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David, part 5

The Death of Abner.

2 Samuel 3

The truce between Joab and Abner was but of short duration. At what time the conflict was renewed we do not learn; but the third chapter opens with the statement, "Now there was long war between the house of Saul and the house of David: but David waxed stronger and stronger, and the house of Saul waxed weaker and weaker." There were no doubt many conflicts, but they are left unrecorded. In the progress of the regenerate life there are temptation-conflicts that do not belong so much to our outward as to our inward experience. Not all are inscribed on the natural memory, but the issues of all are inscribed on the spiritual memory, the book of life, out of which all are to be judged. Our Lord was engaged during His whole life in conflicts with the powers of darkness, in which He passed alternately through states of exinanition and glorification; so that He waxed stronger and stronger, and the opposing power waxed weaker and weaker. Yet all that we read of in the Gospels are His temptations in the wilderness, and those in Gethsemane and on the cross. So with the Christian disciple who follows his Master and Lord. His record is on high; and to know and rejoice that his name is written in heaven, is to him more than to know and rejoice that the spirits are subject to him. This is to know that the government of the natural is waxing weaker and weaker, and the government of the spiritual is waxing stronger and stronger; that religion is becoming more and more of the heart, and less and less of the intellect: not that religion loses any of its intellectual interest, but it is regarded, even on its intellectual side, more for the good which it leads us to do than for the truth which it requires us to believe.

The progress of this inversion of state, by which good obtains the ascendancy, is attended with an increase of the graces, or of the spiritual affections and thoughts, that enrich the mind, so far as religion comes to be a vital principle that moves the heart, still more than a system of doctrine that convinces the understanding. This is expressed in the series of events in this inspired record. Immediately after saying that David waxed and the house of Saul waned, the sacred writer relates that "to David were sons born in Hebron." He mentions six sons born of as many different mothers. These sons spiritually understood, are true thoughts born of good affections. They are six in number, to express the idea that true thoughts from good affections are not produced without labour and sorrow, a meaning which this number has acquired from the six days of labour that precede the Sabbath of rest, these natural days representing spiritual states through which the regenerate pass in their progress towards the heavenly state of spiritual and eternal rest.

But the true thoughts, or the spiritual perceptions of truth, which are thus born in the mind through labour and travail, which are states of spiritual conflict, become in their turn the means by which falsities and evils are resisted and overcome. Therefore children, or sons, are said to be "as arrows in the hand of a mighty man. Happy is the man that has his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate "(Ps 127:4, 5). The gate, in which are the enemies with whom the sons of youth shall speak, is the rational mind which communicates between the spiritual and the natural: and the enemies in the gate are the evils of the natural mind that resist the good of the spiritual mind in its effort to flow down into and unite the truths of the lower mind to itself. The sons that are as arrows in the hand of a mighty man, are, specifically, rational truths which have a spiritual origin; and these, when wielded by the power of internal or spiritual goodness, which is the hand of the mighty, are instrumental in removing the evils that rise up in rebellion against good, which desires to rule, only that, by establishing order, it may produce concord and happiness.

A way was now opened for the reconciliation of the two conflicting elements, and for bringing the whole under the dominion of the rightful power, which was hardly to be expected, but which is not unusual in similar, and therefore in corresponding, circumstances. Abner, who had made himself strong for the house of Saul, was accused by his master of going in to one of Saul's concubines. This would have been practically making a claim to Saul's throne, and would have represented the adulteration of the good of natural truth. This charge Abner indignantly denied; and he threatened to "translate the kingdom from the house of Saul, and to set up the throne of David over Israel and over Judah, from Dan even to Beer-sheba." In conformity with this threat, Abner "sent messengers to David, saying, Whose is the land? saying also, Make your league with me, and, behold, my hand shall be with you, to bring about all Israel to you." David accepted the offer, but attached to it a singular condition. "You shall not see my face, except you first bring Michal, Saul's daughter." David sent messengers to Ish-bosheth to demand his wife, and Ish-bosheth sent and took her from her husband, Phaltiel, the son of Laish. There is something remarkable in these circumstances. David refuses to see Abner, who offers him a kingdom, unless he bring with him Michal, David's first wife. Yet David himself demands her of Ish-bosheth, who delivers her to Abner, and thus becomes the means of effecting his own overthrow. Ish-bosheth feared Abner, and it is evident he also feared David; and although he may not have been aware of the league that had been made between them, he must have seen the danger of sending the leader of his army to restore Michal to David in Hebron. But these circumstances were divinely ordered or permitted for higher than historical purposes. Michal was to be the medium through whom the kingdom of Saul was to be united to the kingdom of David. We do not say, by whom the house of Saul was to be united to the house of David; for, as we shall see, Michal did not effect this higher union. The daughter of Saul may not have had any direct personal influence in bringing over the tribes; but she represents the affection by which the internal and external are brought together in order that they may become one. Therefore, as Saul had taken Michal from David and given her to Phaltiel, the son of Saul took her from Phaltiel and restored her to David. Abner was the instrument, Michal was the medium. He is the truth, she is the good, by which spiritual Israel is united to Judah under the rule of David's Lord.

An affecting scene is recorded in connection with these events. When Ish-bosheth sent and took Michal from Phaltiel, "her husband went with her along weeping behind her to Bahurim." It is pleasing to find in the tender affection of Phaltiel a worthy exception to the unfeeling character of the times, which could tolerate the separation, in the easiest manner possible, of a wife from her husband. Michal had for the second time been thus disposed of; and as she loved David, she may not have felt grieved at being parted from Phaltiel. There is nothing recorded respecting Phaltiel which can account for Saul having given him Michal while she was the wife of David. We only know him as the son of Laish, the lion, a name which he may have obtained for his prowess, although he has left no memorial of his feats of strength.

Saul both gave Michal and took her away, not from love but from hatred of David, and not to aid but to injure him. Yet Saul's wrath even in this was turned to David's praise. To see his wife given to another must have added to his anguish of spirit, yet it creates no bitterness of temper towards him who had so outraged his feelings as a husband. But the time of separation must have been a time of trial for Michal as well as for David, and their reunion must have been gratifying to both; and represents the conjunction of truth in the spiritual mind with the affection of truth in the natural mind, which serves as a medium of connection and conjunction between the spiritual and the natural.

But that which was a time of rejoicing to David was a time of sorrowing to Phaltiel. All separations are sorrowful. But they may be profitable nevertheless. If we may judge by a Hebrew sign, the husband of Michal had passed into a higher state by his union with her. When Michal was given to him he was Phalti, when separated from him he was Phaltiel. As the letter h, which changed Abram into Abraham, and Sarai into Sarah, was taken from the Divine name Jehovah; the letters el, which changed Phalti into Phaltiel, formed the Divine name El, or were taken from Elohim. Jehovah may be called the Lord's Divine-celestial name, Elohim His Divine-spiritual name. Those to whose names el is added, from being natural become spiritual, and those to whose names h has been added, from being spiritual become celestial. Those who received such names at their birth belong respectively to the spiritual and the celestial class. We mean of course representatively. But Phaltiel went on weeping after Michal till he came to Bahurim, when Abner commanded him to return. This Benjamite city, which was not far from Jerusalem, has its name from a root which signifies to prove, to choose, to love. It was the scene of transactions differing widely in character, but having one feature in common. Shimei there cursed David when flying from Absalom (2 Sam 16:5), and there Hushai's messengers to David were concealed in a well when pursued by Absalom's men (2 Sam 17:17). In these three instances, the only ones in which the place is mentioned, the circumstances that occurred were such as severely to try, and therefore to prove, men. David endured his trial meekly, and Phaltiel quietly submitted to the harsh mandate of the rough soldier.

Abner came to Hebron with a retinue of twenty men, and he was prepared to say to David, "I will arise and go, and will gather all Israel to my lord the king, that they may make a league with you, and that you may reign over all that your heart desires. And David sent Abner away; and he went in peace." No sooner had Abner departed, than Joab returned from pursuing a troop, and laden with spoil. Hearing that Abner had been to Hebron, and that David had taken him into his favour, he came to the king, and reproached him with having sent away in peace one who had only come as a spy. Joab then sent messengers after Abner, who brought him again from the well of Sirah. "And when Abner was returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside in the gate to speak with him quietly, and smote him there under the fifth rib, that he died, for the blood of Asahel his brother." When David heard of this treacherous deed, he declared himself and his kingdom guiltless of the blood of Abner, and pronounced a malediction on Joab and on all his father's house. Abner was buried in Hebron, and David gave him all the honours of a princely funeral. He himself followed the bier, and wept at the grave, and lamented over Abner; and said," Died Abner as a fool dies? Your hands were not bound, nor your feet put into fetters: as a man falls before wicked men, so fellest you. And all the people wept again over him." David fasted till the sun went down. And the king said to his servants, "Know you not that there is a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel? And I am this day weak, though anointed king; and these men the sons of Zeruiah be too hard for me: the Lord shall reward the doer of evil according to his wickedness."

In order to understand the spiritual meaning of the transactions recorded in this chapter, and in some others as well, we must consider what Joab and Abner, the two leaders of the opposing forces, who play no unimportant parts in this history, represent.

In early times, the king was the leader of his army as well as the ruler of his people. One, if not the chief, object for which the Israelites desired a king was, that he might go out before them, and fight their battles. And when Samuel told the people the manner of the king that would reign over them, he spoke of his appointing captains over thousands and over fifties, but said nothing of his placing a leader over the whole army. The general of the army, therefore, when he took the place of the king, was his lieutenant in a stricter sense than an officer of the same rank is now. Both Joab and Abner were, moreover, related to the kings whom they served. Joab was the nephew of David (1 Sam 26:6), and Abner was the cousin of Saul (1 Sam 14:50). Joab was related to David on the mother's side, Zeruiah being the sister of David; Abner was related to Saul on the father's side, Ner being the uncle of Saul.

While both of these generals were related to the kings whom they served, they yet represented principles that perform a temporary use, and are removed when that use has been performed. Abner did not long survive the reign of Saul, and Joab did not long survive the reign of David. Both of them committed the same error. Abner, on the death of Saul, took up the cause of Ish-bosheth against David; and Joab, on the death of David, took up the cause of Adonijah against Solomon. That is to say, they both adhered to the natural line, one by heredity, the other by primogeniture; one ignoring the Divine appointment of David through Samuel, the other the Divine appointment of Solomon through David. Both died a violent death. Joab killed Abner to avenge the death of Abishai, and Solomon killed Joab to avenge the death of Abner. One was slain in the gate, the other at the altar.

One other particular which broadens the basis of the spiritual sense of the history of these two leaders, is the signification of their names. Ab, which means father, enters into both; but the termination of one name means light or a lamp, and the beginning of the other means Jehovah. Abner thus signifies father of light, and Joab means Jehovah my father; and light signifies truth, and the Divine name Jehovah signifies good.

Now there are two classes of men, one in whom the will, the other in whom the understanding, is the more active and the ruling power. This difference between Joab and Abner may be seen in their personal as well as in their typical character. Joab acts more from the deep and sometimes malignant feelings of the heart; Abner more from the dictates of the understanding. Joab is by no means deficient in intelligence, but his understanding is more under the control of his will than his will is under the control of his understanding. There is, therefore, a duplicity of character in Joab, which indicates, intellectually, more of the wisdom of the serpent than the harmlessness of the dove. Abner's character indicates more intellectual control, and more singleness of mind, perhaps also more of the harmlessness of the dove than the wisdom of the serpent.

Joab's characteristics show him to represent the rational mind not yet under the control of the spiritual. It is very significant that Joab and his brothers are always spoken of as the sons of Zeruiah, the sister of David. A sister, as we have seen from Abraham and Isaac calling their wives their sisters, signifies rational truth, or rather the affection of rational truth. The three sons of Zeruiah are the truths born of this affection; for the rational, like the spiritual and the natural, is inner, middle, and outer. This affection and its truths differ from those represented by Hagar and Ishmael, as the affection of understanding differs from the affection of knowing. The affection of rational truth is, indeed, the affection of understanding truth rationally. As, to understand is greater than to know, so much greater is its responsibility; and as it gives the faculty and the means of rising higher, so does it of sinking lower. Joab exhibits examples of both. The downward tendency in him prevails. And as he who understands the truth can profane it; so Joab, in slaying Abner without just cause and by deceit, commits the sin of profanation, and brings upon himself and upon his father's house the curse which that sin incurs, and from the blood-guiltiness of which there is no refuge, even in the sanctuary of God, and at the horns of the altar.

But Abner, what of him? He, as the servant of Saul and the supporter of Ish-bosheth, is possessed of the lower gift of knowing; therefore he is less capable of so deeply sinning, and more capable of readily repenting. It is true he turns to David because his master had offended him, but the offence shows that his master was undeserving of his support; therefore he turned from the false to the true.

But besides going over to David himself, he had communicated with the elders of Israel and spoken to the men of Benjamin, whom he found willing to acknowledge David as their king. It would appear from this as if the kingdom was about to be transferred, peaceably and at once, from the house of Saul to the house of David, and that Joab's jealousy alone frustrated Abner's good intention and well-devised scheme. But in the ways of God there is permission as well as provision; and this is no doubt to be regarded as the law under which both Abner and his master were taken out of the way, that the tribes of Israel might, of their own free-will and independent action, come to seek David as their king. This does not exonerate those who did the evil. God does not prompt men to sin; but neither does He forcibly restrain them. Law and conscience are the bonds of His controlling providence; and when men break these, they run into punishment, which is also permitted as a means of correction, and if possible of improvement. The evil were not withheld from compassing the death of the Lord Himself, and even the treacherous kiss of Judas was permitted to pollute the sinless lips of the Son of Man. These deeds were mourned over, and those who committed them are justly held in execration; and yet they were permitted as necessities, for the sake of the end of which they were the means—the means of effecting that death, which was to be the gate to everlasting life. Might not, on the same principle, the death of Abner, and even of Ish-bosheth, be a necessary sacrifice, though done by treacherous and bloody men, who neither desired nor intended the end to which their cruel deeds contributed? And might not these men be representative and their acts significative in that history, all whose parts were examples, written for our admonition? Judas was a disciple, and yet he was a traitor. Joab was David's servant, and yet he slew a confiding man, whom his master had dismissed with favour. The rational can act against as well as with the spiritual, which it is its true office to serve and obey; but even its contrary acts may become channels of usefulness.

David, however, justly mourned over Abner's death; and what is more, he made Joab himself mourn. "And David said to Joab, and to all the people that were with him, Rend your clothes, and gird you with sackcloth, and mourn before Abner." Joab's mourning may have had little sincerity to commend it, but the outward and visible act is that which represents; and the concurrent mourning of all concerned, from the king downwards, expresses the concurrent action of all the thoughts and affections of the mind in expressing godly sorrow for the commission of an ungodly deed. In the obsequies which they paid the slain hero, "king David himself followed the bier. And they buried Abner in Hebron: and the king lifted up his voice, and wept at the grave of Abner; and all the people wept." As burial is the symbol of resurrection, Abner's being buried in Hebron tells us that the natural truth, which he represented, is raised into a spiritual state, when it has once acknowledged the sovereignty of spiritual truth, however unreal it may have been to the rational, when acting from its own views and impulses. Abner had not, it is true, carried his purpose into effect. But this he would no doubt have done had he been allowed to return to his own land. He had the will, but he was deprived of the opportunity of bringing it into action. He was not like those who have the will with the opportunity, thus showing that they have not, but only suppose they have, the performing will.

At the grave the king lamented over Abner, and said, "Died Abner as a fool dies? Your hands were not bound, nor your feet put into fetters: as a man falls before wicked men, so fellest you." David had lamented over Saul, now he laments over Saul's general. Saul had been slain by the enemy, Abner had fallen by the hand of an ostensible friend. Neither foolish nor bound, he died as if he had been both a fool and in fetters. Wisdom and power, with the freedom to use them, are no protection against treachery. But in Scripture, a fool is not so much a weak as a worthless or wicked person; and such a one may require restraint, and even deserve death, which, we have seen, overtook Nabal. Abner was not such a one, and yet he suffered an inglorious death. But what does this lamentation of David teach us in its inner meaning? In Saul's death, David lamented the fall, in the Church, of Divine truth, which, as the anointed king of Israel, he represented. In the death of Abner he laments the fall of a primary truth, which is the same truth in a lower form and active state, as represented by Abner. Therefore David said to his servants, "Know you not that there is a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel?" For a prince means a primary or principal truth, which is subordinate to and rules under the highest. In espousing and maintaining the cause of Ish-bosheth, Abner became the support of Saul's house and throne. When he transferred his allegiance to David, he virtually became a support of the house and throne of David; and had he lived, he would have become so actually. Partly at least on this account, after saying of Abner, that a prince and a great man had fallen in Israel, David added, "And I am this day weak, though anointed king." But this weakness arose also, and perhaps still more, from the deed of Joab, as calculated to bring discredit on himself and his kingdom, although he had washed his hands of the guilt. "And these men the sons of Zeruiah," he concludes, "be too hard for me: the Lord shall reward the doer of evil according to his wickedness." When the inward man fails to find support in the outward man, whether it be from want of correspondence on the part of the rational or the natural, he is, in that state, as David was in that day, weak, though anointed king. Faith imbued with love may be the ruling principle in the inward man; but the inward man is but weak, and feels his own weakness, whenever the outward man refuses to act in harmony with him, much more when he acts against him. For the outward man is not, strictly speaking, an agent, but a reagent; he does not act but reacts; for all the power of acting comes from within. But the outward man can react against, as well as with, the inward man; he can use the power with which he is continually supplied to work his own will instead of that of his master. It is the same with man himself in relation to the Lord. Man is not, strictly speaking, an agent but a reagent. The Lord is the only agent throughout this universe; all created things and beings are but reagents. Yet man, although he has all his power, as he has his life, from God, can react against Him. He can use his God-given power to do his own will, instead of the Divine will. He has rationality and liberty, without which he would not be human, and the existence of these implies the power of judging and choosing, and therefore of acting, as if the power were his own, as it virtually, though not actually, is.

It seems remarkable that David should so bitterly complain that the sons of Zeruiah were too hard for him, and yet show no intention or even desire to remove them from a position they had misused. It may be thought they were too powerful to lose as friends and encounter as enemies. The higher reason is, that the sons of Zeruiah had a representative use to perform. That rationality which they represented is not to be rejected, even when it reacts against the higher perceptions of the mind, until the stage of the regenerate life to which it belongs is completed, and the state is perfected. When good takes the place of truth, when Solomon reigns instead of David, its end will have come. Then JEHOVAH will reward the doer of evil according to his wickedness. Not the anointed but the anointer is he who rewards such wickedness; not the Divine truth but the Divine good is that which removes such capability from the sphere of mental activity and bodily action. Now, the inversion of state is only going on. When that is completed, and good reigns, it will cast out all that offends.

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