Harshness Intolerance Cruelty
Zeruiah sister of David had three sons: Abishai, Joab, and Asahel (1 Chron. 2:16). They became officers over David’s army, and manifested deep loyalty and devotion to him, even as the disciples of Christ did to their Lord at a later date. Nevertheless, David had to say of them, “These men the sons of Zeruiah be too hard for me” (2 Sam. 3:39).
Similarly, the Lord Jesus had to say to His disciples, “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of” (Luke 9:55). May we learn from both these men and the disciples, lessons profitable in Christian service.
Asahel, the youngest of the three, was a valiant man and one of the thirty of David’s mighty men (2 Sam. 23:24). He was noted for his swiftness of foot.
After the death of Saul, David was proclaimed king over the house of Judah (2 Sam. 2:4). He began his reign by seeking guidance from the Lord and walking in communion with God. Moreover, he acted in kindness to those around him. He was God’s anointed king and in these things, the man after God’s own heart.
Abner the son of Ner who was Commander-in-Chief of Saul’s army took Ishbosheth the son of Saul and made him king over Israel. Abner knew better; he had heard Saul say to David, “I know well that thou shalt surely be king and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in thy hand (1 Sam. 24:20). Abner linked himself with the wrong man, and fought for the wrong cause. This was a very serious wrong, but finally he yielded to David. The civil war between the house of Saul and the house of David must have been a grief to David. How wicked strife is among brethren! It can be long and bitter. Abner, on one occasion, said to Joab, “Let the young men now arise and play before us.” What folly! That sport resulted in the death of many, “For there was a very sore battle that day; and Abner was beaten, and the men of Israel, before the servants of David” (2 Sam. 2:17).
Asahel, being light of foot pursued Abner who said to him, “Turn aside from following me,” but he refused. Abner said to Asahel again, “Turn aside; wherefore should I smite thee to the ground?” Again he refused. Consequently, Abner was obliged to smite him in self-defence and Asahel died. Asahel in revenge was bent on taking the life of Abner.
We should never let our Christian zeal be revengeful. It was not in David’s heart to destroy Abner. He could have done so on an earlier occasion, but Asahel, the hard man, would have killed Abner that day. There are some like the sons of Zeruiah for whom it would be easier to take off the heads of others than to control their own heads. Peter, in the garden, when he saw Judas and the multitude come to lay hold on Christ became excited, and drew out his sword and struck a servant of the high priest and smote off his ear. Perhaps he intended, as the sons of Zeruiah would have done, to cut off his head. Jesus said to Peter, “Put up again thy sword into his place, for all that take the sword shall perish with the sword.”
We often, like Asahel and Peter out of professed loyalty to Christ, would destroy the reputations of good and honourable men by our jealousy and carnality.
O beloved! Let us see to it that we are loyal and devoted to the glorious person of our blessed Lord; and, let us hold fast the faithful Word of God in these times when it is being set aside by the traditions of men (Mark 7:9). Nevertheless, let us do this in the spirit of Christ for then we shall please the Lord and be a blessing to the saints.
Young Asahel, because of his hard vindictive spirit, lost his life that might have been most useful to David. We notice again the words of David and learn the lesson, “These men the sons of Zeruiah be too hard for me.”
Abishai was the eldest son of Zeruiah. He was a devoted follower of David. He was chief among three, for he lifted up his spear against three hundred enemies and slew them. “Was he not most honourable of three? therefore he was their captain” (2 Sam. 23:18-19).
He also rescued David from the hand of a gigantic Philistine, Ishibenob (2 Sam. 21:16-17). At the outbreak of Absalom’s rebellion, Abishai was true to David and commanded a third part of the army in the decisive battle. Yet, with all these marks of loyalty and devotion, David had to say concerning him, “What have I to do with you, ye sons of Zeruiah that ye should this day be adversaries unto me?” (2 Sam. 19: 22).
Saul in his jealousy was seeking the life of David (1 Sam. 26:5). “David came to the place where Saul had pitched and David beheld the place where Saul lay, and Abner the son of Ner, the captain of his host; and Saul lay in the trench and the people pitched round him.” Saul was sleeping. What an opportunity! Abishai said to David, “God hath delivered thine enemy into thine hand this day; now therefore let me smite him, I pray thee, with the spear even to the earth at once, and I will not smite him the second time” (1 Sam. 26:8).
Abishai would finish him with the first blow. “And David said to Abishai, destroy him not: for who can stretch forth his hand against the Lord’s anointed and be guiltless?” (1 Sam. 26:9).
David had manifested to Saul the grace and kindness of God in sparing his life. Abishai would not have so done; he was a hard man.
“Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, vengeance is Mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” (Rom. 12:19).
On another occasion when David was fleeing from Absalom, a man of the family of the house of Saul whose name was Shimei came forth and cursed as he came (2 Sam. 16:5). “Then said Abishai the son of Zeruiah unto the king, why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? let me go over, I pray thee, and take off his head.” Shemei had sinned, but David said to Abishai, “Let him curse, because the Lord hath said unto him, Curse David.”
To Abishai, Shimei was only a dead dog. To David, he was a messenger of God. David, judging himself in the presence of the Lord, accepted what Shimei said as from the Lord. The troublesome son of Zeruiah lacked that spirit of meekness which David showed and which only a noble character displays.
We think of how the disciples in the Gospel of Luke failed to enter into the spirit of the blessed Lord. John said to Jesus, “We saw one casting out devils in Thy name and we forbad him because he followeth not with us. And Jesus said unto him Forbid him not; for he that is not against us is for us” (9:49-54). Even John (who afterwards became the disciple of love) lacked the spirit of tolerance. “We forbad him,” said John, as much as to say, how dare he cast out devils? We are the people to do that.
What need there is for a spirit of tolerance among us in matters of our service for the Lord! It is clear from the Epistles of James and John that they did learn of that spirit, that gentleness of Christ. Abishai seemed to carry all through his life the spirit of hardness.
May we seek grace from the Lord to be saved from that hard spirit while we seek to be loyal and faithful to our blessed Lord.
Now we come to Joab, the most remarkable son of Zeruiah, whose story is full of instruction. He occupied a prominent place. He did and said many good things. There is, notwithstanding, no mention of him among David’s mighty men.
Abner had turned away from Ishbosheth and had joined with David who in grace received him. However, when Joab heard that Abner had been received by the king, he went to David and questioned him about it. He then sent messengers for Abner without telling David. As Abner entered Hebron, Joab took him aside as if to speak privately to him, but he smote him in revenge that he died for Asahel (2 Sam. 3:23-27). That was only a pretext; Joab, treacherously, killed Abner for he knew that David would promote him to be one of his generals, and Joab was jealous. The green-eyed monster jealousy had possessed him; he was revengeful and heartless. When David heard of the death of Abner, he said, “Ye sons of Zeruiah, ye be too hard for me.”
David lamented over Abner saying, “Know ye not that there is a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel?” (2 Sam. 3:38).
Abner lost his life in a noble attempt to unite Israel. May the Lord keep His beloved people seeking to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity” (Psa. 133:1).
Joab became the Commander-in-Chief after the death of Abner. He was loyal to David at times, but a hard man. It was he who had a hand in bringing back Absalom without any real repentance for his sin, and we know the awful result, Absalom rebelled against his father. Joab during this ordeal stood true to David.
Before the decisive battle David counselled the three generals, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man even with Absalom.” The battle resulted in a great slaughter. Joab then sent the tidings to the king. He told Chusi, “Go tell the king what thou hast seen; and Chusi bowed himself and ran.” When he came, David asked, “Is the young man Absalom safe?” Chusi answered, “The enemies of my lord the king and all that rise against thee to do thee hurt, be as that young man is.” What a blow to the heart of David! He lamented, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Sam. 18:5-33). What grief was David’s! He knew Absalom had lost his soul.
We need to heed the words: “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Eph. 4:31-32).
Trouble arose again for David; a man of Belial whose name was Sheba, a Benjamite, rebelled against him saying, “We have no part in David; neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse; every man to his tents, O Israel” (2 Sam. 20:1). David said to Amasa, whom he had promoted to Joab’s former position (2 Sam. 19:13), “Assemble the men of Judah within three days and be thou here present” (2 Sam. 20:4). Amasa went to assemble the men of Judah, but he tarried longer than the time appointed him; David, therefore, commissioned Abishai to pursue Sheba.
Joab, the deposed general, went with the troops, and when they met Amasa, Joab said to him, “Art thou in health my brother? and Joab took Amasa by the beard with his right hand to kiss him; but Amasa took no heed to the sword that was in Joab’s hand. So he smote him therewith in the fifth rib … And Amasa wallowed in blood in the midst of the highway” (2 Sam. 20:10-12).
Jealousy again had taken hold of Joab; notwithstanding, he seems to have once more attained to the place of commander, in which place his success in the capture of Sheba kept him until the close of David’s life.
Before he died, David enjoined Solomon to keep the charge of the Lord, to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes and commandments and His judgments. He also said, “Thou knowest also what Joab the son of
Zeruiah did to me, and what he did to the two captains of the host of Israel, unto Abner the son of Ner, and unto Amasa the son of Jether, whom he slew, and shed the blood of war in peace” (1 Kings 2:5-28). And it was told king Solomon that Joab was fled into the tabernacle of the Lord, and caught hold on the horns of the altar. Then Solomon sent Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, sayin, Go fall upon him. Often those who are cruel to others become cowards when they have to answer for their sins. “Joab slew two men more righteous and better than he,” said Solomon.
We must not forget that all must stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ. Our attitude toward our brethren will be brought before us. “Why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? For we shall all stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ. So every one of us shall give an account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:10-12).
O beloved, may the Lord give us grace and meekness of spirit in all our service for the Master! May He deliver us from the harshness, intolerance, and the attitude that cruelly harms our fellow-believers.
Oh, to be like Him, tender and kind;
Gentle in spirit, lowly in mind;
More like to Jesus, day after day,
Filled with His spirit, now and alway.