The Trials of Becoming King (Civil War)

Kings & Kingdoms  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented
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Good Morning Church...
So here at Friendship Church we are very passionate about the privilege that we have to be able to read the Bible. We believe it is the inerrant Word of God and His love letter that He gave us to know Him and to know who we are in light of who He is.
And my primary way of preaching is go through a book of the Bible a couple of chapters at a time, so each week we post the reading for the following week’s message in the bulletin and on our Friendship Church App. All of this is to encourage you to read the Bible...
...if for some reason you happened to choose this past week to start reading along with us in your Bible, I am so sorry. I would not blame you if you closed your Bible and thought to yourself…I don’t think I want to do that again!
Because the first 4 chapters of 2 Samuel are not anyone’s favorite passages of the Bible. We find little in the actions of the players in this part of the story that inspire us or encourage us to good and Godly things.
It is just chuck full of gross stuff: tragic deaths, cold-hearted betrayals, bloody battles and beheadings!
Not the kind of verses that you tape up on your mirror, hand on your wall or make the background on your computer screen…at least I hope not.
So what do we do when we are reading through the Bible and we encounter dark and depressing stories like these?
Well, first of all we remember that these parts of the Bible are just that…only parts the much bigger story of the Bible. While the Bible is in many ways something like a small library containing all kinds of different books of different genre’s and focuses, they all work together to tell one big unified story. Do you know that story?
The Big Story
It’s the story of our Creator God who expressed His creativity in designing this incredible world and creating it to be very good, but then the pinnacle of his creation, the one creature that He designed in His image to rule over all this beautiful creation... rebelled against Him and so corrupted the good in His world.
And if you or I were the artist or author of this mess we would probably have crumpled it all up and just started again, but God is so much more than us, so much higher than us. He didn’t wipe us all out, instead to intensify His own glory...He is masterfully working through all the mess of our now broken world to write an even more beautiful ending to our story.
A story that at many points includes dark and depraved chapters that show us how very far away we are from the good that God designed us to be. God doesn’t want us to forget or ignore that part of the story because that is the part that show us how on our own we have no chance of experiencing the good that He designed us to be?
Those are the parts that send us searching for a savior outside of ourselves, because our only hope is that our God has not given up on us and that He can and has worked through all of the mess of our broken world to make things right again. He did it all, through Jesus!
So our text for today mostly just adds to the messy part of the story of humanity, but since we have the rest of the story we can read it in that context and still learn from it.
One helpful way that theologians have taught us to look at the various stories of the Bible is to ask ourselves the question: Is this story meant to be “prescriptive” or “descriptive”
The “Prescriptive” parts of the Bible are those things that are meant to be taken and directly applied to our lives today… something like a prescription from a doctor. They show us what should be happening in God’s good world.
The “Descriptive” parts of the Bible, however, are those things that are meant to just describe what did happen… something like a lecture from a historian. They simply show us what did happen in God’s world.
Like many things these are not clear black and white categories as many stories have elements that could be slid under either label, but it is an important skill for every serious student of the Bible to develop in order to keep us from misunderstanding and then mis-applying what God says about how His world should be.
But again, even though these stories are not anyone’s favorites, it is still worth it to read them, especially in how they relate to the bigger story of the Bible.
So with all our minds swimming in all of that, let’s stop and pray and ask God to help us rightly understand and apply these chapters from 2 Samuel together.
Last week we said that the rivalry between David and King Saul had come to an end, but that was not entirely true. 1 Samuel ends with the death of King Saul, so he is no longer personally at odds with David... but we will see that some of his household continues to be at odds with David.
And remember that through all of this, David never treated King Saul as his enemy even though Saul did so to David. David had the utmost respect for Saul as the Lord’s anointed… even as he ran for his life to escape from Saul who kept trying to kill him. And this respect for Saul carried over even into his death.
2 Samuel 1:1–4 (ESV)
1 After the death of Saul, when David had returned from striking down the Amalekites, David remained two days in Ziklag. 2 And on the third day, behold, a man came from Saul’s camp, with his clothes torn and dirt on his head. And when he came to David, he fell to the ground and paid homage.
3 David said to him, “Where do you come from?” And he said to him, “I have escaped from the camp of Israel.” 4 And David said to him, “How did it go? Tell me.” And he answered, “The people fled from the battle, and also many of the people have fallen and are dead, and Saul and his son Jonathan are also dead.”
David asks the man more questions, but we find his response be in verse 11.
2 Samuel 1:11–12 (ESV)
11 Then David took hold of his clothes and tore them, and so did all the men who were with him. 12 And they mourned and wept and fasted until evening for Saul and for Jonathan his son and for the people of the Lord and for the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword.
When anyone else would have breathed a sigh of relief over Saul’s death, David saw it as something devastating because God’s chosen people had been defeated and the Lord’s Anointed King had been slain.
And since this messenger arrived with Saul’s crown and armlet, David inquired into how the man acquired such things and the man, who was not an Israelite but another Amalekite, explained that he had found Saul leaning on his spear near death and on Saul’s request…he finished the job.
He probably thought that David would reward him but things went the opposite direction:
2 Samuel 1:14–16 (ESV)
14 David said to him, “How is it you were not afraid to put out your hand to destroy the Lord’s anointed?” 15 Then David called one of the young men and said, “Go, execute him.” And he struck him down so that he died.
16 And David said to him, “Your blood be on your head, for your own mouth has testified against you, saying, ‘I have killed the Lord’s anointed.’ ”
Ok, that was unexpected! Talk about “shooting the messenger”
But we have to remember that it was this man’s ambition that led him to David’s feet this day. He had done something that David himself did not dare to do, despite having several opportunities to do so.
He had killed the Lord’s anointed. This was not a question about loyalty to either Saul or David…this was about dishonoring the Lord and His anointed plan for His people.
So our first theme for today is the question:

Are We Committed To The Lord’s Anointed?

Our world is a broken shell of what it was originally designed to be, but God has “set apart”, or anointed, his plan in such a way that it works right through the mess of our broken world. And God’s people are to be committed to God’s plan in this world, to God’s way of doing things. Instead, this Amalekyte man just took matters into his own hands and David could not let that stand.
And since David has already been anointed as the next King of Israel we might expect that he just moves into Saul’s position, but that is not how God was writing the story.
From his debacle in the land of the Philistines, David has learned not to rely on his own ambition, but to inquire of the Lord. So Chapter 2 opens up with...
2 Samuel 2:1a–4a(ESV)
1 After this David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I go up into any of the cities of Judah?” And the Lord said to him, “Go up.” ... And David brought up his men who were with him, everyone with his household, and they lived in the towns of Hebron.
4 And the men of Judah came, and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah.
There, David is King so all is well… well not exactly. Notice that it just says that he has made been made King over Judah, which is only one of the 12 tribes of Israel. The truth is that David’s path to becoming the King that God anointed him to be is just getting started.
The rest of these stories focus on really just two other men: Abner, the commander of Saul’s Army and Joab, who held the same position among David’s men. David was made King over Judah in the South...
2 Samuel 2:8–9 (ESV)
8 But Abner the son of Ner, commander of Saul’s army, took Ish-bosheth the son of Saul and brought him over to Mahanaim, 9 and he made him king over Gilead and the Ashurites and Jezreel and Ephraim and Benjamin and all Israel.
And we can quickly see the problem here can’t we? Because we have said throughout this “Kings and Kingdoms” series... two Kings in the same kingdom eventually leads to war.
Moving down to verse 12...
2 Samuel 2:12–14 (ESV)
12 Abner the son of Ner, and the servants of Ish-bosheth the son of Saul, went out from Mahanaim to Gibeon. 13 And Joab the son of Zeruiah and the servants of David went out and met them at the pool of Gibeon. And they sat down, the one on the one side of the pool, and the other on the other side of the pool.
[MAP] to be clear, they didn’t just happen to both hit the same water hole one day, this was a military maneuvering over many miles.
14 And Abner said to Joab, “Let the young men arise and compete before us.” And Joab said, “Let them arise.”
So they each entered 12 of their men in this little “competition” and we aren’t sure if everyone involved that day knew going in that this was some sort of “mortal kombat / death match” kind of situation, but it got there fast and the bench clearing brawl that followed was a bloody mess.
When everything was said and done 360 men from Abner’s army were killed, but only 20 of David’s men were gone…however...included in that 20 was tragic death of the brother of Joab by the hands of Abner himself…which will take center stage later in the story.
All of this was just the beginning, because chapter 3 opens up with this summary statement:
2 Samuel 3:1 (ESV)
1 There was a long war between the house of Saul and the house of David. And David grew stronger and stronger, while the house of Saul became weaker and weaker.
The next part of the story begs our second question this week:

Are We Committed To Our Own Ambition?

What we see in the details of this story is that both Abner and Joab were ambitious men who relied on their own wisdom to make their decisions. What we don’t see in either of their stories is any appeal to “inquire of the Lord” like David has... now learned to do.
Moving down to verse 6 we read....
2 Samuel 3:6 (ESV)
6 While there was war between the house of Saul and the house of David, Abner was making himself strong in the house of Saul.
Abner’s ambition gets him into trouble when Ish-bosheth - the man that Abner himself made King - begins to questions his loyalty. So Abner declares that he is going to switch over to David’s side.
Abner said of himself…verse 9
2 Samuel 3:9–10 (ESV)
9 God do so to Abner and more also, if I do not accomplish for David what the Lord has sworn to him, 10 to transfer the kingdom from the house of Saul and set up the throne of David over Israel and over Judah, from Dan to Beersheba.”
It appears that Abner wasn’t ignorant of David’s anointing from the Lord, he was just driven by his own ambition. As the commander of the late King’s Saul army he probably figured that he would never be trusted in David’s military so it made sense to him to make Ish-bosheth king over Israel.
And did you catch that subtle difference? It says David was anointed King over Judah, but Abner just “made” Ish-bosheth King of his own Ambition. But now that his King is questioning his loyalty, his ambitions turns him toward exploring new opportunities on David’s side...
2 Samuel 3:17–19 (ESV)
17 And Abner conferred with the elders of Israel, saying, “For some time past you have been seeking David as king over you. 18 Now then bring it about, for the Lord has promised David, saying, ‘By the hand of my servant David I will save my people Israel from the hand of the Philistines, and from the hand of all their enemies.’ ”
19 Abner also spoke to Benjamin. And then Abner went to tell David at Hebron all that Israel and the whole house of Benjamin thought good to do.
And David seems great with this as it sounds like a peaceful path to a united Israel and to him becoming the anointed King that God wants him to be. He welcomes Abner and his men with a great feast and then sends him on his way to accomplish all that he set out to do…however...
Joab, the commander of David’s army, didn’t happen to be at Hebron when Abner and his men showed up and when he discovered that David had made a covenant of peace with Abner - the man who killed his brother - he was livid! He accused Abner of being a spy, but David wouldn’t buy it, so he took matters into his own hands.
In his misguided ambition over the death of his brother, Joab secretly sent out messengers to call Abner back and on his way in to see the King, Joab motioned for him to come over to him and right there in the middle of the gate...Joab murders him.
It’s so messed up!
On top of being just wrong…this is something of public relations nightmare for David. His top commander just publically murdered a man in cold blood , the very man he had just sent out in peace to unify all of Israel under his rule.
So David moves into damage control, trying to distance himself from Joab’s decision. (Don’t try and tell me that there are no politics in the Bible) David goes over the top in this public display of mourning for Abner. He even makes Joab and all the people tear their clothes and enter into a time of deep mourning over the death of this commander who many of them just recently met in battle.
And it worked too, for it says in verse 37
2 Samuel 3:36–37 (ESV)
36 And all the people took notice of it, and it pleased them, as everything that the king did pleased all the people. 37 So all the people and all Israel understood that day that it had not been the king’s will to put to death Abner the son of Ner.
God is still preserving David his anointed King…however the drama isn’t over because even though all of Israel had agreed to accept David as their King… there is still the question of what will happen to Saul’s son Ish-bosheth whom the now deceased Abner made King?
Ish-bosheth was not a strong man and when he heard that Abner had died he lost all courage. Eventually, two of his generals betrayed him and in an effort to win favor with the new King David, they murdered Ish-bosheth in his sleep, cut off his head and brought it to David.
More messed up stuff!
And once again it looks like David had his rival murdered even though David knew nothing about this and would never have dishonored one of Saul’s sons like this.
And so even with everything that has happened here in these stories, this last scene basically just sends us full circle...back to the same dark place where this all began:
2 Samuel 4:9–12 (ESV)
9 But David answered Rechab and Baanah his brother, the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, “As the Lord lives, who has redeemed my life out of every adversity, 10 when one told me, ‘Behold, Saul is dead,’ and thought he was bringing good news, I seized him and killed him at Ziklag, which was the reward I gave him for his news.
This is where we started today…and through all this mess we have worked our way too...
11 How much more, when wicked men have killed a righteous man in his own house on his bed, shall I not now require his blood at your hand and destroy you from the earth?”
12 And David commanded his young men, and they killed them and cut off their hands and feet and hanged them beside the pool at Hebron. But they took the head of Ish-bosheth and buried it in the tomb of Abner at Hebron.
We are right back where we started!
Gospel Application
These opening chapters of 2 Samuel give us an all too vivid “De-scription” of how dark things can get when the personal AMBITION of God’s people drives them instead of taking time to stop and “inquire of the Lord”.
And the saddest part of all of this is that these were God’s chosen people. This wasn’t about God’s people standing strong against the ways of the world…this was an “in-house” battle. A civil war.
We can find a WARNING in this for us today. While hopefully we will never be literally taking up arms against one another, personal ambition in the Church, which is the gathering of God’s people today, can draw up battle lines that are deadly in other ways. What would it look like if we all committed to “inquire of the Lord” together before we made any of our plans?
Because even though we might think that we are so far away from these barbaric times of King David and these military commanders, we suffer from the same sin problem. Left in our sin, we are all just a few decisions away from some very dark experiences.
But God hasn’t left us in this darkness, He works through the broken mess of this world to bring us into the “Kingdom of light”.
As we continue in this “Kings and Kingdoms” series we will grow in our understanding of how God’s people operated under their earthly Kings, but all of those stories are just to wet our appetite for the better King. To make us hunger for the better Kingdom.
So in the words of our King Jesus:
Mark 1:15 (ESV)
15 ...“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
Would you pray into that with me...
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