When we read our Bible, we must read it IN CONTEXT. Sometimes we will miss tiny details that make the story have more weight when we lose sight of (or ignore) contextual details. One such passage is 2 Samuel 3.
Abner leaves Ish-Bosheth and decides to finally heed the Lord’s anointing of David. As David declares his intentions to the elders of the tribes of Israel, he says “For some time you have wanted to make David your king. No do it! for the LORD promised David, ‘By my servant David I will rescue my people from the hand of the Philistines and from the hand of all their enemies” (3:17b-18 NIV).
These are the elders that listened to Abner- Saul’s cousin, when he set Ish-Bosheth (Saul’s son) upon the throne of Israel. By placing Ish-Bosheth upon the throne, Abner had made himself an enemy of David (3:1). Keep that “enemy” part in mind then as the story continues.
Abner goes to David and to form a union between all the tribes. He wants to have a feast where a formal covenant is cut (20). No longer was Abner an enemy. Instead, peace had come upon the nation (for a look at the meaning of peace, look at this previous blog post about the meaning of biblical peace).
This context of peace is something the narrator wants in our minds. Abner leaves David “in peace.” This phrase is repeated 3x in 3 verses. The Hebrew has the same 4 words repeated to end verses 21, 22, 23. The narrator David/ the king “Sent him and he walked in an assured safety and harmony” (my translation with a little paraphrase to bring out a fuller meaning of the word ָבְשָׁלֹום be-shalom). The narrator is working to get us to understand that there is a perception on both David and Abner’s behalves that there is peace from all enemies, and that Israel is now whole again.
Now, that is a literary context, evident by the repetition of words in close proximity, as well as the context of what is going on inside of the story. These are details one does not need to know Hebrew or Ancient Near Eastern customs to understand.
Now, remember the story of 2:8-32? If you do not remember it, then read it again. That sets a continued picture of the context.
Now, let’s look at a little bit of historical context that is assumed by the narrator, but is not evident to those of us who are not from that era.
Hebron is a very important biblical city. It appears in over 60 verses in Scripture. Here is a quick bit of background about there
- The first appearance of Hebron is in Genesis 13. Abram settles in Bethel after he receives the call of God in Genesis 12:1-3, but then flees to Egypt during a famine and then returns to Canaan after a fiasco with the Pharoah. When he returns to the Promised Land he sets up his tent and builds another altar- this time in Hebron. He builds his altar and sets up his tent after God repeats his covenant promise to him (13:14-17)
- Hebron is where Sarah- the wife of Abraham, and the mother of the patriarch Isaac was buried.
- Hebron is where the sons of Anak were living when the spies were exploring Canaan after the Exodus (Numbers 13). This report of the giants caused the people to rebel against God’s promise, since only 2 of the 12 spies were faithful in stating that God was able to protect them (Numbers 14).
- Hebron was one of the five kingdoms of the Amorites that formed a united army that marched against the people of Israel when they were conquering Canaan. This battle was supernaturally won for the Israelites when God fights on their behalf (Joshua 10).
- Hebron is a city given to the Levites as an inheritance for being priests. They did not receive land, but instead were given cities (Joshua 21) when the land was divided between the tribes after the conquest of Canaan.
- Hebron is a city of refuge. This is where “anyone who kills a person unintentionally may flee there and find protection from the avenger of blood” (Joshua 20:3).
- It could be argued that Abner unintentionally killed Asahal (2 Samuel 2:23) because he used the butt of his spear and did not directly combat him.
Ok, now, read 2 Samuel 3:23-27 again.
Where did Joab kill Abner?
Wait… he did it where?
In the city of HEBRON!?!?
Joab violated God’s covenant by avenging blood in a city meant for peace and safety. The purpose of a city of refuge was to make peace doable. It was in order for justice to be maintained over the anger based lex taliones and ever present law of escalation. Joab did not trust the LORD God to be just in his vengeance [or lack of it] (Deuteronomy 32:25).
The city gates were an essential part of the city. Not only were these gates the way to flow the influx of people coming or going, but inside of the gates was where commerce and judicial practices occurred [click the hyperlinks to read articles about city gates in ancient Israel].
So Joab, during a time of peace, in a city of refuge, killed the cousin of a former king, in a chamber where justice was supposed to be openly discussed. Not only that, but he did so in opposition to the will of the divinely anointed king.
I am currently preaching through 2 Samuel. As with my series I do on books larger than 8 chapters, I will turn it into a “survey” of the book, where I try to get 8-12 sermons that will hit on the main chapters/ stories of the book. I do this out of the preaching philosophy that great literature is meant to be enjoyed in big ways. Sometimes when we spend too long looking at each detail we will “lose the forest in the trees.” Because of this, I am not going to preach over chapters 3-5. The first week I preached over 2 Sam 1. The second was on 2 Sam 2. January 21st will be on 2 Sam 6 – a chapter that I have always wrestled over whenever I have read it or been taught it in a Sunday School.