The ‘long war’ spoken of, is this war of the end-times. The Christian church grew stronger and stronger, while the house of Saul, the continual epitome of old Israel, became weaker and weaker (v.1). Is this not the picture of the present day, that Israel (though the nation is re-established on the geographical map) has a long way to go before many are called to join the house of David? While the gospel has gone out to the Gentiles and other worthless men who are now hiding under the banner of Jesus?
It is no surprise that v.2-5 is therefore a return to a genealogical account of David because it contrasts the birthing of new sons in the house of David against the death of Saul’s family, save for a few daughters such as Milcah and the son Ish-bosheth and a grandson Mephibosheth (c.f. chapter 4). In the dwindling house of Saul, the head of this house is symbolically Ish-bosheth; but Abner is the real mediator between the two houses. It is clear that there could be no procreation of this old Israel and that they must join with the house of David if they were to continue to exist. In comparison to the richness of the wives and sons by David’s side, Abner and Ish-bosheth quarrel over a rumour of Saul’s concubine being disloyal, and fear and adultery rules in this house where the king is subdued by the army commander (v.11); where the head fears the body. Yet, one thing is for certain – the looming fulfillment of the prophecy that David will be king (v.10) which has been burnt into Abner’s heart. This shameful man Ish-bosheth must turn from this accusation of adultery and move onto the inevitable truth that the house of Saul must fail; and that like Abner, choose to surrender and follow the new head David.
Yet, it is in v.12-16 that we learn truly why the genealogical account was given in v.2-5: because Milcah was David’s first wife. Because Milcah is Saul’s daughter; and it is by Milcah that David is (by implication) to become the potential heir to the throne besides Jonathan and his other brothers. And it is in God’s economy and irony that Saul’s own prophetic words are fulfilled (1 Samuel 18:21), but not for the good of Saul but for the pleasure of the Father in heaven. Milcah is no snare and has not proven to be the catalyst for David’s rise to the throne; rather, it is David who initiated this fulfillment of the first marriage to honour the house of Saul just as Abner has been doing in lieu of Saul’s death.
Thus, it is by circumcision that the old enemy, the Philistines, is exchanged as a bridal price for Saul’s daughter (v.14), as Justin Martyr in his Dialogue with Trypho states:
“The command of circumcision, again, bidding [them] always circumcise the children on the eighth day, was a type of the true circumcision, by which we are circumcised from deceit and iniquity through Him who rose from the dead on the first day after the Sabbath, [namely through] our Lord Jesus Christ. For the first day after the Sabbath, remaining the first of all the days, is called, however, the eighth, according to the number of all the days of the cycle, and [yet] remains the first.”
And in this chapter we see the transfer of the bride to the true first head, God delivering (Paltiel) Milcah from the hands of the false husband who is the son of Laish, the ancient name of the tribe of Dan, the prophesied symbolic serpent (Genesis 49:17) rejected from the book of Revelation; of Abner declaring that his hand shall be with David to bring over all Israel to him (v.12), further declaring the long foretold prophecy of David as the true king of Israel (v.17-19) finally admitting that David is the true Messiah and not some king of the physical lineage of Saul’s. Will this be the picture of Israel in the end-days, that they will no longer call Christ an imposter-Messiah but finally accept that the prophecies, shadows, sacraments and types of the Old Testament all point definitively to this God-man upon which the physical lineage of the kings are removed in favour of the priestly line of Melchizedek (Psalm 110)?
The joint fact that Abner had conferred with the elders of Israel privately and thereafter in v.20-21 had a feast with David (c.f. Exodus 24; Matthew 22 – the wedding feast typified by David’s reunification with Michal) upon his re-uniting with Michal is more than simply a message of the church uniting in new creation to finally see the Father and the Son face-to-face (v.13). It is a message of the restoration of Israel under the banner of Christ; it is the message of the long-war whereupon the elect nation Israel will not be replaced by the Gentiles, but will submit to the true God alongside them (Revelation 21:12).
The transparency of Abner’s dealings with the elders of Israel depict a man who has finally accepted the fulfillment of Yahweh’s prophecy in Jesus Christ typified in David; yet Joab’s murder of Abner is not fuelled by love for his enemy but fuelled by wrath and blindness (v.25). It is therefore interesting what pronouncement David makes over Joab’s house in v.29: “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!” What a seemingly extreme curse in light of Asahel’s death (v.30)! Yet, as we have looked at the last chapter that Asahel’s pursuit of Abner is more typical of the son of Zeruiah than the son of Mary (c.f. v.39), so David’s pronouncement is on this ‘missing father’ of these sons who take upon the matronymic label; instead, David’s pronouncement is not merely on some physical father but on the spiritual father of these sons – this spiritual father being Satan (John 8:44), who had used Joab to prevent the unity of the Israelite and the Gentile church which has been the subject of the end-times since Christ’s ascension (c.f. Acts 2, which shows the momentous act of the Gentiles speaking in tongues, and book of Ephesians which both focus on the addition of Gentiles to the church of Israel).
Thus, the burial of Abner at Hebron (v.32) is a mirror to the birth of David’s sons also at Hebron (v.2-5); just as the burial of Asahel at Bethlehem is a mirror of the birth of David in Bethlehem; just as the death of Michal’s second marriage to be replaced by the first love under David’s banner (1 Samuel 18:28).
“He speaks as one boasting that Abner did not fool himself out of his life: “Died Abner as a fool dies? No, he did not, not as a criminal, a traitor or felon, that forfeits his life into the hands of public justice; his hands were not pinioned, nor his feet fettered, as those of malefactors are: Abner falls not before just men, by a judicial sentence; but as a man, an innocent man, falleth before wicked men, thieves and robbers, so fellest thou.” Died Abner as Nabal died? so the Septuagint reads it. Nabal died as he lived, like himself, like a sot; but Abner’s fate was such as might have been the fate of the wisest and best man in the world. Abner did not throw away his life as Asahel did, who wilfully ran upon the spear, after fair warning, but he was struck by surprise. Note, It is a sad thing to die like a fool, as those do that in any way shorten their own days, and much more those that make no provision for another world.” – Matthew Henry
In David’s poetic cry Abner’s death is compared to the death and sacrifice of the Christ; upon his death are the Israelites and the Gentiles united. Though this typology is imperfect for Abner is at fault for Asahel’s death (though made in self-defence), the poetry speaks of the contrast between Abner and Nabal; the former repenting of his treatment of David and willing to unite Israel under David, against the latter refusing to repent and leading to God’s punishment of death.
Further, in David’s fasting he uses a similar phrase as Abner had done in his heated conversation with Ish-bosheth – “God do so to me and more also” to identify that both men are of the same agenda. Both men, though from different houses, have set in their mind matters of peace and mediation between the two houses, united under the prophecy of Yahweh’s anointing of David as the very centre of unity. Abner is no mere army commander, but a prince and a great man (v.38) with whom he had made a covenant with (v.13) rather than directly with Ish-bosheth himself (c.f. v.14 where Ish-bosheth was asked to deliver Michal but nothing was stated about the covenant which he offered to make with Abner). Though Asahel is buried in Bethlehem as a mark of the end of his ministry without mourning, the death of Abner in Hebron is marked with true mourning and fasting; where peace was achieved in chapter 2v.17 but denied by Asahel’s pursuit upon which he died a warrior’s death (Matthew 26:52), true peace was indeed achieved in this chapter (v.23) but again denied by the hands of a son of Zeruiah whereupon the curse is on the father of these sons and a blessing is proclaimed on the house of Abner – the house of Saul, with whom David managed to make a covenant with before Abner’s passing away.