And the three sons of Zeruiah were there, Joab, Abishai, and Asahel. Now Asahel was as swift of foot as a wild gazelle. And Asahel pursued Abner, and as he went, he turned neither to the right hand nor to the left from following Abner. Then Abner looked behind him and said, “Is it you, Asahel?” And he answered, “It is I.” Abner said to him, “Turn aside to your right hand or to your left, and seize one of the young men and take his spoil.” But Asahel would not turn aside from following him. And Abner said again to Asahel, “Turn aside from following me. Why should I strike you to the ground? How then could I lift up my face to your brother Joab?” But he refused to turn aside. Therefore Abner struck him in the stomach with the butt of his spear, so that the spear came out at his back. And he fell there and died where he was. And all who came to the place where Asahel had fallen and died, stood still.
But Joab and Abishai pursued Abner. And as the sun was going down they came to the hill of Ammah, which lies before Giah on the way to the wilderness of Gibeon. And the people of Benjamin gathered themselves together behind Abner and became one group and took their stand on the top of a hill. Then Abner called to Joab, “Shall the sword devour forever? Do you not know that the end will be bitter? How long will it be before you tell your people to turn from the pursuit of their brothers?” And Joab said, “As God lives, if you had not spoken, surely the men would not have given up the pursuit of their brothers until the morning.” So Joab blew the trumpet, and all the men stopped and pursued Israel no more, nor did they fight anymore.
And Abner and his men went all that night through the Arabah. They crossed the Jordan, and marching the whole morning, they came to Mahanaim. Joab returned from the pursuit of Abner. And when he had gathered all the people together, there were missing from David’s servants nineteen men besides Asahel. But the servants of David had struck down of Benjamin 360 of Abner’s men. And they took up Asahel and buried him in the tomb of his father, which was at Bethlehem. And Joab and his men marched all night, and the day broke upon them at Hebron. – 2 Samuel 2:18-32 ESV
As this chapter closes, we are given a glimpse into what will become a long-standing issue for the nation of Israel. With Saul’s death, each tribe was left to fend for itself and determine its own fate. Abner, Saul’s former commander-in-chief and fellow Benjaminite, took it upon himself to crown Ish-bosheth, the youngest son of Saul, the king of “all Israel” (2 Samuel 2:9). David had already been appointed king by his own tribe, the tribe of Judah, but Abner refused to accept him as king. Suddenly, the nation was divided into factions, and their differences quickly escalated. Forces led by Abner and made up of mostly his own kinsmen, did battle with David and the people of Judah. Abner and his men were routed and pursued by the Benjaminites. One particular man, Asahel, who happened to “as swift of foot as a wild gazelle”, took it upon himself to catch Abner. Everyone knew that Abner was the driving force behind the battle. Ish-bosheth, the supposed king of Israel, is not even mentioned as being at the battle. But Asahel’s enthusiasm got the best of him, when Abner killed him. That led the brothers of Asahel to take up the chase of Abner in order to avenge their brother’s death.
But the whole affair would end in an awkward truce. As the two parties face off once again, with Abner and the Benjaminites on one side and the forces of Judah on the other, Abner called out, “Must we always be killing each other? Don’t you realize that bitterness is the only result? When will you call off your men from chasing their Israelite brothers?” (2 Samuel 2:26 NLT). The battle had not been going Abner’s way. He had already lost more than 300 men, while David’s troops had lost only 20. He could see that things were not going his way, so he appealed to Joab to accept a cease-fire. “So Joab blew the trumpet, and all the men stopped and pursued Israel no more, nor did they fight anymore” (2 Samuel 2:28 ESV).
The battle ended, but the hostilities between the northern and southern tribes of Israel were far from over. In fact, the 12 tribes of Israel would experience ongoing hostilities for generations to come. It is interesting to look at the blessings that Jacob gave each of his 12 sons, the very men from whom the 12 tribes of Israel descended. In particular, Jacob said of Benjamin:
“Benjamin is a ravenous wolf,
devouring his enemies in the morning
and dividing his plunder in the evening.” – Genesis 49:27 NLT
And here were Abner and the men of Benjamin, attempting to devour David and the men of Judah, refusing to accept David as their king. And of Judah, Jacob said:
“Judah, your brothers will praise you.
You will grasp your enemies by the neck.
All your relatives will bow before you.
Judah, my son, is a young lion
that has finished eating its prey.
Like a lion he crouches and lies down;
like a lioness—who dares to rouse him?
The scepter will not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from his descendants,
until the coming of the one to whom it belongs,
the one whom all nations will honor.” – Genesis 49:8-10 NLT
All your relatives will bow before you. Well, that wasn’t exactly the case at this point in time, was it? Abner and the Benjaminites were having a difficult time giving up what they believed to be their right to be the ruling tribe. King Saul had been of theirs and it only made sense to them that Ish-bosheth, Saul’s son, should be the next king. But the only problem was that Ish-bosheth was not the man God had chosen. Jacob, under divine inspiration, had clearly communicated that all the tribes would bow down to Judah. But that fact was unacceptable to Abner and his fellow Benjaminites. They had what they believed to be was a better plan. But their agenda was driven by selfishness and self-centeredness. Abner was not willing to give up his role as the commander-in-chief of the king’s armies. He had no love affair for Ish-bosheth. In fact, he was simply using him as a means to maintain his own power and significance. Abner was used to being a man of influence and importance. And the idea of having that taken away from him was unacceptable.
At the end of the day, Abner and the men of Benjamin were not doing battle with David and the forces of Judah. They were fighting God. They were opposing the will of God and attempting to achieve their own agenda their own way – by force. It is amazing how easily any of us can find ourselves doing battle with God because we simply don’t like what He is doing. Too often, we can find his will distasteful and unacceptable, and rationalize a way to reject it and replace it with a plan of our own. Even if it results in conflict with our brothers and sisters in Christ, we’ll stubbornly stick to our guns, justifying our actions as right and just. But in the end, we are doing battle with God. And that is a battle we will never win.
Accepting the idea that God’s will is always best is difficult. Especially when it seems to go against what we think best for us. Abner couldn’t imagine a kingdom without him in its leadership. He was unwilling to accept the idea that he was not a part of this particular phase of God’s plan. Self-importance and an inflated sense of self-worth can drive any of us to react to God’s in what will eventually be self-destructive ways. Rather than accept David as king, Abner was willing to risk it all for one last chance at glory. And his actions left 381 men dead and a nation divided. Demanding our way and asserting our will always results in unnecessary destruction. It may not end in death, but it will always bring pain, suffering, division, jealousy, and broken relationships. It is interesting to note that in Galatians 5, Paul tells us “When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear” (Galatians 5:19 NLT). Then he includes the following:
…hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division… – Galatians 5:20 NLT
Division is destructive. And it is usually a byproduct of our sin nature, driving us to think about self more than others. Unity is critical for God’s people. God’s desire was to unite 12 tribes under a single banner, led by one man. And God still desires that His people be one. That is why Jesus prayed in the garden:
“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.” – John 17:20-21 NLT
Unity requires humility. Self-importance and pride are antithetical to God’s will for His people. Living for God requires dying to self. Experiencing His blessing both personally and corporately requires that we submit to His will, whether we like it or not and whether He chooses us use us or not.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.