Abner called out to Joab, “Must the sword devour forever? Don’t you realize that this will end in bitterness? How long before you order your men to stop pursuing their fellow Israelites?” (2 Samuel 2:26 NIV)
The devastation of the death of Saul had national implications. A new King was needed.
On the one side David consulted God and was recognised by Judah as the King. Yet there was a legitimate claim to the throne by the son of the previous King. Interestingly, it was not the son himself who clamoured for the throne, it was a military coup that put him there, as General Abner had him acknowledged by the rest of Israel. Thus there was a schism. What was tentatively the United Tribes of Israel had now been split.
This lead to the truly distressing picture of civil war. Brother against brother, fellow man against fellow man, tribesman against tribesman. This particular chapter in 2 Samuel depicts the tragic impact of that schism. The Judah forces lead by Joab met with the Israel forces lead by Abner. An agreed encounter only lead to a greater skirmish. Abner’s forces were clearly on the losing side and so understandably retreated, the relentless pursuit of Joab and his brothers, however, had taken the matter to a dangerous point.
As Asahel got closer to Abner, it was clear that Abner didn’t want to kill him. Yet the swift Asahel was having none of it. So Abner had to do what any warrior does in the circumstances. The death of Asahel had a significant impact on the civil war. Even as Abner reasoned later on with Joab, just because the pursuit had ended, it didn’t mean the conflict had relented.
In reading this episode unfold, it hits me that this was all down to men assuming positions over other men to the point of bloodshed. Not just men against men, though, but a family split up. The depth of the schism could have been avoided. It was clear that God anointed David to be King. Disputing that lead to conflict. It was clear that Asahel could have gone after someone other than Abner. Disputing that lead to death.
Nothing beats being clear on what God says and pursuing that for the sake of true unity to avoid conflict and death.
For His Name’s Sake
C. L. J. Dryden