“And the king lamented for Abner, saying,
“Should Abner die as a fool dies?” (2 Samuel 3:33)
These were the words of mourning that King David spoke concerning Abner after he was killed by Joab. Abner, the man who had placed the son of Saul, Ishbosheth, upon the throne of Israel (2 Samuel 2:8-9) had been an enemy of King David during a great civil war. David had become king over Judah and, by the direction of the Lord, had ruled from the city of Hebron (2 Sam. 2:1-2).
It had been God’s intention that David would rule over a united Israel and Judah (1 Sam. 16:1), yet Abner and many who had been loyal to Saul sought to continue the reign of the House of Saul by anointing his son as king. Seeking to resolve the issue and, hopefully, avoid an all-out war between the kingdoms, the two sides met at Gibeon to negotiate a solution. Abner, leader of the armies of Israel, suggested to Joab, leader of David’s army, that twelve champions from each side be appointed that day to fight each other with the end result determining which side would be victorious (2 Sam. 2:14-15).
Neither side prevailed and all twenty-four combatants lay dead at the end of the contest (v. 16). Without a clear victor, the total war which both sides had sought to avoid ensued immediately after with the armies of Judah dominating the enemies of King David. As the forces of Israel retreated, one of Joab’s brothers, Asahel, described as an exceptionally fast runner, pursued Abner, rapidly closing the distance between them (v. 19). Knowing that he clearly outmatched his pursuer and, not wishing to kill the brother of Joab, whom he clearly respected, Abner called out to Asahel imploring him to come no further.
“If you must have more of the blood of your enemies, then take the life of one of my soldiers. But if you insist on continuing to follow me, I will have to kill you and I do not wish to do so“, Abner pleaded (v. 22). Asahel, however, would not be dissuaded. As Abner had stated, he really did not wish to kill Asahel because we are told he struck him in the stomach with the butt-end of his spear (v.23). Nevertheless, the spear handle pierced the young man’s belly, ending his life.
Joab and the armies of Judah continued their pursuit of Abner and his men until nightfall when both sides expressed their desire to end the pursuit (2 Sam. 2:26-29). The next day, both armies would return home, yet the war itself would be long and bitter (2 Sam. 3:1).
Abner grew more and more powerful during the civil war even as the armies of Israel lost ground and became weaker. Abner, it seems, did as he pleased even having an affair with one of King Ishbosheth’s father Saul’s former concubines (2 Sam. 3:7). When Ishbosheth challenged Abner over the matter, Abner became enraged and switched sides, offering himself into the service of King David.
After Abner joined the side of Judah and King David, he used his former position of power in Israel to attempt to negotiate a peace treaty with the leaders in Ishbosheth’s kingdom and to advocate for the rule of David over a united kingdom. Joab, still bitter over the death of his brother Asahel, rebuked King David for trusting the former leader of Israel’s armies and accused Abner of being a spy (v. 24-25).
The Death Of Abner
What happened next is very interesting and worthy of our close consideration. Verses 26-29 read as follows:
“When Joab came out from David’s presence, he sent messengers after Abner, and they brought him back from the cistern of Sirah. But David did not know about it. And when Abner returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside into the midst of the gate to speak with him privately, and there he struck him in the stomach, so that he died, for the blood of Asahel his brother. Afterward, when David heard of it, he said, “I and my kingdom are forever guiltless before the Lord for the blood of Abner the son of Ner. May it fall upon the head of Joab and upon all his father’s house, and may the house of Joab never be without one who has a discharge or who is leprous or who holds a spindle or who falls by the sword or who lacks bread!” (2 Samuel 3:26-29)
Joab is clearly motivated by the desire for avenging his brother and kills Abner by striking him in the stomach; the same way in which Asahel had died by the hand of Abner. Yet while Asahel had been killed accidentally and in self-defense, the death of Abner was cold-blooded murder. Joab had lured Abner outside of the city of Hebron to the outer gate with the deception that he wished to speak with him in private. King David, clearly appalled by the deed, denounces the act and stresses the fact that he and his government were in no way complicit, even pronouncing a curse on Joab and his family. But his words over Abner are peculiar when he declares that he “died as a fool dies.” Why?
“But if the manslayer shall at any time go beyond the boundaries of his city of refuge to which he fled, and the avenger of blood finds him outside the boundaries of his city of refuge, and the avenger of blood kills the manslayer, he shall not be guilty of blood.” (Numbers 35:26-27)
Hebron was a City of Refuge under the Law of Moses (Joshua 21:13) where a person guilty of manslaughter was safe from retribution by those seeking to avenge the person they unintentionally killed. Within the walls of the Cities of Refuge, a person could not legally be killed in vengeance for blood accidentally spilled. But if they went outside the walls of those cities, then they were no longer protected.
Abner died as a fool dies because he left the safety and protection of Hebron and stepped out of the gate where Joab, though not morally justified, was legally justified in killing him. Even David, the king, had no legal recourse to hold Joab accountable for murdering Abner. Abner abandoned the place of safety and refuge and it cost him his life.
How many people today can it be said of that they will die as a fool dies because they do not enter into the safety and refuge of the Lord Jesus Christ? How many will perish unnecessarily because they refuse the protection of our Place of Refuge? What deception, what temptation, will lure us away from the safety of Salvation in Jesus?
Abner spoke the truth about God and God’s chosen king, David (2 Sam. 3:17-18), yet that failed to save him. Neither will religion and speaking the right words about God save us. Abner was a sinner with like passions as we have, but it wasn’t that sin that disqualified him from entering into and remaining in the Refuge provided. Sin does not bar our entry into the Salvation provided by Jesus Christ, no, sin is the impetus which makes refuge necessary.
There are those who stand just outside the gate of Refuge today, perhaps even some who will read this. Safety and protection lies so close at hand and they will not enter in and be protected. They might even attend church, read the Bible, and live their lives morally. But if they die apart from the Refuge of trusting in Jesus Christ for Salvation, they will die as a fool dies.
To God goes all glory. In service to Him,
All Scripture quotations in this article are taken from:
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?“]