The Bible Story - Volume IV
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The Bible Story - Volume IV

Chapter 97:

Learning to be a King

   To show his appreciation to Abner for helping unite Israel and for bringing Michal to Hebron, David prepared a feast for him and his men. Thus David's first wife was at long last given back to him, and at the same time Abner had the vengeful satisfaction of ruining Ish-bosheth's chances of becoming a leader of Israel.
   "All I ask is that you allow me to continue in Israel as an ambassador of good will for you," Abner told David.
   Abner, former captain of the Ten Tribes, made the mistake of depending more on politics than on God. "I want to make up for any harm I've caused you, now that I realize how wrong I have been in supporting Ish-bosheth. If you will allow me, I can do much to cement good relations between you and the people who have inclined to look to Ish-bosheth as king."
   David approved of this suggestion, and sent Abner and his men out on what was proposed to be a sort of campaign trip in David's behalf. (II Samuel 3:19-21.)

Downfall of Abner

   Only a few hours later, Joab and some of David's soldiers returned to Hebron after having pursued and overcome some enemy soldiers. They were jubilant because they had with them many valuable weapons and much food and other spoils they had taken from the enemy. Joab's cheerfully triumphant mood changed abruptly to one of grim seriousness when he heard that Abner had been to visit David, and that the two had come to some kind of agreement after Abner had brought David's first wife to him.
   Joab lost no time in setting to David. Joab disliked Abner because he had killed one of Joab's brothers in battle, and because he assumed that Abner might replace him as David's captain.
   "How could you be friendly to Abner?" Joab heatedly asked David. "Have you forgotten so soon that he is your enemy? Don't you remember that he killed Asahel, one of my brothers?"
   "Calm down, Joab," David said. "Abner is an opportunist, but he works hard at what he does. He can be of help to me in uniting all the tribes of Israel."
   "Abner is a spy!" Joab exclaimed. "He's here to learn all he can from you, and then he'll report to Ish-bosheth!"
   "Abner is no longer here," David explained. "I sent him northward a short while ago to visit the northern areas for me."
   Joab stared silently at David, then stomped away to secretly send messengers to overtake Abner and tell him that David wanted him to return immediately. Later, as Abner and his men came back to enter the north gate of Hebron, Joab and his brother Abishai stepped into the road to greet them in a friendly manner.
   "Before you enter Hebron, there is something important you should know," Joab told Abner. "Step off to the side of the road with me so that I may tell you confidentially." (II Samuel 3:22-27.)
   Abner motioned to his men to remain as they were, and walked aside with Joab and Abishai. Then he saw Joab's right hand whip a dagger out of his shirt but by that time it was too late!

David Mourns for Abner

   Abner was stabbed before he could call to his men for help. Abishai held him up for a few moments so that it would appear to Abner's soldiers that the three were holding a confidential conversation. Abruptly Joab and Abishai leaped away and dashed off to conceal themselves in Hebron, leaving the crumpled and dead Abner to his stunned and angry men.
   David wasn't aware that Joab, his army captain, had gone to seek Abner.
   When news of this brazen murder came to David, he was greatly perturbed. Immediately he made a public pronouncement that neither he nor his kingdom was in any way guilty of Abner's death. He made it clear that the guilt should be on Joab, and pronounced a curse on Joab and his descendants.
   "Terrible diseases, leprosy, boils and running sores will come upon Joab and those who descend from him!" David declared. "They will also be crippled, poor, and the victims of fatal accidents, as God sees fit!" (II Samuel 3:28-30.)
   David also told the people gathered to listen to him, that there should be proper mourning for Abner, a dedicated officer who deserved respect.
   "And I expect Joab and Abishai to be among the mourners!" David stated, knowing that it would be difficult for the two men, as the murderers, to make public appearance behind their victim. "They, too, are to tear the clothes they are wearing and dress in sackcloth!"
   David followed Abner's coffin to the burial place in Hebron, and gave a short speech at the funeral. There was much loud weeping because of the vengeful assassination.
   David fasted a day, though many of his friends tried to persuade him to eat so that he would not feel depressed. He insisted on fasting a full day, and the people admired him for doing it. At the same time they wondered what he would do to Joab and his brother Abishai. For a man of action, David made a somewhat surprising explanation.
   "They have sent a great man to his death," David said, "but even as a king I don't feel that I should deal with them at this time. I shall leave the matter to God, and He will deal with them according to their sins. God shall be their Judge." (II Samuel 3:31-39.)

A Vicious Plot

   When Ish-bosheth heard that Abner was dead, he and his followers were very troubled. They realized that his future as a leader of northern Israel was very uncertain, inasmuch as success depended so much on Abner. The strongest men next to Abner were Baanah and Rechab, each a captain of a band of soldiers. But Ish-bosheth knew he couldn't rely on them or expect very much from them because they were inclined to use the manpower they had, to get as much as they could from other people. If he could have guessed what they had in mind for him, he would have been more than just troubled. (II Samuel 4:1-2.) After seven years in their exalted jobs, these two hatched a plot.
   One day about noon, when activity was low because of the heat, Baanah and Rechab came to the supply house, right next to Ish-bosheth's quarters. They pretended they were obtaining some wheat from the army kitchen, but quickly turned into Ish-bosheth's living area. The two men stabbed Ish-bosheth while he was asleep, and after a bit of grisly business that was part of their plan, they hastily escaped to the west and forded the Jordan River that night.
   Hours later, at Hebron, the two weary men introduced themselves to patrolling soldiers and asked to see David. When David was told that two of Ish-bosheth's captains wished to see him, he went to meet them at once.
   "You will be pleased to learn that Ish-bosheth, the son of Saul your enemy, is dead," they somewhat proudly announced to David.
   "Even if it is true," David observed with a slight frown, "there's no reason for me to feel pleased about it. How did he die?"
   "We killed him while he was asleep in his bed," was the abrupt answer. "We have brought proof with us so that you will appreciate that we have avenged you, our king, of the offspring of your enemy!" (II Samuel 4:5-8.)
   One of the murderers abruptly opened a sack he had been holding, flicking it so that a head rolled out on the ground! David was startled to recognize it as Ish-bosheth's head. But his anger turned out to be greater than his surprise. David realized these wicked men had cunningly murdered their master although he had put great trust in them.
   "This miserable kind of situation came to me at a former time," David said, staring sternly at Rechab and Baanah. "A man came to me at Ziklag to tell me that he was the one who had killed Saul. He expected some kind of reward, just as you two now hope to be rewarded. There wasn't any reason for me to be happy when I learned that Saul was dead. In fact, I was so unhappy that I ordered the man to be executed. Neither am I pleased to see Ish-bosheth's head before me. You claim to be his murderers, so you shall be treated as murderers. Murdering an honest man in his sleep can only have one reward."
   Baanah and Rechab drew back in sudden, desperate fear. They never would have shown up in Hebron if they had known that David wouldn't gloat over Ish-bosheth's death. At a signal from David, soldiers moved in to seize the cowering, whimpering killers to execute them.
   To show respect for Ish-bosheth, David decreed that the remains should be buried with appropriate honors in Abner's tomb in Hebron. These acts made it plain to the Israelites that David had a strict regard for justice, a fact that created great respect for him. (II Samuel 4:9-12.)

King of ALL Israel

   By this time David had been the leader of Judah for more than seven years. (II Samuel 2:11.) Over the years leaders in the various tribes had been turning to David and leading many thousands into allegiance to him. (I Chronicles 12:1-22; II Samuel 3:1.) After Ish-bosheth was murdered, the elders of all Israel assembled at Hebron with over a third of a million men. They reminded David that because all the people of Israel were of the same family, and because David had been a wise and fair leader in the past and the chief under Saul, they wanted to acknowledge him king over all Israel. (II Samuel 5:1-3; I Chronicles 12:22-40.)
   Thus God caused matters to come about in such a manner, in due time, that David was at last anointed king of all the tribes. He was thirty-seven years old when this happened. Probably he would have been greatly encouraged if he could have known that he would be king of Israel for the next thirty-three years (II Samuel 5:4-5), though he would have been troubled if he could have foreseen certain things that would happen during those years.
   The first outstanding act performed by David as king of all the tribes was the moving of an army against the city of Jerusalem. (All Israel in that day as today trusted in their army, instead of God, to fight their battles.) This populous place was within the territory of Benjamin, and though the Israelites had attacked it and set fire to it years previously, the city was still held by stubborn Jebusites, an ancient Canaanite tribe. It was a thorn in Israel that a great city in the center of their country should still be populated by enemies. Besides wanting to drive the Jebusites out of the ancient holy city, David needed the city because it was well situated in a central spot in the nation, and would be ideal for a capital.
   When David and his troops arrived at Jerusalem, the leader sent out a sneering messenger to tell David that Jerusalem's walls were being guarded by crippled and blind people because they were strong and capable enough to hold off even Israelite soldiers indefinitely. This was meant to be an insult to David. He knew that no matter who guarded the walls, Jerusalem would be very difficult to capture because its fortress was built on such a steep summit of a towering hill. Even getting to the base of the walls would be a perilous undertaking. (II Samuel 5:6.)
   "To get inside the strongest part of Jerusalem's fortification will require some unusual scheming and action," David told his officers. "Trying to scale or break through the walls would be foolish. There may be another way. I've heard that there's a tunnel running under the city that carries water from springs outside the walls. Somewhere there must be a shaft running up from the tunnel through which water is drawn. If men could get through the tunnel and shaft to make it inside the city, they might be able to open the gates so that the rest of our troops could storm in. If any one of you can succeed in doing this, I'll make that man commander over all my army."
   Without David's knowledge, Joab and a picked company searched along the east wall of Jerusalem until they found where spring water flowed into a tunnel chiseled out of solid rock. It was large enough for men to walk through if they stooped over a little. The water in it was only about two feet deep, so that it could easily be forded.
   Supplied with torches and other equipment, Joab and his men followed the aqueduct until they came to a point where they found a side opening through which part of the water could flow. The opening was too small for a man to crawl through. Besides, it was under water. At Joab's order, the men chiseled out a larger hole above it, disclosing the shaft through which water was taken up into the city.
   One by one the men crawled into the shaft. By means of ropes, hooks and spikes, they managed to ascend the vertical passageway to where there was a platform at one side of the shaft. It was from there that containers were lowered to bring up water. From the platform a stairway led up through the rock to the street level. From the stone platform Joab and his men cautiously crept up the stairway. They met no one because it was very late at night. From the stairway entrance they peered around until they could see the east gates, heavily barred and braced. Several guards stood nearby. At a signal from Joab, his men charged out of concealment and raced to the gate. While some overpowered the bewildered Jebusite guards, others yanked down the gate bars and braces.
   The second the gates swung open, a man ran out to go to David and inform him of what had happened. David rushed his troops through the open gates to join Joab and his men, who by that time had been set upon by Jebusite soldiers.
   Within a short time Jerusalem was completely taken over by David's army. God made it possible by providing a means of entrance to the city the aqueduct and the water shaft. These passageways still exist under Jerusalem. Even the hole in the side of the tunnel, presumably chiseled out by Joab's men, is still very much in evidence three thousand years later.
   When David learned who had directed the successful plan, he wished that it could have been someone else. Joab was the man on whom David had pronounced terrible curses because of Joab's murdering Abner. Because this officer was an able military leader, he had been allowed to continue in David's army, though Israel's leader had little respect for him otherwise. Whatever his feelings toward Joab, David kept his promise and put him in command of all the troops that had come against Jerusalem.
   The stubborn Jebusites who tried to hold the fortress, built 2,500 feet above sea level, were either killed or they surrendered. (II Samuel 5:6-10.)

Friendly King Hiram

   At the eastern edge of the Great Sea there was an ancient city known as Tyre, about a hundred twenty miles north of Jerusalem. When Hiram, the king of Tyre, heard that the Israelites had taken Jerusalem, he was pleased. As a gift to David, with whom he wished to be friendly, Hiram sent a group of expert carpenters and masons to Jerusalem to build a special living quarters for the king of Israel. He also sent a supply of cedar lumber all the way from the coast. (II Samuel 5:11-12.) David appreciated this gesture of goodwill. His citizens weren't as capable of doing fine construction as were the artisans from Tyre. Israel's many years of trouble had prevented their developing the crafts they needed.
   Comfortably situated in Jerusalem, and with his nation constantly becoming stronger and more united, David realized even more fully that God had given him the kingship. He was thankful and humble. He put great emphasis on obeying God's laws. He didn't let up on reminding the nation of the importance and necessity of obedience to the Creator.
   Nevertheless, even David didn't immediately overcome a desire to increase the number of his wives, and women who lived with him only as the objects of his affection. Many sons and daughters were born to David by his several wives and concubines. (II Samuel 5:13-16.)
   During this period the Philistine leaders were receiving worrisome reports of how Israel was becoming more solidly established under David's leadership. They hadn't been very active against Israel in the past few years because they had hoped the civil strife would cause the twelve tribes to fall apart. At last they realized that if they expected to prevent Israel from becoming a strong nation again, they would have to attack Jerusalem before David's army grew too large.
   Reports then began coming to David that the Philistines intended to do away with him even if they had to destroy Jerusalem and the whole army of Israel. David didn't ignore these threatening rumors. Instead, he moved a great part of his army to a rugged region just south of Jerusalem. A few days later he was informed that thousands of Philistine troops were moving through Judah and pouring into the Rephaim valley, a plain extending southwest of the city.

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Publication Date: 1985
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