Good morning! Today we will conclude the message we began last Sunday about Israel’s bitter civil war. It began following the Philistines’ victory at the battle of Jezreel in which King Saul and 3 of his sons were killed. In the wake of his defeat, Israel’s military commander Abner installed Saul’s only surviving son Ish-bosheth as the new king. However, around this same time David returned to his homeland after a lengthy absence and was anointed king in Judah. Thus the nation was divided between 2 leaders and the tension led to hostility.
The Battle of Gibeon was the first of several during this long civil war, but it is the only conflict specifically described in the Bible. In it, David’s forces (led by Joab) prevailed over Israel while suffering relatively few casualties. Notably, Abner personally killed Joab’s brother Asahel with the butt of his spear as the Israelites were withdrawing in retreat. Both sides agreed to a truce, but the peace was short-lived.
During the months that followed the combat resumed. Over time the house of David grew stronger while the house of Ish-bosheth declined. In other words, Judah was clearly winning the war. It was in these years, while David was ruling over Judah from the city of Hebron, that he had several of his sons - including Amnon and Absalom (who we will learn more about later in this series). The minor threat posed by Ish-bosheth, Abner, and the armies of Israel did not prevent David from starting his family.
The sequence of events that we will discuss in this morning’s message led to the natural ending of Israel’s civil war. Key deaths resulted in a cessation of hostilities as both sides eventually came to a mutual understanding and recognition of David as the legitimate king.
I. ABNER COMMITS TREASON (2 Samuel 3:8-21)
Though Ish-bosheth was technically the king, Abner was the man calling the shots in Israel. Perhaps feeling threatened, Ish-bosheth foolishly accused Abner of sleeping with one of his father’s concubine. Abner became furious with the weak, sniveling king and decided to pledge his allegiance to David instead. Abner’s decision was probably also motivated by a realization that Judah was going to win the ongoing civil war and that he, as the losing general, would likely suffer some consequences as a result. Ish-bosheth cowered when confronted by Abner.
Abner sent messengers to Judah stating that he was willing to betray Ish-bosheth and could deliver Israel over to David. David agreed to accept Abner’s assistance on the condition that Israel would return Michal to him. Several years earlier, long before his death, King Saul had begrudgingly given his younger daughter Michal to David in marriage. Apparently, the jealous king had taken her back at some point and given her to another man in marriage. Abner consented to David’s request, and compelled Ish-bosheth into return Michal to him - seemingly against her will. Michal’s current husband was brokenhearted.
Abner then met with the elders of Israel and those of the tribe of Benjamin and convinced them to reject Ish-bosheth as king and to join him in siding with David. Afterwards Abner traveled to Hebron and met with David personally. While there, the 2 men made a covenant to bring the war to an end and to make David king over all of Israel. When they finished talking, David sent Abner back home in peace. Abner had become a traitor against Israel.
II. JOAB KILLS ABNER (2 Samuel 3:22-39)
Abner’s meeting with David had taken place while Joab away. When Joab returned to Hebron from the battlefield, he learned about what had transpired in his absence. Having fought against Abner in the past on multiple occasions, Joab was extremely skeptical. Therefore, Joab approached King David and told him that Abner was untrustworthy and conniving. Joab was clearly upset that David had spoken with Abner.
So, unbeknownst to David, Joab sent messengers to Abner asking that he return to Hebron. When Abner arrived back at the city, Joab took him aside privately as if to speak to him. When they were alone Joab killed Abner by striking him in the belly. In so doing, Joab avenged his brother Asahel’s death. When David heard what had happened, he pronounced a curse on Joab and his house.
David then proceeded to mourn the death of his former adversary Abner. This was no surprise considering that he’d also mourned the death of his greatest nemesis King Saul not long before. Though David was a valiant warrior, he took no delight in the death of his enemies and frequently took time to grieve after their demise. That said, David recognized that Joab and his brothers did not share the same sentiment. He described them as hard men who lacked compassion, a characteristic that made them formidable military leaders.
III. ISH-BOSHETH IS ASSASSINATED (2 Samuel 4:1-12)
Ish-bosheth was now a king without a kingdom. His strong military leader Abner had betrayed him and subsequently been murdered by then vengeful Joab. The people of Israel had abandoned him in favor of David. Even Ish-bosheth’s own royal servants wanted him gone. Baanah and Rechab - 2 of Ish-bosheth’s prominent commanders - plotted and conspired against him. One day while the king was napping, they snuck into his house and assassinated him in cold blood.
Baanah and Rechab then cut Ish-bosheth’s head off and took it to David. They expected David to be pleased that Ish-bosheth was dead. Apparently they did not know that David had slain an Amalekite messenger under similar circumstances when he’d brought news of Saul’s death. When these guys told David what they’d done, he was not happy at all. Instead, he ordered that both Baanah and Rechab be executed for their crime. Later he honored his fallen enemies by taking Ish-bosheth’s severed head and burying it along with Abner’s body in a grave at Hebron.
The civil war had effectively ended. There was no one left to fight against David and the men of Judah. The people of Israel had come to accept him as their legitimate king. As such, peace was established between both sides and they were again united as a single nation.
One of the principles that is repeated several times in the Bible is called “The Law of Reaping and Sowing”. This is a fairly simple concept to understand. If a farmer sows wheat, at harvest time he will reap wheat. The wheat seeds that he planted will not grow up to produce oats or some other type of grain. The farmer can expect to get back that which he put in. So also, those who sow evil and corruption should expect to receive evil and corruption.
Abner was a dishonest, treasonous man whose only real concern was his own well-being. He first sought to wield power over Israel as the defacto king. When he saw the writing on the wall, Abner turned his back on Ish-bosheth in an attempt to save himself. His nefarious behavior eventually led to his death. He got what was coming to him… he reaped what he sowed.
Ish-bosheth was never the rightful king of Israel. He was a weak and spineless man who could not even stand up to his own servants. He repeatedly allowed himself to be manipulated through fear and intimidation. He chose to become an enemy of God by siding against David. Ultimately Ish-bosheth was killed by his own people. He too reaped what he sowed.
Sometimes the ends do not justify the means. Though they rightly believed that Ish-bosheth’s demise would lead to peace, Baanah and Rechab sinned by committing murder. What they thought would be pleasing to David clearly wasn’t. They killed Ish-bosheth without having a just cause, and as a result they themselves were executed. The punishment rendered fit the crime. These men also reaped what they sowed.
The moral of today’s sermon is simple… if you live a life full of rebellion against God, sinfulness, bitterness, anger, and evil you can expect to receive judgment and condemnation - if not in this life certainly in the next. If, however, you turn to Christ in repentance the LORD will enable you to live a life of love, kindness, goodness, joy, peace, and grace. Those who practice such things can expect to receive the richness of God’s blessings for all of eternity!