Saul and his son Ish-bosheth were typical kings. They pursued power and control and sought to destroy rivals. David, God’s anointed king, was anything but typical. His attitude and actions remind us that the world’s priorities and ethics should never characterize God’s people.
As we dive deeper into the biography of David, we discover a man who thought very differently from the world around him. People who believed they would earn his favor by doing something wrong were in for a surprise. And people who expected David to rejoice at the destruction of his enemies were surprised to see him weeping instead.
David reminds us that as followers of Jesus Christ, our thinking—our priorities and perspectives—should be very different from the world’s. Our minds are to be focused on “things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2).
Now by no means was David perfect. He was, in fact, a sinner, just like you and me. And that is going to come out here in these opening chapters of 2 Samuel.
As the third chapter of 2 Samuel opens, verse 1 begins with this news:
There was a long war between the house of Saul and house of David. And David grew stronger and stronger, while the house of Saul became weaker and weaker.
David’s family also is expanding during these years. Six sons are born to him while he is in Hebron. Sadly, this is the result of David having taken six different wives. Now some people try to defend his polygamy here, but David is violating God’s ideal for marriage between a husband and one wife. Just keep reading, and you will see that some of David’s sons listed here in verses 2 through 5 will bring rape, murder, revenge, and treason into the royal family. Indeed, polygamy always brings suffering and jealousy and division into a family.
We are told here that the house of Saul, under Saul’s son Ish-bosheth, is becoming weaker. But his general is becoming more influential. When General Abner is confronted by Ish-bosheth for taking Saul’s concubine, Abner gets angry and changes sides. He writes to David here in verse 12:
Abner sent messengers to David . . . saying, “To whom does the land belong? Make your covenant with me, and behold, my hand shall be with you to bring over all Israel to you.”
David agrees to Abner’s proposal on one condition—that Abner bring David his first wife, Michal. And tragically, that’s what Abner does; he literally takes Michal from her current husband and sends her to David. Abner then encourages leaders in Israel to give their allegiance to David. And this leads to a conference of leaders at Hebron, where Abner makes this promise to David:
“I will arise and go and will gather all Israel to my lord the king, that they may make a covenant with you, and that you may reign over all that your heart desires.” (verse 21)
David, we are told, then “sent Abner away, and he went in peace.”
When David’s general, Joab, returns to Hebron and finds out what has happened, he is not at all happy because Abner had killed Joab’s brother in battle. Joab tries to convince David that Abner is up to no good.
Apparently, he is unsuccessful in convincing David, because he immediately hatches a plan to lure Abner back to Hebron without David’s knowledge. When Abner shows up, assuming Joab is willing to let bygones be bygones, Joab murders him. Joab has gained vengeance, but he has also eliminated a potential competitor for his position as general in David’s army.
When David learns what Joab has done, he wants everybody to know that Joab is guilty of this murder. He also wants everybody to know that he had nothing to do with it.
David says to his people in verse 31, “Tear your clothes and put on sackcloth and mourn before Abner.” And verse 37 records, “All Israel understood that day that it had not been the king's will to put to death Abner.”
David’s sorrow was genuine, but it was also politically important that everyone know he had nothing to do with the murder of Israel’s great general. That might have caused the northern tribes of Israel to refuse to follow David as their king.
The death of General Abner guarantees the downfall of King Ish-bosheth. As chapter 4 begins, verse 1 tells us, “His courage failed, and all Israel was dismayed.”
Now if we haven’t had enough murder and intrigue for one lesson, there’s more here. Two Israelite soldiers decide that David is going to become the king and it will be to their benefit to kill Ish-bosheth themselves. They enter the king’s house at midday when he is resting, and they kill him:
They . . . put him to death and beheaded him. They . . . brought the head of Ish-bosheth to David at Hebron. And they said to the king, “Here is the head of Ish-bosheth, the son of Saul, your enemy, who sought your life. The LORD has avenged my lord the king this day on Saul and on his offspring.” (verses 7-8)
They have misjudged King David. David tells them in verse 11 that they “have killed a righteous man in his own house,” and he gives them the death penalty.
David is a warrior, but he is also a man of justice and honor. Murder is murder. Whether David stands to benefit from it is irrelevant. He isn’t about to allow this assassination to go unpunished.
Beloved, the driving ethic in the world today is that the end justifies the means. Do whatever you have to do to get ahead. Step on people or move them out of your way—just make it to the top of the ladder.
David is not immune to this temptation, but we see him here demonstrate a godly perspective and an absolute trust in God’s timing. He is confident the Lord will fulfill His promises to him and establish him as Israel’s king. And more important, David knows God does not need his help.
Since that day when Samuel anointed young David to be Saul’s successor as king of Israel, David showed the utmost respect for those in positions of leadership, even when they did little to earn that respect. You remember how he refused to raise his hand against Saul, even when Saul wanted to kill him.
And now that King Ish-bosheth has been killed, watch David demonstrate rather amazing grace here in chapter 4. Let me go back to verse 4, which reads:
Jonathan, the son of Saul, had a son who was crippled in his feet. He was five years old when the news about Saul and Jonathan came from Jezreel, and his nurse took him up and fled, and as she fled in her haste, he fell and became lame. And his name was Mephibosheth.
This verse is loaded with meaning. Although Saul and his son Ish-bosheth had opposed David, David refused to take revenge on the house of Saul when he became king. Saul’s son Jonathan had been David’s closest friend, and now we learn that Jonathan had a son who had survived all these years, though he had been injured in an accident. David now shows kindness to this disabled young man named Mephibosheth, and he will eventually invite him to live in the palace with David and his family.
Imagine the strong sons of David coming to eat at the dinner table, and then here comes the shuffling sound of Mephibosheth’s crutches as he limps into the dining room and joins the king’s family for dinner. What a picture this is of you and me. We have been disabled by sin but delivered by the grace of God and invited to the King’s table as a member of His family—a family that will last forever.