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Review: remember from Chap. 2 the confrontation between Joab and Abner at the pool of Gibeon; Asahel, Joab’s brother had pursued after Abner; Abner tried to get him to back off … but eventually was forced to defend himself and killed the brother of Joab – so Joab has something very personal against Abner; Judah and Israel at odds


This is a story about self-will; about revenge; about personal vendettas; about putting one’s own personal interests ahead of the interests of God’s program; about effective leadership exercising damage control to stay on course; about diplomacy in the most delicate of situations


A. (:1) David Gaining Ground in Civil War

“Now there was a long war between the house of Saul and the house of David; and David grew steadily stronger, but the house of Saul grew weaker continually.”

Civil war is a sad state of affairs in a nation (or in a church or in a denomination); loyalty to Saul still a major issue

Blaikie: The war does not seem to have been carried on by pitched battles, but rather by a long series of those fretting and worrying little skirmishes which a state of civil war breeds, even when the volcano is comparatively quiet.

Providence of God at work accomplishing His purposes

How was David growing stronger?? Military exploits; reputation; knowledge of God’s will

Cf. our response to the kingship of Christ in our lives – sometimes gradual progress when it should be more immediate

B. (:2-5) Siring of the Royal Family

“Sons were born to David at Hebron”

Raises the question that Kirk had asked in our first class – How could God have allowed polygamy in the OT – Deut 17:17

– Many of these were for the sake of key political alliances

– Distinction between wives and concubines??

Many levels of social standing in a society where polygamy was practiced;

Obviously these women did not have the same rights and privileges as wives; closer to a slave woman rather than a free woman; yet their children could be co-heirs and sexual relations were somehow viewed as legitimate; the women would be faithful to one man; more prevalent during the time of the Judges; after that seemed to be the prerogative of kings; certainly created complicated relationships and family troubles

1. Amnon

“his first-born was Amnon, by Ahinoam the Jezreelitess”

2. Chileab

“and his second, Chileab, by Abigail the widow of Nabal the Carmelite”

Story of foolish Nabal and his wise wife Abigail told in 1 Sam. 25

3. Absalom

“and the third, Absalom the son of Maacah, the daughter of Talmai, king of Geshur”

Davis: son of a foreign princess; implications regarding his later rebellion

Political alliance on NE border of kingdom of Ish-bosheth – very important strategically

4. Adonijah

“and the fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith”

5. Shephatiah

“and the fifth, Shephatiah the son of Abital”

6. Ithream

“and the sixth, Ithream, by David’s wife Eglah”

“These were born to David at Hebron.” others born later on (5:13-16)


A. (:6) Abner Solidifies His Significant Leadership Role

“And it came about while there was war between the house of Saul and the house of David that Abner was making himself strong in the house of Saul.”

How was Abner making himself strong?

Controlling his puppet king; making sure that he got credit for anything good that happened; making sure that men loyal to him were in positions of power and influence; think of the business world today and the politics involved in someone building their own kingdom

B. (:7-8) Abner Accused of Treasonous Sexual Liaison

1. (:7) Accusation by Ishbosheth

“Now Saul had a concubine whose name was Rizpah, the daughter of Aiah; and Ishbosheth said to Abner, ‘Why have you gone in to my father’s concubine?’”

Don’t bring the accusation if you are not prepared to follow through.

Sounds like whining when you don’t have the strength to act.

Ryrie: Having intercourse with a king’s concubine was a treasonous act, for it was in essence making a claim to the throne (cf. 16:20-21).

Strengthens your hand if you can get away with it

2. (:8) Indignant Response by Abner

He never actually answers the accusation; instead argues that he is above the law and should never be questioned because of his importance to the kingdom

a. Lashing out in Anger – Violent Outburst

“Then Abner was very angry over the words of Ishbosheth”

b. Demanding Unquestioned Respect and Honor – Sarcastic Analogy

“and said, ‘Am I a dog’s head that belongs to Judah?’”

How many have a dog for a pet?? Some bad news here – dogs not viewed favorably in Scriptures; half-wild animals living in the streets off the garbage and refuse; you would need to drive them away with a stick at times; not some adorable little pet

c. Pleading His Track Record of Shoring up the Kingdom of Saul – History of Loyalty

“Today I show kindness to the house of Saul your father, to his brothers and to his friends, and have not delivered you into the hands of David”

d. Minimizing the Charge Leveled Against Him – Diplomatic Immunity

“and yet today you charge me with a guilt concerning the woman.

Very condescending reference to the concubine – “the woman” = regarded as property; no respect

C. (:9-10) Abner Swears to Unite the Kingdom under Davidic Rule

1. (:9) Invoking the Davidic Covenant in his Oath

“May God do so to Abner, and more also, if as the Lord has sworn to David, I do not accomplish this for him”

Look at what Abner understood regarding God’s promises to David

2. (:10) Promising to Unite the Kingdom under Davidic Rule

“to transfer the kingdom from the house of Saul, and to establish the throne of David over Israel and over Judah, from Dan even to Beersheba.”

D. (:11) Abner Shuts the Mouth of Fearful Ishbosheth

“And he could no longer answer Abner a word, because he was afraid of him.”

Not a very healthy situation for a king . . .


A. (:12-16) Preliminary Negotiations with David

1. (:12) Attractive Proposal from Abner to David

“Then Abner sent messengers to David in his place, saying, ‘Whose is the land? Make your covenant with me, and behold, my hand shall be with you to bring all Israel over to you.’”

Interesting approach to someone you had openly opposed for so many years; What is surprising about how Abner approached David here?? No contrition; no repentance; no humility

Gordon: Abner approaches King David, not as one who has done him a great wrong, but as one who offers to do him a great favour. There is not word of regret for his having opposed what he knew to be God’s purpose and promise, no apology for the disturbance he had wrought in Israel, no excuse for all the distress which he had caused to David by keeping the kingdom and the people at war. He does not come as a rebel to his sovereign, but as one independent man to another. Make a league with me. Secure me from punishment; promise me a reward. For this he simply offers to place at David’s disposal that powerful hand of his that had been so mighty for evil.

2. (:13) Agreement from David Based on One Condition

“And he said, ‘Good! I will make a covenant with you, but I demand one thing of you, namely, you shall not see my face unless you first bring Michal, Saul’s daughter, when you come to see me.’”

3. (:14-15) Acquiescence of Ishbosheth to Demand of David

“So David sent messengers to Ishbosheth, Saul’s son, saying, ‘Give me my wife Michal, to whom I was betrothed for a hundred foreskins of the Philistines.’ And Ishbosheth sent and took her from her husband, from Paltiel the son of Laish.”

1 Sam 18

4. (:16) Anguish of Michal’s Husband Over the Separation

“But her husband went with her, weeping as he went, and followed her as far as Bahurim. Then Abner said to him, ‘Go, return.’ So he returned.”

B. (:17-19) Political Persuasion of Key Leaders in Israel

1. (:17-18) Political Persuasion of Elders of Israel

“Now Abner had consultation with the elders of Israel, saying, ‘In times 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 from the hand of all their enemies.’”

2. (:19) Political Persuasion of Leaders of House of Benjamin

“And Abner also spoke in the hearing of Benjamin; and in addition Abner went to speak in the hearing of David in Hebron all that seemed good to Israel and to the whole house of Benjamin.”

House of Benjamin mentioned specifically because Saul had come from here; these would be the most fierce loyalists for Ish-bosheth

C. (:20-21) Closing the Deal

1. (:20) David Entertains Delegation of Abner (in Absence of Joab)

“Then 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.”

Was it wise for David to exclude Joab and hide these events from him?

2. (:21) Abner Commits to Executing the Covenant

“And Abner said to David, ‘Let me arise and go, and gather all Israel to my lord the king that they may make a covenant with you, and that you may be king over all that your soul desires.’ So David sent Abner away, and he went in peace.”

Significance of phrase “he went in peace”


A. (:22-25) Joab Criticizes David for Not Executing Abner as an Assumed Spy

1. (:22-23) Joab Shocked at Peace Treaty with Abner

a. (:22) The Situation – Abner has come and gone in Joab’s absence

“And behold, 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.”

b. (:23) The Explanation – David made a peace treaty with him

“When Joab and all the army that was with him arrived, they told Joab, saying, ‘Abner the son of Ner came to the king, and he has sent him away, and he has gone in peace.’”

2. (:24-25) David Criticized for Letting Abner Return Home

a. (:24) Joab Demands Answers

“Then Joab came to the king and said, ‘What have you done? Behold, Abner came to you; why then have you sent him away and he is already gone?’”

b. (:25) Joab Upbraids King David for being Naive

“’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.’”

Lack of Submission on the part of Joab

No respect in attitude or deed

No fear of authority

No understanding of how the authority of God stands behind those in authority over us

B. (:26-30) Joab Takes Matters Into His Own Hands and Assassinates Abner

1. (:26) Joab Lures Abner Back to Hebron – without David’s Knowledge

“When Joab came out from David, he sent messengers after Abner; and they brought him back from the well of Sirah; but David did not know it.”

2. (:27) Joab Takes His Revenge on Abner

“So when Abner returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside into the middle of the gate to speak with him privately, and there he struck him in the belly so that he died on account of the blood of Asahel his brother.”

Contrast the 2 deaths: Asahel and Abner – what was different?

  • Signif of “the gate”

  • Signif of cities of refuge

  • Signif of it not being a fair fight – no honor involved

Davis: It should be remembered that Abner had slain Asahel in battle unwillingly and in self-defense. It should also be noted that Hebron was a city of refuge (Josh. 21:13) and in such a city not even the avenger of blood might slay the murderer without a trial (cf. Num. 35:22-25). Thus Joab violated basic laws established within Israel.

Wiersbe: Everything about the death of Abner was wrong. The two brothers knew what their king wanted, yet they deliberately put their own interests ahead of that of the kingdom. Asahel had been pursuing Abner on the battlefield, so he was another casualty of war; but the death of Abner was murder. Hebron was a city of refuge, a sanctuary where an accused murderer could get a fair trial, but the two brothers never gave the elders in Hebron a chance to hear the case. Abner killed Asahel in self-defense; but when Joab and Abishai killed Abner, it was pure revenge, and Abner never had the opportunity to defend himself. Asahel’s death occurred in broad daylight where everybody could witness what happened, but Abner was deceived and led into the shadows. Abishai had accompanied David into Saul’s camp and had seen him refuse to kill his father-in-law (1 Sam. 26;6ff), so he knew that David would never countenance the murder of Saul’s general. We wonder if Abner died thinking that David had been involved in the plot to kill him.

3. (:28-29) David Proclaims His Innocence and Curses Joab’s Family

a. (:28) David Proclaims His Innocence

“And afterward when David heard it, he said, ‘I and my kingdom are innocent before the Lord forever of the blood of Abner the son of Ner.’”

Could be major problems here

b. (:29) David Curses Joab’s Family – 5 Family Blights

“May it fall on the head of Joab and on all his father’s house; and may there not fail from the house of Joab:

1) Physically Cursed and Ceremonially Unclean

“one who has a discharge”

2) Physically Cursed and Socially Ostracized

“or who is a leper”

3) Emasculated

“ or who takes hold of a distaff”

Ryrie: one fit for women’s work; effeminate

4) Defeated and Killed in Battle

“or who falls by the sword”

5) Impoverished

“or who lacks bread.”


A. (:31-32) David Commands Joab and All the People to Properly Mourn the Untimely Assassination of Abner

1. (:31a) Instructions to Joab and His Troops to Honor Abner

“Then David said to Joab and to all the people who were with him, ‘Tear your clothes and gird on sackcloth and lament before Abner.’”

Must have been difficult for Joab to swallow

2. (:31b) David Leads By Example in Honoring Abner

“And King David walked behind the bier.”

3. (:32) David’s Kingdom Unified in Mourning for Abner

“Thus they buried Abner in Hebron; and the king lifted up his voice and wept at the grave of Abner, and all the people wept.”

B. (:33-34) David Offers Lament of Regret for the Undeserving Circumstances of Abner’s Death – not a death befitting a valiant warrior

“And the king chanted a lament for Abner and said, ‘Should Abner die as a fool dies? Your hands were not bound, nor your feet put in fetters; As one falls before the wicked, you have fallen.’ And all the people wept again over him.”

C. (:35-37) David Extends His Fasting to Confirm His Claim of Innocence

1. (:35) Fasting Continues Even After the Burial of Abner

“Then all the people came to persuade David to eat bread while it was still day; but David vowed, saying, ‘May God do so to me, and more also; if I taste bread or anything else before the sun goes down.’”

2. (:36) Wise and Appropriate Behavior

“Now all the people took note of it, and it pleased them, just as everything the king did pleased all the people.”

Great statement summarizing the results of wise politicking

3. (:37) Persuasive Regarding David’s Innocence

“So all the people and all Israel understood that day that it had not been the will of the king to put Abner the son of Ner to death.”

D. (:38-39) Final Lament of David

1. (:38) Praise for Abner

“Then the king said to his servants, ‘Do you not know that a prince and a great man has fallen this day in Israel?”

2. (:39) Vengeance is the Lord’s

“And I am weak today, though anointed king; and these men the sons of Zeruiah are too difficult for me. May the Lord repay the evildoer according to his evil.”

Shouldn’t David have executed Joab here? Why leave this for Solomon later?

Moore: In all that we read about him, Abner acted with honor. He deserved better. Joab, on the other hand, was a vengeful and murderous man. We would wonder why David put up with Joab’s evil but for two facts. First, we learn in 1 Chronicles 2:13-17 that Joab was David’s nephew. Second, David doubtless felt that he owed Joab loyalty because they had weathered the fugitive years together. Sometimes justice is more important than loyalty or lineage. In my opinion, David should have opted for justice.

Gordon: Until Joab and Abishai were reined in, it would be difficult for David to cast off the old life-style which had suited an outlaw, but which ill befitted a king. That was his dilemma: these men . . . are too hard (i.e. ruthless) for me.