2Sa_3:31-34. 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. And 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. And the king lamented over Abner, and said, Died Abner as a fool dieth? Thy hands were not bound, nor thy feet put into fetters: as a man falleth before wicked men, so fellest thou. And all the people wept again over him.
AFTER the death of Saul, David was anointed king in Hebron: but still he reigned over one tribe only; for Abner had prevailed on the other eleven tribes to adhere still to the house of Saul, and to make Ishbosheth, the son of Saul, their king. From the disinterestedness and forbearance which David manifested during all the persecutions which he experienced from Saul, we can have no doubt but that e would have rested satisfied with the government of one tribe, till God in his providence should open the way for the full possession of the throne of Israel: but Ishbosheth and his adherents accounted David an usurper, and therefore waged incessant war with him for seven years [Note: 2Sa_2:10-11 with 2Sa_3:1.]. At last however a circumstance occurred, which seemed likely to effect the promised union of all the tribes under David as their head. Ishbosheth had offended Abner by accusing him of illicit intercourse with a concubine of Saul: and Abner, filled with resentment, determined to transfer his allegiance to David, and to carry over all the eleven tribes with him. Ishbosheth, knowing that Abner’s influence would effect this measure, acquiesced in it, and submitted to the terms prescribed by David as a preliminary to the league which should be made between them: he sent and took Michal, Saul’s daughter, from Phaltiel her husband, and gave her up to David, from whom she had been wrongfully withheld. Every thing was now ready to be carried into execution: Abner had succeeded in his conference with David, and nothing remained but to bring over the heads of the eleven tribes to the plan proposed. But behold, the treachery of Joab defeated and destroyed the plan. Joab, just returned from an expedition against the Philistines, heard what Abner had done; and immediately expostulated with David on his credulity, for suffering Abner so to impose upon him: and then, sending privately in David’s name to Abner, as though some further communication with him was wanted, he met Abner on his return, and took him aside, and slew him.
This murderous act of Joab’s, together with its attendant circumstances, will furnish us with some very useful, and, at this time, seasonable [Note: Just after the assassination of Mr. Perceval, before the presenting to the Prince Regent the Address from Cambridge.], observations.
We observe then,
That there is no crime so atrocious, but a person under the influence of a vindictive spirit will commit it—
[Revenge was the principle from which Joab, in concert with his brother Abishai, acted on this occasion [Note: ver. 27, 30.]: Abner had slain his brother Asahel; and they sought to avenge his death. But if they had candidly considered, they might have found in this matter an occasion for gratitude rather than resentment: for Abner had exercised towards Asahel a forbearance and tenderness that could not reasonably have been expected; nor had lifted up a hand against him till the last extremity [Note: 2Sa_2:20-23.]. They were blinded however by their own passion, and overlooked every thing for the gratification of it. Joab never once reflected on the baseness of the action he was about to perpetrate, nor on the loss which David and the whole nation would sustain, nor on the account which he should one day give of it to God; but with horrid treachery, and deliberate cruelty, plunged the dagger into the side of Abner.
Alas! alas! how awfully has this scene been renewed amongst us! It was no political animosity, but revenge alone, that instigated the murderer to the commission of his crime. Under the influence of that infernal passion he proceeded in the most deliberate manner to execute his cruel purpose. Thoughts of mercy and compassion found no place in his bosom. The injury that would be done to a fellow-creature, (who would in one instant be hurried into the presence of his God;) the bereavement that would be felt by all his family, and the loss that would be sustained by the whole nation, (a loss to all appearance irreparable;) seemed to him as nothing, when weighed against the gratifications of revenge: nay, the thought of his own account that he should have to give at the judgment-seat of Christ could interpose no bar to the execution of his design. Yea, after the perpetration of the deed, he justified his act, and, like Joab, continued impenitent to his dying-hour.
Ah! what an evil is revenge! What need have we to guard against the very thought of it rising in our hearts! Truly, we know not to what an extent the inundation may reach, when once the smallest breach is made in the dam that obstructs this current [Note: Pro_17:14.].]
We all are called upon at this time to mourn on the sad occasion: for it is certain,
That the crimes of individuals will be imputed to us as national, if they be not nationally reprobated and deplored—
[Of this David was aware; and therefore he endeavoured to avert the guilt from the nation, by calling on them all to humble themselves before God, and to express in penitential sorrow their abhorrence of the crime [Note: ver. 28, 29, 31.]. On this occasion he himself set them the example: he mourned, he wept, he fasted: he followed the corpse to the grave: he poured out the most pathetic lamentations over it; reflecting with just severity on the atrocity of the crime; and lamenting that he had not power to inflict punishment on the offenders [Note: ver. 33, 34, 35, 39.]: and it was greatly to the honour of his people that they participated so deeply in his affliction. All approbation of the crime was thus formally disavowed; and the guilt of it was made to rest on him who had committed it.
We rejoice that an universal abhorrence of the assassination has been expressed in our land: or, if there have been any so abandoned to all sense of duty both to God and man as to approve the deed, they have made themselves partakers of the crime, and contracted in the sight of God the guilt of murder. We would however remind you all, that this should be a season of deep humiliation amongst us, and of earnest prayer. We must mourn over the deed, and wash our hands in the blood of our great Sacrifice, if we would not have the guilt of blood imputed to us, or visited upon our land [Note: Deu_21:1-9.].]
It is some consolation to us however to consider,
That whatever obstructions arise, God’s purposes shall surely be accomplished—
[The establishment of David on the throne of Israel was now nearly completed; yet in the very moment of its completion, as it were, was it counteracted by this horrid crime; the influence that was to accomplish the measure was destroyed; and the rival monarch deterred from his purpose. No prospect now remained but that of continued war: and the very counsels of Heaven appear to have been defeated. But God’s counsel shall stand, though the expected instrument of its accomplishment be taken out of the way, and the greatest obstacle to its accomplishment remain. Accordingly in an unlooked-for way the point was effected, and the promise made fifteen years before to David, was fulfilled.
We did hope, that by the elevation of him, whose loss we deplore, to the government of this country, God had designs of mercy toward us: and we have reason to adore our God for the benefits which through his instrumentality our nation has received. Such a character, all things considered, has rarely been seen at the head of our affairs; for piety is but a rare associate with political power. But, if the channel of God’s mercy is withdrawn, the Fountain still is full; and if we plead with him to pour out his benefits upon us, he will yet find other channels through which to communicate them to our land. True it is, that this is a season of uncommon difficulty, and the political horizon is gloomy in the extreme [Note: No person being found to take the lead in our government; and new difficulties arising, by means of Russia being just about to be again involved in war with France.]: but we hope that our nation shall yet be preserved a blessing to the world; and that all the efforts which are making for the enlarging of our Redeemer’s kingdom, and which were sanctioned and aided by him whom we have lost, will yet be honoured with success. “The wall is to be built in troublous times:” “the kingdoms of the world shall become the kingdoms of the Lord and of his Christ:” and, though darkness should yet increase upon us, we hope and trust that “in the evening time it shall be light.”]
But though God’s counsel shall stand, we are not the less accountable to him for our actions; nor can we doubt but,
That however men may escape punishment in this world, their sins shall be recompensed in the world to come—
[To that tribunal David looked forward, when he saw that “the sons of Zeruiah were too hard for him;” and he found consolation in the thought, that “the Lord would reward the doer according to his wickedness [Note: ver. 39.].” It was a misfortune to him to have a subject so powerful, that he could set the laws at defiance. Through the goodness of God, the laws of our land are enforced; and the atrocious act that has been committed has met with its deserved recompence. But there are sins of a less heinous nature, which are committed daily with impunity. Let us not however suppose that they will be unnoticed by the Judge of quick and dead. The vindictive thought will there be noticed, as well as the vindictive act; yea, and the impure desire also, as well as adultery itself: for God will bring into judgment every secret thing, whether it be good or evil. Nor will there be any respect of persons with him. Now there is a kind of partiality in favour of the rich and great; evils are allowed in them, which, if committed by persons of the lower class, would be reprobated and abhorred: but the high and the low will hereafter be equally tried by the unerring standard of God’s law, and be judged “according to what they have done in the body, whether it be good or evil.” Let not the hope of impunity therefore encourage any man to sin; for God has warned us, that “though hand join in hand,” (yea, though earth and hell should unite for the protection of any,) “the wicked shall not pass unpunished.”]