There was a long war between the house of Saul and the house of David. And David grew stronger and stronger, while the house of Saul became weaker and weaker.
2 Samuel 3:1
I am sure that David did not ever plan to have to fight this long civil war in order to unite Israel under one king. But the political manipulations of Abner are what kept the war going. Eventually Abner would change "parties" when offended by Ish-bosheth. But even that change would prolong the war rather than end it. The political and military intrigue in this section of 2 Samuel shows us what power and a lust for greatness coupled with revenge will do.
There was a personal feud between the two opposing generals, Abner (Israel's general under Isho-bosheth) and Joab (Judah's commander under David). Abner had killed Joab's valiant brother in previous battle action. Joab held a grudge and vowed to kill Abner. When Abner made a move to defect to David, leaving the army of Israel (Ish-bosheth had smudged his honor by accusing Abner of a sexual liason), Joab used that moment to exact his revenge. Joab pretended to meet with Abner privately to discuss terms. And in that deceptive moment he killed Abner in cold, calculated revenge. This was not just a breach of diplomacy. Joab acted on a personal vendetta. This was not leadership. He took advantage of an arrangement David had made in order to kill Abner himself. This was also disobedience to the king.
David made it clear that he was outraged at Joab's actions. He put on a full state funeral for Abner. He insisted that all go into official mourning and was upset at any other suggestion than this (2 Samuel 3:36). Even as these circumstances pretty much ensured victory for David, he refused to delight in the wrongdoing of another person. David's heart was for peace in Israel. This civil war was breaking his heart.
David's character was tested in this long war. Even as others resorted to letting the worst in them gain the upper hand in the civil unrest, David held firmly to his values. And his character led the nation. It was his determination to do the right thing that prevented societal chaos and collapse of morals. Had he approved of Joab's revenge, he would have led Judah to continue a campaign of plunder. By demonstrating real character, he showed himself to be a true leader worth following. It would help heal a divided nation.
- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13