The purpose of this lesson: to stress that David was a man of character and integrity.
The situation changed dramatically! Saul and his sons were killed by the Philistines. David was in the process of consolidating Israel under his leadership. King Saul's loss to the Philistines in the battle that cost him and his sons their lives was costly to Israel as a nation. Not only did Israel lose their king, but they also lost territory and numerous battle-hardened, experienced warriors. Israel, which was not in wonderful condition under Saul's leadership, was now weakened further, vulnerable, and divided. The Philistines must have rejoiced at the situation because circumstances surely favored them.
Make certain your students realize a primary transition has occurred: David was no longer a fugitive fleeing from Saul; he was a settled man seeking to reunite Israel. Instead of fleeing Saul, David was pursuing the healing of a kingdom.
David and his forces [with God's approval] went to the area of Hebron where the people made him king of Judah. He settled there, had sons by six wives [not likely all the children he had in the Hebron area], formed political alliances through marriages, and planted the seeds of what would become future disastrous rivalries among sons who sought David's throne.
David had time to live in a secure situation and have a family. Though he exercised poor judgment, he was no longer "a man on the run."
Abner, the commander of King Saul's army, made Saul's son, Ish-bosheth ("man of shame'), King over what was left of Israel [excluding Judah]. Abner moved him east of the Jordan River to a new capitol, Mahanaim. Abner, a relative of dead King Saul, was the man of power in Israel. Ish-bosheth was King Saul's son and the symbol of royal presence.
The rule of Saul's family did not cease with Saul's death. Abner was related to Saul [either a cousin or an uncle]. He was so influential and powerful that he declared Ish-bosheth [Saul's son] King and moved the center of the kingdom across the Jordan River to Mahanaim. This move placed greater physical distance between the King and the battle line.
The end result: there was a long period of tension and civil war among the Israelites. In this period, David sought to consolidate Israel as a single nation. In this civil war, the forces of Saul's family steadily grew weaker and David's forces steadily grew stronger.
With David the King of Judah and Ish-bosheth the King of the rest of Israel, the Jewish kingdom was even more divided. Both kings want there to be only one king. The result: civil war. Even more Hebrews were fighting Hebrews.
While there were numerous battles in that long civil war conflict, the author chose to focus on one key battle. David's sister, Zeruiah, had three sons: Joab, Abishai, and Asahel. These three men figured prominently in David's army. Joab was the commander over David's forces. The other two brothers were elite warriors in David's army. They were capable of both great loyalty and thoughtless acts.
This one battle was not the entire civil war. It was a significant battle that revealed some of the difficulties in healing the kingdom of Israel.
In the author's chosen incident, the two forces were on opposite sides of the pool of Gibeon. Much like the occasions that involved Goliath's challenges to Israel's army, each side decided it served no purpose to have a huge battle with lots of deaths. Each side decided to have twenty-four less experienced warriors [twelve men from each side] engage in battle to provide an indication of which group was strongest. Nothing was settled because the twenty-four men killed each other. When that occurred, a full battle broke out. Eventually the forces of representing Saul's family fled from David's forces. From that time forward, a name given to the pool of Gibeon was "the field of the sword" or "the field of the sides."
Since all twenty-four contestants killed each other quickly, nothing was resolved. The place was called "the field of the sword" or "the field of sides" because the twenty-four men killed each other with swords they thrust into each other's sides.
In the process of the battle, Asahel [Joab's youngest brother] decided that he would pursue and kill Abner. Asahel was quite fast, and Abner was quite experienced. Abner, confident that he could kill Asahel, did not wish to do so. He either feared or respected Joab, Asahel's brother. Abner tried twice to convince Asahel to discontinue his pursuit. When Asahel refused, Abner killed him with the back of his spear--an indication of how close to Abner Asahel was.
A young, fast, inexperienced warrior was determined to kill an older, slower, experienced warrior. Generally in battle, one tried to fight someone else of similar ability/experience. Abner ineffectively tried to convince Asahel to battle someone else who was similar in experience and skill. Abner's experience was evident in the way he killed the younger, faster Asahel.
Asahel's death made this civil war a matter of personal vendetta for Joab. Abner killed Joab's youngest brother, so Joab as an avenger of blood had the right to kill Abner if he could.
For Joab, the battle became about something much more important than reuniting the kingdom of Israel.
The battle continued until evening. Finally Abner convinced Joab to call a truce. Both sides acknowledged it was not appropriate for Israelites to pursue and kill Israelites. Each side counted their losses and made lengthy journeys back home.
Both sides realized the folly of Hebrews fighting Hebrews. The civil war losses would only weaken the kingdom of Israel as they resisted the Philistines. Though both sides realized the foolishness of the situation, even with a truce they did not trust each other.
The civil war took a decided turn in David's favor when Ish-bosheth insulted Abner. Abner reacted to the insult by swearing he would make David King of Israel. From that time forward Ish-bosheth was afraid of Abner. He knew Abner controlled the power, and he knew Abner made him King.
The Abner/Ish-bosheth controversy only strengthened David. Ish-bosheth spoke before he thought.
Abner sent messengers to David affirming that he could make David King of Israel. He asked David to make a covenant with him. David immediately accepted the opportunity with one condition: his first wife Michal [King Saul's daughter] would be returned to David.
Abner made it very clear that the power was his. If David and Abner agreed for David to be King of Israel, Ish-bosheth could do nothing to prevent that from happening. Ish-bosheth was a voice without power if he did not have the loyalty and assistance of Abner.
Remember Michal loved David when they were first married, but also remember that Michal [by her father's decree] was the wife of another man for years.
Michal was returned to David. Abner began the process of convincing Israel to turn to David for leadership. Finally, Abner came with 20 men to David in Hebron. David honored Abner with a feast. The agreement for David to become King of all Israel was confirmed. Abner left in peace with David's blessing.
David genuinely respected and honored Abner. The man who refused to kill Saul respected the man who served Saul as the leader of Saul's army.
Joab returned from a raid after Abner departed. When he learned that Abner was at Hebron, he criticized David. "He came to deceive you! He came to learn how to attack you!"
Joab's eyes only saw through his hatred of Abner, never through the healing of the kingdom of Israel.
Unknown to David, Joab sent messengers to catch up with Abner and have him return to Sirah. At Sirah, as Abner thought all was well, Joab killed him to avenge the death of his brother. When David heard what Joab did, he was both grieved and frustrated. He wanted everyone to know he had nothing to do with Abner's death. In fact, he (1) placed a curse on Joab and his descendants; (2) commanded the people to mourn Abner's death; (3) expressed his personal grief in a tribute to Abner; and (4) refused to eat during the day of Abner's burial.
Abner had no reason to think that Joab was acting through personal hatred rather than through David's peace.
David's grief was genuine. It was intensified by the fact that David saw a much larger picture than did Joab--David saw the picture of peace for a nation at war with itself.
The people were pleased with David's proper reaction to Abner's death. They understood that Abner's death had nothing to do with David's desire.
David's reaction to Abner's death was appropriate, and the people saw that reaction as being appropriate. In a very stressful moment, it was obvious to all that David had nothing to do with Abner's death. Had that not been evident, it is likely that civil war could have been renewed.
David acted as a man of character in Abner's death. He sought to do something extremely difficult in a time of civil war--heal a nation. Joab's act would have made that healing impossible had not David been a man of character and humility. Again, David placed an extremely difficult situation in God's hands -- "May the Lord repay the evildoer according to his evil." Joab acted in hate to pacify his desire for personal vengeance. David acted in respect in the desire to heal a nation.
Rather than act as though he was above the problem, David decried the fact the problem occurred. He genuinely honored Abner. He genuinely condemned Joab. Because a humble David showed sincere respect for a man who had been his enemy, he touch the hearts of people.
For Thought and Discussion:
David was no longer a fugitive running from the King. He was a settled man recognized as a king.
(1) He made Ish-bosheth King. (2) He made Mahanaim the new center of the kingdom of Israel.
Twenty-four young warriors [twelve men selected from each side] engaged in a battle.
He was determined to kill Abner. Abner urged him twice to fight someone else. When Asahel refused and persisted in his pursuit, Abner rammed the rear of his spear through Asahel.
Through deceit, he killed Abner. Abner had come to David and left in peace. He likely thought Joab was acting in David's behalf. When Joab killed Abner, he could have turned Israel against David and thereby refueled the civil war. Instead of healing, the result could have been angry distrust.
(1) He placed a curse on Joab and his descendants; (2) he commanded everyone to mourn Abner's death; (3) he expressed his personal grief in a tribute to Abner; (4) he refused to eat anything the day of Abner's burial.
Link to Student Guide Lesson 10
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