The flow of 2 Samuel 3 is dramatic. After the author described the gravity of the initial situation between the house of David and the house of Saul, there was a ray of hope for unity when Abner stated a desire to transfer Israel to David’s reign. But in the end, Joab’s revenge over the murder of Asahel his brother caused David further woe—and delayed his rule over a united kingdom.
The author wasted no words in describing the situation in Israel. He wrote, “The war between the house of Saul and the house of David was long and drawn out, with David growing stronger and the house of Saul becoming weaker” (2 Sam 3:1). During the war, Abner grew stronger, making Ish-bosheth, the king of Israel, a puppet for Abner’s wishes (2 Sam 3:1-6). When the king accused Abner of immorality, the latter snapped. Abner swore allegiance to David and initiated a plan to hand Saul’s territory over to David (2 Sam 3:9-10). David responded favorably to Abner’s request for peace, desiring only that Michal, Saul’s daughter and his first wife, be returned to him (2 Sam 3:13-16). Abner, showing the sincerity of his heart, labored for a diplomatic transfer of power to David, meeting face-to-face with Israel’s leaders and David himself (2 Sam 3:17-21). All seemed well.
But with the mention of Joab, the tone of the text immediately becomes abrasive. When Joab heard of the king’s covenant with Abner he was livid, saying, “What have you done? Look here, Abner came to you. Why did you dismiss him? Now he’s getting away” (2 Sam 3:24). Straightaway, Joab, without David’s knowledge, instigated a ruse to eliminate the threat posed by Abner. He sent messengers to bring Abner back to Hebron (2 Sam 3:26). Joab pulled Abner aside “as if to speak to him privately, and there Joab stabbed him in the stomach” (2 Sam 3:27). Joab’s assassination of Abner was more personal vengeance than political calculation.
David replied to Joab’s aggression by prophesying, “May the house of Joab never be without someone who has an infection or leprosy or a man who can only work a spindle or someone who falls by the sword or starves” (2 Sam 3:29). This attitude would characterize David’s reign. In Ps 25:3, David wrote, “Not one person who waits for You will be disgraced; those who act treacherously without cause will be disgraced,” and in Ps 55:23, “You, God, will bring them down to the pit of destruction; men of bloodshed and treachery will not live out half their days.” David “ordered Joab and all the people who were with him” to mourn over the death of Abner (2 Sam 3:31). David’s lament in Ps 120:6-7, “I have lived too long with those who hate peace. I am for peace; but when I speak, they are for war,” illustrates his demeanor upon the death of Abner.
In 2 Samuel 3, David was concerned for all to know that he had nothing to do with the assassination of Abner. As the newly anointed king of Judah, David did all that he could to unify the north and the south, establishing his rule over all of the descendants of Jacob. David worked to establish peace in Israel, exemplifying what Jesus would teach in the Sermon on the Mount when He said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, because they will be called sons of God” (Matt 5:9). Nevertheless, David’s early rule also has points of contrast with that of Jesus, a contrast formative in the storyline of Scripture. David was set on unifying the territories of Judah and Israel; Jesus recognized that His very presence would bring division. When Jesus sent the twelve to preach the good news of His kingdom, He told them that He did not come to bring peace but division. He said that those who wished to follow Him might even be opposed by members of their own family, requiring that disciples have a greater commitment to Him than any relationship or personal pursuit. (Matt 10:34-38//Luke 12:51-53).