2 SAMUEL 3:22-39
22Just then the servants of David arrived with Joab from a raid, bringing much spoil with them. But Abner was not with David at Hebron, for David had dismissed him, and he had gone away in peace. 23When Joab and all the army that was with him came, it was told Joab, “Abner son of Ner came to the king, and he has dismissed him, and he has gone away in peace.” 24Then Joab went to the king and said, “What have you done? Abner came to you; why did you dismiss him, so that he got away? 25You know that Abner son of Ner came to deceive you, and to learn your comings and goings and to learn all that you are doing.”
26When 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. 27When Abner returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside in the gateway to speak with him privately, and there he stabbed him in the stomach. So he died for shedding the blood of Asahel, Joab’s brother. 28Afterward, when David heard of it, he said, “I and my kingdom are for ever guiltless before the LORD for the blood of Abner son of Ner. 29May the guilt fall on the head of Joab, and on 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 food!” 30So Joab and his brother Abishai murdered Abner because he had killed their brother Asahel in the battle at Gibeon.
31Then David said to Joab and to all the people who were with him, “Tear your clothes, and put on sackcloth, and mourn over Abner.” And King David followed the bier. 32They buried Abner at Hebron. The king lifted up his voice and wept at the grave of Abner, and all the people wept. 33The king lamented for Abner, saying, “Should Abner die as a fool dies? 34Your hands were not bound, your feet were not fettered; as one falls before the wicked you have fallen.“ And all the people wept over him again. 35Then all the people came to persuade David to eat something while it was still day; but David swore, saying, “So may God do to me, and more, if I taste bread or anything else before the sun goes down!” 36All the people took notice of it, and it pleased them; just as everything the king did pleased all the people. 37So all the people and all Israel understood that day that the king had no part in the killing of Abner son of Ner. 38And the king said to his servants, “Do you not know that a prince and a great man has fallen this day in Israel? 39Today I am powerless, even though anointed king; these men, the sons of Zeruiah, are too violent for me. The LORD pay back the one who does wickedly in accordance with his wickedness!”
If you've watched the TV show Chopped, you know how the cooking competition is set up. Contestants are given a set of diverse ingredients and told to make a dish in a certain allotted time. When the time is up, the contestants must have their dishes plated in time for the three judges to taste the food, and then after they confer with each other, the least tasty dish gets "chopped," thus also chopping off the losing contestant from the show.
The interesting premise for the show is the diversity of ingredients. When the viewer sees what the given ingredients are, the viewer is made to think, How in the world is anyone going to make something edible (let alone appetizing) out of those ingredients? The challenge of course for the contestants is to accomplish just that: making something delicious.
As an analogy, please read the passage above (if you haven't done so) and ask yourself, How in the world is anyone going to make a devotional out of that?
Well certainly that's my challenge.
I don't know about delicious, but here's some food for thought:
The two central actions in the passage are the murder of Abner and David's mourning of Abner. Joab is David's nephew (David's sister, Zeruiah, is the mother of Joab). Joab is also the captain of David's army. So Abner (captain of Saul's army) and Joab are counterparts. In a previous battle Abner had killed Joab's brother, Asahel, in self-defense. Joab is now seeking revenge. And as Asahel's next of kin, by law and custom of the land, Joab is obligated to avenge the blood of his brother. So when Joab gets the opportunity, he mortally stabs Abner in the stomach.
Before the stabbing, Joab tells David what he thinks about Abner, that Abner has come to David for deceptive reasons. We do not know how David responded to this accusation given what's said in the passage. We do know that after Abner's death, however, that David is upset and angry with Joab, so much so that David curses Joab and his household with sickness, death, and poverty.
From what we can tell, Joab is consumed with hatred and revenge. Abner, in Joab's eyes, took the life of his brother, Asahel. Whether in self-defense or not, Abner's killing of Asahel must be avenged, as dictated by custom. Joab is not interested in hearing David out. Joab is not open to the idea that Abner is on the side of David. Joab knows one thing and one thing only: Abner must die for his sin of killing Asahel. For Joab, to avenge the blood of his brother is a clear and shut case. No ambiguity here. No possibility of mercy. No alternative solution.
Joab's stubborn insistence that Asahel's blood must be avenged blinds him from seeing alternative outcomes -- outcomes which are much better.
Sometimes revenge, unforgiveness, family honor, payback, setting the record straight, justice, custom, tradition, and so forth narrow our moral and spiritual vision so much that we get tunnel visioned. We lose our peripheral vision, we lose our ability to see widely, and we lose our capacity to consider things from God's point of view. We lose our empathy and compassion. We insist our view is the only true view and we condemn others for their views. Like Joab, we bind ourselves to foregone conclusions that make it impossible for us to consider a different outcome. Heaven help us.
Let's pray: Father, we want to be merciful and compassionate. We want to be humble enough to consider the possibility that our version of the story is only partially correct. We want to be wise enough to know that others might have a better perspective. Release us from habits of thought that narrow our moral and spiritual vision of people and our interaction with them. Holy Spirit, we ask you to enlarge our minds with generosity and the ability to understand people with empathy. In Jesus name, amen.