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Civil War

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: 2 Samuel 1–2

God had chosen David to succeed Saul as Israel's king. Yet when David's opportunity came with Saul's death, he mourned Saul's passing and quietly sought God's direction for his next step. David understood an important truth: There is no place for self-promotion in God's program.


We now turn to the book of 2 Samuel. This book follows immediately on the death of King Saul and begins to narrate the reign of King David, first over Judah and then later over all Israel. 

Now we need to note again that here in 2 Samuel, as well as in the books of 1 and 2 Kings, there is much overlap with the books of 1 and 2 Chronicles. These books cover the same historical period; so, we will be referring to Chronicles at times, even as we follow the historical narrative in 2 Samuel and Kings. 

Now David has been running for his life from King Saul for years. So, you might think that the news of Saul’s death in battle would be a cause for celebration. David is finally free to take the throne as Israel’s new king. But there is no rejoicing from David.

In fact, an Amalekite arrives in Ziklag, where David is still living, and reports that he has come from the battlefield. Here in 2 Samuel 1:4, he tells David: 

The people fled from the battle, and also many of the people have fallen and are dead, and Saul and his son Jonathan are also dead.

He goes on to claim that he came across Saul on the battlefield, gravely wounded, and Saul begged him to kill him. He says in verse 10 that he agreed, since there seemed to be no hope of Saul surviving. The man then shows David Saul’s crown and royal bracelet as proof. 

Now it’s clear this man is expecting to receive a handsome reward. But David surprises this man—and probably everybody else—by executing him for striking down the Lord’s anointed.

Furthermore, verse 12 says of David and all his men: 

They mourned and wept and fasted until evening for Saul and for Jonathan his son and for all the people of the LORD . . . because they had fallen by the sword.

From verse 19 through the rest of the chapter, we read a song of lament David composed. It expresses his anguish over the loss of Saul and Jonathan and features this refrain: “How the mighty have fallen!” 

The first stanza, so to speak, is in verses 19 through 24, where David’s lyrics focus on King Saul and his son Jonathan. He agonizes over knowing the Philistines will gloat over their deaths. 
David recounts the military skill of Saul and Jonathan, saying, “The bow of Jonathan turned not back, and the sword of Saul returned not empty” (verse 22). He knows they would have fought to the very end. 

The last three verses of this song focus on Jonathan, whom David describes as more faithful and loving and loyal than anyone he has ever known.

And what really amazes me here is David’s attitude. We would expect him to grieve over the loss of his best friend, the king’s son Jonathan. But grieving over King Saul is another matter. This was the man who relentlessly pursued him, slandered him, and sought to kill him. 

This song demonstrates that David truly is a man after God’s own heart. He understood that God had reasons for raising up Saul to be king. David never returned evil for Saul’s evil; and he honored the Lord’s timing—he did not try to seize the throne that God promised would one day be his.

What a picture we see in David of our Lord, the Son of God. He did not return evil for evil; and He bore the suffering inflicted by mankind, though He knew the throne of the universe belonged to Him.

Proverbs 24:17 reads, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles.” This is the attitude of a godly believer, and David exemplified it for decades.

With the throne of Israel vacant, someone seeking power would make his move. But David knows God chose him to be king and God would make him king at the right time. So, we read at the beginning of chapter 2 that David asks the Lord for direction, no doubt through the high priest: “Shall I go up into any of the cities of Judah?” (verse 1).

God responds by instructing him to go to Hebron, about twenty miles south of Jerusalem. So, David and his followers leave the Philistine city of Ziklag and go to this city of Judah to live, and they are welcomed by this southern tribe. In fact, verse 4 says the people of Judah “anointed David king over the house of Judah.” According to verse 11, David will be “king … over the house of Judah . . . seven years and six months.”

You need to understand that Ish-bosheth, Saul’s son, is crowned king of Israel. Most people assume that David immediately ruled over the whole nation of Israel. No, that will take seven more years to fully take place.

So, while David is at Hebron, waiting for the Lord to fulfill His promises to him regarding the throne, we read that Abner, the “commander of Saul’s army, took Ish-bosheth the son of Saul and . . . made him king over . . . all Israel” (verses 8-9). 

Abner is attempting to continue the dynasty of Saul, but verse 10 tells us that “the house of Judah followed David.” This leads to civil war among Israel’s tribes.

Abner takes a contingent of his army out to confront David’s men; David’s soldiers are commanded by a man named Joab. The armies meet by the pool of Gibeon to the northwest of Jerusalem (verse 13)—that large pool cut into the rock is still there. 

With the two armies facing one another on opposite sides of this pool, Abner proposes a hand-to-hand combat between twelve of his soldiers and twelve of David’s men. But there’s no winner in this contest, as all the participants die! A fierce battle follows, and David’s men gain the advantage and put Abner’s army to flight. When it’s all over, verse 31 reports that David lost 20 men in the fighting while Abner lost 360.

The sad reality here is that Israel has been fighting the Philistines for many years but now they are fighting each other. And the Philistines, who still have dominance in this region, must have been watching it all with wicked delight. 

David is not pushing to become king over the whole nation; he’s simply waiting on the Lord and responding to the actions of others. Abner and Ish-bosheth, on the other hand, are seeking position and power. In fact, most of the Israelites at this point would rather follow them and the house of Saul than follow a king like David, who is following after God.

Even among Christians today, we find many who crave position and power. They will do anything to gain the advantage over another. The church today has lost a tremendous amount of credibility because of the selfish greed and lust for power and popularity among its leaders. The church is acting no differently than the world. While the church has told the world to repent, the world can easily tell the church today to repent as well.

Beloved, we need to be more like David—let’s wait on the Lord; let’s follow the will of God; let’s be patient; let’s be willing to be overlooked and unappreciated. But let’s stay at our task as we represent the Lord, for we know what is coming. There is a crown coming, and there is a kingdom coming where we will one day live with and serve our Lord and King, and He shall reign forever and ever.

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