Haftarah-Vayechi-Reading the Text-David and Yoav I-Abner
We concluded Part One wondering how David’s opening message of balance to Solomon bears on all the instructions that follow. We pay close attention to the way the prophet formats the text, where he places an open space, indicating a new topic, or a closed space, indicating a related topic. The following verses are included in the same paragraph as David’s opening message, clearly indicating that they are part of the same message!
“Now you yourself know what Joab son of Zeruiah did to me—what he did to the two commanders of Israel’s armies, Abner son of Ner and Amasa son of Jether. He killed them, shedding their blood in peacetime as if in battle, and with that blood he stained the belt around his waist and the sandals on his feet. Deal with him according to your wisdom, but do not let his gray head go down to the grave in peace (I Kings 2:5-6).
“What he did to me!” Was Joab’s sin directed at David and not at the “commanders of Israel’s armies?” Does David need to mention the method Joab used to murder Abner and Amasa, “with that blood he sustained the belt around his waist and the sandals on his feet.” Why had David not dealt with Joab?
“During the war between the house of Saul and the house of David, Abner had been strengthening his own position in the house of Saul. Now Saul had had a concubine named Rizpah daughter of Aiah. And Ish-Bosheth said to Abner, ‘Why did you sleep with my father’s concubine?’
Abner was very angry because of what Ish-Bosheth said. So he answered, ‘Am I a dog’s head—on Judah’s side? This very day I am loyal to the house of your father Saul and to his family and friends. I haven’t handed you over to David. Yet now you accuse me of an offense involving this woman! May God deal with Abner, be it ever so severely, if I do not do for David what God promised him on oath and transfer the kingdom from the house of Saul and establish David’s throne over Israel and Judah from Dan to Beersheba.’ Ish-Bosheth did not dare to say another word to Abner, because he was afraid of him (II Samuel 3:6-11).”
We must begin with the powerful contrast between Joab and Abner: Both are men in positions of great power and attempting to strengthen their positions. Abner clearly knew of God’s oath to David, as he says, “If I do not do for David what God promised him on both and transfer the kingdom from the house of Saul and establish David’s throne over Israel and Judah.” Abner knew of the oath, and yet, still focused on supporting Saul’s son Ish-Bosheth because he was focused on, “strengthening his own position in the house of Saul.”
This man, so focused on his power despite God’s oath, when he understands what he is doing, changes from focusing on his power to strengthening David. Abner’s bottom line was to overcome his own drives and support David, the recipient of God’s promise.
We have David’s enemy coming to his senses. We have one of David’s most important supporters placing his concerns above his king’s.
“Then Abner sent messengers on his behalf to say to David, ‘Whose land is it? Make an agreement with me, and I will help you bring all Israel over to you.’
‘Good,’ said David. ‘I will make an agreement with you. But I demand one thing of you: Do not come into my presence unless you bring Michal daughter of Saul when you come to see me.’ Then David sent messengers to Ish-Bosheth son of Saul, demanding, ‘Give me my wife Michal, whom I betrothed to myself for the price of a hundred Philistine foreskins.’
“So Ish-Bosheth gave orders and had her taken away from her husband Paltiel son of Laish. Her husband, however, went with her, weeping behind her all the way to Bahurim. Then Abner said to him, ‘Go back home!’ So he went back (12-16).”
David’s response to Abner is to demand his wife. Before Abner agrees to David’s demand, “David sent messengers to Ish-Bosheth demanding,” that he return David’s wife, Michal, to, “whom I betrothed myself for the price of a hundred Philistine foreskins.” David wants his wife. David is functioning as a human being, not a king, at least, when he raises the issue with Abner. He then approaches Ish-Bosheth, King to King, demanding the wife to whom he betrothed himself by fighting for Ish-Bosheth’s father, Saul, the first King of Israel. David is definitely balancing his dual roles as king and a man.
Abner, whose support is necessary to make David king over all of Israel, must deal with a David functioning as a man: “Her husband, however, went with her, weeping behind her all the way to Bahurim. Then Abner said to him, ‘Go back home!’ So he went back.” Did David do not think that he would benefit from dealing with Abner from his position of power, rather than that of a man pining for his wife?
David, the “balanced” King, clearly understands that although Abner is offering support to fulfill God’s promise to David, Abner is still the same man who, just a short while ago, was focused on strengthening his position in the house of Saul. The balanced King knows how to deal with Abner the loyal follower of God, and Abner the man focused on his own power. This, is the magnificence of a king who is able to maintain his own sense of balance; he is able to use that balance in his dealings with other people. This part of the Joab story must be in the same paragraph as David’s opening charge to Solomon: It is a lesson in the balanced wisdom in using power.
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