2 Samuel 3:22–39: Joab Murders Abner
In the passage from 2:1–3:5 we saw a battle in which Abner killed one of Joab’s brothers, Asahel. Then, in the last passage, Abner decided to come over to David’s side and help David gain the rest of his kingdom. But in this passage we find out that Joab wasn’t there when Abner—his enemy, because of the death of Asahel—came to talk to David.
It starts with Joab coming back with the army from a raid and finding out that Abener had just been there—and left in peace! Joab is not happy about that:
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.” (verses 24–25)
The passage doesn’t mention what, if any, response David gave to Joab about this, but it does tell us that, without David’s knowledge, Joab tricks Abner into coming back to talk to him, gets him alone, and then kills him, to avenge his brother Asahel’s death.
For his part, David decries Abner’s death:
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.” (verses 28–29)
However… despite putting a “curse” on Joab’s family, David doesn’t punish Joab in any way, and Joab remains the head of David’s army.
Well… he does command Joab (and the rest of his people) to tear their clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes (a sign of mourning), and walk before Abner’s funeral bier, which Joab might consider to be a punishment. David himself walks behind the bier, and then weeps at Abner’s tomb when he’s laid to rest. David then sings a lament for Abner, and when his people try to get him to eat he refuses until at least sundown.
I’m not going to say that David was putting on a show, but I will say that people are observing his actions:
All the people took note and were pleased; indeed, everything the king did pleased them. So on that day all the people there and all Israel knew that the king had no part in the murder of Abner son of Ner. (verses 36–37)
However, all is not well in David’s camp right now: he seems to be afraid of Joab and his brother Abishai:
Then the king said to his men, “Do you not realize that a commander and a great man has fallen in Israel this day? And today, though I am the anointed king, I am weak, and these sons of Zeruiah are too strong for me. May the LORD repay the evildoer according to his evil deeds!” (verses 38–39)
I didn’t mention it before1 when I mentioned Joab and his brothers, but the text refers to them as “the sons of Zeruiah,” so the ones who are two weak for David are Joab and his brother Abishai.
The previous passage had mentioned how powerful Abner was getting in the house of Ish-Bosheth, but we haven’t heard much about how powerful Joab is getting in the house of David, which obviously is. He clearly goes against David’s wishes here, killing David’s new ally, yet David doesn’t hand down any punishment to him. (There is the curse, but Joab remains the head of David’s army.) It’s a long way in the future, but when David is handing over his kingdom to his son Solomon, he’ll instruct Solomon to take care of punishing Joab.
It really feels like David is afraid to proceed without Joab as the head of his army–and/or is afraid of retaliations if he punishes Joab too severely. In a previous passage I called out the seeming weakness of Ish-Bosheth, but David seems very weak in this instance as well.
It’s sometimes difficult to know when it’s important to call out that so-and-so is the son of so-and-so and when it’s not… ↩︎