God's Grace in the Midst of Treachery
GODS GRACE, HIS GRACIOUS PROVIDENCE AND GRACIOUS JUDGMENT
Tucked away in the stories of 2 Samuel is a sad tale, the events of
which could well have wrecked everything that David had hoped for in terms of the
unification of Israel under his rule. And in this story there are important lessons for us
today. David had just held a meeting with the leader of the forces opposing his rule. The
meeting had gone extraordinarily well and it looked as if peace could be established and
Davids reign consolidated. Then the following situation unfolded:
The best laid plans go awry
But when Abner, the captain of Sauls hosts, departed the feast at Hebron that day ¾ he was sent in peace by David. Abner had established a covenant to be faithful to David, whom he now acknowledged as Gods anointed King of Israel (2 Samuel 3:18). Indeed, Abner went so far as to pledge to David, "I will gather all Israel to my lord, the king . . . ," but a terrible deed is perpetrated and Abner is prevented from fulfilling his pledge. Yet God uses even this evil deed to demonstrate his absolute sovereignty, to prove again that what men mean for evil he means for good, and to show that he will establish his anointed without the aid of man.
After Abner left the presence of David, Joab and his army returned from an extremely successful raid. Joab was Davids best general. He had defeated Abner in the battle of Helkath-hazzurim (2 Samuel 2:16-31), but in that battle Abner had killed Joabs youngest brother Asahel. Asahel had pursued Abner in the battle and Abner had repeatedly warned him to turn back (not desiring to kill Joabs brother 2 Samuel 2:22) but Asahel refused to listen, so Abner struck him down. Because of this Joab held a grudge against Abner.
Now when Joab returned from his raid with much loot he was undoubtedly quite pleased with himself. But he was greeted with the news that his King had made a covenant with his worst enemy while he was away. The rage boiled within him. He had been undercut, left out, and David had made a serious tactical error, thus Joab thought. He stormed into the Kings presence demanding to know "What have you done this thing for?" His language to the King is highly disrespectful and he speaks to David, Gods anointed, as if David were a common slave. He implies that the King is a fool for allowing Abner to freely spy out the land for an attack. Joab says, "What have you done? Behold Abner came to you; why then have you sent him away and he is already gone? You know Abner the son of Ner that he came to deceive you and to learn of your going out and coming in, and to find out all that you are doing." Surely God will not allow anyone to speak to His anointed one like this, yet David endures silently.
Joab then instructed messengers to seek and detain Abner in the name of David. Abner was unsuspecting of any treachery since he was under Davids protection, but David had no knowledge of Joabs actions. Abner came to Joab at Hebron and Joab called him aside at the gate under the pretense of talking privately. There, Joab murdered Abner. When news of this evil thing reached Davids ears he mourned. In fact, David was distraught and he cursed the family of Joab because of the wickedness Joab had done.
God rules and overrules
We also find this passage pervaded with the grace of God. There is grace here for Abner, who had for so long been on the wrong side of the conflict with Gods chosen servant. Yes, Abner was the victim of a mans evil intent but he was also a recipient of Gods blessing. Before Abner was murdered he was brought into the covenant! In verse 12 of chapter 3, he asks David to make his covenant with him and in verse 18 he confesses David as Gods anointed who will save Israel even as we confess Gods Anointed and enter into a covenant relationship with Christ.
God also extended longsuffering grace to the underserving Joab. David allowed Joab to speak contemptibly to his face without reprimand he restrained the anger such an action deserved. Joabs words tell us much about him. He never did understand Davids tenderness and mercy. We find him wondering in amazement and scolding David in 2 Samuel 19 for "loving his enemies" as David wept over the death of his treasonous son Absolom. After David found out the murder of Abner he showed grace to Joab again. Joab deserved death, but David spared him. Some have suggested that David was politically incapable of executing Joab, but this seems to underestimate Davids character. In fact, a good argument can be made for the execution of Joab in the wake of Abners murder on the grounds of expedience and pragmatism. If David were driven by such concerns it is easy to see how such a move could have placated Sauls followers in the wake of Abners murder and served Davids agenda, still David spared him. The words of 2 Samuel 3:39 give us an understanding of Davids grief-stricken heart, "I am weak today though anointed king; and these men the sons of Zeruiah (referring to Joab and his brother Abishai) are too hard for me." The death of Abner caused David great pain. Yet Joab never showed remorse for his action nor acknowledged the kings mercy in sparing him.
Alongside of grace in this passage we find assurance of Gods just judgment. David immediately states that he is innocent of Abners blood and curses Joab in verse 19: "May it (the blood of Abner) fall on the head of Joab and on all his fathers house; and may there not fail from the house of Joab one who has discharge, or who is a leper, or who takes hold of a distaff or who falls by the sword or who lacks bread." The first part of the curse, the discharge and the leper, is an allusion to Leviticus 13:46 and the laws for ceremonial cleanliness. For one to have a discharge or be leprous was to be excluded from the community and worship. Thus this part of the curse deals with the spiritual condition of Joab and his descendants and the rest with physical condition. The curse makes it clear that all the sins of the wicked will be dealt with: both neglect toward God and evil toward man. In I Kings 2:28-34 we find Joab finally receiving his just recompense on earth. Solomon has him slain for the murders of Abner and Amasa. Solomon says in verse 32 "And the Lord will return his blood on his own head, because he fell upon two men more righteous and better than he and killed them." Joabs heavenly judgment is still pending. God often graciously withholds His wrath against the wicked for a season, but no sin of the evildoer will go unpunished.
Even in Davids curse, however, we find Gods grace. Joab was allowed time to tarry, and opportunity to repent, and the curse was not extended to all of his descendants, only one in each generation. God could have justly eliminated Joab and his seed but He mercifully chose not to do so. We are again reminded that justice and mercy meet together in our great God.
Not long after the death of Abner, David was made king over all Israel without ever lifting a hand against an anointed king or his family. God gave Israel to David as he had promised, justice was served and grace was dispensed. We in the new covenant can be encouraged that just as God gave David the Kingdom, so has he given the Son of David (who is greater than David) the Kingdom of God. That Son lived on earth for awhile and has given men a period of grace in which they can repent and be brought into the covenant. Abner covenanted with David, and was called righteous (I Kings 2:32). Joab rejected the covenant and was cursed. When the Son of David comes again he will judge justly. Hosea 14:9 says:
Whoever is wise, let him understand these things