This Week's Focus Passage

2 Samuel 2:18 ‘And Asahel was as light of foot as a wild roe.’

This Week’s Focus Passage: 2 Samuel 2:18 

‘And Asahel was as light of foot as a wild roe.’


    David is subsequently made king over Judah. In 2:4 of 2 Samuel, we may read that; And his men that were with him did David bring up, every man with his household: and they dwelt in the cities of Hebron. And the men of Judah came, and there they anointed David over the house of Judah. This anointing of David over the house of Judah, or we might say, over the tribe of Judah, brought about a division in Israel, for now we had David over the ‘house of Judah, while the remaining son of Saul, namely Ish-bosheth, as king over the house of Benjamin, with his general now being Abner. We read a further description of this division under Ish-bosheth and Abner, in 2:8-10, which begins, by relating;

Now Abner the son of Ner, captain of Saul’s host, had taken Ish- bosheth the son of Saul, and brought him over to Mahanaim; and he made him king over Gilead, and over the Ashurites, and over Jezreel, and over Ephraim, and over Benjamin, and over all Israel. (Ish-bosheth, Saul’s son, was forty years old when he began to reign over Israel, and he reigned two years.) But the house of Judah followed David.

So that now, there were two opposing kingdoms, where there had been one. While Saul was the first king of Israel, now Ish-bosheth, his son, king over Israel, but the ‘house of Judah,’ has separated itself, and anointed David to be its king. There were, now, also two opposing generals of the two opposing factions, with their forces. How is this going to be worked out; or will it work out? The answer to that question is not far to see; considering the given narrative, for we are next, witnesses of a clash between these two forces, with the servants of Ish-bosheth, under Abner, and the servants of David under Joab, the son of Zeruiah meeting at the pool of Gibeon. Was this simply some remarkable coincident? It wouldn’t seem very likely. The sequel is reported in rather odd phraseology. We are informed that Abner said to Joab; who incidentally, or not, happens to be a kinsman of David; we have seen him already referred to as Joab, the son of Zeruiah. Well, Zeruiah was a sister of David, and the mother of Joab, Abishai, and Asahel, who were each, therefore, nephews of David the king, in Hebron. But Abner said to Joab, ‘Let the young men, I pray thee, arise, and play before us. And Joab said, let them arise.’ Now this language is surely an oddity unto today’s reader. 

‘Let them arise, and play before us.’ As the fighting, and butchery ensued, it gave no appearance whatever, of playing. Keil and Delitzsch offer some remarks on this, perhaps they are helpful? They have rendered it “Let the young men arise and wrestle before us, to joke, or play is used here to denote the war-play of single combat,” really not particularly helpful. How is grabbing one’s ‘playmate’ by the head and thrusting a blade into his side supposed to constitute ‘playing,’ or even ‘war-play’?

    It was definitely much more than war-games; simply based upon the result, for we next read And the battle was very sore that day; and Abner was beaten, and the men of Israel, before the servants of David. Actions bring about consequences. The actions of Abner in provoking this ‘war-play’ had the consequence of he and his men being defeated, to the great loss of three hundred and sixty men, while Joab’s loss was but nineteen, plus Asahel. This is an astounding difference in losses, and yet, it would almost seem the Joab suffered the greatest loss; the loss of his brother, Asahel. But this was not the end of the matter. We repeat the above declaration that, ‘Actions bring about consequences.’ While most commentators contend that Abner was, indeed, the one largely responsible for the confrontation of the forces of David and the forces of Ish-bosheth, we are narrowing our focus on Asahel, and his pursuit of Abner. This was an action, in itself, that had dire consequences. It is difficult for us to clear Asahel of the charge of folly. It certainly appears to be foolishness on his part. It seems clear that he was a relatively young, and likely untested, warrior under his superior brothers, Joab and Abishai, and almost certainly inferior to a tried and tested warrior such as was Abner. Abner tried again and again to persuade him to leave off this chase; it would only lead to his death. Most writers are of opinion that the folly of Asahel was the simple desire to ‘prove himself’ against Ish-bosheth’s champion; at the very best, not a very well thought out determination. His resultant death brought forward, in both Joab and Abishai, extreme desires for vengeance.

    It was not long in coming, that is, the satisfaction of this desired vengeance; and it came at a most unfavorable time. The opportunity came just as David and Abner were negotiating for peace between Israel and Judah. When Joab heard about the ‘conference’ that David and Abner had just consummated, he sent word after Abner, who had just begun his return to Ish-bosheth, to share with his king, Ish-bosheth, the details of the accord that he had reached with David; 2 Samuel 3:27:

And when Abner was returned to Hebron, Joab took his aside into the midst of the gate to speak with him quietly, and smote him there in the body, so that he died, for the blood for the blood of Asahel his brother.

Remember our theme, that actions, or behaviors, have consequences. We observe in this case, the foolish pride of Asahel has now led to the potential ruin of this peace in Israel worked out by David and Abner. Were in not for David’s immediate remark and denial of any complicity in the assassination of Abner; a denial that was joined with honest sorrow over Abner’s death at the hands of the chief warrior of Judah, the design for peace would have been totally overthrown. And it could reasonably then be attributed to the actions of Asahel. Were it not for his ambitious pursuit of Abner, he would not have perished at his hands; there would have been no grounds for the vengeance subsequently felt necessary by Joab, along with Abishai. The attempted ‘armistice’ would not have been jeopardized. So then actions do have consequences.

    Certain it is that every one, among mankind, may easily reflect upon many instances in our ‘memory banks’ and clearly see, with the advantage of retrospect, how often are the occasions in our lives where, if we had not done something amiss, or if we had thought to do something other than we did, our history would have been changed, perhaps, even drastically. Have we not, each among us, at one time or other, said something that we wished we could take back? Would we not have wished that we could reach out, grab those last words, and stuffed them back in our mouths? How many are the occasions when our personal history, or even more extended history, might have been seriously altered thereby? Actions have consequences. Yea, words have consequences. It is easy to imagine that, if Uncle David had been able, he would have ordered Asahel to back off his foolish pursuit of Abner. Not to say, that David had any prescient instincts of the effects of that pursuit, but simply, that it was foolish. Perhaps it was prideful; perhaps it was selfish; perhaps it was just plain stupid, or more likely, just plain wrong. How great is our need to have God, the indwelling Holy Spirit, given to believers to guide and direct us according to the Word of God; accordingly, how great ought our thanksgiving and praise then be? 

Ye know this, my beloved brethren. But let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.—James 1:19-20.

David Farmer, elder

Fellowship Bible Church 


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