When the Blood Comes Around

Dante captured the idea well in his Divine Comedy. Our sins themselves are what come around to bite us. Caiaphas, while sanctioning the death of God’s Son, said that one should suffer for the people. So Dante places him in hell, crucified to the earth where he serves as a pathway upon whom others travel. It is wise to see a the connection between sin and its consequences. To those who would bicker and fight, the Apostle Paul says, “But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another” (Galatians 5:15).

When we shed blood through murder, gossip, slander, envy and the like, that blood has a way of finding its way back upon our heads. A sober word indeed.

The Text – A Summary

We have three major movements in 2 Samuel 3: First, Abner joins David. Second, Joab murders Abner. Third, David mourns Abner. 

The war between the two houses of David and Saul was long (v. 1). Abner was rising higher and higher in Saul’s house. But, Ishbosheth made a foolish mistake, charging his leading commander with indecency with one of his concubines. Abner is furious at the charge. The accusation is not merely about sexual immorality. If a king could not protect and keep his wives/concubines, then how could he protect and keep a kingdom? To sleep with a king’s concubines was not only a disgrace to the king, but an attempt to take the throne. Absalom, David’s son, would soon rebel against his father. When Absalom takes the throne of Israel, he will set up a tent on the roof and go in to his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel. Ishbosheth here in 2 Samuel 3 charges Abner with something like Absalom’s rebellion. So Abner changes teams. Refusing to command Ishbosheth’s forces any longer, he prepares to bring all Israel under David, which seems to be something he has the power to do. Abner already proved to be a man of character as he tried to get Asahel to turn aside from pursuing him in the last chapter. Here he leaves the “king like the nations” for the “king after God’s own heart.”

After Abner’s visit with David, Joab returns from battle to hear that Abner only recently left the presence of the king. He argues before David that Abner came to deceive him. Joab’s actions are insightful. He operates as a man with no sense for peace, mercy, grace, or conversion. It is only law, order, battle, and suspicion for him. As we will see in coming chapters, Joab operates this way throughout his life. He will murder another of David’s commanders (Amasa) in cold blood. 

Joab charges Abner with deceit, but it is Joab who is deceitful. He calls Abner back and murders him in the gate of Hebron. In the book of Joshua, we are told that Israel set up “cities of refuge.” If one man killed another without intent, then he could flee to one of these cities and be protected from an “avenger of blood.” Interestingly, Hebron is one of those cities of refuge. So Joab murders Abner (for lawfully killing his brother in battle). And Joab murders Abner at a city of refuge.

David’s response is fitting. He mourns. He does so publicly, demonstrating that it was not David’s will to put Abner to death. David proclaims that the blood of Abner would fall on Joab’s head and his household. The word is sobering. David said, “Let [the blood of Abner] rest on the head of Joab, and on all his father’s house; and let there not fail from the house of Joab one that hath an issue, or that is a leper, or that leaneth on a staff, or that falleth on the sword, or that lacketh bread” (2 Samuel 3:29).

This sober warning can rebuke our Joab-like tendencies. Joab was a cutthroat, hatchet man. He did what needed to be done in the moment according to human analysis of the situation. He didn’t need to see the heavenly horses and chariots of fire. He just examined the lay of the land and did the immoral thing necessary as he saw fit. But his method of operation left him unable to see down the line implications. He forgot that he was handing leprosy to his sons and daughters.

David however knew that in God’s wisely designed world, blood-shedding has a way of coming back around. He who lives by the sword dies by the sword. You dig a pit for another and you fall in it, or your grandchildren do. God says He is a jealous God visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation (Exodus 20:5).

And so the lesson is: Don’t be a Joab. Sure he was a great general. He had a type of courage and a mind to get the job done, no matter how hard and dirty it was. But the blood he shed came back upon him. David’s own son, Solomon, would give the order for Joab to be killed by the altar in the tabernacle of the Lord for the blood of Abner and Amasa.

The blood comes back around. Sin will find you out. And a better blood has been shed for the saints, a blood with which you have been sprinkled. Blood that speaks better things than that of Abel (Hebrews 12:24). So put down the hatchet. Put away your slander. Cut out the Joab before you’re cut down like Joab.