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Sermon preached on 2 Samuel 3 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 12/13/2015 in Novato, CA.
2 Samuel 3
“And I am Weak Today, Though Anointed King”
Two steps forward and one step backwards. That’s how life can seem to go sometimes. It can be so full of twists and turns. Sometimes when things seem to be going so bad, all of a sudden, things change so quickly for the better and you think finally better days are ahead, and yet then sometimes that too changes and things come crashing down again! There is something of this in today’s passage. We are here in verse 1 of those difficult times for Israel where they were embroiled in internal conflict and division. They were God’s people, but they were fighting over who would lead them, either the house of Saul, or the house of David. Last week we acknowledged that the people should have all turned to follow David as the Lord’s anointed. But we also acknowledged that there were many sad and bad ramifications of all this fighting, for both sides of the conflict.
And so here, in today’s passage, it looked like the conflict might be coming to and end. Abner seems ready to help David take the throne over all of Israel. But then Joab, someone who was supposedly following the right king, committed a great evil and caused more bloodshed among God’s people. How sad and bad, and that surely wasn’t going to help the internal conflict they were having. And so this passage has good news mixed with bad news for the people of God. There is progress towards peace and unity under the king of God’s choosing, but that progress is mixed with regression. David, the anointed king is growing in love and support from the people, but yet his own weakness is exposed at the same time here. And so let us look at what this passage has to say to God’s people as they try to move forward in a godly way, but struggle with things that seem to take them backwards.
Let’s begin then by looking at Abner’s change of allegiance. Remember, Abner was King’s Saul’s military commander and his cousin. After Saul’s death, he was the one who made Saul’s surviving son, Ishbosheth, king. He’s shown himself capable and loyal to Saul’s house. But interestingly we then read verse 6. Even though we’ve been told that Saul’s house has been weakening, verse 6 tells us that Abner’s been growing stronger in the house of Saul. In other words, his leadership and control continues to grow in the extended family of Saul. That immediately makes us wonder how much Ishbosheth is actually in control, or if he is becoming more of a puppet king for Abner, who is really in charge. Maybe Abner is actually setting things up so he himself can take over the throne? Well, we are not sure, but with that question in our mind, we see Ishbosheth assert himself in verse 7. He accuses Abner of taking his father’s concubine as his own. Interestingly, we are not told if that was true or not. On the one hand, in light of verse 6, this sounds completely feasible. If Abner is trying to strengthen his position in the house of Saul, then taking Saul’s concubine would help his cause. Culturally back then, to take the king’s concubine, that would be typically seen as a statement that you are assuming the place of the king. So, we could see that this is something Abner might have done, and if so, why that would have been a legitimate concern to Ishbosheth. That being said, we could also imagine that Ishbosheth is just being paranoid, like his father tended to be. Remember how Saul was always afraid that David and others were conspiring against him? So, again, we don’t know the truth behind the accusation. But we do see it’s result. It results in Abner getting upset, and vowing in the name of the Lord to switch his allegiance to David.
Abner’s words that follow make clear that he knew that it was God’s will for David to be the next king. Abner sets out to seek fulfillment of that will of God. I wish I could see Abner’s heart here, to know if he really had a change of heart that suddenly realized he had been supporting the wrong leader, and now wanted to repent and follow God. Or is this just a self-motivated calculation of Abner, that his “repentance” is only outward, and that his real motivation is that he thinks that in light of Ishbosheth’s accusations that he can find a better position in David’s kingdom if he can help deliver the rest of the tribes to him. We don’t know his heart. But we can see the fruit. And the bottom line is that Abner immediately begins to work toward bringing peace among God’s people, to be unified under the leadership of David. And Abner repeatedly describes this in terms of God’s will; that this is God’s will that David reign over the whole nation of Israel. And so Abner reaches out to David; and he speaks with the elders of Judah and particularly meets with his own tribe of Benjamin. Abner helps to fulfill David’s request that his stolen wife, Michael, be returned to him. And then he has a positive face to face meeting with David. David then sends him out in peace. Essentially at that point, they basically had the deal pretty much fully negotiated. It’s like a contract that has been fully worked out, and all you have to do is for each party to sign on the dotted line. Two big steps forward here. Peace and unity was at hand for God’s people, to be united under King David.
But then we come to our second point. Joab murders Abner. Joab comes back to David at Hebron after being out at a raid and finds out about David’s meeting with Abner. Joab is beside himself at this news. He thinks David is being naive and basically tells him this. Joab basically rebukes David. In general, that is not a good thing to rebuke your king; I remember how foolishly Peter rebuked Jesus at one point; not good. And so then Joab sets out and with the help of some men and his remaining brother Abishai performs a quick covert operation to deceive Abner and kill him. Joab does this without the permission or knowledge of David. Abner had been sent out in peace by David, but Joab tricks Abner to get him to come back to city, off guard, where Joab then kills him.
Let me ask a question so I can then make sure we all understand the answer. Was this wrong of Joab? Yes. Now, sure, we can appreciate why Joab did it. The text tells us, he was avenging his brother’s death. We can understand that. Surely many in Israel understood that. But it was wrong, no matter how you look at it. Think of when it might have been acceptable. If it was a wartime situation, and Joab killed Abner in war, that would have been different. In fact that’s when Abner killed Joab’s brother, even. But this was not a wartime situation, in fact he knew that David, his commanding officer, was working with Abner in peace, and had sent him away in peace. Later in 1 Kings 2:5, David even says of this that Joab shed the blood of war in peacetime. Of course, if you look at this from another angle, that Joab was simply avenging his brother’s death, well, it’s interesting, there are some provisions in the OT law for that. But one of the big provisions is that if you are the cause of someone’s death, you can flee to a city of refuge where the avenger is not allowed to kill you in blood vengeance, but instead you will be allowed to have a trial to have due process and determine whether you are guilty or not of murder. Well, Joab kills Abner in Hebron, which was one of the cities of refuge. So, that was the most off limit places for Joab to try to avenge his brother’s death. So, in all ways possible, this was wrong. And David himself makes this clear throughout the passage.
And so the point in this second point is that this is a step backwards. What Joab did here was sad and bad. He was supposedly in allegiance to David, and yet works against David’s will, and does this evil. He brings further internal conflict to the nation, and spills more blood among brothers. And think of the possible ramifications of this. When they were all on the brink of peace and unity, Joab does this. How is this going to look? Remember, Abner was leading the charge from Israel’s side of things to promote this unity. How is this going to look that Abner went to negotiate peace with David and he ends up murdered? This doesn’t look good at all. And it threatened to undo everything that David and Abner had been working on toward peace and unity.
This brings us then to our third point, where David mourns for Abner, and condemns Joab’s actions. Thankfully, David’s immediate response here helps the cause of peace. David publically laments and fasts for Abner. He even makes Joab and his cohorts join in this public lamenting of Abner’s death. David again crafts a song, this time to mourn Abner and condemn how he was killed. Publically and privately David denounces Joab’s and his brother’s actions. Verse 28 makes clear that he had nothing to do with this, with David saying, “My kingdom and I are guiltless before the LORD forever of the blood of Abner the son of Ner.” He then proceeds to utter a rather detailed curse against Joab. He essentially does the same thing again at the end of the chapter in the presence of his servants. He also praises Abner, calling him a prince and great man, in verse 38.
And the people respond well to David’s response. David acts as a prince of peace here in his response. David’s response here actually helped to course correct right away from Joab’s actions. You see, look at 36. The people took note of David’s response, and they understood that David wasn’t behind Abner’s murder. And verse 36 is very clear: this pleased the people. And so though this chapter is like two steps forward, and one step back, here we see another step forward. Yes, there may have been a bit of a derailing here in David finally being made king over the whole nation, but this helped to get peace and unity back on track. We are getting closer to David finally reigning over the whole nation.
So here’s a question then. If David so condemned Joab’s actions here, why does he not bring Joab to justice? I mean, as a king, he is the head judge of the nation. We’ve already seen David sit in judicial capacity. He did it in chapter 1 when that Amalekite came and claimed to kill King Saul, and David found him guilty of striking the Lord’s anointed and had him executed. Next chapter some men will kill Ishbosheth and David will do the same thing; sit in judicial capacity, and find them guilty of murder, and have them executed. Why does he not do that with Joab? He clearly denounces Joab’s action as a great wickedness. In fact, later on, in 1 Kings 2:5, in some of his last words, he instructs his son Solomon, as the new king, to bring judgment upon Joab. Solomon will then have him executed and says that this frees David’s house from the guilt Joab had brought in this wicked killing of Abner. So, again, clearly David things Joab did wrong here and was guilty of a great evil. David condemns him and calls for God to judge him. But why didn’t David bring that judgment himself upon Joab?
Well, verse 39 tells us why. It doesn’t go into great detail, but we get enough. Verse 39, David says, “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.” And so David basically says he is too weak, even though he’s the anointed king, to do anything further about Joab. So, instead, he calls for God to judge Joab and his brother. By the way, some of the Bible translations use the word “gentle” instead of “weak”. That would suggest that David was being meek, not weak, here. Well, that’s possible, but for him to be meek, would mean that he is pardoning him. But if he is pardoning him, he wouldn’t later ask his son to bring judgment upon him. And so the more normal use of this word here is a negative connotation of being weak, and it seems that is the correct understanding here. There is a weakness in David being able to fully judge Joab at this point. He was able in many ways to denounce Joab’s actions, but in some manner of weakness was not able to do more at this point. He would actually need his son to finish the job he should have done.
And of course, isn’t that where we always end up with our studies of David? To look to David’s son to do something better. And of course now I’m not talking about Solomon. I’m talking about David’s greater son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. When we see the limitations of David, it makes us yearn for that better king who was to come, Jesus! Jesus is surely meek, but he is not weak. Jesus has been established and is being established as the Christ over an eternal kingdom. And as the ultimate Prince of Peace, we know that Jesus is gathering a people together where there is great peace, and purity, and unity. We have begun to experience that in the church. And yet like in today’s passage, we know that the church struggles in peace and purity and unity. We have internal conflicts that are sad and bad. What does Jesus do for his people that is stronger than David? Well, David denounced such sin. David washed his hands of that guilt, saying he was innocent of that sin. But Jesus, in a way that only he could, took a better approach. He looked at the great sins and evils of his people, and said he would be guilty of their sin. In other words, he took on the shame and the guilt of his people, and bore it at the cross, for them, for us, in our place. And in his strength, he not only bore all the wrath of God for such guilt, even to the point of death, but in his strength he overcame death and rose again in victory on the third day. He did this so we could have peace with our fellow believers, and especially so we could have peace with God. Praise the Lord!
And so we are all called then to unite ourselves to the prince of peace, the strong and mighty Jesus. As we turn in faith to Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we are putting our allegiance in him. In this, Christ is building his church in peace and unity. And so here’s some application then for us. There comes then today a continued call to pray for the peace of God’s people to unite in peace and righteousness around our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We need to pray that we would live out together the peace that we have in Jesus.
I mean think about the difficulties here. We see it here with Joab, that even though he outwardly confessed allegiance to David, he was very harsh and this sometimes resulted in him acting contrary to his king’s will. And so today, in the church, there will be some who profess allegiance to Christ, who struggle with that at times, at times doing their own will, instead of Christ’s. And there can even be those who profess allegiance to Christ who really aren’t in submission to Christ at all; it’s just a sham, an outward but fake profession. Both such types of people can disrupt the peace and unity in the church, and cause much conflict and strife.
Similarly, there are those in the church who might be like Abner here. They come with baggage, and with circumstances that might cause others to question their motives and intentions. As Christians we should embrace them with radical forgiveness and gracious love that looks to their growth and discipleship and usefulness in Christ’s kingdom. But like Joab, we can struggle to show that to the Abners that come to the church.
Or other times, we will just be too weak to act in the way that we should in dealing with the conflicts and troubles and internal needs in the church. But that is the point here. In applying this passage, we affirm on the one hand that Jesus is our king and he is the prince of peace. We acknowledge that on paper we are united together in peace as Christians. But in practice, we know that this side of heaven there is a great challenge in living this out. Yes, if we all perfectly submit to Christ as our king, there would not be these conflicts and divisions in the church. We wouldn’t hurt each other as much as we do. We wouldn’t keep having the two steps forward and the one step back in terms of our internal peace and unity. Or maybe at times its more like two steps backward, and only one step forward!
And yet this is our current reality. In the church specifically, but also in our families, and our jobs, and in general in life, we will have our ups and downs. We will have our steps forward, and our steps backwards. There will be times where we make good progress and times where we regress. All our strengths and weaknesses come together, and the strengths and weaknesses of others, to bring this all about. It’s sadly but surely true in the church among Christians. And it’s true in life in general.
And so the reality is that as Christians we are still a weak people, even though we are anointed by God by his Holy Spirit. But let me encourage us as the Word encourages us in this. I point you to Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 12. Faced with his own weaknesses, he was pointed again to God’s grace and to the power of Christ. Christ’s strength is made perfect in our weakness. In other words, in our weakness, Jesus’ power is made known all the more in our lives. When we are weak, we are strong, because he is strong. Because our weaknesses highlight that we need Jesus, that we need his strength. And so it draws us into a greater reliance upon him and his strength. It causes us to yearn all the more to trust in him and his grace because we are reminded of how weak we are on our own.
And so saints of God, let us all be encouraged then today in the ups and downs, in the forwards, and backwards, even when it comes to strife in the church. Yes, let us keep looking to grow and learn and do what is right. Let us keep striving for greater peace and purity and unity in the church. Let us look to grow in our strength in doing what is right and loving others, even if it takes a lifetime for such growth! But in the struggles, in our weaknesses, may we remember Jesus Christ. Christ is strong for us. And he is coming again, to bring us to glory. Then he will perfect the peace and purity and unity of the church. Yearn for that. In our weaknesses, yearn for it all the more. Come quickly Lord Jesus, amen!
Copyright © 2015 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.