Even in the vacuum of leadership created by Saul’s death, I thought it best to wait for the Lord’s timing, and it turned out to be a good thing I did. I was going to need all the help I could get.
A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
I was in Ziklag when I learned of Saul’s death. An Amalekite who had been there at the battle brought me Saul’s crown and said that he had killed the King. According the Amalekite, Saul had been gravely wounded and the Philistines were racing toward him to finish the job and desecrate his body. Saul asked the Amalekite to kill him before the Philistines got there. He did so and then took Saul’s crown and brought it to me thinking I’d reward him. I could tell he was lying and asked why he wasn’t afraid to raise his hand against the Lord’s anointed. He was astonished and before he could answer I ordered one of my men to kill him. The liar was trying to get a reward for stealing a dead king’s crown.
I composed a song to the memory of Saul and Jonathon and sang it aloud as we mourned their deaths. Later I had all the men of Judah learn the song, but first I waited for word from the Lord that I should return to Israel. Even in the vacuum of leadership created by Saul’s death, I thought it best to wait for the Lord’s timing, and it turned out to be a good thing I did. I was going to need all the help I could get.
When He gave us the OK, I took my men to the region of Hebron and we settled in the towns there. The leaders of Judah visited me and anointed me as their King. But Abner, who had been Saul’s commander in chief, anointed Saul’s son Ish-bosheth as King of Israel. For the next seven and 1/2 years the nation had two kings, one for Judah and one for the rest, while intense conflict arose between my men and the men still loyal to Saul, now led by Abner.
One of my commanders was named Joab, and one day his brother Asahel took off after Abner chasing him half was across Israel. Repeatedly Abner pleaded with him to turn back, reminding him that their families were acquainted, but Asahel wouldn’t stop, so finally Abner turned and killed him to prevent being killed himself.
Sometime later Ish-bosheth accused Abner of sleeping with one of Saul’s former concubines. This was a big no-no. Sleeping with a dead king’s concubine was a signal that you were trying to assume his power. Ish-bosheth was worried that Abner had designs on his throne.
Abner was so incensed by this affront to his loyalty that he set out to persuade all the leaders of Israel to switch their allegiance to me. And that’s just what he did! He came to me in Hebron with assurances that all Israel was ready to make me their King. I sent him back to arrange a meeting with the leaders of Israel to formalize their desires.
Just after Abner left, Joab returned with some men he had led on a raid. Hearing that Abner had just been there, he was enraged and sent messengers to bring him back. Because I had sent Abner away in peace, he agreed to come back. Upon his return Joab asked to speak privately with him outside the city gates. As soon as they were alone, Joab drew his knife and stabbed Abner in the stomach, killing him. Joab was his brother Asahel’s Avenger of Blood.
This requires some explanation. In those days there was no police force and the court system was much different. In case someone was killed in a fight, the dead person’s eldest brother was authorized, in fact obligated, to hunt the killer down and take his life to avenge the deceased. He was called the Avenger of Blood. But the Lord knew that sometimes a person’s death would really be accidental (today you call this involuntary manslaughter) or a matter of self-defense, and that the next of kin couldn’t be expected to make an impartial judgment in such a case.
So He had Moses designate 6 Cities of Refuge where a man who had killed someone under these circumstances could flee for protection from the Avenger of Blood. Once there he could plead his case before the elders and if they judged him innocent, he would be protected as long as he remained within the city walls until the death of the current High Priest. At that time he was free to go, off limits to the Avenger of Blood. Three of these cities were in the North and three were in the South. Hebron, where we were, was one of the cities in the South. (Deut. 19:1-13)
These Cities of Refuge make an interesting, if imperfect, model of the Messiah. We were all guilty of capital crimes (sin) and hotly pursued by one who was intent upon taking our lives (Satan). When we fled to Jesus for protection, He gave us refuge. Since Jesus is also our High Priest, His death set us free. We’re off limits to Satan.
Why is the model imperfect? To gain refuge, the accused had to get to the City of Refuge before the Avenger of Blood caught him. Jesus meets you where you are, the moment you call upon Him. Also, a person had to be innocent to receive protection in a City of Refuge, but Jesus protects the guilty. And finally, if a person ventured outside the city during the life of the High Priest, he was fair game for the Avenger of Blood. Once you’re in Christ, the Holy Spirit is sealed within you and you’re under His protection forever, no matter where you are. (Ephe. 1:13-14) He is our true City of Refuge.
When I sent Abner away in peace after he promised me the allegiance of all of Israel’s leaders, he apparently believed I had relieved him of responsibility for Asahel’s death and therefore saw no danger in leaving the city with Joab. But by luring him outside the city walls, Joab made him fair game under the law and killed him to avenge his brother. I put a curse on Joab’s house because he took advantage of a technicality in the law to kill Abner, and because he endangered me politically just as all the leaders of Israel were ready to get behind me.
Since Abner was such a prominent figure among Saul’s followers, I had to take immediate action to avoid being accused of having him killed for political gain. I publicly disavowed any participation in Abner’s death. I immediately went into mourning and had all my men do the same. I composed a lament in Abner’s memory. And I arranged for him to be buried in Hebron, personally led the funeral procession, and fasted all day on the day of his funeral. The people could see my sincerity and the Lord caused them to be favorably disposed toward me.
With Abner’s death the entire remaining House of Saul went into a panic. They were convinced that I would have them all killed. Even Saul’s son Ish-bosheth, whom Abner had anointed as King, was afraid. Everyone knew that Abner was the real power and with him dead, they feared for their own lives. When the family fled into hiding, Jonathon’s young son Mephibosheth was injured and became permanently crippled. Incredibly, two of Saul’s followers crept into Ish-bosheth’s house while he was sleeping and murdered him in his own bed. They cut off his head and brought it to me, thinking to earn my favor for eliminating a rival to the throne. As I had done with the Amalekite who said he had killed Saul, I had them put to death.
Finally, as Abner had promised, the leaders of all the twelve tribes came to me in Hebron and pledged their allegiance to me. I made a compact with them and was anointed King over all Israel. I was thirty years old and would reign a total of forty years, the seven and a half just past when I was King of Judah, and the thirty-three now beginning as King of Israel. There’s lots more to come so stay tuned. 05-01-05