Just War: A Christian Perspective Part 3

Read Part 1 and Part 2

Murder with Malice

King David’s adultery with Bathsheba is a famous story. They would go on to marry, and she would be the mother of King Solomon. But before she became David’s wife, she was the wife of a man named Uriah. 2 Samuel 11 provides the story of David’s fall into adultery. He looks from his roof and sees Bathsheba bathing. Giving in to his lusts, David has her brought to the palace, where he seduces her. She became pregnant. To cover his tracks, he has Uriah come home from the battlefield for a bit of rest and relaxation. He thinks if he can get Uriah into his house with his lovely wife, they’ll, you know, and everyone will believe the child she’s carrying is his, including Uriah. But Uriah is a righteous man and decides to sleep outside the palace. He does not want to go home. His brothers in arms were on the battlefield, and he felt it would dishonor them if he went home and slept in his bed with his wife. David understands this man because he thought and felt the same way in a more noble season of his life. Realizing that his plan won’t work, he writes a note for Uriah to take back to Joab, the leader of Israel’s army under David. The message essentially said, “engage Uriah’s platoon in the battle and make sure everyone else knows to fall back except Uriah.” Through this terrible betrayal, Uriah falls. David takes Bathsheba as his wife. Then, when it looked like he’d gotten away with it, Nathan the prophet visits him with a message. A story about betrayal.

2 Samuel 12:1-10; 13

“There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. 2 The rich man had very many flocks and herds, 3 but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him. 4 Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.”5 Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die,6 and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”

7 Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. 8 And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more. 9 Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’

13 David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.

David’s malicious murder of Uriah by the Ammonites’ sword is why Absalom will kill his brother Amnon after Amnon raped Tamar, Absalom’s sister. It is why Absalom himself will die at the hand of Joab after his treason. It is why Solomon will kill Adonijah, his brother, who tries to take the throne before David can anoint Solomon. In verse 13, Nathan delivers a special dispensation to David that he shall live even though his sin is punishable by death according to the law. Without that special dispensation from God, David would have been under a sentence of death. God hates the violence of murder, and King David suffered grievously for committing it. The sword never departed his house. Death followed in his wake.

Death, War, and Self-Defense

In 2 Samuel 2 Asahael, the younger brother of Joab, gives chase to a man named Abner. Asahael was a young man and mighty, but Abner had seen much war and was the captain of the army under Saul. Abner fled from Asahael and asked him repeatedly to turn back from the chase. At one point, he says to him, “Turn aside to your right hand or to your left, and seize one of the young men and take his spoil.” (2 Samuel 2:21). He knew he was Joab’s brother, the captain of the army under David and that his death would bring retribution. Finally, after he had done all to avoid a fight he did not want to fight, he turned and faced Asahael. “Therefore Abner struck him in the stomach with the butt of his spear, so that the spear came out at his back. And he fell there and died where he was. And all who came to the place where Asahel had fallen and died, stood still.” (2 Samuel 2:23)

Later, when Saul and Jonathan are dead at the hands of the Philistines and the whole kingdom of Israel is nearly in the hands of King David, Abner comes to see him to make peace and to help establish David. Abner is a powerful man in Saul’s house, and his word is crucial. If Abner signs on to peace with David, the rest of the stragglers will likely come along. David makes a covenant of peace with Abner and sends him away in peace. The covenant is the final ceasefire between David’s house and Saul’s house. The war is over. But something happens to Abner on his way home.

2 Samuel 3:26-27

26 When Joab came out from David’s presence, he sent messengers after Abner, and they brought him back from the cistern of Sirah. But David did not know about it. 27 And when Abner returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside into the midst of the gate to speak with him privately, and there he struck him in the stomach, so that he died, for the blood of Asahel, his brother.

Later, when King David passes the throne to Solomon, he gives him an instruction regarding Joab in 1 Kings.

1 Kings 2:5-6

5 “Moreover, you also know what Joab the son of Zeruiah did to me, how he dealt with the two commanders of the armies of Israel, Abner the son of Ner, and Amasa the son of Jether, whom he killed, avenging in time of peace for blood that had been shed in war, and putting the blood of war on the belt around his waist and on the sandals on his feet. 6 Act therefore according to your wisdom, but do not let his gray head go down to Sheol in peace.

Abner, the son of Ner, had acted in self-defense during a time of war. Joab had maliciously murdered him through deception in a time of peace. The death of Abner was a terrible betrayal.

2 Samuel 3:31-34

“31 Then David said to Joab and to all the people who were with him, “Tear your clothes and put on sackcloth and mourn before Abner.” And King David followed the bier. 32 They buried Abner at Hebron. And the king lifted up his voice and wept at the grave of Abner, and all the people wept. 33 And the king lamented for Abner, saying, “Should Abner die as a fool dies? 34 Your hands were not bound; your feet were not fettered; as one falls before the wicked you have fallen.” And all the people wept again over him.”

Abner’s actions were clearly a case of self-defense. Joab’s were malicious.

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