2 Samuel 3 – Abner’s Defection and Murder
A. Abner defects from Ishbosheth.
1. (2-5) David’s sons born in Hebron.
Sons were born to David in Hebron: His firstborn was Amnon by Ahinoam the Jezreelitess; his second, Chileab, by Abigail the widow of Nabal the Carmelite; the third, Absalom the son of Maacah, the daughter of Talmai, king of Geshur; the fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith; the fifth, Shephatiah the son of Abital; and the sixth, Ithream, by David’s wife Eglah. These were born to David in Hebron.
a. Sons were born to David: During David’s seven-year reign in Hebron, his six different wives gave birth to six sons. This shows that David went against God’s commandment that Israel’s king should not multiply wives to himself.
i. David was wrong to have more than one wife. His many wives went against God’s command to kings (Deuteronomy 17:17) and against God’s heart for marriage (Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:4-6).
ii. David’s polygamy was common. Adding many wives was one way great men and especially kings expressed their power and status.
iii. David was troubled because of his many wives. Some wonder why the Bible doesn’t expressly condemn David’s polygamy here, but as is often the case, the Scripture simply states the fact and later records how David reaped the penalty for this sort of sin in regard to his family.
b. These were born to David in Hebron: We must say that God used and blessed David despite his many wives. Yet his family life and these sons were obviously not blessed. “By six wives he had but six sons. God was not pleased with his polygamy.” (Trapp)
i. Amnon raped his half-sister and was murdered by his half-brother.
ii. Chileab is also known as Daniel in 1 Chronicles 3:1. The few mentions of this son indicate that perhaps he died young or that he was an ungodly, unworthy man.
iii. Absalom murdered his half-brother and led a civil war against his father, David, attempting to murder David.
iv. Adonijah tried to seize the throne from David and David’s appointed successor – then he tried to take one of David’s concubines and was executed for his arrogance.
v. We can fairly assume that Shephatiah and Ithream either died young or were ungodly and unworthy men because they are mentioned only once again in the Scriptures – in a generic listing of David’s sons (1 Chronicles 3:1-4).
2. (6-7) Ishbosheth accuses Abner of impropriety with the royal concubine.
Now it was so, while there was war between the house of Saul and the house of David, that Abner was strengthening his hold on the house of Saul. And Saul had a concubine, whose name was Rizpah, the daughter of Aiah. So Ishbosheth said to Abner, “Why have you gone in to my father’s concubine?”
a. Abner was strengthening his hold on the house of Saul: It seems that Abner supported a weak man like Ishbosheth in power, so he could be the power behind the throne. As time went on, he increased in strength and influence on the house of Saul.
b. Why have you gone in to my father’s concubine? Ishbosheth accused Abner of a serious crime. Taking a royal concubine was regarded as both sexual immorality and treason.
i. “To take the wife or concubine of the late monarch was to appropriate his property and to make a bid for the throne.” (Baldwin)
ii. It might seem strange that there was a controversy over the concubine of Saul, especially because Saul was dead. Yet, in their thinking, the king’s bride belonged to him and him alone, even if he was absent. This principle is even more true for Jesus and His bride – the church belongs to no one but Jesus, and it is treason to “take” the bride of Christ as if she were our own possession.
3. (8-11) Abner’s harsh reply.
Then Abner became very angry at the words of Ishbosheth, and said, “Am I a dog’s head that belongs to Judah? Today I show loyalty to the house of Saul your father, to his brothers, and to his friends, and have not delivered you into the hand of David; and you charge me today with a fault concerning this woman? May God do so to Abner, and more also, if I do not do for David as 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 he could not answer Abner another word, because he feared him.
a. Then Abner became very angry: We aren’t specifically told, but Abner’s response leads us to believe that the accusation was false. It is possible that as he was strengthening his hold on the house of Saul he took the concubine as an expression of his power and dominance. It is more likely that because of Abner’s increasing power Ishbosheth felt it necessary to invent this accusation as a reason to get rid of Abner.
b. If I do not do for David as the LORD has sworn to him: Abner told Ishbosheth that he would now support David and help David fulfill what the LORD promised – to transfer the kingdom from the house of Saul, and set up the throne of David.
i. If Abner knew that David was God’s choice for king, he had no good reason to fight against him before this. Abner is a good example of those of us who know things to be true, but we don’t live as if they are true.
ii. Abner did the right thing in joining David’s side, but he did it for the wrong reason. Instead of joining David because Ishbosheth offended him personally, he should have joined David because he knew that David was God’s choice to be king.
4. (12-16) David agrees to receive Abner if he will bring Michal with him.
Then Abner sent messengers on his behalf to David, saying, “Whose is the land?” saying also, “Make your covenant with me, and indeed my hand shall be with you to bring all Israel to you.” And David said, “Good, I will make a covenant with you. But one thing I require of you: you shall not see my face unless you first bring Michal, Saul’s daughter, when you come to see my face.” So David sent messengers to Ishbosheth, Saul’s son, saying, “Give me my wife Michal, whom I betrothed to myself for a hundred foreskins of the Philistines.” And Ishbosheth sent and took her from her husband, from Paltiel the son of Laish. Then her husband went along with her to Bahurim, weeping behind her. So Abner said to him, “Go, return!” And he returned.
a. You shall not see my face unless you first bring Michal, Saul’s daughter: David received Michal in marriage (1 Samuel 18:26-28), but Saul took her away to spite David (1 Samuel 25:44).
b. Whom I betrothed to myself for a hundred foreskins of the Philistines: 1 Samuel 18:20-30 describes how David used this unusual payment instead of a dowry for the right to marry the daughter of King Saul.
i. “He might have said two hundred; but he thought better to speak with the least.” (Trapp)
c. Give me my wife Michal: Apparently, David was not done with adding to his collection of wives. He insisted on receiving Michal as his wife again for at least three reasons.
i. David remembered that Michal was his wife, by both love and right, and that King Saul took her away as part of a deliberate strategy to attack and destroy David.
ii. David wanted to show that he harbored no bitterness towards Saul’s house, and he would show this through his good treatment of Saul’s daughter.
iii. David wanted to give himself a greater claim to Saul’s throne as his son-in-law.
iv. “However distressing it was to take her from a husband who loved her most tenderly, yet prudence and policy required that he should strengthen his own interest in the kingdom as much as possible.” (Clarke)
d. Abner said to him, “Go, return!” And he returned: This fits with the personality of Abner as we know him throughout 1 and 2 Samuel. Abner was a very tough guy.
5. (17-19) Abner rallies support for David among the other tribes.
Now Abner had communicated with the elders of Israel, saying, “In time past you were seeking for David to be king over you. Now then, do it! For the LORD has spoken of David, saying, ‘By the hand of My servant David, I will save My people Israel from the hand of the Philistines and the hand of all their enemies.’” And Abner also spoke in the hearing of Benjamin. Then Abner also went to speak in the hearing of David in Hebron all that seemed good to Israel and the whole house of Benjamin.
a. Abner had communicated with the elders of Israel: It is significant that this word came from Abner regarding David instead of coming from David himself. Though he was the rightful king, David would not reign over Israel until they submitted to him freely. He never moved an inch without an invitation.
i. This is an illustration of Jesus’ lordship in our lives. He is in fact King of Kings and Lord of Lords. But He chooses (for the most part) to exercise His sovereignty only at our invitation.
· Some do not invite Jesus to rule over anything.
· Some invite Jesus to reign over a small area – like “Hebron.”
· Some give Jesus reign over everything He has authority over – which is everything.
ii. Abner is a good example of someone who eventually surrendered to God’s king. Now he wanted to influence others to also surrender to God’s king.
b. Now then, do it: Because of the word the LORD spoke of David, and because it was so right to do, this was something that should be done now. In this sense, it is very much like our commitment to follow Jesus – we should be told, “Now then, do it!”
i. Charles Spurgeon has a wonderful sermon on this text titled, “Now Then, Do It.” In this sermon, he shows that the same principles of Israel’s embrace of David as king apply to our relationship with Jesus. “The Israelites might talk about making David king, but they would not crown him. They might meet together and say they wished it were so, but that would not do it. It might be generally admitted that he ought to be monarch, and it might even be earnestly hoped that one day he would be so, but that would not do it; something more decided must be done.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “The sooner it is done the better. Until the deed is done, remember you are undone; till Christ is accepted by you as king, till sin is hated and Jesus is trusted, you are under another king. Whatever you may think of it, the devil is your master.” (Spurgeon)
c. For the LORD has spoken of David: The fact that Abner – who was a general, not a Bible scholar – knew these prophecies and the fact that he could ask the leaders of Israel to consider them means that these prophecies of David were widely known. Sadly, they were not widely respected – most of Israel was lukewarm and unenthusiastic in their embrace of David as king.
i. In this regard David prefigures His greater Son. Jesus fulfilled all manner of prophecy regarding the Messiah, yet He was rejected by all but a remnant of Israel.
ii. We don’t have a biblical record of this exact statement Abner said the LORD has spoken of David. “We read not that God had so said in express terms: but either Abner had heard of such a promise made at the anointing of David by Samuel, or else feigned it of his own head for his own ends.” (Trapp)
6. (20-21) David formally receives Abner with a feast.
So Abner and twenty men with him came to David at Hebron. And David made a feast for Abner and the men who were with him. Then Abner said to David, “I will arise and go, and 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.
a. David made a feast for Abner: This was David showing himself wise and generous towards a former adversary. A lesser man would never forgive Abner for leading an army against God’s king, but David was a great, wise, and generous man.
b. That you may reign over all that your heart desires: Abner wanted David’s reign to be fully realized over the people of God.
B. Joab murders Abner.
1. (22-25) Joab learns that Abner has joined David’s side.
At that moment the servants of David and Joab came from a raid and brought much spoil with them. But Abner was not with David in Hebron, for he had sent him away, and he had gone in peace. When Joab and all the troops that were with him had come, they told Joab, saying, “Abner the son of Ner came to the king, and he sent him away, and he has gone in peace.” Then Joab came to the king and said, “What have you done? Look, Abner came to you; why is it that you sent him away, and he has already gone? Surely you realize that Abner the son of Ner came to deceive you, to know your going out and your coming in, and to know all that you are doing.”
a. Surely you realize that Abner the son of Ner came to deceive you: Joab accused Abner of being a double agent for Ishbosheth. He was angry that David let Abner go without arresting or killing him.
b. Surely you realize that Abner the son of Ner came to deceive you: This was one of at least three reasons why Joab was not pleased that Abner had defected and joined David’s side.
i. Joab feared Abner was a deceiver, a double agent working on behalf of Ishbosheth, the pretender king.
ii. Abner killed Joab’s brother, and Joab was the avenger of blood for Asahel (as described in Numbers 35:9-28).
iii. As the chief general of the former King Saul, Abner had a lot of top-level military experience. Abner might take Joab’s place as David’s chief military assistant.
2. (26-27) Joab murders Abner.
And when Joab had gone from David’s presence, he sent messengers after Abner, who brought him back from the well of Sirah. But David did not know it. Now when Abner had returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside in the gate to speak with him privately, and there stabbed him in the stomach, so that he died for the blood of Asahel his brother.
a. Joab took him aside in the gate: Joab carefully engineered this murder so that the killing was done outside the gate of Hebron. This was because Hebron was a city of refuge (Joshua 20:7), and it was against the law for Joab, as Asahel’s blood avenger, to kill Abner inside the city.
b. He died for the blood of Asahel his brother: The careful plot to murder Abner outside the city of refuge made the murder all the darker. It showed Joab knew that Abner had a rightful claim of self-defense and was protected inside the city of Hebron, yet he killed him anyway.
i. Joab may have justified this by the thought, “I’m doing this to defend and honor my king.” But our sin and treachery never honor our King. We must avoid the trap Spurgeon spoke of: “We may even deceive ourselves into the belief that we are honoring our Lord and Master when we are, all the while, bringing disgrace upon his name.”
3. (28-30) David renounces Joab’s evil murder of Abner.
Afterward, when David heard it, he said, “My kingdom and I are guiltless before the LORD forever of the blood of Abner the son of Ner. Let it rest on the head of Joab and on all his father’s house; and let there never fail to be in the house of Joab one who has a discharge or is a leper, who leans on a staff or falls by the sword, or who lacks bread.” So Joab and Abishai his brother killed Abner, because he had killed their brother Asahel at Gibeon in the battle.
a. My kingdom and I are guiltless before the LORD: David knew that he had nothing to do with this murder. Among other evils, this murder perpetrated by Joab set a bad precedent. It gave David’s administration a reputation for brutality and made it harder for David to win the rest of Israel over to his side.
b. Let it rest on the head of Joab: David pronounced a severe curse against Joab, but he did nothing to correct Joab. Perhaps David was afraid to lose Joab as a general. His ability to kill without remorse showed he was not a nice man, but not necessarily a bad general.
4. (31-39) David leads the mourning for Abner.
Then David said to Joab and to all the people who were with him, “Tear your clothes, gird yourselves with sackcloth, and mourn for Abner.” And King David followed the coffin. So they buried Abner in Hebron; and the king lifted up his voice and wept at the grave of Abner, and all the people wept. And the king sang a lament over Abner and said: “Should Abner die as a fool dies? Your hands were not bound nor your feet put into fetters; as a man falls before wicked men, so you fell.” Then all the people wept over him again. And when all the people came to persuade David to eat food while it was still day, David took an oath, saying, “God do so to me, and more also, if I taste bread or anything else till the sun goes down!” Now all the people took note of it, and it pleased them, since whatever the king did pleased all the people. For all the people and all Israel understood that day that it had not been the king’s intent to kill Abner the son of Ner. Then 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 am weak today, though anointed king; and these men, the sons of Zeruiah, are too harsh for me. The LORD shall repay the evildoer according to his wickedness.”
a. The king lifted up his voice and wept at the grave of Abner: David did not want his kingdom established by violence. He wanted God to establish his kingdom and to punish his enemies. David still believed that vengeance belongs to the Lord.
b. For all the people and all Israel understood that day that it had not been the king’s intent to kill Abner: This whole affair was a mess, but it would not be the first or the last mess of David’s kingdom.
i. In some regard, “messes” like this are inevitable. Proverbs 14:4 states an important principle: Where no oxen are, the trough is clean; but much increase comes by the strength of an ox.