He quickly tells the guard at the door what has just happened. Within moments David receives the news. Joab arrives at the home of David almost in unison with the information reaching David’s ears.
Joab, the messenger and all who were at the door stand before David. David is furious. He strides to the place where Joab stands. “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 or who is leprous or who holds a spindle or who falls by the sword or who lacks bread!” (verses 28b-29). He looks around him at the men standing there. Their faces are fallen and full of shame.
(to be continued)
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I wonder how Abner went so quietly with Joab. He trusted him enough to allow him to get right into his personal space. NOT that I’m saying that God wanted Joab to kill Abner, but is it possible that Abner’s continued presence could have posed a problem for David’s uniting of all Israel? Abner had the leader’s loyalty.
One thing I find appalling is that Joab received nothing more than a spoken curse for his actions. This was murder in the first degree, in MY opinion. Joab went on to serve as David’s chief military leader. He was even instrumental in helping David commit a murder of his own; that of Uriah. Maybe this piece of history is why David called on Joab for that job in the first place. I will say that God didn’t forget about Joab’s actions. IF he didn’t repent of his sin he WILL face it on Judgement Day if he isn’t already doing so.
Father God, I have always had a hard time understanding deep hatred. There have been a few people who evoked this in me but at the same time I also felt sorry for them. I was usually able to see their point of view, with time, and that softened my heart towards them. I learned to stay away from them though because they didn’t change the behavior that caused the issue in the first place. But I believe I would have fallen into Abner’s trap if they appeared to be trying to make up with me. I like to look for the good in people. I pray that part of me never dies! Protect me from situations like the one Abner fell prey to.
Forgive me too for places in my heart where I still hold myself warry. I don’t know if it is from You for my protection, or if it is the sin of unforgiveness. Help me hold onto the lessons and let go of the hurt. I don’t want to be Abner or Joab.