This article on 1 Chronicles 2:16 is about three important people in the reign of David as king: Abishai, Joab and Asahel. This article also has relevance for 2 Samuel 3:39. It shows the way in which we should work in the church.

Source: Clarion, 2006. 2 pages.

1 Chronicles 2:16 - David and the Sons of Zeruiah

A most intriguing relationship in Scripture is the relationship between David and his nephews Abishai, Joab, and Asahel. They were the sons of David’s sister Zeruiah.

1 Chronicles 2:16

On the one hand, these sons of Zeruiah were of great importance for David and the kingdom of Israel. Abishai at one time killed three hundred men with a spear and he was chief of the thirty, men known for their valour. Joab was the commander in chief of the army. Asahel was among the thirty.

On the other hand, there were times when their actions caused David to indicate his disapproval of them. After Joab treacherously killed Abner, David cried out, “And today, though I am the anointed king, I am weak, and these sons of Zeruiah are too strong for me” (2 Samuel 3:39). Later, when Shimei cursed David as he was fleeing from Absalom, Abishai wanted to kill Shimei. David responded to Abishai’s suggestion by saying, “What do you and I have in common, you sons of Zeruiah?” (2 Samuel 16:10) He repeated these same words when Shimei was the first to humble himself before David after Absalom’s defeat, seeking mercy. Abishai again wanted to put him to death (2 Samuel 19:22).

A reflection on the context in which David takes his distance from the sons of Zeruiah reveals a common denominator, namely, the peace and unity of Israel. In the case of Abner, after seven years of civil war, he had come to David to make peace. In that very delicate process of bringing all the tribes together under one king, Joab decided he had to avenge the blood of his brother Asahel who had been killed by Abner during the war. As David later told Solomon, Joab shed blood in peacetime as in battle. As such, Joab hindered the unity being built among God’s people.

The same can be said about Abishai’s request to kill Shimei. The unity of Israel was in the balance in the rebellion led by Absalom. While fleeing, David did not dare to touch Shimei, lest God had sent him. Not only that, it would have further alienated the people to see David act in what would come across as personal vengeance. When Absalom had been defeated and Shimei humbled himself, the reunification of Israel would have received another setback, even more so since Shimei came accompanied by 1000 Benjaminites who would not have taken kindly to such an action.

In these incidents, we see how the sons of Zeruiah, brave men in fighting the enemies of God’s people, did not understand the character of their shepherd king. As a shepherd he would valiantly fight those who attacked the flock, but he would show great compassion in gathering the sheep of the flock, even those who were straying. In this, David foreshadowed the Great Shepherd King, our Lord Jesus Christ. The sons of Zeruiah, however, could not discern the difference between the way of war and the way of peace. Whereas David knew when to speak gracious words, they only knew how to use their swords.

We have an example in the early New Testament church that shows what happens when the ways of the Spirit prevail rather than the ways of the sons of Zeruiah. It is in the way the disciples received Saul (Acts 9:26-30). There were some “sons of Zeruiah” types among the disciples. After all, were not James and John called “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17; Luke 9:52)? Incidentally, like Abner and Shimei, Saul too was from the tribe of Benjamin. What would have happened, humanly speaking, if the disciples had treated the former persecutor of the church, one who had denied and defied the anointed King, who had gone to Damascus breathing threats and murder against the disciples, just as Joab had treated Abner, or as Abishai wanted to treat Shimei? Thankfully, the way of the Spirit prevailed through the work of a man like Barnabas, a son of encouragement. Saul was welcomed and in due time he would prove to be the most mighty man among all the disciples in the building of the kingdom of God.

In sum, the ways of the sons of Zeruiah do not work in the fragile, sensitive situation that so often arise when building up the peace and unity of the church. The only shed blood that builds the unity of the church is the blood of Jesus Christ. That blood is the foundation. The way to build upon that foundation is by walking in the way of the Spirit, which is the way of brotherly love.

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