Plus Part 2…
Video Sermons: Murder and Mourning (Parts 1 & 2) — Continuing Study in 2 Samuel
Preacher, Alistair Begg
The sermons were given on Sunday, November 15th, 2020 at Parkside Church. Morning and Evening services.
With full transcripts.
Part 2 video & transcript follows Part 1 video and full transcript.
Murder and Mourning — Part One
We’re going to read from the Bible in 2 Samuel and in chapter 3 and beginning at the twenty-second verse—2 Samuel 3:22. Abner has come and has feasted with David, and he’s been sent away, as the narrator tells us, “in peace.” And then, from verse 22:
“Just then the servants of David arrived with Joab from a raid, bringing much spoil with them. But Abner was not with David at Hebron, for he had sent him away, and he had gone in peace. When Joab and all the army that was with him came, it was told Joab, ‘Abner the son of Ner came to the king, and he has let him go, and he has gone in peace.’ Then Joab went to the king and said, ‘What have you done? Behold, Abner came to you. Why is it that you have sent him away, so that he is gone? You know that Abner the son of Ner came to deceive you and to know your going out and your coming in, and to know all that you are doing.’
“When Joab came out from David’s presence, he sent messengers after Abner, and they brought him back from the cistern of Sirah. But David did not know about it. And when Abner returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside into the midst of the gate to speak with him privately, and there he struck him in the stomach, so that he died, for the blood of Asahel his brother. Afterward, when David heard of it, he said, ‘I and my kingdom are forever guiltless before the Lord for the blood of Abner the son of Ner. May it fall upon the head of Joab and upon all his father’s house, and may the house of Joab never be without one who has a discharge or who is leprous or who holds a spindle or who falls by the sword or who lacks bread!’ So Joab and Abishai his brother killed Abner, because he had put their brother Asahel to death in the battle at Gibeon.
“Then David said to Joab and to all the people who were with him, ‘Tear your clothes and put on sackcloth and mourn before Abner.’ And King David followed the bier. They buried Abner at Hebron. And the king lifted up his voice and wept at the grave of Abner, and all the people wept. And the king lamented for Abner, saying, ‘Should Abner die as a fool dies? Your hands were not bound; your feet were not fettered; as one falls before the wicked you have fallen.’ And all the people wept again over him. Then all the people came to persuade David to eat bread while it was yet day. But David swore, saying, ‘God do so to me and more also, if I taste bread or anything else till the sun goes down!’ And all the people took notice of it, and it pleased them, as everything that the king did pleased all the people. So all the people and all Israel understood that day that it had not been the king’s will to put … Abner the son of Ner [to death]. And the king said to his servants, ‘Do you not know that a prince and a great man has fallen this day in Israel? And I was gentle today, though anointed king. These men, the sons of Zeruiah, are more severe than I. The Lord repay the evildoer according to his wickedness!’”
Father, thank you for the truth that we’ve just sung about the Bible. Thank you that you speak to us through your Word. And so we pray that our ears might be tuned and our hearts might be ready to receive your Word this day. And to this end we bow before you humbly and ask for your help. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Well, as last Sunday, I think we will not make it all the way to the end of the section that I just read, and so I will anticipate stopping at some point and coming back and picking things up, God willing, in the evening. And as I say, given that Brenton and the guys are here, I will use the opportunity just briefly in the evening to talk with Brenton, at least, so that we can find out, so that you can find out, just who it is that is joining us.
But for now, we pick up our story at the twenty-second verse: “Just then the servants of David arrived.” They arrived “with Joab.” In the King James version, it is “behold.” “Behold.” I kind of miss “behold” in the ESV. It’s a kind of Shakespearean flavor, isn’t it? You know, “behold,” as opposed to “Just then…” So, “Just then,” behold, “the servants of David arrived with Joab.”
Now, the context, of course, according to the first verse of the chapter, is this long war, the war that is ensuing over a period of some seven and a half years between the house of Saul and the house of David. Abner, I hope you will remember from last time—Mr. Make-It-Happen, the kingmaker—has shown up in Hebron, and speaking on behalf of the elders of the northern tribes, whom he has already influenced, he has brokered a deal with David and has now departed, and has departed, as we saw at the end of our time, “in peace.” You will see that that’s the end of verse 21: “So David sent Abner away, and he went in peace.” He is going to go back to those in the north and explain to them this plan of consolidation that he and David have come on.
But before that can actually happen—before, if you like, David could then ascend to the throne in Jerusalem; before he has, if you like, the time to catch his breath following the feast and the departure of Abner—he then is encountering the arrival of his servants, who have been out with Joab on a raiding mission. Now, we’re told that they come back from that, and they do so bringing with them the spoils of war.
Now, we’ve seen this already, earlier. David often led out in these things. And, for example, on one occasion it describes in detail what they came back with: they came back with sheep, with oxen, with donkeys, with camels, and with garments. And so we should assume that much the same took place here. Ordinarily, then, an occasion for celebration, so that they might rejoice in the plunder and that they might disburse it to one another and they might say, “That was a terrific raid, and we have a lot for which to be thankful.” But as we’re now about to see, there is no celebration on this occasion.
A Crucial Moment
And first of all, what we find in verses 22–25 is actually a crucial moment in all that has taken place here. You say, “Well, there have been a number of crucial moments.” Of course there have, but this one in particular. And if we search the Scriptures, if we look carefully, if we ponder, if we consider, then we will discover. And the long war, as we’ve said, is coming to an end. Abner is about to fulfill, we’re told, the promise that he has made to David, which is a rather presumptuous promise, recorded in verse 21: Abner said, “I will arise and go and will gather all Israel to my lord the king, that they may make a covenant with you, and that you may reign over all that your heart desires.” That’s quite a strategy, Abner, if we might say so! You’re certainly taking on your shoulders a tremendous amount in order to fulfill this promise—a promise, actually, which he himself was not, as we discover, able to fulfill. Because before we see this happening, the events are interrupted by the return of Joab and the army.
Now, we’re told very carefully here… And notice this as you’re going through—when you come, for example, to what is the second sentence of verse 22, it just says, “But Abner was not with David at Hebron, for he had sent him away”—that the narrator is doing something all the way through here. We’ve seen it already. He’s pointing out again and again that David could never be held responsible for trying to accede to the throne over all of Israel as a result of his human initiative and endeavors. That’s why the narrator is very careful to tell us that he didn’t take Saul’s life, and again he could have done, but he didn’t do it. And now, as we’re going to see, the possibility would be that when the word got out in the street what had happened to Abner, that people would almost inevitability trace a line all the way back to David and say, “Aha! You see, David is actually doing this.” So the narrator is helping us get ahead of the game a little bit by letting us know that Abner was not with David in Hebron, because David had already sent him away.
Now, the impact of his visit has, however, lingered. And it has made an impact, presumably, on the community. People, as they’re going about their business in the same way that people do today, they say, “Do you realize what happened this week when these two political people got together? And one said this, and another said that.” And so the word on the street would be, “You know, Abner came, and he went away in peace. He went away unhurt, and he went away unhindered.”
And this word now gets to Joab. Interestingly, we’re not told about an individual who told Joab. The phrase that you find there in the text, in verse 23, is simply “It was told Joab.” “It was told Joab.” So, if you like, the word was out, and people were speaking to one another about it, and it would be impossible for Joab to return and not know: Abner has been here, there’s been a feast, and he’s gone away with the shalom ringing in his ears. People would have been saying to one another, perhaps, “I can’t wait to see what Joab’s reaction is going to be to this event”—because, after all, David has let him go, and he has gone in peace.
Well, as you see from the text, you don’t have to wait very long, because the response of Joab is immediate. It is an outburst by any standards. And it is a reaction which is severe. We needn’t work our way through it in any detail simply to notice what he says: “Joab went to the king and said, ‘What have you done?’” Now, I know he has a significant role in David’s army. He is in many ways his right-hand man. But there is no sense of deference here. There’s no sense of him realizing, again, that he’s going to the one who is the king. You want to be very, very careful when you approach the king asking him, “What have you done?”—and not least of all King Jesus, who rules over our hearts and lives and supreme over the cosmos. Why would you go to Jesus and say, “What have you done?”
But that’s what he says: “What have you done? You let Abner come in here? Why did you send him away?” “Why did you send him away, so that he is gone?” In the King James Version: “Why did you send him away so that he is gone quite away?” In other words, he’s gone, and there doesn’t seem to be any prospect of him coming back. “You know,” verse 25, he says, “you know that he can’t be trusted. You know he only came to deceive you. He just wants to know what you’re doing, where you’re going.” And Joab is absolutely infuriated. That’s what the text says. That’s what it records.
Now, we should pause just for a moment and ask ourselves: How are we to view this? How are we to view this? Surely we can acknowledge that there is in Joab a genuine sense of concern for David’s well-being, for his safety. After all, that’s his role. He is commanding the army. He is the one who would be responsible for David’s well-being. So, part of the outburst would surely be that. But it’s not difficult for us to detect that there is in this a concern for his own position. For his own position.
Now, we don’t want to read into the text. But it would be hard for somebody in Joab’s position to learn that Abner, a very strong leader, a guy who is responsible for leading tons of these people in the north, would be able to come, have a feast with Joab’s boss, and have it work out in such a way that he’s able to leave unhurt, unhindered, and essentially with the blessing of David on his shoulders—it’d be hard for him to receive that without realizing that Abner at least in some measure represents a threat to his own position. You can imagine him saying, of course, “I’m saying this, David… I know I’m saying… I might be speaking out of turn, but I’m only saying this because I’m concerned about you.” But how many times have you said that, and it was just a thin disguise for the fact that you and I are concerned about ourselves, that we have a selfish agenda that we’re not actually prepared to admit? It just wouldn’t work.
And you see, the fact of the matter is that God watches out and knows our hearts. He knows the motives of our hearts. When I got to this point in my study, I said to myself, “I’m going to go back to the book of Proverbs here and remind myself of this.” Proverbs 16:2: “All a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the Lord.” Motives. So that the issue is not just what I’m saying; the issue is why am I saying it, and what’s actually going on inside of me when I am saying it?
The Lord “will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts.” That’s Paul in 1 Corinthians 4. It’s just like the book of Proverbs, isn’t it? And he is addressing something there in 1 Corinthians 4 that has to do with people’s perspective of him and whether people judge him and what their view of him is and so on, and he says, “Listen, if you think I’m really concerned about what you’re saying about me, let me tell you this: God, the almighty God, judges the motives of our hearts—not just simply the words from our mouths but what it is that is driving us.”
So, it poses the question, and it’s for you to ponder as well: Does Joab really, really care here about the kingdom, or does he care about his place in the kingdom? You say, “It’s probably a wee bit of both.” I think that’s right. Is he skeptical of Abner’s motives because he sees his own sin in Abner? I always say that. We see our own sins most clearly in other people. I’m tempted to impugn someone else’s motives; it just actually may have nothing to do with what’s going on inside of them. It’s just an indication of my own wretched heart. “Oh, why would he be doing that? It’s only because such-and-such.” I don’t know what it’s because! But when I say that, it’s saying, “Yeah, that would be what you would be doing it for. But that’s because you’re a bad act, Begg.”
And so, here you have it. Does he care about the kingdom or his place in the kingdom? Is he skeptical of his motives because he knows his own motives? James warns about this, doesn’t he? “Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.” So, to the extent that Joab is concerned for David’s safety, is aware of his own heart, is concerned for his own position, if you like, in the kingdom, it uncovers a lot, not only in him.
You see, it’s impossible for Joab to think about Abner except viewing him as an enemy. I’m concerned about this, because I think there’s too much of Joab in too many of us. As we saw last time, in Abner there’s a little bit too much Abner. We quoted Ralph Davis when he said Abner only quotes the Bible when it’s good for Abner. And again, Davis: “Though I profess to care only about Jesus’ kingship, I fear I[’m] far more concerned about my place in his regime than with the honor of his name.” Well, there’s an honest pastor. There’s an honest pastor. “Though I profess to care only about Jesus’ kingship, I fear I[’m] far more concerned about my place in his regime [rather] than with the honor of his name.” What are people saying about my name? What do they have, in terms of “How many followers do you have?” and all this kind of nonsense? Who are you concerned about? That’s the challenge.
A Cruel Murder
Now, Joab is tough. He’s loyal to David. He regards the king as being naive at best. And frankly, although David is willing to tolerate Abner, Joab is committed to eliminating Abner. All right? David says, “I’m tolerating him.” Joab in his heart says, “I’m eliminating him.” So, from the crucial moment in verses 2–5 we then have the record of this cruel murder. This cruel murder: “When Joab came,” verse 26, “from David’s presence,” he then proceeded with the deed.
Now, you will, I think, note that we have no record of David’s reaction to this outburst on the part of Joab. Is that because he didn’t say anything? Or is that because the narrator decided that it wouldn’t be recorded for us? Let’s assume that he decided, “You know, I shouldn’t get involved in a foolish thing here.” I don’t think that it is a sign of weakness. I think it’s probably a sign of strength. “Yeah, but,” you say, “if you go to the end of the chapter, he actually acknowledges that ‘the sons of Zeruiah are more severe than me.’” Well, yeah, they are more severe than him. But that doesn’t mean that he is weaker than them when he is prepared to be gentle rather than brutal. But we’ll see that as we go on.
Now, we’ve no notion of how David reacted to Joab, because we’re not told, but we do know how Joab reacted to the news that he discovered in Hebron. And his response is speedy; his response is hasty. Here is a situation where desire and opportunity coincide. You know, when temptation comes, when you have the desire but no opportunity, you’re okay. If you have the opportunity and no desire, you’re okay. But when desire and opportunity coincide, then the temptation is great. And so it is here.
The messengers are sent from Joab. Incidentally, I look forward to meeting these messengers. There’s lots of messengers. Lots of messengers! “And Joab sent messengers, and Abner sent messengers, and David sent messengers, and the messengers and the messengers and the messengers…” I started underlining them, and then I stopped, because it made me think: I’m a messenger! I’m a messenger! That’s all I am. I’m a messenger. None of their names are in it. That’s okay. They did their job. They proclaimed the message. The significance was not in who they were or how able they were but that they did what they did. Because the message is usually far more important than the messenger. That’s just a little aside.
I worked one summer for an accounting firm in London as a messenger—Blick Rothenberg & Noble. And I used to sit in the basement until the bell rang. And when the bell rang, then I would come up, and they would give me a package, and the package would have an address on it, and then I would go out, I’d get the A–Z of London, and I would get on the Tube, and I would go wherever I was supposed to go, and then I would deliver the package. Very significant packages in my puny little paws! “So what do you do?” “I’m a messenger.”
Well, that’s just a little extra there. You got that for nothing.
“When Joab came out from David’s presence, he sent messengers after Abner.” And they did the job, and they brought him back from where they were. It happened the landmark was “the cistern of Sirah.” Now, notice again—here, you see this?—“But David did not know about it.” See what the narrator is doing? He’s already told us, “But David was unaware of this,” and now David does not know about it.
The messengers have encouraged Abner to return to Hebron. I can only presume, we must presume, that he was on the sort of afflatus of the feast that had happened and the reception he’d received, and there’s no reason for him—especially a savvy guy like Abner—to deduce that what is about to happen to him is about to happen to him. He’s unaware. But he returns.
And there we have it, verse 27: “And when Abner returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside into the midst of the gate to speak with him privately.” I presume he said to him, he said, “Abner, thank you for coming back. You know, I know that a lot has transpired, because I was away on a raid, I was with these guys. It would be really helpful if you and I could have a conversation.” Sweet words. Proverbs again:
Like the glaze covering an earthen vessel
are fervent lips with an evil heart.
Whoever hates disguises himself with his lips
and harbors deceit in his heart;
when he speaks graciously, [don’t] believe him.
Now, you think about the amazing realism of Scripture concerning these things. We see it worked out in this incident, but we understand it throughout our lives and through, really, all of history. If you ponder, for example, the interchange between Hitler and Chamberlain—and there’s a tremendous book about that that is a fiction, but it fills in the blanks quite imaginatively. And Chamberlain, remember, meets with Hitler, and he “brokers a deal.” And Hitler tells him, “Yeah, you’re okay, you’ll be fine.” He then gets back on the plane, goes to London, shows up in London, holds up a piece of paper, and says, you know, “Mr. Hitler is a fine fellow, and we’re going to be absolutely super.”
Now, in the book, which I read, simultaneously you’ve got the picture of Chamberlain’s plane landing in London, and then the book cuts back to the scene in Berlin with Hitler and one of his aides. And the aide says to him, “Führer, what have you just done? You just signed that thing.” And Hitler says, “Oh yeah, but I’m not gonna do it. I’m not going to do it. I’m just lying.” “Oh, you mean you had that guy come here, and you had this nice conversation? Like glaze covering an earthen vessel, your fervent lips with an evil heart.”
“Though [a man’s] hatred be covered with deception, his wickedness will be exposed in the assembly.” “Though [a man’s] hatred be covered with deception, his wickedness will be exposed,” eventually, “in the assembly.” And that is exactly what is going to happen here. Joab is guilty of the very deception of which he accused Abner. Right? He comes back and he says, “Why would you have him here? And why would you let him go? Don’t you know he’s a deceiver? Don’t you know he’s a snake? Don’t you know he’s a con man?” And now he’s guilty of the very same deception.
See how things come around? Remember when Abner is being pursued by Joab’s brother Asahel. And Asahel keeps coming after him faster and faster and faster, and Abner is looking over his shoulder and saying, “You know, you want to go pick someone of your own size. Don’t do this, son. Please don’t do this.” Then at one point he says, “How then could I look your brother Joab in the eye? I’ll never be able to look him in the eye!” That’s exactly right. He doesn’t look him in the eye here. No. Because Joab “struck him in the stomach, so that he died, for the blood of Asahel his brother.”
Now, you’ll remember that both Joab and Abishai had continued to pursue Abner and his troops—this is back in chapter 2—they had continued to pursue Abner and his troops as the sun went down. I love all the references to the rising and the setting of the sun. You say to yourself, “Well, it’s almost an irrelevancy. You know, who really cares about what time it was?” And I said to myself when I read that, “I wonder if there’s significance in that, you know—that they pursued him as the sun went down.”
Well, of course. Because what had he done? He let the sun go down on his anger. In other words, he let happen to him what our godly parents told us as boys we must not let happen to us. Translated into contemporary terms: “Don’t go to bed angry with your wife.” “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.” Because there are implications. And in the case here of Joab, he provides us with a sad, Old Testament example, again, of James: when desire is conceived, it “gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”
That’s exactly it. They pursued him. Abner intervened, he says, “You know, are we gonna keep this going forever?” It would appear that they took that and said, “Let’s just settle down.” But they didn’t settle down. It only needed that to bring it all back. It only needed just one word. It only needed the discovery that his territory might be invaded, that he may no longer rule in his position and so on, and once again the floodgates opened. He says, “I will go and get him. Bring him back. Bring him back. I want a conversation with him.” Well, what a conversation!
Incidentally, there’s a world of difference between the two killings. Asahel died essentially in battle. Abner dies as a result of a cold-blooded murder.
The King’s Business, the King’s Way
Now, we will finish here. Let’s ask this question: Did Joab believe himself, in doing what he’s just done, to be on the king’s business? Did Joab think that he was doing David a favor—helping out his cause, if you like—by removing Abner from the possibility of any more of his deceptive stuff?
It should be imagined that Joab is essentially saying to David, you know, “We’ll get you to Jerusalem one way or another, David. We know that you’re going to Jerusalem. We know that you’ll be the king over the whole thing. We’ll get you there.” Maybe. But here’s the problem: Joab’s ways were not David’s ways. Joab’s ways were not David’s ways. So the way of the king was not the way of the servant of the king.
You say, “Well, that’s an interesting piece of history.” Well, it is an interesting piece of history, but it is a pattern that runs through history. For you find the very same thing with Jesus and his disciples. If we had time—which we don’t, and for which you may be pleased—you could rehearse this in the ninth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, where Jesus once again explains to his followers what’s going to be happening. And he tells them that he is going to be going to Jerusalem, and there he will “suffer many things … be rejected by the elders,” by the “chief priests … and be killed, and on the third day be raised” again. It’s an amazing declaration. This is the word of the King: “Okay, boys, here’s the deal. We’re going up to Jerusalem. I’m the King. This is what’s going to happen.”
What do we immediately discover? First argument then follows is an argument about their position: they want to know if they will be in a prominent position when he finally establishes his kingdom. You say, “That’s quite remarkable, isn’t it?” Jesus is explaining that he’s going to die, and they want to know where their seat will be.
Then they tell Jesus, the King, “Jesus, we met a guy the other day who has been casting out demons in your name. But you’ll be pleased to know, King Jesus, that we told him to stop!” Jesus says, “Don’t tell him to stop! He who is not against me is for me.” Strike two.
They went to make preparations in a Samaritan village, and the response of the Samaritan village was not particularly strong. They came back somewhat despondent, maybe a little bit mad, and James and John said to Jesus, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” These are the disciples! You think you’ve had a bad week, that you misunderstood Jesus’ plan for his kingdom? Listen, there’s plenty that precedes us! And Jesus takes them aside, he turns and he rebukes them.
But where this is going—this is where it’s going: What of me? What of us, who are about to unleash ourselves again on greater Cleveland and the world as those who are the followers of the King, as those who are singing these songs about someone who is the Lion and the Lamb, who is the authority over our lives, who is the authority over the cosmos, who is the authority over the future, who is the authority over death? We’re about to go out there and declare this. Well, listen. Listen! Aren’t we tempted to believe that our plans—dare I say it, our politics—are entirely in line with Jesus’ design for his kingdom?
Joab was just as foolish as Christians are today who think that our ways are better than the ways of Jesus in advancing his kingdom.
Now, how will that reveal itself? I asked myself the question, “Well, Alistair, if you’re gonna say something like that, think about it in your own life.” And so I did, and with this I’ll stop. In what place, somewhere that I can think of in my life, where I’m tempted to believe that my perspective on something is a good and a right perspective, and hopefully it is entirely in line with the perspective of King Jesus? So I said to myself, “I have one immediately. And that is on the question of immigration.” You say, “What are you talking about?”
Well, Douglas Murray wrote an amazing book called The Strange Death of Europe, which I read in the last two years. The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam. We don’t need to go into the book. All I’m telling you is there is a book that I read, and I found his argument compelling. Because I have very strong views about the sovereignty of a nation. I have very strong views about these things, politically. All right? So I’m tempted to think that my perspective on that can be tied neatly and nicely into the concern of the King.
So this week, as it so happened, I was reading another book by Gene Veith, whom I’d known from a long time ago, and I was immediately challenged and humbled, as it turns out, in relationship to this very thing. Gene Veith is a Lutheran, and he is writing, as his book comes to an end, about what’s going on in Scandinavia—Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland. The most secular nations, really, in Western Europe. And he explains how, in the midst of all of that, there is an amazing thing happening. And it is happening among Muslims.
And he describes being in Denmark, at the Danish Inner Mission, being told by a worker of her experience: “Three immigrants showed up at a Mission house on … Wednesday night asking about Jesus. The next week, ten showed up. Then twenty. Then so many that the house could hardly hold them all. [And] this [has begun] to happen throughout Scandinavia.” He describes the situation in Finland, particularly in relation to the outreach of people from Finland over the years to Afghanistan—many of them involved, for example, in medical missions, particularly in relationship to eyesight and the Noor clinic which was established there in Kabul in order to engage in that way. And he describes meeting these people, and with this I’ll stop:
Most of [the people I met] were from Afghanistan. It turns out that the Finnish Outer Mission had sent missionaries to Afghanistan for years, with little to show for it. The effort ended a few years ago when several of the missionaries were killed. There is a plaque dedicated to those missionary martyrs in the chapel where we worshiped. But because of their work in that country, the Finnish Outer Mission has people who know the Afghan languages, which makes possible the Bible classes for those Afghan immigrants! A worker at the … College marveled at what God has done. “We worked for so long in Afghanistan. But now God is sending the Afghans here! In the very chapel where we honor the missionaries who died trying to bring the Gospel to Afghanistan, Afghans are being baptized!” A Danish mission worker told me, “We didn’t go to the immigrants or do anything to reach them. But God is bringing them to us!”
And the word of God to my own heart was, “Hey, Alistair, whatever your views on immigration are, the fact that you hold them severely and confidently and politically does not mean that you are anywhere close to alignment with the plans of King Jesus in the moving of people throughout our world at this point in the twenty-first century.” Because, you see, for a thousand generations God has been faithful to his plan. And all these comings and goings and movements are under his sovereign care.
Well, I hope that’s helpful. When we come back tonight, we can pick it up from there.
Father, we want to be students of your Word. We don’t want to use the Bible as a kind of trampoline, just jumping up and down on it, trying to think of something to say. So grant that the words of my mouth, the meditation of our hearts may be profitable in your sight. Thank you that you allow us the privilege of looking back over the corridors of time and realizing that all that was written in the past was written for our good so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. God grant, then, that our wills might be aligned with your will and that we might live to the praise of your glory. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
 2 Samuel 3:21 (ESV).
 See 1 Samuel 27:9.
 1 Samuel 3:24 (paraphrased from the KJV).
 Proverbs 16:2 (NIV 1984).
 1 Corinthians 4:5 (NIV 1984).
 James 3:16 (ESV).
 Dale Ralph Davis, 2 Samuel: Out of Every Adversity (Fearn: Christian Focus, 1999), 37.
 Davis, 41.
 Proverbs 26:23–25 (ESV).
 Proverbs 26:26 (ESV).
 See 2 Sam 2:19–22.
 See 2 Sam 2:24.
 Ephesians 4:26 (ESV).
 James 1:15 (ESV).
 Luke 9:22 (ESV).
 See Luke 9:46.
 Luke 9:49–50 (paraphrased).
 Luke 9:54 (ESV).
 See Luke 9:55.
 Gene Edward Veith Jr., Post-Christian: A Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020), 306.
 Veith, 306–7.
 See Psalm 19:14.
 See Romans 15:4.
Murder and Mourning — Part Two
Well, we have been working our way—and I realize that suddenly our pace has slowed up. I haven’t done that deliberately. We just find ourselves in it. And I constantly find myself going back, and I encourage you to do the same and to make sure that we have our bearings. What is happening here as we come to just this, what, twenty-second verse, is it, of the third chapter? I’d already turned the page, so it’s not even there. No, it’s really from the twenty-eighth verse, isn’t it? From the twenty-eighth verse.
Well, we know this: Saul died. That’s how 2 Samuel has begun. Saul is dead. David is anointed. He’s no sooner anointed than he is immediately opposed, and Ish-bosheth is set up as king in the North, and Abner is his man. As a result of that, there is a war, which we’ve seen has been going on for some considerable time between the house of Saul and the house of David. The interference or the involvement of Abner in first of all convincing the elders of the North and then coming and speaking to David has created this opportunity for consolidation. And just when it would appear that everything was about to be streamlined towards a conclusion, we have come on this most dreadful and heinous act and this murder, so that the crucial moment was followed by, as we said this morning, a cruel murder. And I found myself just writing in my notes, “Hear the call of the kingdom: ‘Lift your eyes to the King!’” Because when we take our eyes away from the king and we look at some of the other characters involved and sadly see ourselves mirrored in them, then we can become dreadfully disconsolate.
So, from verse 28, I searched in vain for two other words that began with C and M, and I couldn’t do it at all. Maybe somebody will come up with one and I could use it on another occasion. But we had this crucial moment and this cruel murder, and then, from 28 to the end, the focus is on David, and particularly on this: he declares his innocence, he pronounces a curse, he leads the funeral, he pays tribute to Abner, and he explains his approach. That’s five points, and it’s 6:48, and there are boys here, and girls too. So, here we go. If I have to, I’ll come back to it again and do it in more detail.
But first of all, you will notice that upon news of the murder, he immediately declares his innocence. We’ve already been told in verse 26 that “David did not know about it.” He did not know about it. It is only afterward, when he learns about it, that he makes this declaration: “Guiltless before God, I and my kingdom forever.” And as we said this morning—and it bears only the briefest of repetitions—he had had many opportunities in order to take matters into his own hands, and he had chosen not to do so.
Abigail, who became his wife—remember, she was Nabal’s wife—Abigail had said to him, “You know, I know that it is the Lord who has restrained you and prevented you from doing what you did.” It is a wonderful indication, isn’t it, of the way in which God often intervenes to circumvent our own sinful desires? And many of the testimonies that we can give to the ongoing grace of God in our lives have to do not only with the wonder of his provision making things possible but the wonder of his intervention in restraining us from ourselves. And you will remember in one of the final encounters between Saul and David, David says to Saul, you know, “The Lord will reward righteousness and faithfulness.” And so, as we come to the end of this chapter, we see not only that David is righteous and he is faithful, but he is also gentle.
So, that is his declaration of innocence. And then that is immediately followed by the pronouncing of a curse. The pronouncing of a curse.
When you read this, it is quite horrifying, isn’t it? “May the blood of Abner,” he says, “come down on the head of Joab and all of his family, because they are the guilty ones.” And what David has been standing against all the way through this story is blood-guiltiness. He has said, “I will not take the blood of the king. I will not do this. It is wrong to do this.” And now he is confronted by this situation, and it is impossible for us to stand back, as it were, even at this distance, to miss the horror of what is actually being said.
You know, Abner was brought back to Hebron by the deceitful plan of Joab, and interestingly, Hebron was one of the cities of refuge that God established—a place of refuge, so that somebody who might be imposed upon or maybe on the wrong end of something would be able in that place of refuge to find security. And the horrific nature of this murder is that Joab didn’t even care about the fact that Hebron was a place of refuge, and he went ahead and did what he did.
Now, the details of this curse I don’t think we need to turn into twentieth-century language. If we were to turn it into twentieth-century language, it would be something along the lines of “And may his whole family get cancer,” and so on and so on. That’s the nature of what is being said. And the outworking of this we will see as we continue in the story.
I think it’s legitimate as well just to acknowledge that David is just David. Right? I mean, he is the anointed king of God, but he’s just a man. And therefore, he reacts as a man to this situation. So I don’t think we need to commend David for calling down this horrendous curse. We just need to acknowledge that he did, and that there was no justification for the murder of Abner, but that there is justification for the curse, albeit as dreadful as it is.
Now, once he has done that, we’re told in verse 30 by way of summary that “Joab and Abishai his brother killed Abner.” In other words, they were both in it together—Joab the one who put the dagger in, but that was probably just because he got to it first. And you will perhaps have remembered on a previous occasion when Abishai had said to David, “Why don’t you let me just drive a stake into this guy? And I’ll only have to do it once.” That’s the spirit of these characters. And that’s the reason why Abner was dead in Hebron.
Now, there’s a little paragraph break, isn’t there, in your text? And I think it’s helpful that it’s there, because it gives us pause for just a moment. And in my text, there is a heading: “David Mourns Abner.” In fact, the story that we’ve been considering both morning and evening is essentially that, in those two headings: “Joab Murders Abner” and “David Mourns Abner.” It’s quite a switch, isn’t it? Having called down a curse upon the family of Joab, he now leads the funeral celebrations: “David said to Joab and to all the people who were with him, ‘Tear your clothes and put on sackcloth.’”
Don’t let’s miss what that must have meant for Joab. Joab is responsible for the murder, and now David says, “I want you to be involved right up front in the funeral for the man you have murdered. Tear your clothes, put on sackcloth, and lead the way.” Can you imagine the humiliation for him as he joins in this funeral procession?
Now, what is happening, of course, is that all the people, as we see again and again—and the phrase “all the people” keeps coming—all the people were learning from this that Abner was not David’s enemy, and at the same time that Joab’s deed was not something that was done on behalf of David. It’s very straightforward, but it is important: that Abner was not the enemy of David and that the action of Joab was his own action and not attributable to the king.
David, you can see, takes his place: “David followed the bier.” I stumbled over that word this morning, because I think Americans pronounce it “the beer.” Do you? Do you pronounce b-i-e-r “beer”? Yeah. Well, why do you do that? It’s b-i-e-r, bi-er. How’d it come out as “beer”? That’s why I struggled with it this morning. I shouldn’t have mentioned it now. Sounds rude, doesn’t it? But I don’t mean it to be.
Anyway, you know what it was. He was following the corpse. He was following the corpse. And as Abner is buried, he lifts up his voice. We’ve seen this before, that David understands the tragedy of death and the significance of loss. And he could not be persuaded to interrupt his mourning, you will see, by having something to eat. No, he wanted to make it absolutely clear. And so, in a way that is briefer, obviously, than the lament for Saul, he has another of his poems.
And essentially, what this little lament says is this: Abner should not have died as he did. That’s the rhetorical question, really, isn’t it? “Should Abner die as a fool dies?” Like somebody who dies as a result of a couple of scoundrels that attack him in the middle of the night, a couple of hired assassins take him out. That shouldn’t have happened. “You weren’t a prisoner. Your hands weren’t bound. Your feet weren’t fettered. No! You fell as one falls before the wicked.” Now, the people would put two and two together, and they’d know exactly what David is saying. In other words, who are the wicked? Abner and Abishai. “You have fallen before the wicked.”
And once again, we read, verse , “And all the people wept again over him.” “Wept again over him.” Then they try to cheer him up, as I say. And he says, “No, I’m not gonna have a feast now. This is not the time for feasting. I’m not going to taste bread or anything else till the sun goes down.” And this had an impact on the people: “All the people took notice of it, and it pleased them, as everything that the king did pleased all the people.”
Now, again, the point that the narrator is making is straightforward. Any suspicion—any suspicion—that David might have been involved in Abner’s murder is laid to rest by his obvious goodness. You either have to assume that somehow or another he likes funerals and is able to create the impression that he’s mournful when he’s not, or you have to accept exactly what the text declares: that David actually, in this instance, was a good man. He was a good man.
Like Barnabas, remember, in Acts chapter 11: “for [Barnabas] was a good man.” I don’t think we ought to ever underestimate the impact of goodness. Surely, it’s part of the fruit of the Spirit, isn’t it? “All the people.” Verse 37: “All the people and all Israel.” So in other words, all the people that were there in that group. And then it spreads throughout all of Israel, so that they all “understood that day that it had not been the king’s will to put to death Abner the son of Ner.”
And then, penultimately, David pays tribute to Abner. In contemporary terms, he tweeted. This is a perfect size, I think, for a tweet. And I have never tweeted once in my life. I am a twit, but I haven’t tweeted. “And the king said to his servants, ‘Do you not know that a prince and a great man has fallen this day in Israel?’” In other words, what he does is he gives a brief, genuine expression that is meant for wide circulation so that everyone will know that this is not fake news—a brief expression of genuine sadness for wide distribution so that everyone in the kingdom will know. “Do you realize,” he says, “that today in Israel there has fallen a leader—a prince, a leader, and a great man?”
You see the stature of David in this? Now, we could say simply that greatness recognizes greatness. And I suppose that would be true. After all, Abner was a significant leader, as is David. But what we realize is that he is willing and able to recognize the positive attributes and qualities of one who publicly could be regarded as his enemy. But in his death and in the tragedy of it, he does not seize the opportunity to magnify the distance that existed between them. He doesn’t seize the opportunity to say, “You know, when Abner came to me with that plan,” and so on. He does none of that at all! He simply says, “You should know that a great leader has fallen today in Israel.”
Now, loved ones, that kind of magnanimity is seldom found in the leaders of our world. And when we find it, we pause before it. Last week, in Great Britain, Jonathan Sacks—Lord Sacks—was laid to rest. You say, “Well, I don’t know who he is or was.” Well, he was the Chief Rabbi in Britain. He was a rabbi. He was a Jewish man. And in his funeral, which was attended sparingly because of COVID, various statements were made, including this statement concerning the man who had fallen: “His … voice spoke to our greatest challenges with unfailing insight and boundless compassion. His wise counsel was sought and appreciated by those of all faiths and none, and he will be missed.” Now, the person who said that was a gentile, a professing Christian. He didn’t decide, “This is a good opportunity for us to explain the distinction between Judaism and Christianity.” That is understood. There is a time to be silent; there is a time to speak.
And David is a wonderful illustration to us here, as I say, of the kind of magnanimity that recognizes this. The closest we’ve come to it, I think, in terms of political leadership in our country is probably the ability of Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill to be friends with one another despite the fact that they stood on totally different ends of the political spectrum. Someone has written, “The power of David’s speech … is characteristic of a great political or military leader who is able to transcend competition or resistance and to acknowledge greatness, even if it happens not to be part of his own party.”
And the final observation is his statement of, if you like, his general disposition. Having acknowledged what has happened in the death of Abner, he says, “And I was gentle today, though anointed king.” And then he goes, “But the sons of Zeruiah, they’re a little too strong for my taste.” This is his point of distinction.
Now, some commentators say that what he’s saying here is “I was weak today,” suggesting that when he didn’t really take care of Joab when he had his outburst, it was a sign of weakness. Well, it’s there to be pondered, isn’t it? I think it’s better to see his statement as an expression of strength, if you like, under control—the strength that is necessary to prevent oneself from taking judgment into one’s own hands, expressing judgment, or doling out retribution, or making much of our own authority. Actually, he gives us a little sight of Jesus, insofar as he is committing, if you like, his cause to the one who judges justly. He’s committing vengeance into the hands of God.
Now, let me finish by suggesting to us that Joab actually stands as a warning to each of us—a warning to each of us when we’re tempted to engage in the King’s business in a manner that is incompatible with our gentle, humble King. Oh, it must have been a good feeling to stick that dagger right in the gut of the guy who had killed his brother! He must have come away from that and said, “That took care of it. If there’s any question about David being on the throne, I took care of it today.” You don’t advance the kingdom of God in such a fashion. And therefore, the warning remains.
It’s not uncommon, is it? So many of us, when we view the scene in the garden of Gethsemane, have to acknowledge that if we had been present, we would have cheered when Simon Peter pulled out his sword: “Hey, that’s it! Take him out, Peter! That’s it! We don’t want Jesus dying! We don’t want anything to be like that. We want it to be triumph. We want it to be the destruction of the Romans. We want it to be our place in our way with our stuff, all put together nicely. Good job, Simon!” And what did Jesus say? “Put it back in your sheath, Simon. And by the way, let me put this guy’s ear back on while I’m at it.” You can read it for homework in John 18.
Now, with that said, it is quite wonderful, isn’t it, to be able to go and to listen to the words of Peter when he then writes—the same Peter, Peter “the sword” Peter, the Peter the “You can count on me” Peter, the “I’ve got you covered, Jesus. These fellows may go down, but, you know, I’m your man. You can look for me.” That same Peter, when he writes in his letter: “Beloved, [loved ones,] I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” Really? Yeah! “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution…” “Don’t be taking your sword out and trying to chop people’s ears off the way I did it.” (That’s not in the text, I’m just filling in.) “… whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good”—or who ask you to wear a mask! “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” That’s Peter.
Isn’t that wonderful? Isn’t it wonderful that Jesus put Peter all back together again? I mean, what a deal that must have been when Peter comes on that scene and Jesus is making the breakfast. Jesus is making the breakfast! Peter said, “Goodness, I wouldn’t even help with washing the feet.” And so he says to him, “You know, Peter, we should just have a walk and talk. Do you love me?” “Yeah.” Three times, remember? Giving him the opportunity to flip the thing. Three times they said to him… And three times he said, “I don’t know the guy.” And do you remember what he said? “[Now] feed my sheep.”
How gentle is that King? How gentle is Jesus? How unbelievably phenomenal is it that when you and I sit down and survey our lives and view our failings, and our fallings, and our foolishness, and our rebellions, and our lack of trust—and we can go through the whole list—to remind ourselves that just as God in David’s day was at work through imperfect people and in less-than-ideal circumstances, so he’s at work in our day?
And the inference from that and the application of that… The wrong application is to say, “Yeah, well, he uses flawed people, and I’m gonna show everybody how flawed I am.” That’s the wrong approach. No. The flawed conduct that we see in the text and find displayed in our lives is not there in order to validate or to excuse our foolishness but to remind us of the setting in which the grace of God is so unbelievably palpable for us—to remind us that only by the grace of God does the kingdom of God advance. Because Jesus is the humble King. And most of us aren’t that humble. And therefore, we need to come to him and say, “Oh, lay me down again at your feet. Show me how much you value humility.”
Individually, familially, as a church, we will come out of this. How will we come out of it?
 1 Samuel 25:26 (paraphrased).
 1 Samuel 26:23 (paraphrased).
 1 Samuel 26:8 (paraphrased).
 Acts 11:24 (ESV).
 Charles, Prince of Wales (@ClarenceHouse), “A message from The Prince of Wales on the passing of Rabbi Lord Sacks,” Twitter, November 8, 2020, 5:20 a.m., https://twitter.com/ClarenceHouse/status/1325382692247105537.
 See Ecclesiastes 3:7.
 Walter Brueggemann, First and Second Samuel (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2012), 231.
 See 1 Peter 2:23.
 See John 18:10–11. See also Matthew 26:51–52; Mark 14:47; Luke 22:50–51.
 1 Peter 2:11–17 (ESV).
 See John 21:9–17.
 John 21:17 (ESV).
 Brenton Brown, “Humble King” (2008). Lyrics lightly altered.