(Today's passage covers David's anointment over Judah, the civil war between the houses of David and Saul, especially as played out through their generals Abner and Joab.)
Welcome back to Daily Breadcrumbs. I know it's been a while, but we're now ready to pick up where we left off, with Saul dead and David poised to inherit the kingdom. After all, Samuel had anointed him way back in 1 Samuel 16, so it he should have been a shoe-in.
Of course, things are never that simple.
It turns out that Saul had an as-yet-unmentioned son named Ishbosheth, who was about 40 years old at the time of the king's death. So while David gets himself crowned king of Judah, Ishbosheth sets himself up as king over the rest of Israel with Abner as his general. We might remember Abner from 1 Samuel, where he served Saul. (2 Sam. 2:1-11)
Abner goes out with some of his men to negotiate with Joab (one of David's generals), his brothers, and his men. Abner suggests a "friendly" wrestling match between a dozen men of each side, whereupon his dozen stick daggers into the sides of Joab's dozen, thus sparking off a civil war. (2 Sam. 2:12-16)
In the course of the first battle, Joab's brother Asahel pursues Abner, who gently and then not-so-gently tries to dissuade him. When nothing else works, Abner resorts to sticking the butt end of his spear into Asahel's stomach so hard it comes out the other side of his body. (2 Sam. 2:18-23) Joab and his other brother Abishai pursue Abner to Ammah, where the latter joins forces with the Benjaminites, calls for a truce, and surprisingly gets it. Both men go home to their respective kings and there matters lie, at least for a time. (2 Sam. 2:24-32)
But then Ishbosheth does something foolish indeed: he accuses Abner of sleeping with Saul's concubine. Abner goes into a rage. He has been a loyal, devoted member of the Saul family faction; how dare Ishbosheth accuse him? In fact, he's so livid that he decides to be a loyal follower no longer and defects to David's side, bringing with him the elders of Israel, the Benjaminites, and pretty much everyone else who used to be loyal to Ishbosheth. David gladly takes on the highly experienced general, throws a feast, and lets Abner leave in peace. (2 Sam. 3:6-21)
On the surface, it looks like everything's going well for Abner, but that's because we've forgotten about Joab. Joab returns to Hebron, which David has made his interim capital, to find out that Abner had been there and departed. Quickly and secretly, he sends out men to bring Abner back, takes him aside for a private parley, and runs his sword through Abner's stomach, avenging Asahel's death. (2 Sam. 3:22-27)
Now it's David's turn to be livid. He lays all the blame for the murder on Joab and his family, mourns Abner's death, and fasts all day. The people take this as a good sign, that David had nothing to do with Abner's murder, and all become loyal David followers. (2 Sam. 3:28-39) Frankly, it's pretty easy to see why David was upset: Abner wasn't only a great general but a great negotiator, able to use cunning and force whenever either was required to get the job done. He might not have been the most loveable character so far, but he certainly had what it took to play politics at the highest level.