Today’s reading: 2 Samuel 1-3.
The beginning of 2 Samuel is full of political intrigue as David consolidates power following King Saul’s death. What is the spiritual lesson in all of this bloodshed and maneuvering? A clue comes from a messenger who appears in David’s camp soon after Saul’s death. He claims to have been present when Saul died, even boasting that he carried out Saul’s death wish (we know this isn’t true from the report given in 1 Samuel).
“I happened to be on Mount Gilboa,” the young man said, “and there was Saul, leaning on his spear, with the chariots and riders almost upon him. When he turned around and saw me, he called out to me, and I said, ‘What can I do?’ He asked me, ‘Who are you?’ ‘An Amalekite,’ I answered. Then he said to me, ‘Stand over me and kill me! I am in the throes of death, but I’m still alive.’ So I stood over him and killed him, because I knew that after he had fallen he could not survive.” 2 Samuel 1:6-10
This Amalekite (isn’t it interesting how they keep showing up?) may have expected some reward, but instead he was executed. I suspect David wasn’t entirely convinced of the Amalekite’s truthfulness, but he condemned him for claiming to have killed the LORD’s anointed king. Our clue to the lesson in the political intrigue begins here: dishonesty or treachery brings terrible consequences.
After David is anointed as King in Judah, Saul’s commander, Abner, opposes David with the support of the other tribes. Abner makes Saul’s son, Ish-bosheth, a puppet king, and for several years there is fighting and bloodshed between the two groups. David’s cousin, Joab, leads his troops, and Joab’s brother is one of the casualties of the war, killed in battle by Abner.
David’s side grows stronger and Abner has a falling out with Ish-bosheth. Perhaps Abner saw the inevitable defeat of his forces and looked for an excuse, but for whatever reason he makes peace with David and pledges to bring all Israel under David’s command. Joab sees Abner, his chief rival, maneuvering for power in David’s kingdom. He also wants revenge on Abner for killing his brother.
Joab then left David and sent messengers after Abner, and they brought him back from the well of Sirah. But David did not know it. Now when Abner returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside into the gateway, as though to speak with him privately. And there, to avenge the blood of his brother Asahel, Joab stabbed him in the stomach, and he died. Later, when David heard about this, he said, “I and my kingdom are forever innocent before the LORD concerning the blood of Abner son of Ner. May his blood fall upon the head of Joab and upon all his father’s house! 2 Samuel 3:26-29
Look at the players in this conflict and what happened to them:
- Abner was wrong to oppose David. He knew David was God’s chosen man, but he supported Ish-bosheth anyway. Abner died at the hands of Joab.
- Joab dishonestly and treacherously murdered Abner even though David and Abner had made peace. David cursed Joab, and though there may have been no immediate judgment, in the end Joab died when he opposed Solomon following David’s death.
- David dealt honestly with Abner and condemned Joab’s treachery. David’s kingdom grew.
God doesn’t gloss over the realities of our troubled lives. The exercise of political power often involves dishonesty and conflict, the consequences of treachery are brutal, and we are meant to learn to hate it just as God hates it.
Image by Cobalt123 on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0