King Saul dies in battle and the custom of the time says one of his sons must be the next king. The tribe of Benjamin wants this as does King Saul’s top general Abner. This chapter describes the conflict that occurs whenever the will of the people conflicts with the will of God. These types of conflicts often develop into a division among people.
David asks God what he should do, and God directs him to move from Ziklag, in Philistine territory, to Hebron, in Judaean territory. He moves his family and the men and families of his followers with him. Soon, the leaders of Judah anoint David as their official king.
At this point Abner, the general, must make a decision. Will he submit to David or lead the rest of Israel to war against David? If he submits to David, he will also surrender his supreme position to Joab who is David’s top general. If he appoints one of Saul’s remaining sons king, he will be the clear power behind the throne. So, that is what Abner does. He anoints Ish-Bosheth king and every tribe except for Judah follows along. It is unclear what they thought to gain by doing this. All we know is that they rejected David, the king that God had anointed.
Now the situation gets personal. Abner and Joab meet on opposite sides of a pool with their armies gathered around them. It was not uncommon at this time to attempt to avoid open warfare by selecting combatants to represent each side and have them fight. The army of the champion who lived and won the battle would be declared victorious and the other side surrenders. At least that is how it was supposed to work.
Unfortunately, for the selected combatants it did not work that way in this case. Joab and Abner each selected twelve champions to represent their side. The soldiers approached each other, grabbed their opponent by the hair, and stabbed him to death. All 24 of the men who entered the battle died and nothing was solved. War follows and many will die. The kingdom splits and it will take several years for David to become king of all Israel.
What about us?
As I worked through the book of 1 Samuel there were often situations in Israel’s history that bore a definite resemblance to current events. While there are some principles in the next several chapters that apply to our personal lives, we are watching the impact of division unfold in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall.”Luke 11:17 NIV
I am neither an historian nor a foreign policy expert. Russia and Ukraine are at war and already much property has been destroyed and many lives have been lost. I do not know if it would have made a difference, but I wonder if Ukraine’s people had not been divided there might have been a different outcome. In Ukraine’s case ethnic Russians and Ukrainians have lived inside the same border for a long time. They have much in common, but one group wants to be politically joined to Russia and the other wants to be independent of Russia. This division provided an opening for Putin to move into.
At another level the world’s leading powers are also divided. Many are united against Putin, but not all the world’s powers. China in particular signed an agreement several weeks ago to align with Russian. I want sanctions to be successful, but they will not be as long as the world powers called to implement the sanctions are split.
I can and should pray about the conflict between Russian and Ukraine. More importantly I should seek unity in all the relationships where I have influence. One of the keys to successful child rearing is unity between mother and father on how to approach this vital mission. When mom and dad are split children spot the division and immediately work to exploit it for their perceived benefit. The sad thing is that we know that a child getting his or her way is not good for the child and simply deepens the division between mother and father.
As adults we should know this and should be working for unity wherever we can. It saddens me to hear the number of churches that are divided over political issues. The gospel is being drowned out by the shouts of hatred toward people of differing opinion. I anticipate that many churches will split. Personally, I have never seen any good come from a church split.
Where do you see division in your relationships? What could you do to promote positive interaction that might not lead to agreement, but might lead to unity on the things that really matter?