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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!"
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.
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 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.
For Thought and Discussion:
Link to Teacher's Guide Lesson 10
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