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This was the beginning of a long war between the forces loyal to David and the forces loyal to Saul’s son Ish-bosheth. David’s forces continued to grow in strength, while the forces of Saul’s son Ish-bosheth grew ever weaker.

While David was king at Hebron, he fathered these sons: the first was Amnon, whose mother was Ahinoam of Jezreel; his second was Chileab, whose mother was Abigail, the widow of Nabal of Carmel; his third was Absalom, whose mother was Maacah, daughter of King Talmai of Geshur; his fourth was Adonijah, whose mother was Haggith; his fifth was Shephatiah, whose mother was Abital; his sixth was Ithream, whose mother was David’s wife Eglah. All of these sons were born at Hebron.

During the war between David and the house of Saul, Abner was carving out a place of power among those who supported Saul’s family. Earlier Saul had a mistress named Rizpah, who was the daughter of Aiah. Ish-bosheth went to Abner and accused him.

Ish-bosheth: Why have you slept with my father’s mistress?

Ish-bosheth is outraged because sleeping with a king’s wife or concubine is tantamount to claiming the throne.

This accusation of disloyalty made Abner very angry.

Abner: Am I no better than a dog, whose head is turned by any female? Do I serve Judah? I have done nothing but give my loyalty to your father Saul, to his brothers, and to his friends; and I have not betrayed you to David. How can you come to me and accuse me of a crime concerning this woman? Now I will see you are overthrown.

May the True God punish me severely if I don’t do for David what the Eternal One has promised him: 10 to take away the throne from Saul and set up David’s throne, who will be king over both Israel and Judah, from Dan in the far north to Beersheba in the southern desert.

11 Ish-bosheth didn’t dare to say anything else to Abner after this; he was afraid of him.

12 Abner sent this message on his own behalf to David at Hebron:

Abner’s Message: Who is in charge of this land? Make an agreement with me, and I will give you my support. I will persuade everyone in Israel to support your cause.

David: 13 Fine. I will make a covenant with you. But one thing is nonnegotiable: I don’t want to see you unless you have Saul’s daughter Michal with you when you come before me.

14 At the same time, David sent Ish-bosheth, Saul’s son, this message:

David’s Message: Send me back my wife, your sister, Michal. I bought her with a bride-price of 100 Philistine foreskins.

15 So Ish-bosheth sent for Michal and had her taken away from her husband Paltiel, the son of Laish. 16 Paltiel followed the party, weeping, all the way to Bahurim in Benjamin. Finally Abner ordered him to stop following them, and he returned home.

17 Abner sent a message to the leaders of Israel.

Abner’s Message: For some time now you have wanted David to be your king; 18 now is the time for you to make it happen. You remember that the Eternal One promised David that He would use him to deliver Israel from the Philistines and from all our enemies.

19 Abner also communicated directly with the people of Benjamin, Saul’s tribe, to enlist their support; and at last he went to Hebron to tell David that the people of Israel—all of them, including Benjamin—were ready to support him.

20 Abner came with 20 of his men to meet with David at Hebron, and David held a great feast for them.

Abner (to David): 21 Let me go now and enlist all of Israel behind you my lord, the king, so that they may make a covenant with you, and you will be ruler over all your heart desires.

David dismissed Abner then and sent him away in peace. 22 But after he left, Joab and some of David’s warriors returned with the spoils of a raid. 23 Joab and his forces arrived and heard that Abner, the son of Ner, had met with the king, and that he had gone his way in peace. 24 Joab went to David.

Joab is still angry over the death of his brother Asahel, and he considers it a blood debt that needs to be collected.

Joab: What have you done? You had Abner in your hands! Why did you let him get away? He’s gone. 25 Don’t you know that Abner, the son of Ner, came here only to deceive you, to find out your strength and what you are up to?

26 When Joab left David’s presence, he sent for messengers to find Abner. They caught up to him at the cistern of Sirah; and without David’s knowledge, 27 Abner returned to Hebron. Then, under the pretext of speaking to Abner privately, Joab took him inside the gateway and stabbed him in the stomach. Joab had his revenge on Abner for killing his brother Asahel, and Abner died.

28 When David heard this news, he wanted it understood:

David: I and my kingdom are guiltless for all time in the eyes of the Eternal of the murder of Abner, son of Ner. 29 May all the guilt fall on Joab and on his descendants. May the men in Joab’s line always have an oozing sore or skin disease, no longer be fit for battle, fall in battle, or go hungry.

30 This was the curse King David pronounced because Joab and his brother Abishai murdered Abner in revenge for their brother Asahel, whom Abner killed at the battle at Gibeon. 31 Then David gave an order to Joab and his followers.

David: Tear your clothes. Put on sackcloth, and let me see you mourn for Abner in front of the procession.

And King David himself walked in the procession behind the corpse. 32 They buried Abner at Hebron. At the graveside, David lifted his voice and wept for Abner; and the people wept with him.

33 The king sang a song of lament for Abner.

David: Why should Abner die a fool’s death?
34     Your hands were not bound;
        your feet were not chained.
    You have fallen
        as one falls among the wicked.

And the people wept again over Abner’s grave.

This song reminds us that David may be the writer of many psalms, and that David is a great warrior, musician, poet, and soon, a great king. David is also a person of great contradiction—not perfect, by any means—but a man of oversized loves and passions who must generally have his heart in the right place, since we’re reminded again and again that God loves him. He is powerful, and people in his way do tend to have horrible things happen to them. But he respects the dead, and sometimes, as with Saul, grieves in ways that feel—all these centuries later—authentic.

35 After the ceremony, the people came to David and tried to convince him to eat something that day, but he turned them away because fasting until evening was part of the mourning ritual.

David: May the True God punish me severely if I taste bread or anything else before the sun sets.

36 The people noticed that he honored Abner by fasting, and they approved—as they approved of everything their king did. 37 So everyone believed it was not David’s intention, nor did he have any part in the murder of Abner, the son of Ner.

David (to his servants): 38 Don’t you know that today a prince, a great man, has fallen in Israel? 39 Although I am his anointed king, today I have no power to punish his murderers. The sons of my sister Zeruiah are too violent for me to restrain. May the Eternal repay the wicked according to their wickedness!

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