Abner has fallen at the hand of Joab. David did NOT order or even know of Joab’s intent. David will honor Abner as the great man he was. And Israel will watch.
David was truly moved by the loss of Abner. Not just for what his life had represented as possible through his directing Israel but for the valiant man that he was. David and Abner had found peace with one another after so many years. It must have been a HUGE weight off David’s shoulders.
Abner had promised to bring Israel to David. But Joab’s actions put a stop to this process; at least by Abner’s hand. David could have stood over Abner’s fallen body and demanded Israel follow him but he didn’t. Instead he honored Abner and let Israel make up its own mind.
Let’s join our story where we left off. Joab has been called before David to account for his actions. David has just pronounced a curse upon Joab’s family indefinitely.
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Anger, disappointment and sorrow color David’s face as he surveys the men before him. There is only one thing he can do for Abner now and that is to honor him as the prince among men that he was.
“Tear your clothes and put on sackcloth and mourn before Abner” (verse 31b). His eyes pierce Joab. “Take a contingent of the finest soldiers and retrieve the body of Abner. Take him to the priest so that he may be prepared for burial. We will bury him here in Hebron.” David turns to his personal guard and issues orders to him. “Bring the men who accompanied Abner to me. I will personally tell them of this day’s events.”
Both men hurry from David’s presence on their separate missions. Joab is loath to do this task but David is his king.
Joab chooses four captains of hundreds to assist him with his assigned task. “You four, bring a cart and follow me. We have a task to perform for the king.”
Three of the men fall in step behind Joab. The fourth hurries to get a donkey and cart. They all arrive at the city gate together where a guard had been standing over Abner’s body.
“Pick up his body and put it in the cart. We are to take him to the priest for burial preparation.”
One man lifts Abner’s torso while another lifts his legs. The quickly load him in the cart that the fourth soldier was steadying. Abner’s trip to the priest takes no more than a few minutes. The same two soldiers carry him into the home of the priest where he will be washed, wrapped and anointed for burial.
Joab returns to David to report his task complete. When he arrives David is busy speaking with Abner’s men so Joab is forced to wait.
“I am deeply saddened by the death of Abner. I offer no excuse for the actions of my officer. He will bear the guilt on his own head. Please know that I had NO knowledge of his intent or actions until after the deed was done.”
“Joab’s hatred of Abner was well known to us. Yet Abner chose to go to him when summoned. We have no answer for his actions of trust.”
“I would like to honor Abner as the great man he was. His body is even now being prepared for burial. He will be given a tomb of honor here in Hebron.”
“We would like to construct his briar and carry him to his resting place.”
“I welcome your service.” David looked directly at Joab who had been standing near the door. “Joab will provide you with anything you need. And will personally ensure your safety while you remain with us.” Joab dips his head in acceptance of David’s command.
One of Abner’s men turned quickly towards where David’s eyes were. His hand was on his dagger as he did so. His commander restrained him with a word. “Hold! Abner made his own decisions. The king will see to his punishment. It is not our place.”
“Thank you for your trust in me” offered David.
Abner’s men turn and make their way towards the door. Joab falls in behind them. Once they are outside Joab takes the lead. “I will arrange accommodations for you at the inn. We can find the materials you need in the market.”
The men make their way through the market with Joab purchasing everything Abner’s men pointed to. He then takes them to the priest’s home where they construct the briar that will carry their commander. Joab says little while Abner’s men go about their work. He listens in though as they share stories amongst themselves of times spent with Abner.
“Do you remember the time he slew 20 Philistines on his own?”
“I believe it was the time he stood at king Saul’s side in their first battle.”
“He was certainly one for order. Remember when we had to clean the pitch off the ropes?”
“They got that way because ‘someone’ pitched their tent on a bleeding tree.”
“He could be a hard one with drill too.”
“That was to keep us alive! There was no better than him at close contact fighting.”
One soldier lowers his voice before speaking. “I remember the night he returned after striking down Asahel. He was heartsick. He said he tried to turn him to the right or left but he refused. In the end he had no other option left to save his own life.”
Joab listened to this account and felt a little guilt. “It was a debt of bloodguilt” he said just loud enough to be herd by Abner’s men. They nodded in understanding.
The man who had his hand on hos dagger earlier whispered, “But it was in battle.” His heart would not be so easily appeased. His commander put his hand on his forearm and gave it a firm squeeze to ensure he had heard and his earlier orders stood.
When the briar and burial preparations were complete word was sent to David. The king, dressed in sackcloth stood to the end of the briar. As Abner’s body was laid upon it David began to weep. The priest led the procession to the place David had set aside. David followed on foot behind the briar. Behind him were the rest of Abner’s men. Following were David’s men and the citizens of Hebron.
When they reached the tomb David sent up a mournful wail. The people joined him. After the sound died down David voiced his dismay. “Should Abner die as a food dies? Your hands were not bound; your feet were not fettered as one falls before the wicked you have fallen” (verses 33b-34).
After lamenting Abner in verse David again sent up a mournful wail which the people joined in. With Abner’s body placed within the tomb and it sealed the group returned to David’s home. David held himself aside from the guests who were commemorating Abner’s life through sharing a meal.
The toll Abner’s death had taken was obvious on David’s face. He looked drawn and tired. His servants approached him and attempted to entice him to eat something. He refused each offer. Finally his closest advisor entreated him.
“My king, at least eat some bread.”
“God do so to me and more also, if I taste bread or anything else till the sun goes down!” (verse 35b). David composed himself before continuing. “Do you not know that a prince and a great man has fallen this day in Israel?” David looked about him at those in attendance. “And I was gentle today, though anointed king.” He then fixed his eyes on Joab who stood across the room. “These men, the sons of Zeruiah, are more severe than I. The Lord repay the evildoers according to his wickedness!” (verse 38b-39).
David’s servants and his advisors took his words seriously and left him to his grief. When it was fully dark David rose and ate a small meal.
David’s actions throughout this day did not go unnoticed. The eyes of Judah were upon him as well as those of Israel through Abner’s men. All were impressed by how the king conducted himself. “So all the people and all Israel understood that it had not been the king’s will to put to death Abner the son of Ner” (verse 37).
(to be continued)
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David showed great respect to Abner. He had enormous impact on David’s life. He began as an observer. He became David’s commander, moved into the role of pursuer and enemy, and finally ended as an ally. From friend to foe and back again.
David wasn’t required to show this deference to Abner. His heart moved him to do so. Not in an effort to impress anyone but out of genuine respect and grief at what had taken place. I wonder how many times David thought about what he might have done different to prevent Joab from taking this course of action.
I’m still wondering if Abner’s absence from the table was part of God’s plan. There may have been ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’ otherwise. Only God can answer that question.
Father God, thank You for taking care of Abner. Thank You for David’s heart. It held only respect and forgiveness for this man. He could have been bitter but he wasn’t. He also wasn’t expecting or instigating any behind the scene deals. David was open and honest with Abner. And his character shone through to all Israel.
I pray my character reflects You and Your love. I want to honor You in all I do. I want to love like You do. Forgive me please for the times I fall short. I NEVER want my words, behavior, or attitudes to turn someone away from You. Make me Your instrument of love.