Sunday, November 6, 2011

Games People Play

Today's passage:  II Samuel 2
     At long last, David becomes king.  Of Judah, that is.  Despite what Saul's military captain, Abner, already knew, he decided to take matters into his own hands.  He staged a sort of coup by convincing Saul's still living son, Ish-bosheth, that he should be the next ruler.  He secures Ish-bosheth across the Jordan River in Mahanaim, Manasseh country.  He is then able to procure the loyalty of all the remaining tribes, installing Ish-bosheth as the king over the whole of Israel.  Only Judah recognizes David as king.
      It is amazing what people will do, even though they know what God's will is.  I'm not talking about when we are not sure.  I'm not talking about when we take step by step by faith because we are waiting on God to show us what to do.  I'm talking about when God has clearly shown us, and we think by doing the exact opposite, we are somehow going to change what God intended.  Abner, like his leader before him, did not bother to ask God for wisdom in this matter.  All Abner could see was that his power and control were about to end.  Maybe he even thought he was in danger because he had been Saul's number one guy.  He didn't know David very well.  Abner had been a loyal servant to Saul.  David set great store by loyalty.  The likelihood that Abner would have been rewarded, maybe even promoted was pretty high.  This stunt would cost him.  Had Abner asked God what should be done, he may have been given a pension and been enjoying retirement.  But Abner seems to be an ambitious man.  I don't know that Ish-bosheth had any plans of taking the throne when his father died.  I'm sure he had been told by more than one person that David was to be the next king.  That this is what God had ordered.  I can't believe that Abner did not know this too.  But the hunger for power can be devouring.  With the support from the lead strategist from his father's household, it was probably not a stretch for Ish-bosheth to imagine that they could pull off this coup.  Here is where the power struggle really begins.
     David's military man, Joab, and Abner meet in Gibeon.  They size each other up.  They evaluate each other's armies.  "And Abner said to Joab, Let the young men now arise, and play before us.  And Joab said, Let them arise."  Abner views this meeting as a chess match.  Both sides have kings. Who will declare "Checkmate"? Joab and Abner play bishop, rook or knight, and the rest of the soldiers are pawns in their little game.  How many casualties will there be?  How many men will be taken out, turn by turn before one is declared the winner?  Abner's army seems to be losing the match at one point.  Then Joab's brother, Asahel, another important piece, pursues after Abner.  He is determined to take him out of the game.  He ignores Abner's taunts and distractions, focused on eliminating this very important player.  But Abner makes the better move, and slays Asahel.  Abner knows Joab will come back with his fiercest move yet, but sometimes anger fuels us, and sometimes it backfires on us.  Abner knows this, and is counting on the latter.  Joab continues the pursuit, causing Abner to retreat into a defensive position.  As Abner gets closer to Ish-bosheth country, he is reinforced by Benjamin's tribe.  Joab has to settle for a stalemate.  Another game will have to be played another day.  He is not willing to lose any more men on this day.  Losing a brother was enough.  So, Abner returns to his king, and Joab returns to his.  Both men, more intent on playing a game than seeing the loss of life, until one of those lives was dear.  Joab and his remaining men bury his brother.  It is a sad reminder that war costs something. 
     I know that some believe that leaders play political games with soldier's lives.  And while that may be true in other countries, I have never thought it to be the case in America.  I don't believe it was a game to David, but I'm pretty sure Abner was not in the least concerned about his men, as long as he came out on the winning side.  In some countries, militia are used as pawns in a chess match.  And although many have accused our country of doing the same thing, I refuse to believe that.  Maybe I'm ignorant, but I'm convinced that when our military has to make a move, it really is to protect our interests, and to protect freedom.  I'm not saying that every display of our military power is always the best move, but I have never believed that our leaders have ever dealt carelessly with those lives, willing to throw them away as long as we win.  I don't believe that of our current President, and I don't believe that of our former President.  I don't believe that of our generals.  There are always power-hungry people, but as the daughter of a military man who served under some pretty high-ranking officials during his career, even though in a relative time of peace, I knew the character of some of these individuals, and I know they only had the best interests of the country and those who served under them.
     Ish-bosheth seemed to be a puppet king, succumbing to the string-pulling of his father's military captain.  Abner refuses to yield to God's will, and although he returned home safely, many of his men gave their lives for a fruitless cause.  That is selfishness at its highest, and though I haven't read ahead, I'm guessing that Abner will be taken out of the game in the next match.  The best move?  Heed God's will when we know it.  Ignoring it, avoiding it, fighting against it never plays out the way we planned.  God's strategy is always best, and we can never outplay Him.

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