2 Samuel 3: 6-30
May the Lord be with you! (And also with you…)
Where we ended last week and where we’re beginning this week is actually having us jump what seems to be at least a somewhat decent chunk of time. Where we ended last week, you’ll remember, was at a place where David became king of the south and Ishbosheth, the only remaining son of Saul, was crowned king of the north. We learned that devastating division was created by those events and then we reflected on Jesus’ words as found in Matthew that put out there for us, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” And boy has that been a lesson that our nation has learned the hard way, even though we don’t often seem to remember it.
And so we were at this place in which this incredible division has been made of God’s Promised Land by His Chosen People, and unsurprisingly war begins between the two sides. Battles are happening, people are dying and resentments are being made. And this very much main character by the name of Abner – remember, he was a son of Saul’s military commander who insisted that Ishbosheth be made king, thus cementing for himself a nice powerful position – well he’s now become really the most influential person in all of Northern Israel, and basically all due to his very powerful personality and the way he does things. He’s clearly very good at manipulating situations and the people of those situations, and is really also very much in a position of power even over King Ishbosheth. Ishbosheth for all intents and purposes has become really only a figurehead for a kingdom run by Abner. Abner is what I think probably most of us would refer to as that classic bully on the playground.
And then during one battle that happens between the two sides, David’s forces are really getting the best of the soldiers being led by Abner, and so Abner picks up and starts running away from the battle, leaving all of his men there to die. BUT, as it so happens, he’s seen fleeing by a young soldier whose name Asahel. Asahel catches-up to Abner and they obviously start fighting, but then Abner is able to get into the position of being able to take his spear and he puts it right through Asahel’s body killing him. Asahel’s two brothers are devastated of course when they learn of what’s happened and then they swear revenge on Abner.
And now where we pick-up the story line, is in this place in which we have King Ishbosheth confronting Abner who he says is sleeping with this woman who was his father’s concubine – essentially his father’s sex slave – which means that this woman is now by inheritance rightfully Ishbosheth’s concubine. Women of course at this time were seen as the property of men and were treated as such. And if this was essentially anyone else besides Abner, Ishbosheth could easily have had them put to death and most likely would have, for such an offense, such an offence which is considered thievery from the royal family and thus thievery from the nation. On top of that, the use of the king’s concubine is also a sign of where the true political power lies. ..So how does Abner respond to this accusation? Well, perhaps not surprisingly, he puts Ishbosheth pretty well verbally down into a hole where he can then really cement his position even more, as the true leader, as the bully over the king by threatening to go to David’s side and thus ending Ishbosheth’s reign. Ishbosheth knows that Abner could do this, and he knows that this also is NOT some empty idle threat, he knows who has the real power in his kingdom, and so Ishbosheth shuts his mouth and does nothing. But now this is where Abner makes his fateful mistake, and like all bullies with big mouths, they eventually meet up with either someone or some thing that is more powerful or more determined then they who can take them down.
Abner, having had his power questioned by the king, which in turn may have, I suppose, bruised or offended his ego, decides that yes in fact he will go to David and pledge his allegiance to him, thus being able to not only get rid of Ishbosheth who he clearly has no respect for, but also to hook-up with David who is clearly the more powerful and respected king, as well as the one who all now believe will eventually win the two-sided conflict with the north. And David likes the idea after receiving communication as such from Abner, not I’d say because he just wants all of the power to be his own over all of the land of Israel, but because he does believe that unifying the people of God is not only what God would want to see, but that it’s also practically important for defensive reasons in a world where it is very much dog eat dog. David though has just one request before meeting with him and that’s the return of his first wife who was Saul’s daughter. And this is not so much because of a love that David has for her, but moreover as a test to see if Abner really can pull this off, to see if he is actually the real source of power in the northern kingdom. When all is said and done, and Ishbosheth is told by Abner what is happening and has no choice but to agree, once again, Abner has manipulated a situation for his own benefit.
After agreements are made, Abner then leaves David in Hebron to return to the north to tell the tribal leaders of the new agreement and of who is now going to be their king, and then in come to David the brothers of Asahel, the soldier who was at least somewhat recently killed by Abner. But to make a long story short, clearly shocked and dismayed by David’s actions, when they leave David’s presence, they go after this enemy who they’ve sworn revenge at, and then under false pretenses they bring him back to Hebron, to their own protected territory and kill this bully in that sworn revenge for the death of their beloved brother by sticking knives into his back. Abner’s great mistake was not realizing that he couldn’t just switch sides without having to face those whom he’d hurt who’d previously been his opposition. His own actions and his own attitudes toward how to deal with people came back to bite him a final bite.
Now with this story that we hear we can be kind of shocked by it and we can shake our heads at it with an almost sort of amazement, but remember I did say to you a couple weeks ago that our look at 2nd Samuel was going to resemble the documenting of quite the soap opera, quite the insane way that humanity often acts and treats one another. And we may even think that such happenings may only be the stories of occurrences that could only have happened long ago, before we became enlightened by the messages and lessons of Christ, but I would have to respond to such thoughts by proposing that it seems to me that we haven’t really learned nearly as much or as well as we should have from history and from the actions of those made in the past.
How do we as Christians approach and deal with those who have personalities who manipulate situations for their own benefit? Is this something that actually all people just naturally do if able, so be it at differing levels and in differing situations? If we are truly followers of Christ and thus treating our neighbors as we ourselves want to be treated, why is it that the world is in such a crazy state as it is; and I will not accept that it is only non-Christians who act in such highly questionable ways? And why has the world, if you really think about, always seemed to have been this way? Why does it appear that there is such fear of our neighbor that today so many think it a good and proper idea to carry a gun? Why do differing ideas on varying subjects lead to argument and hurt feeling instead of discussion and exchange of ideas? Why and how do we allow ourselves to be divided and conquered and used and abused, whether it be in our work places, or churches, or family homes; or whether in our national and international political relationships. Many may sit around and ask that beautiful question of “What would Jesus do?”, but then how often do they follow through with what it is that they believe Jesus really would do? Is that just too inconvenient, or perhaps viewed as demeaning, or perhaps simply not profitable in any way? We can be Christian and follow Christ’s example when it fits into our general scheme of things, but then how is it that when suddenly it doesn’t, that we put forth that there has to be this kind of attitude of separation of church and state as if that actually refers to a separation that’s supposed to apply too to our personal relationships and daily choices.
I think for anyone who’s been watching any amount of news this past week on television, that you just simply can’t walk away from it shaking your head and not feeling more depressed than usual, not feeling confused and certainly wondering where Jesus Christ may be in all of this mess. Why is it that our public servants feel so fearful of the people that their supposed to be serving, that they then allow that same fear to rule their actions? And why is that so many in the public feel that those same public servants aren’t trust worthy and competent?
And I will state my true belief that I don’t believe that this has much of anything to do with governmental policy, or with who’s in control of the Congress or White House. I really believe that we as a society are experiencing what appears to be an even heavier than usual spiral downward to a level that seems similar to the stories that we hear in 2nd Samuel because too many of our neighbors have walked away from Christ and from his church. And I know that that is just as much our fault in the church as it is the fault of so many things that we can easily point our fingers at.
But I do believe that for us in the church who are connected with the message of the Gospel that we MUST do better to have a role in what is happening in our society. How often do we tell people about what’s happening in our church, how often do you tell people about what you get from your church, or from being in a relationship with God and how often do you tell anyone about Jesus? How often do you invite someone to experience church and encourage them to have a relationship with Christ? I do believe that we need to take more responsibility as the church and as followers of Christ in our neighborhoods and communities. Remember, a house divided against itself cannot stand, but isn’t that what we’ve allowed to happen right here where we find ourselves living in this nation that claims to be the greatest on earth? Just because we’re thankfully not having a civil war like we had so many years ago between north and south, do you think that the division and discord that exists between the classes and races and even between the varying creeds isn’t just as destructive?
We of the church must truly realize our hope in Christ, and then truly live our lives in a way, as much as we possibly can, that honors that hope so that we can be guided by His light, so that we can then guide others to that same light of Christ. We must be guided in our homes, in our neighborhoods, in our work places, and in all the places large and small to which we are planning to go. In the stories of 2nd Samuel, they didn’t have the pleasure and joy of relationship with God through Christ, their relationships with God were very much humanly guided; if you came out of a situation better it was because God was happy with you, but if you came out of a situation worse off, than obviously God was bringing forth punishment. That wacky way of being in relationship with God and one another is the exact reason why Christ came to us, to set the record straight and to set us on a true path toward our Creator that was not only proper, but that was and is what creates in us a joyful relationship with God, as well as a joyful existence here on earth.
I pray and wait for the day that our daily news casts won’t sound like the tragedy and insanity of 2nd Samuel, and I pray for the day when the lessons that Christ taught at the Mt. of Beatitudes become more touchable in our days here in God’s creation. I believe I know what that will take, and I pray that Christ’s church will act as such, all of Christ’s church.
In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.