The war between the house of Saul and the house of David lasted a long time.
David grew stronger and stronger,while the house of Saul grew weaker and weaker.
1. Read verses 1-5. How long does the war between the house of Saul and the house of David last? (1a) What happens to David and to the house of the Saul? (1b) How many sons were born to David when he was in Hebron? (2-5)
2. Read verses 6-11. What has Abner been doing in the house of Saul? (6) What does Ish-Bosheth say to Abner? (7) How does Abner respond to Ish-Bosheth? (8) What does Abner decide to do regarding the kingdom of Israel? (9-10) How does Ish-Bosheth react to Abner’s outburst? (11)
3. Read verses 12-19a. What does Abner send his messengers to tell David? (12) What does David demand from Abner as a condition to their agreement? (13,14) What does Ish-Bosheth do regarding David’s demand? (15,16) How does Abner confer with the elders of Israel and the Benjamites? (17-19a)
4. Read verses 19b-21. What then does Abner do? (19b-20a) What does David do for Abner and his men? (20b)What does Abner say to David? (21a) How does David respond to Abner’s suggestion? (21b)
Key Verse 18 “Now do it! For the LORD promised David, ‘By my servant David I will rescue my people Israel from the hand of the Philistines and from the hand of all their enemies.’”
Avocado trees do well in California. Have you ever heard of Avadado trees doing well in Alaska? Like the tree, it is important for us to know the right place where our Lord and King, Jesus wants us to be. Otherwise we will have a hard time bearing fruit. Today’s passage shows that an able man, Abner was loyal to his cousin Saul and his family. But contrary to his own expectation, nothing works despite all his efforts. So he concluded that he better go to where God wants him to be. Let’s pray that we may apply this passage about how to serve God wisely.
In 2:31, besides Asahel, Joab lost 19 soldiers while Abner lost 360 men. The 18:1 ratio in favor of David shows the terrible cost of Abner’s defeat though Abner took the initiative to fight. Because David had God’s approval on his side, he was victorious. Look at v1. “The war between the house of Saul and the house of David lasted a long time. David grew stronger and stronger, while the house of Saul grew weaker and weaker.” The war between them continued a long time. But Ishbosheth was no match for David’s strength. The outcome of the war is clear. David grew stronger and stronger against the entire house of Saul. Though God is invisible, He’s strengthening David and fulfilling his will. Since David was anointed, the Spirit of the LORD had departed from Saul. From that time on David was the rising sun while sun was setting on the house of Saul.
Look at v 2-5. During his reign in Hebron, David began to build a substantial family which symbolized his power as king. Six sons were born to him. They were a blessing for him. However, they were not from one wife but from six wives. I believe that this was his own weakness. Deut17:17a clearly teaches, “He must not take many wives...” Having multiple wives could have been the cause of many problems down the road as their sons created many major problems.
Look at v 6. “During the war between the house of Saul and the house of David, Abner had been strengthening his own position in the house of Saul.” Abner’s responsibilities were considerably increased after the death of Saul and Jonathan at the Battle of Mount Gilboah. As you see a map, the Philistines were superior in strength and expanded eastward. Indeed, the political stability of the northern tribes depended on his authority as commander of the army during those troubled years. Saul’s heir, Ishbosheth, could only occupy the throne with Abner’s help. Abner was a loyal man, principled and innocent of personal ambition for he didn’t make himself king which would be easy for such a man in his position.
One day Ish-Bosheth asked Abner in v 7, “Why did you sleep with my father’s concubine?” We don’t know if he was guilty or not because the Bible doesn’t confirm it. But the obvious thing is that it sparked a change in Abner. Look at v 8-10. “Abner was very angry because of what Ish-Bosheth said. So he answered, “Am I a dog’s head—on Judah’s side? This very day I am loyal to the house of your father Saul and to his family and friends. I haven’t handed you over to David. Yet now you accuse me of an offense involving this woman! 9 May God deal with Abner, be it ever so severely, if I do not do for David what the LORD promised him on oath 10 and transfer the kingdom from the house of Saul and establish David’s throne over Israel and Judah from Dan to Beersheba.” What was Abner’s basis to transfer Saul’s kingdom to David? He must have known about what God had been doing for David during the previous two decades since David had killed Goliath. 1Sam 15:28 says, “Samuel said to him, ‘The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors-- to one better than you.’” Once this prophecy was made known, I think that Abner should have known better than to continue serving Saul’s family, yet he had remained loyal to the house of Saul. At this point he found the reason why he should transfer the kingdom to David. In this way although he was a king maker for Saul’s family, he couldn’t deny God’s sovereign will. It was the will of God to set David as the king of both Judah and Israel from Dan to Beersheba. Now he speaks out by quoting the Bible for his cause. He was right in doing this. He was siding with God at this time. So Abner vowed that he would become God’s instrument in bringing about what God promised to David. He found the clear reason to transfer the power to David peacefully. Ish-Bosheth did not dare say a word to Abner.
Look at v 12. “Then Abner sent messengers on his behalf to say to David, “Whose land is it? Make an agreement with me, and I will help you bring all Israel over to you.” It appears that this transfer plan was the work of Abner himself. But from the spiritual point of view, it is clear that God is working to fulfill His sovereign will to deliver the rebellious northern tribes into David’s hand. Let’s look at v13-15. David accepted Abner’s proposal on one condition: that he bring David’s wife Michal, Saul’s daughter with him when he comes to meet David in Hebron. Did David want to add one more wife to have the lucky number 7? What might David’s motives be in having Michal brought to him? 1st, possibly if Abner agrees to bring her, this will show that he has turned his back on Saul’s house and has accepted David as king. Here it seems David tested Abner’s genuine intentions.In bringing Michal, Abner passed this test. 2nd, David may have wanted to show all Israelites that he had the right to claim Saul’s throne by taking Michal back again to be his wife. Unfortunately the current husband was troubled. (16) Abner said to him “Go back home”
Look at v17, 18. “Abner conferred with the elders of Israel and said, “For some time you have wanted to make David your king. 18 Now do it! For the LORD promised David, ‘By my servant David I will rescue my people Israel from the hand of the Philistines and from the hand of all their enemies.’” Abner’s intention to transfer the kingdom to David was very sincere. He did not act alone like a dictator. He shared his plan with the elders of Israel and asked their support. He made environment for reunification of the kingdom of Israel. His counsel to the elders was straightforward: time has come, and there is no reason to delay any longer in making David king over all Israel. Abner paid special attention to the Benjamites who were Saul’s kinsmen (19). The Benjamites decided to side with king David despite the personal attachment to the house of Saul they may have had.
Look at v 20. Abner arrived in Hebron with twenty of his best men. Now, David prepared a feast for Abner, his longtime enemy. Rather than seeing Abner this way, he welcomed him with open arms. Indeed, David was a good shepherd for the people of Israel. It is like the Father who was waiting for a prodigal son. David wanted to welcome all Israel under his kingship. It seems to me that David forgave Abner’s sin of delaying the unification of the kingdom by setting Ishbosheth the puppet king in Israel.
David’s hospitality won Abner’s heart. Abner must have been moved.I think he must have been reminded of how fruitless it had been serving the house of Saul and how his life might have been different if he had sided with David earlier. We can observe further about his willing heart in v 21. “Then Abner said to David, “Let me go at once and assemble all Israel for my lord the king, so that they may make a covenant with you, and that you may rule over all that your heart desires.’” Abner did not want to delay his mission any longer but wanted to go back to Mahanaim immediately and assemble all Israel so that David may make a compact with all Israel. Abner wanted to pave the way to the rule of David as soon as possible. He is now like Abraham’s servant who wants to take Rebekah back to be his master’s daughter in law without delay. Gen 24:56 reads, “But he said to them, ‘Do not detain me, now that the LORD has granted success to my journey. Send me on my way so I may go to my master.’” Similarly, Abner put his mission above several days of feasting and celebration. With his offer to bring all Israel into a covenant relationship with David, Abner’s defection to David’s camp was complete. This was the groundwork that would unify all the Israelites. In this way God fulfilled his word of promise in and though David without fail. Now David sent Abner away, and he went in peace. (21) “Abner went in peace” implies that David had intended for Abner have a safe return. Here we can see that the unification of Israel was accomplished through God’s plan to change the heart of one man.
Abner’s story here reminds me of one person named Robert E. Lee who remains as icon of American military leadership. Although he personally opposed slavery, he was a citizen of Virginia like a Benzamite, which was the southern state at the time of the American civil war. Because of his military reputation, he was asked to lead the Confederate Army. After suffering heavy casualties in the battle of Gettysburg, he knew that the war was inevitably over. Though some of his former Confederate soldiers asked him to fight in the hills continually as a guerrilla leader, he pointed out, "This war, being at an end, the Southern States having laid down their arms, and the questions at issue between them and the Northern States having been decided, I believe it to be the duty of everyone to unite in the restoration of the country and the re establishment of peace and harmony." He appealed to reason and helped to build a stronger nation, the Unites States through his sincere effort to reconcile like Abner. He was forgiven by Pres. Abraham Lincoln and he returned to his family in peace in 1865.
I believe this passage is a powerful illustration of Jesus’ lordship in each person. He is in fact the King of Kings of the Lord of Lords. But He chooses to exercise His sovereignty only at our invitation without violating our freewill. David whose heart was after God’s own waited long time by faith. I also believe Abner is also a good example of those who know things to be true for a long time but they don’t live as if they were true. However gradually he concluded that he could not do nothing apart from the Lord. For a long time Abner had a hard time turning himself to the God’s anointed king. Meanwhile God who is faithful is working. At God’s time thankfully he surrendered himself to him. Thus Abner is also a good example of someone who eventually surrendered to God and his anointed servant. His anointed servant is David at this passage. But he is a foreshadowing of our Lord Jesus Christ. Colo 1:15-18 read, “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.” Sometimes our Bible students say that they want to obey God but not right now. They find reasons to go to other places & continue their old lives. However, it’s not a matter of where they are or their circumstances. It’s a matter of heart. Today Abner’s heart was moved when he came to David just as our own hearts are moved when we come to God.
Let’s read again v. 17-18, “Abner conferred with the elders of Israel and said, “For some time you have wanted to make David your king. 18 Now do it! For the LORD promised David, ‘By my servant David I will rescue my people Israel from the hand of the Philistines and from the hand of all their enemies.’” He also influenced others to surrender themselves to God’s anointed king. Because of the word the Lord spoke of David, and because it’s the right thing to do, this was something that should be done now instead of delaying. It is very much like our commitment to follow Jesus. “Now do it!” The same principle of Israel’s embrace of David as king applies to our personal relationship with Jesus. The Israelites may have talked about making him king, but that would not give him the crown. It might be generally admitted that he ought to be their ruler, but even that wouldn’t make it happen. In order for this change to come about, something had to be done. At this point Abner felt the sooner the better. Until the deed is done, it is undone.
Similarly, people may often talk about Jesus and consider him to be a good thing in their lives, and many may agree that he should and will be King in heaven. However, until Christ is accepted as our personal king and we come to hate sin and Jesus is trusted, a person is ruled by sin and loyal to another king as an idol worshiper. At this point I am reminded of 1 Kings 18:21, “Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” Elijah placed a clear choice before the people to let them make a decision to follow God wholeheartedly without delay. Elijah was the only one speaking this message against 400 false prophets. The people in his time were subject to the same choice Abner had to make, and we are as well in choosing which king we wish to serve.
As Bible teachers for young people, we wait for our children and Bible students to accept Jesus as their true king and Lord personally. Although our children have been raised and educated in a biblical environment, they may prefer at some point to spend a lot of time with their worldly friends rather than seeking God in person.At some point they must make a decision of who to follow. As parents and bible teachers we can help them make the right choice by serving them with the word of God and making our own decision of faith and welcoming them like King David welcomed Abner when they met in this passage.
This passage also helps me a lot. My weakness is impatience. I learned from David and his patience as he waited for Abner to come to his side. Surely like him I am in the winning side to win souls. God wants me to trust in His words of promise to the end and keep my faith. Surely God’s time comes according to his promise. Today, Abner chose to go to David’s side because he learned that apart from God, he can not do nothing. I should choose the same thing and remain on Jesus’ winning side.I can do this by teaching the word of God. In revelation 19:13b, “Jesus’ name is the Word of God.” Romans 1:16a says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes..” Here power is ‘Dunamis’ in Greek, which means a dynamite. By God’s grace when Abner came to the core desire of God, he committed himself according to the Word of promise. I should have God’s vision in serving students. It’s to serve one person at a time until they may know the Word of God and turn to their true master Jesus. In this way when we serve the word of God through studying the Bible with students, we will bear fruit in God’s time as Jesus had promised. It’s a matter of time, patience and faithfulness before Jesus. May the Lord help us to continue serving young people with His truthful words and welcome them with open arms as David welcomed Abner.
In closing, Abner said, “Now do it!” by God’s grace we have the choice to accept Jesus as our master and true king.We can serve him with our whole hearts. In this way America may be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. One word: Now do it!