The events of 2 Samuel Chapter 2 can be told in a simple manner.
Following the death of King Saul, and three of his sons, at the Battle of Gilboa in 1000 BC, civil war erupts because there are people who will not recognize David as God’s heir apparent to the throne of Israel. David has a rival, for there is a son of Saul that still lives. His name is Ish-bosheth.
At forty years of age, Ish-bosheth has done nothing memorable in life, but he is the rightful heir apparent to the throne of Saul in the eyes of many, if he can only find a way to maintain his claim. Fortunately for Ish-bosheth there is an ambitious military man name Abner who will help establish him as king. For this to be done quickly and effectively, Abner must relocate the next king of Israel. Ish-bosheth is taken to Mahanaim where he can establish his jurisdiction over Gilead, the Ashurites, and over Jezreel, and over Ephraim, and over Benjamin. A general announcement is made that Ish-bosheth is king over all Israel!
However, in the southern tribe of Judah, in the city of Hebron, is David and his followers. The men of Judah do not recognize Ish-bosheth as Israel’s king. They believe this title belongs to David, whom Samuel has anointed. The men of Judah proclaim David to be their king.
Let the contest, and the military conflict begin.
As commander of the forces for King Ish-bosheth of Israel, Abner moved an army, gathered from the tribe of Benjamin, from Mahanaim southward to Gibeon.
Meanwhile, Joab, commanding David’s men, moved his army northward from Hebron to Gibeon.
The opposing armies met at the pool of Gibeon.
Considering the situation, Abner suggested a proposition to Joab. Why not let proxy soldiers fight and decide the outcome of the battle. This would save lives and time.
It was a sporting proposition, if somewhat risky, but Joab agreed.
The next morning, twelve representative soldiers from each army met to engage in personal hand to hand combat.
Because they were evenly matched, because they had studied from the same art of war manual, each of the soldiers grabbed the beard of their enemy and thrust their sword into the side of their opponent. The result was that 24 men died together and the place became known as Helkath-hazzurim, meaning either, “field of the sharp edges” or, “smoothness of the rocks.”
Because the proxy combatants did not resolve the military conflict between Abner and the men of Israel with the servants (soldiers) of David, a general battle began.
The soldiers from the South prevailed.
The Army of Northern Israel was routed. Abner fled for his life, as did the rest of the men in his army.
In his flight for safety, Abner was spotted by a young soldier by the name of Asahel. Asahel had two distinguishing characteristics. He was totally fearless, and he was a very fast runner, “as light of foot as a wild roe.”
Asahel pursued after Abner who tried to out maneuver him by running in a zig zag manner.
When that did not work, Abner paused to plead with Asahel, and to warn him to stop the pursuit. Asahel could not be dissuaded. The chase began afresh.
But Abner was more experienced in the art of war than Asahel. Stoppings suddenly with the back end of his spear extended, Asahel ran violently into the spear so that the weapon of death went through his body. Abner was able to run away.
When other soldiers from Judah came to the place where Asahel had fallen in battle, they paused in horror, shock, and sorrow for Asahel was the brother of Joab, the commander of this small military force.
Assessing the situation, Joab took his other brother Abishai to pursue Abner. This was a very personal war now.
Because of his advantage at getting away from Asahel, Abner was able to come to the hill of Ammah where the other soldiers in his expeditionary force had regrouped.
The dynamics of the battle had changed.
Asahel was dead.
Joab was dispirited.
Abner and his army was able to seize the strategic high ground of the battle field.
Emboldened by the sudden turn of events and his ability to seize the high ground, Abner called out to Joab with three questions.
The first question involved a psychological appeal. “Shall the sword devour forever?” “Joab, are you not tired of bloodshed and violence?”
The second question was a tactical appeal. “Knowest thou not that it will be bitterness in the latter end?” “Joab, do you not know you are going to lose this fight?”
The third question was an emotional appeal to all. “How long shall it be then, ere thou bid the people return from following their brethren?” “Joab! Men of Judah! We are brethren. Unite with the rest of your brethren of Israel! Follow the King!”
Abner’s threefold appeal worked! Joab had enough. He agreed to an armistice.
A trumpet was blown for the army of Judah and they began a strategic retreat from the field of conflict all the way back to Hebron.
Abner took his men all the way back north to Mahanaim.
Each commander received a battle field report of the causalities.
The Northern Army of Israel, led by Abner, had 360 causalities.
The Southern Army of Judah, led by Joab, had 20 causalities, including his brother Asahel.
Lessons to be Learned
If there are any lessons to be learned, they might include the following. First, there is a geographical will of God for our lives. In verse 1 David enquired of the LORD where he should be geographically. The LORD told him to go to Hebron, and David obeyed.
Second, being in the geographical will of God does not mean being without conflict. The enemies of the LORD are the enemies of the Church and these enemies will aggressively seek to hurt and kill Christians, or their effectiveness whenever possible. So shall it be until the day the LORD returns in glory.
Third, good people doing God’s work God’s way get hurt. Asahel was a good man. He was following David. He was geographically where the LORD had told David to take his people. Asahel was a gifted and fearless soldier. He did his duty to the end. He pursued the enemy, and yet he did not prevail. Like Asahel, Christians are called upon to be good soldiers of the cross. Writing to Timothy, Paul exhorted him with these words: “Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. 4 No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier” (2 Tim. 2:3-4).
Fourth, live life so that when the hour of death comes, others will want to stop, reflect, and honor your passing. There are people that die, and the world rejoices. The Jews rejoiced at the death of Herod the Great. Much of Europe was ecstatic when the report came that Hitler had committed suicide in his bunker in Berlin on the 30th of April, 1945. There are other people who are mourned when they die because their life has been a testimony for God. Billy Graham was honored by America when his body rested in the rotunda of the US Capitol. Millions paused to remember his passing and all the good he had done in his 99 years on earth.
Fifth, sometimes a strategic retreat is good. Joab took the Army of Southern Judah back to Hebron to regroup. Statistically, they went home victorious, based on the differences in the causality rate: 20 to 360. But there is more to violent conflict than a body count. There is a mental and emotional component that can haunt the soul. Physical, mental, and spiritual refreshment is needed. All of this is true in Christian work. Sometimes, Christians need to be part of a strategic retreat. Jesus told His disciples to come apart and rest (Mark 6:31). Let there be a time of refreshment.
There are other lessons the LORD might bring to your mind as you mediate upon His Word. May the Spirit give you insight, and a renewal of your soul.