Today's passage: II Samuel 3
Abner was a crafty fellow. He obviously was in this king-making business for how it benefitted him. Most people in politics are in it for what they can get, and I think that is why we become so disillusioned with them. Backroom deals, compromises, loophole promises pave the way for power and influence. Abner was no exception to these schemes. "Now there was long war between the house of Saul and the house of David: but David waxed stronger and stronger, and the house of Saul waxed weaker and weaker." Abner is on a sinking ship, and he knows it. The numbers would seem to be in Ish-bosheth's favor. After all, most of the tribes had gone with him. But God was on David's side, and that makes up for any weakness in numbers. When Ish-bosheth accuses Abner of a liaison with his father's concubine, Abner makes a great deal of being offended. He makes it clear to Ish-bosheth that all he need do is say the word and Ish-bosheth will be ousted. It is obvious who is running the show. I think Abner was looking for any excuse to go work for David. David's kingdom was on the rise, and Abner now realizes he picked the wrong side. He also remembers what happened at Gibeon. He knows that Joab will never rest until he has avenged the death of his brother, Asahel. Ish-bosheth knows that Abner can dethrone him and doesn't push the concubine matter any farther.
Still, Abner decides to do some under-the-table dealings anyway. He contacts David and assures him of his allegiance, and the future allegiance of the other tribes. David accepts with the condition that Abner will bring Michal, the wife Saul had promised to him so long ago but then married off to someone else. David feels it is time that Saul's promise be honored. So Abner arrives, treated like a guest. It is fortunate for him that Joab and his men are in battle, because he may have not been received so graciously. Abner leaves with an assurance from David that he will leave in peace. I believe this is all Abner was really after. Unlike that other king, Ish-bosheth, David was in command of his men. Abner knows this. He knows that if David makes a promise, it will be kept. He knows that if David says to withhold harm from Abner, he will be given safe passage.
When Joab gets word of Abner's visit, treated like a respected ambassador, Joab is furious. He confronts David about the matter. He tells David he is being played, just as Ish-bosheth had been. David apparently does not give Joab the answers he is looking for, because Joab sends servants to retrieve Abner, without David's knowledge.
Under other circumstances, Abner might have had cause for concern. But he knows David. This is the man who spared Saul's life in the cave. This is the man who tiptoed around Abner's sleeping men to confiscate Saul's spear and water canteen. Abner had become quite familiar with David's character. He knew that he was not given to deceit or masquerades. So when Joab requests a private conversation with Abner, Abner doesn't worry. I'm sure he smiled smugly at Joab, knowing there was little Joab could do. Although Abner may have known David's character, he obviously did not know Joab's. Joab takes Abner's life in the same style Abner had taken his brother's.
When David learns of the news, he orders Joab to mourn this man. Joab had his revenge, but Abner will have the last play. Joab must humiliate himself by being respectful of this man's death. The man who had murdered his brother would be given a statesmen's burial. I'm surprised that David does not require a more stringent punishment upon Joab. This action would make it appear that Joab was calling the shots. It might make David appear weak. It might make people question David's word. But Joab is also family. He is David's nephew. Asahel was David's nephew. Maybe just a little part of him knew that Abner got what was coming. So for now, Joab is spared any further punishment.
Abner played the political game. His allegiance was with whoever he thought was the rising star at the time. When it was Saul, he was loyal to Saul. When he thought it would be Ish-bosheth, he was loyal to Ish-bosheth. Now that David's influence had increased, he became loyal to David. In reality, he was only loyal to himself. Shifting allegiances make a lot of enemies. Abner thought if he befriended his enemies, that would cause them to forget their grievances, or at least be controlled by them. He thought he had cleverly ingratiated himself to David enough that his nephew could only follow his lead. He didn't take into account that like himself, Joab had a mind of his own. He didn't trust Joab, but he trusted his pact with David, and he assumed that Joab was loyalty bound as David was. It was his undoing.
This is what David says at Abner's memorial: "Died Abner as a fool dieth? Thy hands were not bound, nor thy feet put into fetters: as a man falleth before wicked men, so fellest thou." Abner's life and death are reminders that we can never be too sure of others. Our trust is only entirely safe in one place. In Him.