Haftarah-Vayechi-Reading the Text-David and Yoav I-Abner Part Three
It is clear in “Balance,” “David, Yoav & Abner I,” and “Part Two,” that David’s opening charge to Solomon is to urge him to balance his dual roles as person and king (Be a Man). We’ve begun to see how Joab is anti-balance, and why David includes his instructions regarding Joab in his opening charge. Let’s now see the balance in David’s immediate and long term responses to his powerful and essential general:
“Then he went to Hebron to tell David everything that Israel and the whole tribe of Benjamin wanted to do.
When Abner, who had twenty men with him, came to David at Hebron, David prepared a feast for him and his men. Then Abner said to David, ‘Let me go at once and assemble all Israel for my lord the king, so that they may make a covenant with you, and that you may rule over all that your heart desires.’ So David sent Abner away, and he went in peace (17-21).”
Abner speaks to David of, “Everything that Israel and the whole tribe of Benjamin wanted to do.” He does not speak of what he had convinced them to do. Abner does not mention his role. He is coming to David as the representative of the tribes that have yet to publicly support David as their new king. Abner has successfully learned from David how to place his own concerns to those secondary of the nation.
I would expect Abner to come to David with a huge contingent of leaders, soldiers, and common people; probably, a significant representation of the tribe of Benjamin as well. However, for this epochal meeting, Abner brings only twenty men with him. It is clear from the rest of the paragraph that Abner did not intend this as the final meeting, but only his opening gambit: “let me go at once and dissemble all Israel for my lord the king.” What was the purpose of this initial meeting?
“David prepared a feast for him,” for this was a meeting between David and Abner as men, not as powers. This was Abner’s way of conveying to David the message that he had heard, understood, and reified David’s message of balance.
“Just then David’s men and Joab returned from a raid and brought with them a great deal of plunder.
But Abner was no longer with David in Hebron, because David had sent him away, and he had gone in peace. When Joab and all the soldiers with him arrived, he was told that Abner son of Ner had come to the king and that the king had sent him away and that he had gone in peace.
So Joab went to the king and said, ‘What have you done? Look, Abner came to you. Why did you let him go? Now he is gone! You know Abner son of Ner; he came to deceive you and observe your movements and find out everything you are doing.’ Joab then left David and sent messengers after Abner, and they brought him back from the cistern at Sirah. But David did not know it.”
At that moment, Joab “returns from a raid with a great deal of plunder,” proving his importance to David. Yet, the verse stresses that the soldiers who accompanied Joab were “David’s men,” not Joab’s! In fact, while we would certainly expect the verse to say that ‘Joab and David’s men returned,’ placing the leader of the raiding party, the powerful general, Joab, first, the verse places David’s men before Joab; as if to say that the return to David with substantial plunder was not necessarily Joab’s preference. He, as opposed to Abner, has not decided to make his personal concerns secondary to those of his king.
Joab criticizes David for having allowed Abner to leave in peace. He accuses David of being naïve and not realizing that Abner’s approach was a pretense simply to allow him to “observe your movements and find out everything you are doing.”
It is difficult for a person who has no sense of balance to believe that David is anything but naïve. Joab became not understand the subtleties of the communication between David and his new ally. He sees things only from his perspective of power: Abner is a threat.
Joab makes his feelings clear, and with out articulating his intentions, he leaves David. He fully expects David to figure out his deadly intentions. Joab not only rebukes the King, he sends David the message that he, Joab, the mature general, will deal with this matter. There is an inherent challenge to David’s power in Joab’s message: “Try and stop me!” Abner had come to solidify David’s reign; Joab is placing everything at risk!
David, the balanced Man, has throughout his life steadily maintained a far more essential sense of balance; that of his desire to take action directed by God’s Divine Providence. Abner had clearly stated to all that his decision to support David was part of the fulfillment of God’s promise. David felt that these events were being directly provided by the Almighty.