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Civil war: David and his mighty men battle Saul’s son (and his troops) for the throne and win: 2 Samuel 2–3:5; 1 Chronicles 3:1–4; 2 Samuel 23:8–17; 1 Chronicles 11:10–19; 2 Samuel 23:18–39; 1 Chronicles 11:20–47

If war is futile, a civil war started in an attempt to thwart God’s plans is especially so. Saul had clung to the throne at the cost of thousands of lives, including his own; and his son was reluctant to hand the kingship to David.

But the real futility is shown when two leaders from the opposing sides, Abner (on the side of Saul’s son Ishbosheth) and Joab (on David’s side), agreed that a few of their warriors could slug it out in front of them.

2 Samuel 2:15-16 So twelve men were chosen to fight from each side—twelve men of Benjamin representing Ishbosheth son of Saul, and twelve representing David. Each one grabbed his opponent by the hair and thrust his sword into the other’s side so that all of them died.

Perhaps this was intended to settle things and avoid a civil war. It didn’t work. The ensuing battle that day saw 370 men die.

Abner is on record trying desperately to avoid a fight. He fled in an attempt to avoid killing Asahel, one off Joab’s brothers:

2 Samuel 2:22 Again Abner shouted to him, ‘Get away from here! I don’t want to kill you. How could I ever face your brother Joab again?’

That didn’t work either. Asahel wouldn’t relent, and Abner was forced to defend himself. On hearing of Asahel’s death, Joab and his other brother set chase. Abner tried again to avoid the fight:

2 Samuel 2:26-28 Abner shouted down to Joab, ‘Must we always be killing each other? Don’t you realize that bitterness is the only result? When will you call off your men from chasing their Israelite brothers?’

This time, Joab agreed:

2 Samuel 2:27-28 Then Joab said, ‘God only knows what would have happened if you hadn’t spoken, for we would have chased you all night if necessary.’ So Joab blew the ram’s horn, and his men stopped chasing the troops of Israel.

Unfortunately, this was just the first day in what became a long civil war.