Consolidating His Power


2 Sam. 2:1-4:12


Why study 2 Samuel? I think that it is interesting that we study 2 Samuel right after studying Ephesians because of a theme which connects the two. We claimed that the theme of Ephesians dealt with the belief that God has sent His Son Jesus to be the Messiah who ushers in the Kingdom of God. Instead of all the conflict, disharmony, and disunity which operate in the world today because of Satanís operations, Jesusí lordship brings in unity and harmony. The term ďMessiahĒ which was translated into the Greek as ďChristĒ literally means ďthe Anointed One.Ē God anointed the Messiah with His Spirit so that He could accomplish the task God had assigned to Him. The specific task God had assigned to Him was to bring about the Kingdom of God and to rule over the Kingdom of God until God Himself descended to rule over the kingdom.

It would have been very strange for God to have introduced the theme of Jesusí Messiah ship cold turkey in the book of Ephesians without any prior buildup. Paul and other NT writers assert that the major themes of the NT are actually introduced and touched upon in the OT. Itís just that the OT does not develop them fully. It takes the coming of Christ and the apostlesí interpretation of that coming to help us understand fully the different Christological themes in the OT. First and Second Samuel emphasize in a dramatic way the truth that Godís people together form the Kingdom of God and that God through His Anointed One (in 2 Samuel David and in the NT Jesus) rules over His people.

The climax of 2 Samuel occurs when God promises David that because of his love for God, God will establish his kingdom forever by having One of his descendants reign forever and ever. As the true Messiah, Jesus not only comes from the nation of Israel but also from the house of David (this explains the emphasis the NT places upon the genealogies of Jesus in which He is listed as Davidís son). In many ways, the reign of David gives us a taste of the reign which Jesus the Messiah, Davidís Son, imposes upon His people.

Starting in chapter 2, the author of 2 Samuel writes to describe the way David took hold of the reins over all Israel and how he consolidated his power. Up to this point, David was king only over Judah. He received the kingship over Judah immediately after the death of Saul, Israelís first king. It would take another 7 years before he actually took the reins over the rest of Israel. Chapters 2-4 describe that process.


After the death of Saul and his sons on Mt. Gilboa, David sent a message to the brave men of Jabesh-Gilead commending them for their bravery in retrieving the heads of Saul and his sons from the Philistine fortress at Beth-Shan. Attached to that message was the request that the people of Jabesh-Gilead and the rest of the northern tribes recognize David as the legitimate heir over all the tribes, the southern tribe of Judah and the 10 northern tribes. Abner, one of Saulís cousins and his greatest military leader, though, had other plans. Since Saul had one son remaining, Ishbosheth, he decided that he would play the role of king-maker and establish Ishbosheth upon the throne of the northern tribes.

At first glance, Abnerís actions appear to be quite normal and natural. After all, one of the reasons the Israelites had wanted a kingdom in the first place was that they would know in advance who the future king would be. There would no longer be uncertainty which judge God would next raise to govern Israel. The establishment of a monarchy would settle that once and for all. It appeared that David was undermining that whole process. More, though, was operating here.

Abner knew, first, that God had rejected the line of Saul and had appointed David to succeed Saul. Abner was not trying to protect the Saulide dynasty for pure motives. As events will reveal, Abner established Ishbosheth upon the throne so that he, Abner, could wield power. Ishbosheth was to be nothing more than a mere puppet king who bowed to all of Abnerís demands. Because of Abnerís rebellion, disaster is going to befall Abner, the house of Saul, the army of the northern tribes, and even some of Davidís followers.

When the men of Jabesh-Gilead reject Davidís overtures, civil war immediately erupts between the 2 kingdoms, Israel with its king Ishbosheth headquartered at Mahanaim to the east of the Jordan River and Judah with its king David headquartered at Hebron in the southern part of the land of Judah. The armies of the 2 kingdoms have a showdown at a pool in Gibeon situated just to the northwest of present-day Jerusalem. The pool measures 35 feet in diameter. Abner and the armies of Israel sit to the east of the pool while Joab and the army of Judah sit to the west of the pool.

In order to avoid confusion later, we need to focus on the major players in this drama:

King David King Ishbosheth
Headquarters Hebron Headquarters Mahanaim
General of the Army Joab General of the Army Abner
Other key players Asahael and Abishai
brothers of Joab,
all sons of Zeruiah
Other key players Baanah and Rechab
military leaders in
Ishbosheth's army

When the 2 armies face off at the pool of Gibeon, Abner proposes a solution to the issue of who should reign over the tribes. He proposes that instead of engaging in all-out war, which would be costly, the 12 best warriors from the northern tribes and the 12 best warriors from the southern tribe should do hand-to-hand combat. It was a proposal very similar to the one the Philistines proposed when they had Goliath as their champion. Joab agrees to the proposal. The proposal proves to be disastrous. The 12 warriors from the 12 northern tribes grab the hair of the 12 warriors from the southern tribe and pierce them through with their swords. At the same time, the 12 warriors from the southern tribe grab the hair of the 12 northern warriors and pierce them through with their swords. The result is that 24 of the best warriors in all the land lie dead with the outcome still in doubt. When this happens, the 2 armies immediately take their arms and go at each other. The battle goes to way of Judah. When Abner realizes that he is going to lose this battle, he runs to Mahanaim for cover.

As Abner runs for Mahanaim, Asahel, one of Joabís 2 brothers, chases after Abner. Asahel correctly understands that if he can catch Abner and kill him, the civil war will cease and David will be established as king over all the tribes. The author of 2 Samuel informs us that Asahel was as swift as a gazelle. Abner, seeing that Asahel is gaining ground on him, shouts back to Asahel and encourages him to drop the chase; otherwise, Abner is going to have to kill him. He suggests, instead, quite cold-bloodedly, that in order to save his honor, Asahel should kill one of the younger soldiers and carry back his armor as a trophy. Asahel rejects the proposal. With the death of Abner, Asahel can put an end to this civil war once and for all.

Asahel is so swift that he eventually catches up with Abner. Abner, though, has a surprise for Asahel. As soon as Asahel is close enough, Abner takes his spear which is probably pointed at the bottom and thrusts it into Asahelís stomach. The thrust is so fierce that the spear goes completely through Asahel, going out the other side. Asahel falls down dead.

Joab is now really incensed because his brother is dead. He continues the chase after Abner. They finally reach a point where Abner is standing on one hill and Joab on another with a valley in between them. Abner turns and asks Joab when all this is going to end: ďWill the sword devour forever?Ē Joab, though, claims that he is not the responsible party for all the death and destruction. He reminds Abner that he was the one who suggested the contest between the 24 warriors. Nevertheless, Joab agrees to terminate the chase and return home. {We should not think that Joab will forget what Abner did to his brother, Asahel. Joab is a ruthless man. At the appropriate time, he will exact his revenge.] At this point, Joab and the men of Judah return to Hebron, while Abner and the remaining forces from Israel return to Mahanaim.


Things continue to go downhill for Abner and the forces of Israel. The author of 2 Samuel demonstrates this by enumerating the numerous sons God blesses David with. The increase in sons simply illustrates Davidís growing power. To him are born 6 sons, many of whom will play major roles later. On the other hand, the house of Saul in Israel continues to decline.


The author of 2 Samuel is not the only one to see the handwriting on the wall for Israel. Abner himself sees that the situation is becoming more and more hopeless for Ishbosheth and for Abnerís strategy to keep Ishbosheth on the throne. All he needs is an opportunity to desert Ishbosheth so that he can deliver Israel to David. The following episode provided him with that opportunity.

When looking at the following episode, we need to remember that one of 2 things is true: (1) Abner purposely provoked Ishbosheth so that he could deliver the throne to David, or (2) Abner was so arrogant that he thought he could do whatever he pleased with Ishbosheth. Whenever he discovered the latter to be true, he decided to turn to David. The first is more in keeping with the general tenor of the whole story.

Normally, whenever a king died, his successor inherited not only the crown but also the harem. The king had 2 sets of women he had sexual relations with: (1) his wives and (2) his concubines who constituted the harem. When the king died, his son who succeeded him naturally refused to have sexual relations with the kingís wives, especially since one of them would be his mother and since the Law of Moses prohibited incest. The harem, though, was considered different. The fact that he inherited the harem demonstrated that he was truly king. Whoever got the harem was the king. Later we will see Absalom taking his father Davidís harem and having sexual relations with them in front of all Israel to drive home the point that he and not David was king of Israel.

Abner understood this custom. For this reason, whenever he had sexual relations with one of Saulís concubines, he was either claiming to be the real power in Israel or else was provoking a fight with the king Ishbosheth so that he could desert him. Ishbosheth fell into the trap because after he learned of Abnerís indiscretion, he confronted him. After being confronted, Abner wheels around and blasts Ishbosheth: ďAm I a dogís head that you should treat me this way?Ē You are treating me like the vilest of animals (dogs were not domesticated in ancient Israel; they roamed the streets like scavengers). At this point, he informs Ishbosheth that he is deserting him and delivering the northern kingdom to David.

After consulting the elders of Israel, Abner communicates with David in Hebron that he intends to negotiate the transference of the northern kingdom to David. David tells Abner, ďNot so fast.Ē David feels like some unfinished business needs to be dealt with before he is ready to be at peace with the northern tribes and the house of Saul.

Years ago, when David was in Saulís good graces, Michal, Saulís daughter, fell in love with David and he with her. When David approached Saul for Michalís hand in marriage, Saul, wishing to dispose of David, insisted that Michalís dowry be the foreskins of 100 Philistines. Saul was hoping that one of the Philistines would kill him while trying to obtain his dowry. David produced more than what Saul asked; he produced the foreskins of 200 Philistines. Later when Saul was intent on destroying David, he took Michal from David and gave her to Paltiel as a wife. David now demands that Michal be restored to him before he negotiates a settlement with Abner.

Abner immediately sends for Michal. Poor Paltiel follows his beloved wife for the length of a day as she travels towards Hebron. All that day he weeps and mourns over the loss of his wife. Finally, Abner commands Paltiel to return home empty-handed. After Michal has been returned to David, David agrees to negotiate the truce with Abner. Abner meets David in Hebron and negotiates the settlement with David. At long last David is entering into the full kingship over all of Israel.

After Abner leaves David, Joab returns to Hebron after raiding one of the northern towns. When Joab discovers that Abner his enemy has just left Hebron unharmed, he is livid and reproaches David for allowing Abner to escape. He claims that Abner has not come for the purpose of creating peace between the 2 kingdoms but instead had come to spy out the provisions and strength of the army of Judah. He hunts down Abner, pretends to Abner that he is coming as Davidís representative and then kills him in cold blood. (Joab asked Abner if he could talk with him privately in the gateway; with Abner unsuspecting, Joab thrusts his sword into Abnerís stomach thus killing him.)

David now has a real crisis on his hands. Abner had come in good faith on behalf of Israel; now heís been assassinated by one of the chiefs of Davidís army. This is going to look like an act of treachery on Davidís part. When David reproaches Joab, Joab unrepentant declares that Abner should not have killed his brother Asahel. The difference, though, was that Joab killed Abner in a time of peace while Abner killed Asahel in self-defense.

In order to convince the northern tribes that he was innocent in these proceedings, David puts on a lavish funeral for Abner. At the head of the funeral procession, he stations Joab and other leading members of the army. Behind them passed the funeral bier carrying the body of Abner. Behind Abner walked David, weeping profusely over the death of one of the princes of Israel. Moreover, after the funeral David refuses to eat from sunup until sundown. When the people insist that David eat, he refuses, claiming that he is too sorrowful to eat after the death of one of the greatest men in Israel. After this lavish emotional display, the northern tribes realize David is certainly innocent of Abnerís death. They are ready to proceed with crowning David as king over all Israel.

In the meantime, David remembers all that Joab had done to him and his kingdom. At the moment, he can do nothing about it because of Joabís strong position in the kingdom of Judah. David knows that a day is coming when he will be able to execute justice against Joab. Itís just that that day has not yet arrived.

The only person really standing in Davidís way of becoming king over all Israel is Ishbosheth. He actually, though, is not a threat because the real power in Israel, Abner, had defected to David. Two men, though, see a great opportunity how to score points with David. Baanah and Rechab, two of the chiefs in Ishboshethís army, enter the kingís palace while he is sleep at noon. They are pretending that they are entering the palace in order to procure provisions for their forces. They enter the royal bedchamber and thrust their swords through Ishboshethís stomach while he is asleep. They then cut off his head and scurry off to Hebron. The 2 figure that David will be greatly indebted to them for saving him the trouble of having to dispose of Ishbosheth. They run down the Arabah (the Jordan River Valley) and cross over to Hebron, carrying Ishboshethís head.

They have a surprise waiting for them. When they inform David of their deed, instead of responding with gratitude, he reminds them of the way he had treated the Amalekite who had brought the ďgoodĒ news about Saulís death. David had had him put to death. Well, if David has put to death the messenger of the ill tidings of Saulís death, how much more so would he put to death the 2 who had actually killed the king of Israel? David orders the men killed and then hung from a tree. He has both their feet and hands cut off as a type of poetic justice since their hands were the instruments of Ishboshethís death and their feet were the instruments which brought them to ďsafetyĒ at Davidís court. As for the head of Ishbosheth, David has it buried along with the remains of Abner.


Each of the 3 major characters in this story can teach us a thing or two. First, David demonstrated the proper way for people to respond to the will of God in their lives. Years earlier, Samuel had informed David that it was Godís will that he assume the throne of Israel. Did David immediately rush out and assassinate Saul? No; rather he believed that if God had chosen him to be king, then God was going to make him king. He did not need to assassinate Ishbosheth or Abner to accomplish this. The way we accomplish Godís will is just as important as accomplishing His will.

Joab, on the other hand, demonstrates the way not to accomplish Godís will in our lives. Assassinating Abner was a terrible move on Joabís part. Not only did he destroy one of the greatest military minds in Israel, he also put Davidís destiny into jeopardy. Unless David had moved swiftly to deflect the criticism from himself, he might have remained only as king of Judah.

Some, though, will excuse Joab by saying that God used Joabís evil to accomplish His will. They quote Matt. 18 which states that stumbling blocks will inevitably arise. Thatís a dangerous premise to promote. A better premise is that God is so awesome and powerful that He can even take the evil men do and use it to accomplish His will. Even though this highlights Godís creativity and awesome power, it does not excuse the evil people do. Moreover, the second part of the Matt. 18 passage claims: ďWoe to those through whom the stumbling block comes.Ē This does not relieve Joab of his responsibility. It merely demonstrates the power of God. Finally, Joab paid royally for his evil. After Davidís death and upon Davidís counsel, Solomon has Joab executed. Joab had run into the tabernacle for safety after Davidís death. When he refused to come out, Solomon had him drug out of the tabernacle and executed anyway. Solomon was not going to let this murderer soil his reign like he had soiled his fatherís.

Abner demonstrates for us the results of somebody using their influence, power, and resources for their own arrogant, selfish reasons. How wonderful it would have been if right after Saulís death, he had gone to Hebron and anointed David as king over all Israel. Because of his arrogance though, 24 of the finest warriors in Israel lay dead; 380 other soldiers died; Ishbosheth was beheaded; and he too was assassinated. It seems ironic that he should die only after he was willing to deliver the kingdom to David; however, it seems as if God was not going to let Abner get off that easy. Abner had crossed the point of no return. Too much blood was on his hands because of his schemes for him now to waltz into Davidís court and assume a position of major responsibility. The wheels of Godís justice may turn slowly, but they do turn. Abner found that out at the very end.