2 Samuel 2:12-32
12 Abner son of Ner, together with the men of Ish-Bosheth son of Saul, left Mahanaim and went to Gibeon. 13 Joab son of Zeruiah and David’s men went out and met them at the pool of Gibeon. One group sat down on one side of the pool and one group on the other side. 14 Then Abner said to Joab, “Let’s have some of the young men get up and fight hand to hand in front of us.” “All right, let them do it,” Joab said. 15 So they stood up and were counted off—twelve men for Benjamin and Ish-Bosheth son of Saul, and twelve for David. 16 Then each man grabbed his opponent by the head and thrust his dagger into his opponent’s side, and they fell down together. So that place in Gibeon was called Helkath Hazzurim.[a] 17 The battle that day was very fierce, and Abner and the Israelites were defeated by David’s men. 18 The three sons of Zeruiah were there: Joab, Abishai and Asahel. Now Asahel was as fleet-footed as a wild gazelle. 19 He chased Abner, turning neither to the right nor to the left as he pursued him. 20 Abner looked behind him and asked, “Is that you, Asahel?” “It is,” he answered. 21 Then Abner said to him, “Turn aside to the right or to the left; take on one of the young men and strip him of his weapons.” But Asahel would not stop chasing him. 22 Again Abner warned Asahel, “Stop chasing me! Why should I strike you down? How could I look your brother Joab in the face?” 23 But Asahel refused to give up the pursuit; so Abner thrust the butt of his spear into Asahel’s stomach, and the spear came out through his back. He fell there and died on the spot. And every man stopped when he came to the place where Asahel had fallen and died. 24 But Joab and Abishai pursued Abner, and as the sun was setting, they came to the hill of Ammah, near Giah on the way to the wasteland of Gibeon. 25 Then the men of Benjamin rallied behind Abner. They formed themselves into a group and took their stand on top of a hill. 26 Abner called out to Joab, “Must the sword devour forever? Don’t you realize that this will end in bitterness? How long before you order your men to stop pursuing their fellow Israelites?” 27 Joab answered, “As surely as God lives, if you had not spoken, the men would have continued pursuing them until morning.” 28 So Joab blew the trumpet, and all the troops came to a halt; they no longer pursued Israel, nor did they fight anymore. 29 All that night Abner and his men marched through the Arabah. They crossed the Jordan, continued through the morning hours[b] and came to Mahanaim. 30 Then Joab stopped pursuing Abner and assembled the whole army. Besides Asahel, nineteen of David’s men were found missing. 31 But David’s men had killed three hundred and sixty Benjamites who were with Abner. 32 They took Asahel and buried him in his father’s tomb at Bethlehem. Then Joab and his men marched all night and arrived at Hebron by daybreak.
This is a great story: two kings; two generals driven by ambiguous motives (maybe noble duty or perhaps personal ambition or ambitions for their families – both were blood relatives of their kings); a civil war to establish one of their kingdoms; duelling champions; ferocious battles; death and (spoiler alert) revenge. Even the participants can see how tragic and futile it is. “Must the sword devour forever? Don’t you realize that this will end in bitterness?” (v26).
Like a lot of passages in the Old Testament, it says a lot about what people do and say without telling us what God thinks. It’s easy to fall into thinking that must have been God’s will. People in Jesus’ time thought God would send his Messiah as a warrior to overthrow his enemies by force and impose his kingdom over all nations. What we see is the exact opposite.
Jesus is such a contrast. God’s unambiguous motive is love (John 3:16). Jesus doesn’t come to his people as a general at the head of an army. He comes as a helpless baby in the middle of the filth of a stable. Jesus humbles himself and becomes one of us (Philippians 2:6-8). Rather than bringing death to his enemies, he dies a humiliating death in their (our) place. His battle is not against his enemies but for them (us). His purpose: “to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1:19–20).
And he gives us a part to play. “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:18–20).
Lord, may your kingdom come today – in my heart and in my acts and words of reconciliation, especially to those who still reject you.
Written by David Cornell