Abner conferred with the elders of Israel and said, “For some time you have wanted to make David your king. 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 also spoke to the Benjamites in person. Then he went to Hebron to tell David everything that Israel and the whole tribe of Benjamin wanted to do. When Abner, who had twenty men with him, came to David at Hebron, David prepared a feast for him and his men. 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.” So David sent Abner away, and he went in peace. Just then David’s men and Joab returned from a raid and brought with them a great deal of plunder. But Abner was no longer with David in Hebron, because David had sent him away, and he had gone in peace. When Joab and all the soldiers with him arrived, he was told that Abner son of Ner had come to the king and that the king had sent him away and that he had gone in peace. So Joab went to the king and said, “What have you done? Look, Abner came to you. Why did you let him go? Now he is gone! You know Abner son of Ner; he came to deceive you and observe your movements and find out everything you are doing.” Joab then left David and sent messengers after Abner, and they brought him back from the cistern at Sirah. But David did not know it. Now when Abner returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside into an inner chamber, as if to speak with him privately. And there, to avenge the blood of his brother Asahel, Joab stabbed him in the stomach, and he died. Later, when David heard about this, he said, “I and my kingdom are forever innocent before the Lord concerning the blood of Abner son of Ner. May his blood fall on the head of Joab and on his whole family! May Joab’s family never be without someone who has a running sore or leprosy or who leans on a crutch or who falls by the sword or who lacks food.” – 2 Samuel 3:17-28
Recent tragic events in Jerusalem make it clear that reconciliation is as important today as it was during the time of David, Abner, and Joab. Perhaps the place to start is for both sides to ask themselves whether they are faithfully following God.
Abner and the house of Saul have reconciled with David, as have many other of the Israelite tribes in the area. Joab, an ally of David whose brother was killed by Abner (another senseless sacrifice), does not approve of David’s new alliance with Abner. Abner meets with David and then is told to go in peace so that he can build more alliances among the other tribes. He is hanging out at the cistern of Sirah when some of Joab’s men call him back to David’s house, presumably without David’s knowledge.
In a previous post we explored cisterns and the Great Cistern that is God. It seems that Abner has decided to acknowledge God’s role in determining the fate of Israel so perhaps it is appropriate that he is found at the cistern of Sirah. Abner seems to have chosen the path of reconciliation and peace and Joab is unwilling to reconcile. He wants retribution.
Retribution is an interesting word — to my ears it carries more weight than the word revenge. Revenge sounds like a rash act over in minutes, while retribution sounds to me like a methodical and planned payback for a wrong or perceived wrong. What Joab did was methodical and planned payback for Abner killing his brother Asahel. If we accept the moral equivalency of “an eye for an eye” it would seem that Joab is justified in killing Abner. Mohondas Gandhi once said “an eye for an eye and the whole world goes blind”. In order for lasting peace to prevail we must be willing and ready to forgive even those wrongs for which we think we deserve payback.
Jesus shared many teachings about this new way of bringing about peace and forgiveness. He said radical things like you have to love your enemies. David seems to have been attempting this with Abner, Joab not so much. I think the way we are able to forgive is to acknowledge that all wrongs, at their core, are wrongs against God. We may be hurt, or hurt others, by the consequences of these wrongs, but the choice which brought about the wrong is traceable to a rebellion against God’s way of relating to one another. When Abner killed Asahel he sinned against God not Joab, but from Joab’s perspective all he can see is the loss of his brother. It is only when Joab, and all who faithfully follow God, place themselves in the proper posture and perspective toward God that we are able achieve the peace God intends.
Prayer: God help us maintain a posture toward you that allows us to be reconciled with those who we feel we owe retribution.