Abner and Joab

An Extemporaneous Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

So Asahel pursued Abner, and in going he did not turn to the right hand or to the left from following Abner. (2SA 2:19)

Saul and Jonathan died fighting the Philistines.

    1. Abner, the commander of his army and personal body guard, put Ishbosheth on the throne.

      1. Ishbosheth was not a power himself. It was the power and authority of Abner that made the whole thing work. Ishbosheth was a puppet king – but he was the legitimate hereditary ruler of the kingdom.

        1. However, there were no “rules of succession.” Saul was the first and only king of Israel. He had been selected by the Lord, not according to his birth. While it may have been true that other nations chose successive rulers from the children of the king, it was just as likely that in a kingdom conceived and protected by the Lord as Israel was, that another system could be used. For example, it could be that they would always ask the Lord to choose the next king by lot!

        2. In fact, we already know that the Lord had already made His choice known when He ordered Samuel to anoint David as the next king while Saul was still king himself.

        3. But Abner probably didn’t know about this, so he took his cue from the nations around him and put Saul’s most capable surviving son on the throne with the intention of holding him there through the force of his own authority.

  1. The men of Hebron anoint David as their king

    1. As usual, having two kings in one nation leads to a civil war.

      1. The two armies meet at the pool of Gibeon

        1. Abner leads the men of Israel

        2. Joab leads the men of Judah

        3. 12 young men from each side are sent out to “play”

        4. They all use the same move and all the champions die

      2. Since single combat failed to determine a winner, a general fight breaks out

    2. Asahel wanted to make a name for himself by killing Abner

      1. Abner tried to get him to turn around but he wouldn’t

      2. Abner turned and tried to push Asahel away with the blunt end of his spear

      3. The force of the collision forced the spear right through Asahel at the fifth rib, killing him instantly

        1. At the fifth [rib] at which Abner smote ASAHEL with the hinder end of his spear (2 Sam. ii. 23); “at the fifth” signifying as much as was sufficient for death (AE 548:8)

      4. Those who came to the place where his body was, “stood still.” (2SA 2:23)

    3. In order to understand this, we need to think about the way it would have appeared to Joab and the other soldiers passing by.

      1. The body was lying on the ground with the spear through it – only because Abner tried to push him away with the blunt end the point was sticking out the front of the body as if he had been attacked from behind — murdered. This is why the soldiers stopped and “stood still” when they came upon the body of Asahel: they could not believe that Abner would have dishonored himself by attacking a weaker, inexperienced opponent from behind, yet this is what the evidence told them happened.

      2. Ironic, because Abner tried to save the boy’s life

      3. Not surprisingly, Joab became enraged because he was convinced that Abner had murdered his younger brother. Joab, already a pretty nasty piece of work, vowed to find a way to kill Abner.

    4. There was a long war between them, North and South, Ishbosheth and David, with David’s forces more and more successful.

      1. When Ishbosheth insulted Abner, he became the agent of unification

  2. Joab murders Abner

    1. The reason given is revenge, but there must have been some sense of anger about loosing his job to Abner

    2. David lets him go – because (he says) he is too weak to deal with the powerful sons of Zeruiah!!

      1. David is at the peak of his power!

        1. David recognizes his need for a ruthless killer

        2. On his deathbed, he commands Solomon to kill Joab

          1. Joab ran to the altar for sanctuary, but sanctuary was denied. He was pulled away from the altar and executed.

  3. Abner is a symbol of the Lord’s conjunctive power

    1. As a warrior he represents truth

      1. He is the “leading” truth of Israel

        1. The kingdom of Israel generally represents the doctrine of faith

        2. The kingdom of Judah generally represents the doctrine of charity

        3. The civil war was the struggle to keep these two together in one kingdom

        4. It is a picture of what happens in our own minds and hearts during temptation

      2. What is the “leading truth” that unifies?

        1. That is various according to the state of life and the nature of the temptation

    2. Joab, on the other hand, represents that which would destroy charity — and the kingdom for the sake of what is it’s own

      1. Asahel, the younger brother, as a son, would be expected to represent truths. But here, in the opposite sense, Asahel represents the falsities that one uses in the attempt to hide one’s own evils.

        1. Little delights from the lusts of self-love. These delights of evil are the kinds of things that cannot exist when the life is governed by charity. Thus, in the literal sense, Asahel is killed by Abner.

        2. Joab, however, represents someone in the grips of evil, and hypocrisy. He sees these delights as the very delights of his soul. He cannot bear to have them taken away.

        3. When we try to break a bad habit, the hells rush in with the delights to keep us in our evils.

      2. It is right that such things are destroyed by Abner

  4. Joab becomes a symbol of the person who is a spiritual hypocrite

    1. Presenting a face to the world of protecting the king

    2. When internally, he is totally focused on his own agenda

    3. AC 9014 [5] The damnation of such is described by the prophetic words of David with respect to Joab, when he had slain Abner with deceit: “one that hath an issue” signifies the profanation of the good of love; “one that is a leper” signifies the profanation of the truth of faith; “one that leaneth on a staff,” or that is lame, signifies those in whom all good has been destroyed; “one that falleth by the sword” signifies those who are continually dying through falsities); “one that lacketh bread” signifies those who are destitute of all spiritual life, for “bread” denotes the sustenance of spiritual life by good. As such were signified by “Joab,” therefore by the command of Solomon Joab was slain at the altar whither he had fled (1 Kings ii. 28-32).

    4. AC 9828 [7] As truths and goods are set loose and are dispersed by evil deeds, it is said of JOAB after he had slain Abner with deceit, that “he put the bloods of war in his girdle that was on his loins” (1 Kings ii. 5), by which is signified that he had dispersed and destroyed these things.

    5. When David told Solomon to execute Joab he ran to the altar seeking sanctuary.

      1. This illustrates how a person can live their entire life in evil, acting as if they would live forever and never have to face the consequences of their actions. But, eventually, even such people sense that the end is near, and sense that their spiritual life is in doubt, and they seek the Lord’s mercy. It is too late.

      2. Although it is the Lord’s will that everyone be saved, and although every detail of His Divine Providence is directed towards saving every human being who will respond to His leading, not all can be saved.

      3. Nevertheless they are not thereby forgiven unless the man performs serious repentance, and desists from evils, and afterward lives a life of faith and charity, and this even to the end of his life. When this is done, the man receives from the Lord spiritual life, which is called new life. When from this new life the man views the evils of his former life, and turns away from them, and regards them with horror, then for the first time are the evils forgiven, for then the man is held in truths and goods by the Lord, and is withheld from evils. (AC 9014)

  5. What is the main thing we can learn from Joab’s fate?

    1. The Lord has the power to save, through regeneration, anyone who seeks salvation

    2. But those who deceive themselves through hypocrisy cannot be saved

      1. Not because of any weakness on the Lord’s part

      2. But because they refuse to admit their evils, and if they cannot see them, they cannot repent of them and begin to do good. Therefore, they remain in their evils throughout life and to eternity.

      3. We also remember Abner

        1. Tormented and pursued by the falsities represented by Asahel

        2. He tried to turn them aside with reason and argument

          1. But falsities do not respond to reason, so he took a rod in his hand, representing the power of truth multiplied when applied to life, and the falsities were easily struck down.

          2. When we are tormented and tempted by falsities and self-justifications that would lead us astray, we can draw strength from the image presented here, we can draw strength from knowing the power of truth from the Word can strike down any enemy of our spiritual life.

          3. However, he refused to turn aside. Therefore Abner struck him in the stomach with the blunt end of the spear, so that the spear came out of his back; and he fell down there and died on the spot. So it was that as many as came to the place where Asahel fell down and died, stood still. (2SA 2:23) Amen.



1st Lesson:

[Some time has passed. Abner, commander in chief in Israel under Saul has fought to protect Saul’s line by supporting Ishbosheth, Saul’s son, as king in Israel. When Ishbosheth belittles Abner, he goes to David and offers his help in bringing the tribes of Israel under David’s control.]

(2 Sam 3:17-39) Now Abner had communicated with the elders of Israel, saying, “In time 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 the hand of all their enemies.’” {19} And Abner also spoke in the hearing of Benjamin. Then Abner also went to speak in the hearing of David in Hebron all that seemed good to Israel and the whole house of Benjamin. {20} So 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} Then Abner said to David, “I will arise and go, and gather all Israel to my lord the king, that they may make a covenant with you, and that you may reign over all that your heart desires.” So David sent Abner away, and he went in peace. {22} At that moment 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 troops that were with him had come, they told Joab, saying, “Abner the son of Ner came to the king, and he sent him away, and he has gone in peace.” {24} Then Joab came to the king and said, “What have you done? Look, Abner came to you; why is it that you sent him away, and he has already gone? {25} “Surely you realize that Abner the son of Ner came to deceive you, to know your going out and your coming in, and to know all that you are doing.” {26} And when Joab had gone from David’s presence, he sent messengers after Abner, who brought him back from the well of Sirah. But David did not know it. {27} Now when Abner had returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside in the gate to speak with him privately, and there stabbed him in the stomach, so that he died for the blood of Asahel his brother. {28} Afterward, when David heard it, he said, “My kingdom and I are guiltless before the LORD forever of the blood of Abner the son of Ner. {29} “Let it rest on the head of Joab and on all his father’s house; and let there never fail to be in the house of Joab one who has a discharge or is a leper, who leans on a staff or falls by the sword, or who lacks bread.” {30} So Joab and Abishai his brother killed Abner, because he had killed their brother Asahel at Gibeon in the battle. {31} Then David said to Joab and to all the people who were with him, “Tear your clothes, gird yourselves with sackcloth, and mourn for Abner.” And King David followed the coffin. {32} So 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} And the king sang a lament over Abner and said: “Should Abner die as a fool dies? {34} Your hands were not bound Nor your feet put into fetters; As a man falls before wicked men, so you fell.” Then all the people wept over him again. {35} And when all the people came to persuade David to eat food while it was still day, David took an oath, saying, “God do so to me, and more also, if I taste bread or anything else till the sun goes down!” {36} Now all the people took note of it, and it pleased them, since whatever the king did pleased all the people. {37} For all the people and all Israel understood that day that it had not been the king’s intent to kill Abner the son of Ner. {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} “And I am weak today, though anointed king; and these men, the sons of Zeruiah, are too harsh for me. The LORD shall repay the evildoer according to his wickedness.”

2nd Lesson: AC 9014:3 - 5

[3] The majority within the Church think that the forgiveness of sins involves wiping and washing them away, like the removal of dirt by water, and that after forgiveness people go about clean and pure. This idea reigns especially with those who attribute all of salvation to faith alone But let it be known that the situation with the forgiveness of sins is altogether different from that being Mercy itself, the Lord forgives everyone their sins. Nevertheless they do not come to be forgiven unless the person sincerely repents, refrains from evils, and after that leads a life of faith and charity, doing so to the end of his life. When this happens the person receives spiritual life from the Lord, called new life. Then when with this new life he looks at the evils of his former life, turns away from them, and abhors them, his evils have for the first time been forgiven For the person is now maintained in truths and forms of good by the Lord and held back from evils. This shows what the forgiveness of sins is, and that it cannot take place within an hour, nor within a year. The Church knows this to be so, for it says to those who attend the Holy Supper that their sins are forgiven if they begin a new life by refraining from evils and abhorring them.

[4] All this now shows what the situation is with hypocrites who through guile are inwardly eaten up by evils - they are incapable of repenting. For the actual remnants of goodness and truth present with them have been destroyed and lost, and everything of spiritual life with them. And being incapable of repenting they cannot be forgiven. This is meant by the law that those who kill their neighbour with guile must be taken from the altar to die.

[5] Their damnation was described by the following prophetic utterance made by David regarding Joab, who had killed Abner with guile,

There will always be in the house of Joab1 one who suffers from a discharge, or is a leper, or supports himself with a rod, or falls by the sword, or lacks bread. 2 Sam. 3:27, 29.

'One suffering from a discharge' means profanation of the good of love; 'a leper' means profanation of the truth of faith; 'one supporting himself with a rod', or a person who is lame, means those with whom all good has been lost; 'one falling by the sword' means those constantly dying through falsities; and 'one lacking bread' means those deprived of all spiritual life, for 'bread' is the sustainment of spiritual life by means of good. Because such people were meant by 'Joab' he was killed by the command of Solomon at the altar to which he had fled.


1lit There will not be cut off from the house of Joab