Learning about King David has been a continual reminder to never judge, especially as no matter how much I have studied, because David’s life is presented as a series of anecdotes, I will never have all the facts. I look at some of David’s actions as a leader and I honestly don’t know whether to trust him, call him a schemer, or give him the benefit of the doubt, as maybe he was doing the right thing? In some cases it did seem like David was doing the only right thing that could be done; the problem is, as he lied in some incidents leading up to pivotal events, he’s given me reason to doubt his character. Without knowing what he was thinking, his motives can look suspicious.
The text which makes me doubt him the *most is at the beginning of 2 Samuel. King Ishbosheth’s Captain, Abner, is murdered by Joab, the Philistines have killed Saul and Jonathan and Isra’el is divided by civil war. Ishbosheth rules the north and David, Judah, in the south. Both kingdoms must come together, and angered by Ishbosheth, Abner decides he will make David King of all.
“Meanwhile, Abner had consulted with the elders of Israel. “For some time now,” he told them, “you have wanted to make David your king. Now is the time! For the LORD has said, ‘I have chosen David to save my people Israel from the hands of the Philistines and from all their other enemies.’” Abner also spoke with the men of Benjamin. Then he went to Hebron to tell David that all the people of Israel and Benjamin had agreed to support him.” 2 Samuel 3:17-19
Abner is not the kind of man you want to trust, but David had to, and did. However, dirty business had gone on in the background between Joab’s brothers and Abner, and at a critical point, Joab murdered Abner in cold blood, in revenge for killing his brother Asahel. [Ref. 1 Samuel 2 and 3]
Quite rightly, David was angry. That murder opened the way for David to be made King of all of Isra’el and he could easily have been blamed for the murder. So he makes a smart move:
“Then David said to Joab and all those who were with him, “Tear your clothes and put on burlap. Mourn for Abner.” And King David himself walked behind the procession to the grave. They buried Abner in Hebron, and the king and all the people wept at his graveside. Then the king sang this funeral song for Abner:
“Should Abner have died as fools die?
Your hands were not bound;
your feet were not chained.
No, you were murdered—
the victim of a wicked plot.”
All the people wept again for Abner. David had refused to eat anything on the day of the funeral, and now everyone begged him to eat. But David had made a vow, saying, “May God strike me and even kill me if I eat anything before sundown.”
This pleased the people very much. In fact, everything the king did pleased them! So everyone in Judah and all Israel understood that David was not responsible for Abner’s murder.
Then King David said to his officials, “Don’t you realize that a great commander has fallen today in Israel? And even though I am the anointed king, these two sons of Zeruiah—Joab and Abishai—are too strong for me to control. So may the LORD repay these evil men for their evil deeds.” 2 Samuel 3:31-39
So, how genuine do you think David’s grief was? It does appear that it could have been wholly politically motivated. However, remember that most of the story is missing.
- Could David have fought alongside Abner when they were both in Saul’s army? Battlefields make for deep bonds and who knows, one of them could have saved the other’s life. Their relationship is completely unknown other than a few brief conversations.
- There is an old tradition within military circles which goes back to ancient times: even if you don’t like someone in authority, you salute them as you respect their rank, regardless of what you think of the man. This could have applied and would reflect well on David’s character.
- We don’t know what Abner’s military service record was. He could have been a great hero of the nation, deserving the utmost respect. To be a commander in Saul’s army he would have been a brave man and an excellent warrior. David may be rightfully honouring that.
- Showing kindness to someone by respecting their reputation is always an excellent move.
David did what was culturally right, what was politically right, what was Scripturally right and what also saved his hide. Whichever way your opinion of David’s actions sways, his actions were a win and were overwhelmingly approved by the people. He was God’s choice for the throne and this event soon after enabled the Lord’s Will to be put in place.
Shortly after, Ishbosheth was murdered in his bed, a cowardly act which also enraged David. That was a dishonourable way to dethrone a king, especially as his murderers then went to David wanting favour for handing him the northern kingdom. David correctly had these traitors immediately put to death. [Ref: 2 Samuel 4]
Whatever you think of David, he was an excellent leader who was congenial, righteous and popular with the people; and when the scales were balanced, “the LORD made David victorious wherever he went….David reigned over all Israel and did what was just and right for all his people.” 2 Samuel 8:14b-15 Unless his heart was in the right place and he was acting correctly under God’s favour, that would not have been the case.
*David mourned Saul and Jonathan in a similar, appropriate manner (regardless of what he must have thought of Saul,) in the Song of the Bow. [2 Samuel 1] This is the other act of diplomacy which has me wondering exactly what motivated David to say words like these:
“O women of Israel, weep for Saul,
for he dressed you in luxurious scarlet clothing,
in garments decorated with gold.
Oh, how the mighty heroes have fallen in battle!
Jonathan lies dead on the hills.” 1 Samuel 1:24-25
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