What kind of image does your mind conjure up when you hear the word peace? Do you see, and feel, tranquility? Do you think it’s a state of being calm in the midst of chaos, or living without any chaos in your life at all? Do you think it means living happily ever after with everyone in the world? Just doing your own thing, living on your own terms, going your own way, and blazing your own path?
This week at Broken Hearts, Redeemed, we’re returning to our study of peace, specifically shalom type of peace, a state of rest, peace, prosperity.
Our studies before the summer hiatus taught us much about peace: it’s sometimes imparted to us by others; it often involves dealing with and putting water on fiery relationships; often it means putting others’ interests ahead of our own, or turning and walking away from a fight; giving instead of receiving; keeping our mouths zipped shut rather than retorting; and trusting God implicitly in situations where we feel we’ve been slighted, knowing He’s telling us to walk away.
Sometimes it means being shrewd and watching your back, and today’s passage reinforces that teaching. We need to remember that when one person blesses us with shalom, and tells us “everything is okay,” another person involved in the situation—one holding a grudge and looking for an opportunity to exact vengeance—may actually set out to undo, or even kill you. Sometimes peace means being as cunning as a serpent while being harmless as a dove.
The Scripture passage(s) we’re exploring today are found in 2 Samuel, Chapters 2 and 3. Once again I will set the stage for you.
David is gaining in strength and moving toward solidifying support and finally taking over the thrown from Saul’s family, which is becoming weaker. Saul and his son Jonathan (David’s best friend) have been killed in battle, and another of Saul’s sons ascends to the thrown. A guy named Abner is the commander of Saul’s army and still supports Saul’s family, even though David has recently been anointed as king over Judah.
Abner actually selects Saul's son and makes him king after Saul’s death. For two years, Saul's son reigns over Israel, and David is considered king over Judah. But that’s all about to change.
One day Abner gathers together Saul’s son’s military supporters and meets Joab, David’s military leader, and David’s supporters. They sit down on either side of a pool in Gibeon (called the pool of Gibeon) and stare at each other. Then Abner suggests that his young men and Joab’s young men arise and compete before them.
Bad idea, because it starts a royal war between them, which Abner and the men of Israel lose. After the loss, Abner takes off running. And Joab’s brother, Asahel, takes off after him, full of determination and ambition to bring Abner down and retrieve Abner’s armor as the great military trophy.
As fleet of foot that Asahel is, Abner cannot be overtaken. Twice Abner gives Asahel an opportunity to save face—and save his life—by suggesting that Asahel turn aside from trying to kill him to get the coveted armor trophy, and, instead, take the armor of one of Abner’s young warriors. Asahel won’t do it. Wrong choice. Abner, who is obviously by far the stronger and smarter warrior, stops running, turns around, and plunges his spear blunt end first into, and through, Asahel’s stomach and body. Asahel dies on the spot.
From my reading, this looks like a case of self-defense in battle. Twice Abner had given Asahel a way out of what was sure to be a losing proposition for him. It almost sounds as though Abner doesn’t want to kill Asahel, maybe due to his respect for Joab as the general of the opposing army. Maybe he just doesn’t want another young warrior to die and has decided that there’s been enough bloodshed. Who knows what he was thinking. The text doesn’t say.
And Joab and another one of his brothers pursue Abner, who Abner eventually calls for a truce between Israel and Judah. Joab takes him up on the suggestions, so they separate. But it becomes clear later that Joab does not trust Abner and harbors hate in his heart toward his brother’s killer. (Not murderer. The killing happened in war, and it happened not premeditatedly, but in self-defense.)
Through a turn of events (really the result of Abner’s bad behavior, pride and arrogance, and inability to humble himself under correction), Abner changes his allegiances and joins forces with David. David—without Joab’s knowledge or support—accepts Abner’s declaration of support and sends him away in shalom, after Abner first performs David’s request to prove his allegiance. So Abner departs from David thinking everything is peachy and peaceful. David has, after all, given him his blessing. It seems to be enough for Abner.
But when Joab hears about it, he confronts David and tells David that Abner has deceived him. Joab claims that the only reason Abner showed up declaring his allegiance was to actually spy on David.
In a nutshell: Joab has not forgotten about Abner killing his brother. And he won’t. Although the text doesn’t say this either, I can imagine that one successful, faithful commanding general (Joab) loathes the idea of another strong general (Abner) hoarding in on his military territory. Joab may also be a little possessive of David and David’s trust, friendship, and confidence. At this point, Joab seems to decide to take matters into his own hands.
Abner has gone to Hebron, a City of Refuge. That’s a smart place to go, because a city of refuge was a place that a person who committed manslaughter could flee to for protection or asylum. If you could make it to a City of Refuge, then you were under the protection of that city. If you left its city gates, blood vengeance taken by the offended party was allowed by law.
Angry Joab heads off to Hebron, and when he gets there, he calls Abner to meet him outside the gate for a commander-to-commander chat. Abner obviously doesn’t think anything’s up, because he meets Joab outside the gate, where Joab kills him in retribution for the death of his brother Asahel.
When word gets back to David, he makes sure everyone knows that it’s not because of him, or because of his decree, that Abner has been killed. He also pronounces a judgment on Joab and his family, and seeks God’s vengeance upon Joab for doing such a thing. Then he makes Joab and all of the people mourn for Abner.
And then David says a strange thing. He says, “Should Abner die as a fool dies?”
Why did he say that? Because Abner had been safe in the city. If he had stayed there, he would remain protected, and alive. Abner never should have left the city gates. He should have told Joab to come inside the city to talk to him.
Abner might have made a dangerous assumption: That David’s declaration and blessing of shalom meant that others would acknowledge that shalom, and keep it with him, too. But maybe Abner just foolishly let his guard down and trusted too much. He wasn’t as shrewd as a serpent.
He had the promise from David that between the two of them there would be shalom. He had protection in the City of Refuge. He threw it all away, and forfeited his life, when he left that refuge.
David publicly pronounced that Abner died like a fool.
How very sad.
Points to Ponder
1. As we’ve learned before in our studies, we must not assume that a declaration and treaty of peace between you and another person automatically extends to the other person’s family, friends, confidants, or supporters. They may resent that newly formed peace. They may feel threatened by it and plot retaliation against you. They may harbor hate in their heart for you. So when a declaration of peace is made between you and someone else, consider it a peace treaty only between you and that other person, not everyone on the periphery.
2. In going to Hebron, a City of Refuge, Abner made the right, wise decision. While it may have seemed like he had lost some of his freedom, he was safe and protected there, indefinitely. And he foolishly threw it away and paid the ultimate price for leaving its sanctuary.
Paul, in his epistle to the Ephesian church, repeatedly warns those believers to stand firm and put on their spiritual armor. Something we should all do daily. Doing that means we should always have an attitude of being prepared for battle. Of always being shrewd, and harmless, as Jesus instructed. Abner lost his shrewdness, something he obviously had possessed as a commander. We don’t often think of being shrewd, putting on our armor, and standing firm as recipes for having shalom, but they are. When someone you’re not sure about, or someone you used to call an enemy asks you to come out from your safe haven to chat with him, remember Abner. Make that person meet with you in a safe place, with another person. Be shrewd. Stand firm.
What, or Who, is your Hebron? As a Christian, it is the Lord Jesus Christ. He is your City of Refuge. He is your protection. In Him alone you have, and enjoy, perfect shalom. Hang onto Him, and you’ll hang onto Peace. Don’t foolishly wander outside the protection of the city, past the gates, into the world, that lies in wait to destroy you. Don’t let temptation draw you out and into. Stand firm, and rest peacefully in Him.
Until next Monday, may your week be full of blessings that you receive and give, your heart be full of joy and thankfulness, and your days be filled with laughter. Build a little heaven in your life right now, and watch your heavenly garden grow!
When the eyes of the soul looking out meet the eyes of God looking in, heaven has begun right here on earth. ~ A. W. Tozer