Introduction: God warns believers never to let the deeds of the flesh pollute their walk with the Spirit. Although the deeds of the flesh have many names, the Bible generally defines them as follows: “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Gal. 5:19-21). In 2 Samuel 3, God illustrates through the sins of David, Abner, and Joab how the deeds of the flesh can pollute your walk and bring sorrow. The seven warnings here include: (1) licentiousness, (2) strife, (3) pride, (4) anger, (5) vengeance, (6) sorrow, and (7) shame.
First, God blessed David out of faithfulness to His promises. Yet, David sadly felt entitled and responded to God’s grace with licentiousness by taking a total of six wives. From David’s mistake, God warns that He does not want you to pollute His blessings with licentiousness by gratifying the desires of your flesh. Second, Ish-bosheth and Abner quarreled over power. Ish-bosheth accused Abner of misusing his power by taking one of Saul's former concubines for himself. Abner retaliated by promising to help David become king. Although David was the rightful king, Abner supported him only out of spite toward Ish-bosheth. From Abner’s mistake, God warns that you should not pretend that you are doing His will when you are motivated by strife or conflict. Third, David agreed to let Abner serve him only if Abner kidnapped Saul’s daughter and his former wife, Michal. David felt entitled to have her as his wife. The fact that Michal had remarried did not matter to him. His pride demanded that she be returned to him as his seventh wife. From David’s mistake, God warns you not to pollute your service to Him with the pride of life. Fourth, Joab grew angry at David for allowing Abner to serve without punishment. Joab could not get past his anger or forgive Abner for killing Joab’s brother in battle. From Joab’s mistake, God warns you not to let anger and unforgiveness pollute your walk with Him. Fifth, Joab’s anger eventually led him to murder Abner. From Abner’s mistake, God warns that vengeance belongs to Him alone. Sixth, David became filled with sorrow because of Joab’s sins. From David’s pain, God warns that the deeds of the flesh eventually lead to sorrow or sadness. Finally, David also felt shame because of Joab’s actions. Others would question whether they could trust his word as Israel’s future king. David warned that God would judge Joab for his sins. From David's shame and warning, God warns that unrepentant sin brings shame and eventually His judgment. Jesus is the only cure for your sins.
God’s faithfulness in blessing David. Although God knew in advance that David would sin, God blessed David in his conflict with Saul’s son because God was faithful to keep His promises to David: “1 Now there was a long war between the house of Saul and the house of David; and David grew steadily stronger, but the house of Saul grew weaker continually.” (2 Sam. 3:1). This fulfilled God’s promise to take Saul’s kingdom and give it to David: “So Samuel said to him, ‘The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to your neighbor, who is better than you.”’ (1 Sam. 15:28; 13:14).
David’s blessings were based on God’s grace alone1
David misuses God’s blessings to take six wives. Sadly, David felt entitled to whatever his heart desired after God kept His promise to empower David. During his seven-year reign in Hebron, David took four additional wives for a total of six: “2 Sons were born to David at Hebron: his firstborn was Amnon, by Ahinoam the Jezreelitess; 3 and his second, Chileab, by Abigail the widow of Nabal the Carmelite; and the third, Absalom the son of Maacah, the daughter of Talmai, king of Geshur; 4 and the fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith; and the fifth, Shephatiah the son of Abital; 5 and the sixth, Ithream, by David’s wife Eglah. These were born to David at Hebron.” (2 Sam. 3:2-5). Before arriving in Hebron, David had two wives (1 Sam. 25:43). Thus, he took four extra wives in Hebron for a total of six wives. In the Bible, the number six represents mankind. David pursued after things of men and not God. He would soon take a seventh wife. This would represent the fullness of his sin of licentiousness.
Don’t misuse God’s grace as a license to covet the flesh. The Bible did not need to expressly label David’s actions as sinful. Hundreds of years earlier, Moses expressly warned that it was against God’s law for a king to multiply his wives: “17 He shall not multiply wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away; . . ..” (Dt. 17:17(a)). The New Testament is also clear that a man should have only one wife (Matt. 19:4-6; 1 Tim. 3:2). When we long for the things of the flesh, God will eventually give us over to our lusts (Rom. 1:28). Are you chasing after the lusts of the flesh or the things of God?
Don’t let the ways of the world take precedence over the ways of God. David could have easily justified his actions by pointing to the ways of the kings around him. Yet, Jesus warns that we cannot place the doctrines of mankind (which includes human tradition) over the Word of God: ‘“But in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.”’ (Matt. 15:9; Mk. 7:7; Col. 2:22; Is. 29:13). If you love the doctrines of the world more than the Word, the truth is not within you (1 Jo. 2:15; Jam. 4:4, 7-8).
Having more than one wife results in only misery and sorrow. Some claim that the Bible endorses multiple wives because people like David had multiple wives. Yet, the Bible is clear that there can be no family peace when a man has more than one wife (Dt. 21:15-17). The Bible also shows that each person who had multiple concurrent wives or concubines created only strife and misery. Prominent men in the Old Testament with multiple wives or concubines include Abraham (Gen. 25:6), Jacob (Gen. 35:22), Caleb (1 Chron. 2:46), Saul (2 Sam. 3:7), David (2 Sam. 5:13), Solomon (1 Kgs. 11:3), and Rehoboam (2 Chron. 11:21). In each case, their polygamy resulted in tragedy. For example, Abraham’s decision to sleep with Sara’s servant Hagar created jealousy and conflict with his wife (Gen. 16:4-5). It also resulted in the modern day Arab Israeli conflict (Gen. 16:12). Abraham’s concubines also led to the creation of nations of people who would fight with the Jews. Likewise, Jacob’s marriage to Rachel and Leah caused jealousy between the two wives. When Leah had children, Rachel’s jealousy drove her to feel that she would die unless she had a child (Gen. 30:1). Jealousy eventually drove Rachel to have her husband Jacob sleep with her servant Bilhah (Gen. 30:1-6). Jealousy in turn drove Leah to have Jacob sleep with her servant Zilphah to increase the number of her kids. She did this even though she already had four sons and she had only had one year after their marriage without a pregnancy (Gen. 30:9-10). The jealousy of Leah’s children’s over Jacob’s love for Rachel’s children later also drove Reuben to defile Rachael’s maid servant Bilhah (Gen. 35:22). The consequence for Reuben’s actions was that he and his future generations lost their firstborn status (Gen. 49:3-4). Jealousy later drove ten boys to sell Joseph into slavery because he was one of two sons that Jacob loved more (Gen. 37:18-36). As observed by one commentator, David’s children also suffered as a result of his polygamy. “Amnon raped his half-sister and was murdered by his half-brother. Chileab is also known as Daniel in 1 Chronicles 3:1. The few mentions of this son indicate that perhaps he died young or that he was an ungodly, unworthy man. Absalom murdered his half-brother and led a civil war against his father David, attempting to murder David. Adonijah tried to seize the throne from David and David’s appointed successor – then he tried to take one of David’s concubines and was executed for his arrogance. We can fairly assume that Shephatiah and Ithream either died young or were ungodly and unworthy men because they are mentioned only once again in the Scriptures – in a generic listing of David’s sons (1 Chronicles 3:1-4).” (David Guzik on 1 Sam. 3).2 David also suffered when he lusted after Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11:2). His secret lust later led him to commit adultery with her (2 Sam. 11:4). When David’s adultery led to Bathsheba’ pregnancy and he could not convince her husband Uriah to sleep with her, he had Uriah killed to try cover his tracks (2 Sam. 11:14-17). David also became numb to his sin. He was not remorseful about sending Uriah to his death until God confronted him. As a result, David’s health suffered (Ps. 38:3, 18). If you are married, are you staying pure and honoring your covenant with God and your spouse?
Your sexual sins can also cause others to stumble. David’s son Solomon followed after his father’s sexual sins, even though he was once the wisest man alive (1 Kgs. 4:30). Like his father, Solomon also coveted women. His coveting led him to take 700 wives and 300 concubines. These lusts for the flesh led him astray (1 Kgs. 11:3). His lusts also turned his heart away from God (1 Kgs. 11:4). He then began to serve other gods and did evil in God’s eyes (1 Kgs. 11:5-6). Are your actions causing others to stumble?
Ish-bosheth accuses Abner of misusing his power, and Abner retaliates by helping David. Abner had elevated a weak and possibly illegitimate son of Saul, Ish-bosheth, for his own purposes. When Ish-bosheth accused Abner of trying to consolidate his power by taking one of Saul’s concubines, Abner retaliated by switching his allegiance to David: “6 It came about while there was war between the house of Saul and the house of David that Abner was making himself strong in the house of Saul. 7 Now Saul had a concubine whose name was Rizpah, the daughter of Aiah; and Ish-bosheth said to Abner, “Why have you gone in to my father’s concubine?” 8 Then Abner was very angry over the words of Ish-bosheth and said, “Am I a dog’s head that belongs to Judah? Today I show kindness to the house of Saul your father, to his brothers and to his friends, and have not delivered you into the hands of David; and yet today you charge me with a guilt concerning the woman. 9 May God do so to Abner, and more also, if as the Lord has sworn to David, I do not accomplish this for him, 10 to transfer the kingdom from the house of Saul and to establish the throne of David over Israel and over Judah, from Dan even to Beersheba.” 11 And he could no longer answer Abner a word, because he was afraid of him.” (2 Sam. 3:6-11). Abner was aware of God’s prophecy that David would be king (1 Sam. 18:8). He simply chose to ignore God’s Word until it was convenient for him to accept it. He was more interested in his power than in serving God. Like Abner, Reuben slept with his father Jacob’s concubine Bilhah to demonstrate his alleged power within his family as the firstborn son (Gen. 35:22). We are not told if Abner in fact slept with Saul’s concubine. If he did, it was calculated to demonstrate his power.
Coveting power leads to strife. Abner was guilty of the sin of coveting power. Coveting violates the Tenth Commandment (Ex. 20:17). Coveting power is also one of the leading reasons for rebellions (Isa. 1:23). When Korah led a rebellion against Moses, 250 “men of renown” joined him (Nu. 16:2). Satan’s pride also caused him to covet God’s power (Is. 14:12-15). Those who “covet” are disqualified from inheriting the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:10; Eph. 5:3-6). A leader who covets can never satisfy his desires by giving into those desires. He will always want more power (Hab. 2:5). Thus, Abner was not satisfied with using Ish-bosheth as a puppet for his power. He wanted real power. When Ish-bosheth challenged him, he thought he could obtain power with David.
Rebellion is also a sign of evil. Abner was also guilty of the sin of rebellion. Solomon said that rebellion was the sign of an “evil man.” (Prov. 17:11). According to Paul, rebellion is part of the spirit of “the prince of the power of the air.” (Eph. 2:2). Samuel also said: “. . . rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft . . .” (1 Sam. 15:23). Satan also becomes the father of those who rebel (Jo. 8:44). After leaving Egypt, the Jews’ lack of faith caused them to rebel ten times against God (Nu. 14:22). As a result of the Jews’ repeated refusal to obey and have faith, God eventually banished them to spend 40 years wandering in the desert (Nu. 14:34). For everything good and holy, Satan has created a counterfeit to deceive people. Twelve times, he sought to incite the Jews into rebellion. If God’s perfect government leads to peace and harmony (1 Tim. 2:1-2), rebellion only brings strife, death, and misery. Is there any rebellion in your walk?
David conditions his offer to accept Abner on seizing Michal as his seventh wife. When David heard of Abner’s offer to serve him, he used Abner to kidnap his former wife Michal. David did this to strengthen his claim to the throne and to take back that which he felt belonged to him: “12 Then Abner sent messengers to David in his place, saying, “Whose is the land? Make your covenant with me, and behold, my hand shall be with you to bring all Israel over to you.” 13 He said, “Good! I will make a covenant with you, but I demand one thing of you, namely, you shall not see my face unless you first bring Michal, Saul’s daughter, when you come to see me.” 14 So David sent messengers to Ish-bosheth, Saul’s son, saying, “Give me my wife Michal, to whom I was betrothed for a hundred foreskins of the Philistines.” 15 Ish-bosheth sent and took her from her husband, from Paltiel the son of Laish. 16 But her husband went with her, weeping as he went, and followed her as far as Bahurim. Then Abner said to him, “Go, return.” So he returned.” (2 Sam. 3:12-16). Michal was Saul’s daughter (1 Sam. 14:49). David previously married Saul’s daughter Michal as Saul’s carnal prize for killing 100 Philistines (1 Sam. 18:27). Yet, after David fled for his life, Saul gave her to a man named Palti to remove David’s claim to the throne (1 Sam. 25:44). David’s actions would destroy the love that Michal once had for him. She later showed her bitterness against David when she despised him as he danced before God (2 Sam. 6:16, 20). Michal also was never able to have any of her own children. Thus, neither David nor Michal would find joy from David’s actions.
Pride is one of the evil deeds that God “hates”. David had never forgiven Saul for taking his wife from him. It was pride that caused him to demand her back. Pride, however, is one of the sins that God hates: “The fear of the LORD is to hate evil; pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverted mouth, I hate.” (Prov. 8:13).
David’s sin of adultery. Many often think that David’s first act of adultery happened when he took Bathsheba. Yet, because Michal was married, this was also an act of forced adultery. Thus, in addition to breaking the law against having multiple wives, David violated the Seventh Commandment against adultery: “You shall not commit adultery.” (Ex. 20:14; Dt. 5:18; Ro. 13:9). God’s penalty for adultery was death: “If there is a man who commits adultery with another man’s wife, one who commits adultery with his friend’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.” (Lev. 20:10; 18:20; Dt. 22:22; Mal. 2:15). Yet, out of mercy and grace, God spared David.
Jesus came to raise the standards for sexual purity. Jesus did not come to repeal the Seventh Commandment. Instead, He raised the bar on the type of conduct that He expects from believers. He warns that even a lustful look is an act of adultery in God’s eyes: “but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matt. 5:28). Lustful looks can also break the Tenth Commandment against coveting (Ex. 20:17; Dt. 5:21). For the unsaved, the penalty for adultery is exclusion from heaven (Rev. 21:8; 22:15). If you are engaged in adultery, you also risk removing God’s blessings and protection from your marriage. You may also bring a curse upon your children through family conflict and divorce. Adultery can also teach children that there is little value in a covenant, commitment, selfless love, and God’s Law. Yet, while exhorting us to even higher standards of moral conduct, Jesus also used the example of the woman caught in adultery to urge believers not to judge or condemn others who have sinned in the past (Jo. 8:7). Every believer must take this sin seriously. This includes taking steps to guard your eyes from lust by avoiding tempting situations that may lead to adultery. It also includes being accountable to others. Have you guarded your eyes from the pride and the lusts of the world?
Joab becomes angry at David for forgiving Abner and honoring him with a feast. Abner proved his loyalty to David by telling the elders with whom he had influence to back David. Yet, David’s general Joab could not forgive Abner for killing his brother in battle: “17 Now Abner had consultation with the elders of Israel, saying, “In times past you were seeking for David to be king over you. 18 Now then, do it! For the Lord has spoken of David, saying, ‘By the hand of My servant David I will save My people Israel from the hand of the Philistines and from the hand of all their enemies.’” 19 Abner also spoke in the hearing of Benjamin; and in addition Abner went to speak in the hearing of David in Hebron all that seemed good to Israel and to the whole house of Benjamin. 20 Then Abner and twenty men with him came to David at Hebron. And David made a feast for Abner and the men who were with him. 21 Abner said to David, “Let me arise and go and gather all Israel to my lord the king, that they may make a covenant with you, and that you may be king over all that your soul desires.” So David sent Abner away, and he went in peace. 22 And behold, the servants of David and Joab came from a raid and brought much spoil with them; but Abner was not with David in Hebron, for he had sent him away, and he had gone in peace. 23 When Joab and all the army that was with him arrived, they told Joab, saying, “Abner the son of Ner came to the king, and he has sent him away, and he has gone in peace.” 24 Then Joab came to the king and said, “What have you done? Behold, Abner came to you; why then have you sent him away and he is already gone? 25 You know Abner the son of Ner, that he came to deceive you and to learn of your going out and coming in and to find out all that you are doing.” (2 Sam. 3:17-25). Abner killed Asahel in self-defense in battle after Abner warned him not to pursue after him (2 Sam 2:18-24). Although Abner fought on the wrong side, he did not commit murder. Thus, Joab’s hatred and resentment toward Abner was unjustified.
Forgive those who harm you. Jesus reveals that if you hate someone, you have committed “murder.” (Matt. 5:21-22; 1 Jo. 3:15). Joab should have forgiven Abner for his transgressions. “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” (Matt. 6:14-15). “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions.” (Mk. 11:26). Is there anyone you need to forgive?
Love those who have hurt you (1 Pet. 4:8)3
Joab murders Abner out of vengeance for his brother’s death. When David would not take Joab’s warnings seriously, Joab avenged his brother by killing Abner: “26 When Joab came out from David, he sent messengers after Abner, and they brought him back from the well of Sirah; but David did not know it. 27 So when Abner returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside into the middle of the gate to speak with him privately, and there he struck him in the belly so that he died on account of the blood of Asahel his brother. 28 Afterward when David heard it, he said, “I and my kingdom are innocent before the Lord forever of the blood of Abner the son of Ner. 29 May it fall on the head of Joab and on all his father’s house; and may there not fail from the house of Joab one who has a discharge, or who is a leper, or who takes hold of a distaff, or who falls by the sword, or who lacks bread.” 30 So Joab and Abishai his brother killed Abner because he had put their brother Asahel to death in the battle at Gibeon.” (2 Sam. 3:26-30). Hebron was a city of refuge (Josh. 20:7). Thus, Joab was prohibited from killing Abner inside the city. Inside the city, any accused person was entitled to a trial (Ex. 21:12-14; Nu. 35:1-34; Dt. 4:41-43; 19:1-13). By convincing Abner to step outside the city to talk, Joab was able to kill Abner as the purported “blood avenger” for his brother.
Joab avenges his brother by killing Abner4
Vengeance belongs to God alone. Believers are warned never to take the law into their own hands and seek out vengeance. When someone hurts you, you must leave vengeance to God: “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.” (Ro. 12:19).
Abner’s murder causes sadness with David and his kingdom. Abner’s death caused David great sadness. He also lamented that Abner was a fool to leave the protections of the city of refuge: “31 Then David said to Joab and to all the people who were with him, “Tear your clothes and gird on sackcloth and lament before Abner.” And King David walked behind the bier. 32 Thus they buried Abner in Hebron; and the king lifted up his voice and wept at the grave of Abner, and all the people wept. 33 The king chanted a lament for Abner and said, “Should Abner die as a fool dies? 34 “Your hands were not bound, nor your feet put in fetters; as one falls before the wicked, you have fallen.” And all the people wept again over him. 35 Then all the people came to persuade David to eat bread while it was still day; but David vowed, saying, “May God do so to me, and more also, if I taste bread or anything else before the sun goes down.” 36 Now all the people took note of it, and it pleased them, just as everything the king did pleased all the people. 37 So all the people and all Israel understood that day that it had not been the will of the king to put Abner the son of Ner to death.” (2 Sam. 3:31-37). David was filled with sorrow because Joab’s revenge against Abner might deter others from changing sides. To demonstrate that he was not responsible, David had his people mourn with him.
David’s failure to be the instrument of God’s justice. Moses also warned that a leader must pursue God’s justice: “ 20 Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, that you may live and possess the land which the Lord your God is giving you.” (Dt. 16:20). God appointed the kings to “do justice and righteousness.” (1 Kgs. 10:9). A king is supposed to sit “on the throne of justice.” (Prov. 20:8). David’s failure to discipline Joab for manipulating Abner to leave the city of refuge was inconsistent with his duties as king.
David is dishonored by Joab’s actions and warns that God will judge his evil deeds. Abner’s actions brought dishonor upon David. Many might question David’s words. “38 Then the king said to his servants, “Do you not know that a prince and a great man has fallen this day in Israel? 39 I am weak today, though anointed king; and these men the sons of Zeruiah are too difficult for me. May the Lord repay the evildoer according to his evil.” (2 Sam. 3:38-39). Because Joab manipulated the protections of the sanctuary city and undermined his king, David warned that God would judge him.
By the standards you judge others, you also will be judged. By judging Abner, Joab would also be judged for his sins. “For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.” (Matt. 7:2; Mk. 4:24). “Therefore you have no excuse, every one of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.” (Ro. 2:1). Have you cast judgment upon others for sins that you are also guilty of committing?
Restore others instead of judging others. Instead of judging like Joab did, you are called upon to restore a fallen brother or sister in love (Gal. 6:1). If someone is sinning, are you trying to restore that person out of love?