Sunday, September 28, 2014

Bible Commentary - 2 Samuel 12

In this chapter, the prophet Nathan rebukes David, and the son borne through David's adultery dies.

This chapter contains the second reference to the person Nathan.  The first was when David asked Nathan if he could build a temple for the LORD.  We know very little of Nathan's history or life, but we know that he is now in the extremely difficult position of having to rebuke the king.  Samuel got away with rebuking Saul because Samuel anointed him king, but even Samuel was afraid for his life when the LORD commanded him to go and anoint David (1 Samuel 16:2).

It is likely that Nathan has less authority than Samuel, but at the same time David is a much less sinister king than Saul, and he shows considerable humility in his response to Nathan.  David shows that he is not replying to Nathan, but rather is replying to the rebuke of God.  David knows that Nathan is just a messenger and that David is a servant of God and is being called to account by his own master.  This is important because otherwise, Nathan has no authority or standing to rebuke the king.

That said, Nathan tells David a parable to reveal David's sin couched in a language he would be most familiar with, using the language of shepherding animals.  I think this is God's way of taking David back from the splendor of kingship and to his youth.  God is saying to David, I made you king; your power and glory are only because of my actions.  God is both indicting David for his crime, and also reminding him of the humility of his youth.

As a minor note, the most likely reason why David insists on the sinner paying back four times what he took (v. 6) is because that's what is in the law of Moses, cf. Exodus 22:1.

Then Nathan tells him what will happen because of his sin, and it is pretty harsh.  First, "the sword shall never depart from your house" (v. 10), meaning that the rest of David's life (and perhaps the rest of his descendants' lives) will be filled with conflict and violence.  Second, David's own descendants will fight against him and cause some of that strife mentioned in v. 10.  Third, because David committed adultery in secret, other people will commit adultery with his wives in public, and it will be his "companion" who does this.  This recalls to me the punishment of Saul, where God told Saul that his kingdom would be given to his "neighbor" (1 Samuel 15:28).

Fourth, and most immediately, the child borne from this adultery would die.

These things do not happen because God is punishing David, since verse 13 tells us that the LORD has taken away David's sin.  It is the consequences of the sin itself that harms David, just as much as David's sin hurt Uriah.

I also think the contents of verse 14 are interesting.  It talks about the "enemies of the LORD" learning about David's sin.  Who are the enemies spoken of?  In most cases, "enemies of the LORD" in the OT refers to the hostile nations in Canaan that are resisting and fighting against Israel.  However, what David did to Uriah and Bathsheba was done in secret, and only his closest allies know of it.  So it is unlikely that hostile nations would discover this sin.  Therefore I think it's more likely that the "enemies of the LORD" in this case could be a reference to hostile spiritual forces, even though these are rarely mentioned in the OT.

The way I think about it is like this.  God brought in Israel to the promised land both to reward Israel, but also to punish the Canaanites.  The Canaanite tribes were being punished because of their many sins (see Gen 15:16).  What this means is that if David sins and the LORD did nothing about it, then it would render his earlier judgments hypocritical.  No human being would know about it, but the evil powers and gods of the Canaanites would "blaspheme" by accusing God of judging unfairly.  I'm not certain about this, but it's the most consistent explanation I can think of at this time.

After this, David's child with Bathsheba becomes sick and dies, just as Nathan said, in spite of David's prayers and fasting.  Nothing David does can change back what would happen to his son, but David's prayers and fasting could change his own heart and help him to never do anything like this again.  I don't believe that David is being punished, but he is being disciplined.  The distinction is that "punishment" is what God does to sinners to bring justice, making them suffer because of their sins.  "Discipline" is when God brings retribution that is designed to correct a sinner, to change them and get them away from the sins.  God will punish those who sin and do not repent, but because David was forgiven, he is not punished, but he is disciplined.  Amongst other differences, God will punish people as the judge of the world, but he disciplines as a father.  So not only is a different action, it also implies a different relationship with the person who is being so treated.

As I just said, the purpose of punishment is to bring justice, but the purpose of discipline is to bring correction.  Justice can happen whether or not the person receiving it agrees, just as you can lock a man in prison against his will.  But correction cannot happen against a person's will, because you have to agree to change in order to be corrected.

Therefore one of the most important things about this story is to see how David reacts to the LORD's discipline, and I think for the most part his reaction reflects the humility and devotion that we've seen in previous chapters.  Unlike Saul, who argued three times with Samuel before admitting that he sinned by sparing the Amalekites, David repents almost immediately when confronted by the prophet Nathan.  After that, he prays and fasts on behalf of his son, appealing to the LORD for mercy.  Even though his son dies regardless, I think it shows that David is really turning to the LORD in a major way that shows he is responding correctly to the LORD's discipline.

David's servants expected that he would be devastated when the child died, which was common in their time just as much as it's common in ours.  I don't think there can be any doubt that David cared about this son of his, but he was not fasting or weeping as a show to other people, but as a show to change the heart of God.  When he saw that God did not change, then he saw no reason to continue fasting or debasing himself.

This chapter has another one of my favorite verses, v. 23, which says, "Can I bring him back again?  I will go to him, but he will not return to me."  This is another rare OT reference to the afterlife, where David implies that death is, in some way, a reunion between those who have died.  While David's son cannot return to him, David can nevertheless "go to him" when he dies.  This is a favorite verse to me because it rephrases death.  Rather than viewing death as a subtraction, taking our life away, David sees his death as an addition, something that will bring him back to his son.

Verses 24-25 are short but important.  Solomon will eventually be David's successor to the throne, and the LORD has already "loved him".  We see talk about Solomon a lot more later on.

Lastly, Joab defeats the Ammonites and sends for David to come and take the honor of victory.  The Ammonites are enslaved and become servants of Israel.  More importantly, we see once again that David is not showing the military prowess of his youth.  He depends on Joab to strike down the Ammonites and it is only because of Joab's loyalty that David is brought in to have the honor of defeating the Ammonites.  David is showing himself to be an increasingly weak king.  He is still devoted to the LORD, but he is weak politically.  This is an ominous sign, because we know from Nathan's prophecy that people from David's own household will fight against him, and his weakness in responding to them will be a serious vulnerability to his reign.  It is only by the LORD's mercy that he is not killed; as Nathan says, he will not die prematurely.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Bible Commentary - 2 Samuel 11

In this chapter, David sins by committing adultery with Bathsheba.

This has got to be one of the most difficult chapters in the bible.  David, the man after God's own heart, commits a series of reprehensible acts for his own gratification, abusing his powers as king in some of the most horrible ways.  How could this be the man that God has chosen?  But what makes it horrible also makes it one of the most sincere, and perhaps even encouraging, chapters in the bible, because it shows us how God responds to David's faults and how we can trust God to deal with us when we make mistakes.

This is one of the most human chapters in the bible.  Let me explain what I mean by this.  Abraham was a hero of the faith.  He was a man called by God to depart from Ur and to enter the promised land and he obeyed.  He was called to sacrifice his promised son, and he obeyed (though his son was spared from death).  The closest thing Abraham had to a fault was when he lied and said that Sarah was his sister (Gen 12:13).  But how can we relate to Abraham when in every way he shows himself to be faultless?

Moses makes mistakes here and there, most notably when he acted in anger and disobeyed the LORD, thereby disqualifying himself from entering the promised land (Num 20:10-12).  While I don't want to make light of this situation, the fault of Moses is that he got too angry with the people of Israel who were themselves continuously disobedient to the LORD.  That's like the kind of fault when people say they are "too humble" or "work too hard" or something like that.  It doesn't strike me as a sincere admission of guilt, though I'm sure Moses sincerely regretted it when he was denied entrance into the promised land as a result.

This chapter is of a very different character.  David first uses his royal powers to coerce Bathsheba to sleep with him, even though she was married.  Then he tries to cover it up by bringing Uriah back and trying to get him to have sex with his own wife, that he might think the child was his own.  Bathsheba probably realizes that she was also liable to die as an adulteress, so it's probable she went along with David's attempts at deception.  Nevertheless, Uriah, in his loyalty to his fellow soldiers, refuses to go home, so David sends him with a message to Joab to have Uriah subtly murdered by putting him into a dangerous situation and then have all support withdrawn.  About the only other sin David could add to this chapter would be worshiping other gods.  Adultery and murder are enough to get him put to death under the law, so we can leave it at that.

Because David is king, there is no human with the authority to call him to account.  He is at the top of the Israelite social pyramid.  However, what we will find out in the following chapters is that there is another power atop the anointed king, and that is the God whose blessing anoints them and empowers them to rule.  We will see from this how God deals with those who sin.  For now, there are a couple points I would like to dwell on.

The first, as I said, is David as a model for sincere but sinful mankind.  David is a man after God's own heart, the hero of Israel, who endured many hardships.  David was given two chances to kill Saul, and in both instances refused to do so because it felt wrong for him to kill the man God had placed over the nation.  God, as the ultimate ruler of Israel, eventually dealt with Saul and David, having been anointed, eventually became king in his own right.  David has led Israel in many righteous ways, bringing the ark back to Jerusalem and following the LORD with a genuine heart.  Even David, the beloved of God, sins in this grievous way.  This encourages me because I know that we do not need to be perfect to be loved by God, we just need to be sincere in our devotion.  In no way am I trying to make light of David's sin, and what we will find in the chapters to follow is that David will suffer tremendously for what he has done.  But there is a tremendous difference between suffering for sins committed and being disqualified from God's salvation.  Because David sins, he will suffer the consequences; not to say that God punishes him, but the sin itself punishes him because the consequences of sin is death (Gen 3:19).  Like the way that a burning fire creates smoke, a burning sin creates anguish in those whom it touches.  It is the mercy of God to sometimes heal or remove that suffering, but much more often it is the mercy of God that takes suffering and uses it to change us, to shape us and to strengthen and grow us through these experiences to take on a lifestyle of godliness.

The New Testament speaks of these things when Jesus suffers, as a direct consequence of human sin, but God takes that suffering and transforms it into a new life, both for Jesus who was raised from the dead, but also for all of us, who believe in him and will be raised to life together with him.  In the same way, God brings about good things in our life by his transformative power, sometimes healing the consequences of sin and sometimes by training us to depend on him in order to overcome suffering and become a source of life to others.

One of the most common criticisms lodged against God is that he allows suffering to exist.  Although this is a larger point than I want to current address, I will say this.  Suffering exists as a result of sin, and this is a law of the universe just as much as the conservation of momentum or gravity or anything else.  Through the sin of Adam, suffering entered the world.  If God were to break this law, then sin would become unbounded and would grow with rampant force because there would be nothing to stop it, just as if a person jumped from the ground with no gravity, departing forever into the sky.

The grace and mercy of God is not to break the law and prevent suffering from emerging, but to control and shape that suffering in such a way that it leads to repentence, grace, mercy and eventually redemption.  Mankind was separated from God in Genesis 3 when Adam sinned, just like a person jumping from the ground departs from the ground.  But like gravity pulls the person back down to earth, God is using the consequences of sin, in combination with his own grace and mercy, to direct our course back to him.  Those who choose to depart from God shall do so, but those who choose God, even in the midst of suffering, will find themselves returning to him with an inescapable force, in spite of suffering, not in the absence of suffering.

With all that said, the second point I'd like to bring up is the contrast between the sin of Saul and the sin of David.  This is related to the first point.  When Saul sins, he does so in the absence of genuine sincerity.  Samuel the prophet accuses him of sparing the Amalekites, and he argues with Samuel three times, insisting that he had obeyed the LORD, while at the same time setting up a monument in his own honor (1 Sam 15:12).  In the end, he admits that he was acting out of his fear of the people, showing himself to have greater regard for human opinion and his own glory than for obedience to the LORD and the glory of the LORD.  In many ways, David shows himself to be the opposite of Saul, honoring God above human opinion, even though he was held in high regard by all the people.  David is certainly a pragmatic politician and carefully maneuvers himself into authority, giving gifts to the elders of Judah, his marriage to Michal and his questionable alliance with Joab the most prominent aspects of that.  But David also shows his exuberance for the LORD when bringing the ark into Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6).  How is it that the ark remained in Kiriath-Jearim for the entire duration of Saul's reign, and David brings it into his capital in relatively short order?  This, more than many other things, shows how Saul did not prioritize the LORD, but David did.

They both sin, but Saul is rejected because his heart is distant from God.  David repents and suffers, but God gives him grace and matures him through his suffering, and he is not rejected.

The third point I'd like to bring up is again how this chapter reflects negatively on Joab.  Having gotten away with his own murder, Joab now serves as an accomplice to David's attempt to murder Uriah.  Not that we should be surprised a murderer shows no scruples about killing again, but the collusion between them reflects very negatively on both men.  Ultimately though, David is held responsible by God for the death of Uriah.

Fourthly, I think it is significant to point out that Uriah is a Hittite, a descendant of the native tribes of Canaan and not a descendant of Abraham.  Although we know little of his story, is it likely that he was circumcised and became a part of Israel in accordance with the provisions of Exodus 12:48.  Indeed, the very first thing Uriah mentions as being in "temporary shelters" is "the ark" (v. 11), which was probably sent out with the army as in previous campaigns (1 Samuel 4).  By all accounts, it appears as if Uriah is a convert to Judaism and a righteous and devout man in Israel's armies.  He shows his resolute commitment to God and the nation by refusing the luxuries of civilian life, forcing David's hand and thus leading to his own death.

The fifth point, then, is to contrast Uriah's righteousness in this passage with David's wickedness.  David first encourages Uriah to go home to his wife, sending a "gift" after him (v. 8).  After that didn't work, David deliberately got him drunk, to undermine his discretion and judgment and to send him home again, and that also did not work (v. 13).  It was only then that David resolved to secretly kill Uriah and marry Bathsheba, and thus to legalize a marriage with her and conceal the adultery.  It is unlikely that David originally intended to marry Bathsheba, but only sleep with her once, until after it became obvious that her pregnancy and Uriah's refusal to sleep with her would expose both her and him as sinners.  According to the law, the punishment for adultery is death.

If Uriah had slept with his wife, it is uncertain to me whether David would have continued the affair with Bathsheba or simply let it drift into the past, unknown to anyone but her and himself.  However, I believe that God crafted the situation to expose David, to force him to take an even more sinful action to protect himself, and thereby exposing the depth of his sin to all of us as a lesson.

This is the sixth point.  Just like God earlier put David twice in the position to kill Saul (first in 1 Samuel 24:3 and second in 1 Samuel 26:12), I believe in this chapter God put David in a position that after he committed adultery, he had to sin again to protect himself.  In the first cases (with Saul), David was given an opportunity to show us his righteousness.  In this second case (with Uriah), David was given an opportunity to show us his sinfulness.  He does both, showing us his capability to do good as well as evil.  But I believe these were situations that the LORD heavily influenced in the first place, to shape and change David's heart by bringing good and bad out of him, exemplifying the good and purging the evil.  And in the second place, to show these traits to us, that we might learn to emulate the good and to flee from the evil.

Seventh, it is worthwhile to contrast David's actions here with what happened earlier in 1 Samuel 25 when David married Abigail.  In that case, Abigail's husband was an evil man whom the LORD struck down, and Abigail freely married David.  In this case, David took Bathsheba by force (not violently, but hardly by the woman's free will) and killed Uriah (who was a righteous man) by using his authority as king.  In both cases David gets a new wife, but now he is the wicked man killing a righteous man, rather than when the LORD killed the wicked Nabal.

In the end, David is going to leave this experience bruised, battered, and more than a little regretful.  But it is better by far that his evil should be exposed and repented of, than that it should remain latent and smouldering within his heart.  Rather than leaving evil smouldering in David's heart, God uses this opportunity to mould his heart into something better and more pure, and because David is a man after God's own heart, he accepts this process as we will see.

Bible Commentary - 2 Samuel 10

In this chapter, the Ammonites spark a conflict with David, and are defeated along with the Arameans.

The first interesting point in this chapter is the interplay between David, Nahash and Hanun.  In verse 2, David asserts that "Nahash showed kindness to me".  I did a quick search for references to Nahash, and the only time he is ever mentioned before this is when he gathered up forces to fight a war against Jabesh-Gilead in 1 Samuel 11.  So it is entirely unclear what Nahesh has done to "show kindness" to David, though it's possible that this phrase indicates a peace treaty existed between the two countries.

Hanun's suspicion seems warranted, given the long and violent history between Israel and Ammon.  As far as I can tell, they have only ever fought wars against each other.  There is no recorded interaction between David and Nahash of any positive character.  If we trust the narrative here, then it would seem that David must have thought favorably of Nahash and Hanun mistreated David's emissaries.  I think that is the author's perspective.  However, as mentioned, it is not clear why we should trust David's goodwill if the author did not insist it were so.

This chapter, itself, perpetuates that negative relationship, as Israel takes this offense as yet another justification for war, and the Ammonites raise an army to preemptively attack Israel.  Ammon rallies the Arameans as an ally in this conflict, which draws Israel into a larger regional conflict in which they are again victorious.

The second interesting point in this chapter is that it again shows how deeply David depends on Joab and Abishai.  This is why Joab was able to get away with murder, because David still needs Joab to lead his armies.  It is striking to see that Joab is the commander of the army and not David.  David is likely a skilled warrior, and during the early period of Saul's reign, David was commander of Israel's armies.  For whatever reason, that is no longer the case, perhaps because of old age or perhaps because of his busy affairs as the head of state.

Verses 4-5 also share some interesting details about what constitutes embarrassment in ancient times.  Hanun cuts off half of their garments and half their beards, and David urges his men to wait in Jericho (near the Jordan river, on the outskirts of Israelite territory) until their beards have regrown.  There are not many references to beards in the bible, but what we can infer from this passage is that for men, a long beard is a sign of respect and dignity, probably because of their veneration for the wisdom of old age and "elders", and cutting a man's beard forcibly would be an insult for this reason.  Cutting off their garments would "expose their nakedness", a form of disgrace that has been reviled in Israelite society ever since the days of Noah (Gen 9:22-23, Exodus 20:26).

Otherwise, we are given few details of the conflict between Israel and the various foreign powers, except to note that Israel defeated all of them and they all made peace with Israel, likely at a high price of tribute or other concessions.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Bible Commentary - 2 Samuel 9

In this chapter, David provides for the welfare of Mephibosheth.

This is another short and relatively uneventful chapter.  Basically, there are two things happening in this chapter.  The first (and overt) objective is that David wants to "show kindness" to one of the descendants of Saul for the sake of his promise to Jonathan, which David made in 1 Samuel 20:15.

So David restores all of Saul's land (probably referring to the land of his inheritance, plus whatever land he had bought) to Mephibosheth, as Mephibosheth appears to have been taken into hiding when his uncle, Ish-Bosheth, was fighting a war against David.  David also promises to let Mephibosheth eat free meals from the king's table.

A second, less obvious purpose for David's action in doing this is to keep Mephibosheth near Jerusalem, where he can be more easily monitored.  Although he certainly seems helpless now, Mephibosheth is still a direct descendant of Saul, and could therefore prove to be David's adversary in the case that he raises another succession struggle.  David wishes to show kindness to Mephibosheth, but he also wants to maintain control over all Saul's descendants so that they cannot raise an insurrection against him.

Still, David's actions here are certainly more kind than what is typically observed in this historical period when victors usually kill their opponents and their families.  Remember how Saul killed Ahimelech and all of the priests of Nob?  And they weren't even resisting him.  David's action here is prudent (for the sake of maintaining control), but it is also shows that David's veneration for "the LORD's anointed" extends beyond Saul and to Saul's family.  Like when David objected to the murder of Ish-Bosheth, David now refuses to shed innocent blood.

There will be a bit of drama related to Mephibosheth later in this book, but he will never actually resist David in his lifetime.

Bible Commentary - 2 Samuel 8

In this chapter, David fights and wins several more wars.

I don't have anything clever to say about this chapter.  Israel is surrounded by hostile powers on nearly every side and has been involved in a string of conflicts going back almost continuously since the day that they marched into the lands east of the Jordan.  They couldn't even make it into the promised land before they had to start fighting wars.

In this chapter he fights: the Philistines, Moab, Zobah, Ammon, Amalek, Aram and Edom.

Out of these nations, the only one we have not heard about before is Zobah, though it was briefly mentioned 1 Samuel 14:47 as being one of the kingdoms that Saul fought against.  I took this opportunity to do some quick research on Zobah and it appears to have been an early city-kingdom associated closely with the Arameans, which fits well with the context in this chapter, because v. 5 says that the "Arameans of Damascus" went to help Hadadezer.

I don't think this is a very interesting chapter.  The only real comment I have is to remark upon how violent these conflicts appear to be.  David, for instance, executes 2/3rds of the Moabite captives by height, which is pretty brutal, but as I've discussed before, these are wars of survival.  Israel (and these other nations) are fighting for survival, and as horrible as it sounds, if they did not kill a bunch of the Moabites now, the Moabites would just reorganize and attack Israel again later.  I should mention, though, that while Israel has a long history of conflict with Moab, this is the country where David left his father and mother during the long years of conflict with Saul.  David was distantly related to the Moabites because of his great grandmother Ruth.  It's also possible that the king of Moab was trying to encourage David's insurrection against Saul to weaken Israel.  Whatever the reason for their conflict, David's treatment of the Moabites is, ahem, ruthless.

All of these countries are also trying to establish themselves are regional powers.  For a long time Israel was subservient to the Philistines, but now these other nations (like the Moabites and Edomites) are becoming subservient to Israel, bringing them tribute of gold and silver.

David hamstrings nearly all of the horses that he captures to fulfill the command in Deuteronomy 17:16, which effectively keeps Israel from building a large military so that they will always be dependent on the LORD.

Lastly, we are given a list of David's court officials.  The most significant of these are Joab (who we know), Benaiah, who leads the "Kerethites and Pelethites", which are ambiguous terms referring to David's "mighty men", his elite heroes and chosen soldiers who gathered around him while he was still a renegade from Saul.  The Kerethites and Pelethites are David's closest allies and become a big part of his military base of support.  It's possible that they were drawn from specific tribes (see e.g. 1 Samuel 30:14, when David falsely says that he "raided the Negev of the Kerethites" - this implies the Kerethites may have been a tribe or clan allied with Israel).

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Bible Commentary - 2 Samuel 7

In this chapter, God promises that he will establish David's dynasty forever.

This chapter begins with a fairly significant transition.  The ark of the covenant had been carried around by the Israelites through their long journey in the wilderness and it dwelt in the "tent of meeting", also known as the tabernacle (an archaic King James word for tent).  This is thematically significant because the Israelites themselves had no home, and the LORD himself, as their God, wandered through the journeys with them.  In a metaphorical sense, both Israel and the LORD were homeless because they did not have "a place".

Now that Israel has entered the promised land, they have "a place" where they are going to dwell and pass on to their children after them.  David is asking, "Since Israel has a permanent home, we should build a permanent home for the LORD," in the form of a "house" (i.e. temple).  David already built a "house" for himself in the form of a palace.  This changes a lot of the dynamics of both Israelite society as a whole and how they relate to God in particular.  We've been going through this transition for a while, ever since Joshua invaded Jericho, but now we are firmly entering the kingdom period of Israel's history, which will endure from David until Israel is cast out of the land during the Babylonian exile.  That's several hundred years in the future.

So David wants to build a temple for God to dwell in, mirroring the development of his own palace.  God replies through the prophet Nathan that instead of David building a house for God, God will build a house for David.  This chapter again has some wordplay in it.  This chapter has three distinct uses of the Hebrew word "beth", meaning "house".  David talks about his "house of cedar", referring to his royal palace, so he wants to build a "house" for God, referring to a temple.  God replies that "the LORD will make a house for you" (v. 11), referring this time to establishing David's dynastic rule over Israel which will endure forever.

Interestingly, this means that David is not permitted to build God's temple.  Eventually a temple will be built, but it will be built by his son Solomon.  We will read (a lot) more on this later.

Verses 12-16 are worth a bit more investigation.  First of all, verse 13 says that David's descendant will "build a house" for the LORD.  This seems like a reference to Solomon, who (as I said) builds the temple.  However, this passage is also commonly interpreted as foreshadowing a future messiah, which implies that the messiah will be a descendant of David.  Like many passages in the OT, this prophecy has multiple fulfillments, so while the reference to Solomon is the most obvious fulfillment, a reference to the messiah is probably intended.

David, for his part, is obviously thrilled by God's promise to build up his house and eternal dynasty.  I love David's prayer.  I don't think there is anything deep or theologically significant in David's prayer.  It's just a beautiful expression of his heart, just his awe at God's latest blessing over his life and how thankful he is for what God has done for him and for his nation.

There's two other things worth pointing out.  The first is that God's proclamation to David is another covenant.  Like the earlier covenants with Abraham and Noah, it is an unconditional covenant, which means that (in this instance) God is not asking David for anything in return.  The second thing is that many of the promises God is making to David are very consistent with the language of the Pentateuch.  In particular, verse 10 says that God will "plant them so that they can have a home of their own".  This is what the covenant with Moses is all about, and it's why God brought Israel to the promised land.  A large part of the OT is centered around Israel's transition from nomadism to a much more sedentary farming lifestyle.  Abraham wandered over the land, and Israel as a nation wandered 40 years in the desert, but now that they are in the promised land, God is swearing again that he shall "plant" Israel in this land and that David's house and his kingdom will endure forever in this same land.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Bible Commentary - 2 Samuel 6

In this chapter, David brings the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem.

This is another very instructive chapter, so I will try to break it down piece by piece.

First of all, David begins by gathering 30,000 "chosen men", i.e. special forces.  These are the elite troops that are "chosen" whenever David wants to get the best of the best of his fighting men.  But this time he's not taking them to battle, he is taking them as an honor guard while they move the ark of the covenant from Kiriath-jearim to Jerusalem.  If my readers may recall, Israel lost the ark to the Philistines back in 1 Samuel 4, and recovered it in 1 Samuel 6.  It was placed in the house of a man called Abinadab in 1 Samuel 7:1, and it has remained there until this day.  Now David is coming to bring the ark back with him to the nation's new capital.  We are told in v. 17 that David had "pitched a tent" for the ark.  It's not entirely clear to me if this is the same tent as the "tent of meeting" that Israel hauled around during their 40 years of wandering the desert.  David is a very pious fellow, so it would certainly be up his alley, but the last we had heard definitively about the tent of meeting, it was in Shiloh*, and I don't think we have any evidence that the tent has moved since then.  So it's possible that David just built his own tent, or perhaps the tent was quietly moved from Shiloh to Jerusalem.  Nevertheless, this is a relatively minor point.

Verse 3 is more interesting.  Do you see it?  Look carefully at what the Israelites do with the ark.  It says they place it on a new cart.  This is contrary to the law.  The law of Moses specifically says that the ark is supposed to be carried by hand, by the Levites, using the two poles inserted through rings in the frame of the ark.  What makes this even more interesting is that the whole "new cart" thing is actually how the Philistines delivered the ark when they sent it back to Israel in 1 Samuel 6.

It's not like Israel has a shortage of people here.  It doesn't specify how many Levites should carry the ark, but it wouldn't take more than about 8 or 12 people to carry; David brought 30,000.  However, rather than follow the law laid down by Moses, the Israelites followed the example of the Philistines.  Isn't this a great demonstration of how the Canaanite tribes are being a "snare" to Israel, leading them into practices contrary to how God instructed them to behave?

This is why Uzzah dies.  It is "irreverence" for him to touch the ark because the Levites are only ever supposed to touch the poles that carry the ark.  The only reason Uzzah needed to touch the ark is because the oxen stumbled.  But according to God's law, there weren't supposed to be any oxen or carts.  It was supposed to be carried on human shoulders only.

When I first read this story, I definitely felt like God's response to Uzzah was disproportionate.  It seemed really unfair to kill him when he was reaching out to stabilize the ark and keep it from falling over.  To me, that seemed respectful and proper and he died for it.  Verse 3 is the key to understanding why God killed Uzzah.  It's because they weren't carrying the ark in the proper way.

In the midst of all the celebration, they weren't carrying the ark, so God "broke out" against Uzzah (v. 8).  This is actually a pun of sorts.  It says that the LORD "broke out" against Uzzah, and therefore the place was called Perez-Uzzah (perez is the work for "breakthrough" in Hebrew).  I call this a pun because in just the previous chapter, David said that "the LORD has broken through my enemies".  It's the exact same word.  So the LORD went from "breaking through" David's enemies to "breaking through" Uzzah for his irreverence.

I believe the choice of words is intentional, and it is a lesson.  The lesson that I personally learned from this chapter is that carrying around the ark of the LORD (signifying the LORD's presence) is a perilous task.  It's not something that should be done casually or carelessly, and it certainly shouldn't be done using patterns and behavior we learn from those who do not know God.  There is a fear and a respect that we need to have whenever we carry the vessel of God's presence.  Since the advent of the New Testament and the Holy Spirit dwelling within the hearts of man, that basically means every believer is carrying "the ark" within them all the time, every day.  Once again, it dictates that we should carry the LORD's presence with a deep respect and should always seek to understand the LORD's ways so that we can carry his presence in a way that pleases him and is in accordance with his laws.  I don't want to stress this too far and say that we might die if we don't honor God's presence, but I don't think any reasonable person would want to live in such a way as to risk that, because God deserves honor even if there was no risk of punishment.

David leaves the ark in the house of some dude (Obed-edom to be particular), basically as a litmus test.  I can imagine David periodically asking about Obed-edom, "say, did that guy ever die?  Has a rock fallen on him, or maybe some kind of horrible disease?"  When he finds out that Obed-edom is blessed and doing quite well, then he's all like, "the LORD must not be angry anymore!  Gimme that ark, dude, you've had blessings for long enough."  I also would imagine Obed-edom is a little upset when he found out that David was coming to take the ark from him after the "blessing" that he had been enjoying until that time.

I think this is the second lesson.  Not my ridiculous paraphrase, but that the ark of the covenant brings blessings to those who honor God.  We don't know much about Obed-edom's life or how he treated the ark when it was in his house, but we know that he must have treated it well enough that God responded by blessing him.  I said before that carrying the ark can be a perilous task, and now I say that abiding in the presence of the ark can bring profound blessings to the entire household of anyone who seeks to honor God.  It's worth the risk.  It's worth it because there is no risk if your heart is set upon honoring God, and there is a deep blessing instead, which is guaranteed and it encompasses "all that belongs to him" (v. 12).  Everything he owned, everyone he was related to, was blessed by the presence that abides "enthroned above the cherubim" (v. 2).

Now when David brought the ark of the covenant up the second time, he obviously realized what was wrong, because it says that he would make a sacrifice every time "the bearers of the ark... had gone six paces."  The important part here isn't the sacrifices, but rather that the ark is now being properly carried by human hands.  The sacrifices and celebrations are just how David's heart responds to the presence abiding above the ark, and I love David's dancing.  This chapter is one of the purest representations of who David was as a person, and what he cared about.  He danced before the LORD with all his strength.  The celebration was wild and unbridled.  Strangely, it also says that David was wearing a linen ephod, which is the traditional robe worn by the priests.  So, I'm not sure what that's about.  It's not clear to me if the ephod is something that could be worn casually or if David were actually (kinda) dressed up in an overtly religious garment.  It wouldn't be entirely out of character with his crazy dancing, but it is interesting.

Lastly, Michal.  To me, Michal's story is the most enigmatic part of this chapter.  Reviewing some of the history up until this point, we know that Michal's marriage to David was political from the beginning (as royal marriages almost always are).  However, it was reported that Michal loved David in 1 Samuel 18:20, back when David was known as the hero of Israel, the great captain over Israel's armies, the victor over Goliath.  So Michal loved David's heroic side.  But then Michal spent many years (I can't be bothered to work out the exact chronology, but it was at least 5-10 years) married to Palti, and now her views of David seem to have changed.

David demanded to have his wife Michal back (2 Samuel 3), which undoubtedly has political implications; by associating with Michal, it would position him as a legitimate successor to Saul, and it would certainly increase his legitimacy to the Benjamites who would otherwise be concerned about losing power.  What is unclear to me is whether David also had feelings towards Michal, or if his maneuver is entirely political.

In this chapter, it seems like the relationship between David and Michal is strained.  Michal, for her part, "despised" David, and David replies "the LORD chose me above your father and all your father's house", which seems like a pretty harsh response.  Not to mention, David is marrying dozens of women at this point, so in many ways Michal is losing her own prestige as she goes from being David's first and only wife, to now being one of dozens (and not the most loved, either).  So I'd be willing to bet that Michal is increasingly embittered about that.

Does Michal resent David because she believes the narrative about David being her father's enemy?  Certainly, David never attacked Saul nor did David hate Saul.  However, Saul spread around the rumor that David was trying to dethrone him and that David was an enemy of Israel.  It wasn't true, but David used that rumor as a disguise to get refuge when he was staying in Ziklag under the protection of Achish, king of Gath.

So, did Michal believe her father, or did she remain loyal to David?  We know that early in their marriage, when David first fled, that Michal protected his life, but perhaps Michal grew distant to David over the years of her marriage to Palti.

Another possibility is that David never loved Michal, and that Michal became gradually upset with him because he did not share mutual feelings towards her.  In this case, Michal initially loved David but over time, it may have become clear to Michal that David did not care about her, as he married other women and left her with Palti for all of these years.  Only now, when trying to attain the kingdom, does David ask for her back, and when Michal comes back, what she sees is David dancing with unrestrained joy at the presence of the ark.  I could imagine when she sees David show such passion and enthusiasm about something that isn't her, it is probably sparking jealousy in her heart since (by this construction) David has scorned her for so long.

The conclusion of her story is barrenness.  The same barrenness that plagued the patriarchs, Sarah, Rebecca and Rachel, as well as Hannah, and now Michal is barren.  Part of me wonders if this barrenness is just part of the generational curse that seems to precede the birth of Israel's heroes, and part of me wonders if the barrenness is related to Michal's bitterness and resentment.  Or maybe it's not related to anything.  But I think Michal not having any children is at least partly related to the (obviously sour) relationship between her and David, and Michal is probably increasingly relegated to obscurity as David's reign continues and he marries more women.

David and Michal once had something special together.  Sadly, that appears to no longer be the case.

*1 Samuel 1 and 2 make clear that Eli and his sons ministered at the tent of meeting, which is in Shiloh.  1 Samuel 1:3 establishes the location as Shiloh, 1 Samuel 2:22 makes clear that Eli's sons ministered in the tent of meeting, the same tent as what Moses constructed.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Bible Commentary - 2 Samuel 5

In this chapter, David is made king of all Israel, conquers Jerusalem, and defeats the Philistines in battle.

This chapter details some of the early events in David’s reign. Suffice it to say, becoming king did not end the series of wars that he’s had to fight up until this point. Rather, we see that him becoming king is just going to draw him back into multiple conflicts, similar to the wars he fought as Saul’s lieutenant. Also, we finally learn how long David was at war with Ish-Bosheth: he reigned from Hebron for 7 and a half years, so this would have been very close to the duration of his long struggle with the house of Saul.

This chapter lists three principal events after David is anointed king over Israel: the conquest of Jerusalem, the construction of David’s palace, and the two wars against the Philistines, and they are given by the text in that order. However, we have reason to believe that this may not be chronological order. To wit, observe several details from verse 17.

First, v. 17 tells us that the Philistines attacked when they heard that David was anointed. It is improbable that David would have had enough time to muster an army, conquer Jerusalem and build a palace for himself in the time before the Philistines could gather an army to invade Israel. It is further unlikely that David would have enough military force to repulse the Philistine army cotemporaneously with his own attack on Jerusalem or later events, considering that the Philistines had severely defeated Israel in their previous war, and Israel had spent the entire 7 years since then in its own civil war, which would leave it weak and vulnerable.

Second, v. 17 tells us that David “went down to the stronghold”, an expression almost identical to what David did when he was fleeing from Saul and he went to hide in the Judean desert. While it’s possible that “the stronghold” refers to the fortress of Jerusalem, I think the similarity of expression to 1 Samuel 22:4-5 makes it more likely that David went into hiding in the desert. Additionally, the NIV translation refers to the Philistines going “to search for” David. It’s not talking about them seeking to fight David because David is not their equal. This particular war is doubtless asymmetric.

But I think it’s unlikely that David would vacate Jerusalem after he had captured it precisely because the Jebusites describe it as such a strong defensive position. Once it had been fortified, I doubt that David would flee back into the desert.

Okay, so now that we have the chronology down, let’s examine the events more closely. Beginning again in v. 17 when the Philistines gather to attack David, why would they do so? David had reigned in Hebron for a long time and had even lived near Gath for an unspecified time period in the service of Achish. What is it about David that makes him so much more threatening now?

In my opinion, the simplest answer is that the Philistines were threatened by the reunification of the northern and southern tribes of Israel. While David was fighting Ish-Bosheth, both the north and the south of Israel would be weak and the Philistines would not be challenged. Now that David has reunited the kingdom, it is possible that he will attack the Philistines to regain the territory that Israel lost after Saul’s defeat on Mount Gilboa (in 1 Samuel 31). But really though, the Philistines had been attacking Israel time after time for generations now. I don’t think they need an excuse to attack again.

Each time the Philistines attack, it says they spread out in the valley of Rephaim, and each time it says that David inquired of the LORD whether and how he should drive them back. The second time was somewhat more interesting than the first, because before the second battle it says that the sign for David to attack is when he hears the sound of marching in the tree tops. To me at least, this conjures an image of an army of angels marching along through the air, going ahead to fight David’s enemies before he gets there. The more prosaic explanation is that it would be caused by wind blowing through the trees and rustling leaves.

I think now is a good opportunity to reflect on the manifestations of God. Starting in Genesis I did an informal series on the various ways that God appears to the saints of old. The last time I referred to this was in Joshua when I noted that the LORD was changing his appearance from the provision and protection that he gave in the desert of Sinai, and was now appearing to Israel as the great military commander, the general who would lead them to victory over their enemies.

I think the appearances of the LORD in 1st and 2nd Samuel have been largely consistent with how the LORD appeared to Joshua. Just thinking back to how the LORD guided David, it’s been a lot of subtle coincidences. Like the two separate times that David was given an opportunity to kill Saul. I think both of those opportunities came from the LORD, but neither of them were overtly supernatural.

It seems like the LORD is most commonly operating through two channels: the utterances of prophets like Samuel and the ministration of the ephod, which David uses to “inquire of the LORD”. It is probable that many of the times it says David “inquired of the LORD”, it is referring to him asking the priest while the priest is wearing the ephod and mediating these requests. 1 Samuel 23:6 makes it clear that when Abiathar fled to David, that he brought the holy ephod with him, and this was probably how David communicated with the LORD most of the time.

This feels very different to me from the earlier parts of the OT in Genesis and Exodus. Reading the account of Abraham or even Jacob, it is remarkable to me how they interacted with God directly, seeing him face to face. Moses, too, saw the LORD and ascended up Mount Sinai to speak to the LORD and receive his commands. In comparison, the life of David is interesting, but his interactions with the LORD feel a lot more elusive to me. He speaks to the LORD often and is closely guided, but it doesn’t seem like David has the same kinds of powerful dreams and visions that were at least written about commonly, even if they didn’t occur commonly when drawn over the 80 to 120 years that these men lived. Like when Abraham negotiated with God about the destruction of Sodom, or when Jacob saw the ladder ascending to heaven in a dream, or when Moses saw a mountain covered with fire and wind and earthquakes and the elders ate a meal in the presence of God (Ex 24).

Not to say that I feel sorry for David; he has a pretty remarkable life, and God honors him a lot in many ways. From the point of view of understanding the manifestations of God in the bible, it’s clear that this is much more of a time of subtle manipulation and operating through human agents (like the prophet Samuel or the high priest) rather than directly operating in people’s lives like when God destroyed Sodom. I think this is worthwhile to note for the times in our own lives when it seems like God is not acting or at least not acting in a way that we clearly understand, especially in western civilization and in a time like this, when it seems like God is distant from our world.

Ok, now I’m going to get back on topic. David inquires twice, and twice the LORD commands him to strike the Philistines, and twice the Philistines are defeated (the second time being more severe than the first). This has the immediate effect of securing David’s new kingdom from one of their most serious threats, because the Philistines are a strong regional power at this time. So David has fought off the first couple challenges to his reign.

Defeating the Jebusites and taking Jerusalem was David doing his part to fulfill Israel’s general mission of conquering the entire promised land. Joshua 13 told us about the many places within Israel’s (putative) boundaries that remained in enemy hands, and Israel has an implied duty to conquer all of these territories and wipe out all of their inhabitants (cf. Deut 20). An ironic sidenote is that the Geshurites are a tribe David allied with by marrying the daughter of the king of Geshur, but the Geshurites are listed as one of the areas that had yet to be conquered in Joshua 13. So while David is pressing against the Jebusites, it appears that Israel is going to coexist with Geshur for some time, along with the many other hostile nations that Israel is simply too weak to destroy.

David conquers Jerusalem and makes it his new capital for the united Israel. V. 8 also has a peculiar reference to David saying that people would need to use “the water shaft” to reach David’s enemies. This can be hard to understand at first, but from what I know, archaeologists have found evidence that Jerusalem used hidden tunnels to get water during a siege (such as this). Evidence suggests that David used the “water shaft” as a secret entrance to get into the city, and thereby compromised the defenders. Otherwise, Jerusalem is actually quite defensible, situated on a plateau surrounded by several valleys.

When it says in v. 8 that “the blind and lame will not enter the palace”, it’s possible this is referring to the literal blind and lame people, or it could be an allusion to the Jebusite people, remnants of which remained in the Jerusalem area even after they were defeated. These Jebusites gradually integrated with Israel over the years, but it’s likely that they were discriminated against, such as here.

Some other details: this chapter contains the first reference to “Zion”, and in this case it refers specifically to the city of Jerusalem rather than in later times when Zion becomes more of a metaphorical and idealistic concept.

Another notable detail is David’s pleasant relationship with Hiram, king of Tyre. Tyre is outside the boundaries of the promised land, so there are no stipulations in the covenant of Moses that Israel must be at war with them. Tyre is a Phoenician city and very commercial, which is perhaps why they are more interested in building a palace for David (they were certainly well-paid) rather than be at war with him. The only other alliances I can remember that Israel has are with the Kenites (through Moses’s father in law), the Gibeonites (who deceived Israel into swearing to a peace treaty) and the Geshurites, who David allied by marriage. Other than these three tribes, Israel is hostile with nearly every other inhabitant in the ancient near east. So this impromptu alliance with Tyre is a pleasant surprise to me.
Lastly, we discover that David is having more wives and children. The most important of these new children is Solomon (v. 14), who will eventually succeed him. As with the last time the bible described David having a bunch of children all at once, David is not having all these children in a single weekend. Verses 13-15 are probably naming the children he had over a long time frame, possibly as long as his entire 33 year reign in Jerusalem, so this should not be taken chronologically.

Bible Commentary - 2 Samuel 4

In this chapter, Ish-Bosheth is murdered by his own men.

After Abner is slain, it says in v. 1 that both Ish-Bosheth and all Israel (primarily referring to the northern tribes) were distressed. For Ish-Bosheth, he lost his chief commander and the man principally responsible for his own kingship. For the nation, they lost their chief commander which opened up the possibility of further battle and defeats. What could make this even more distressing is that they heard he died in Hebron, which was David’s capital at the time. This means that Abner’s treachery is also revealed in his death, because the only reason he would have visited Hebron without Ish-Bosheth’s permission or knowledge would be to defect to David’s camp.

Having already suffered numerous defeats, it looks like this is going to be the end of the road for Ish-Bosheth. It’s at around this point when the vultures start circling his kingdom. Baanah and Recab murder Ish-Bosheth as an opportunistic venture. They see that 1) Ish-Bosheth will inevitably be defeated and 2) if they kill him first, it will possibly give them a strong position to join David’s camp.

As in the previous chapter, it amazes me how many people assert that the LORD wants David to be king at precisely the time when they defect to join David, but couldn’t seem to care less what the LORD said when they are busy fighting against David and supporting Ish-Bosheth. Suffice it to say, the decisions of most people in this book are 99% political, with only a religious vaneer to justify whatever they want to do.

In this chapter, Baanah and Recab assert that “this day the LORD has avenged my lord the king against Saul and his offspring.” But if we read between the lines, it’s obvious that Ish-Bostheth was in decline, and these two soldiers murdered him because they want a reward and didn’t think they had a future in Ish-Bosheth’s kingdom (because his kingdom itself was in decline).

David, for his part, is going to have none of this business. We already saw him kill the unnamed Amalekite that came to announce Saul’s death. The Amalekite possibly even lied about killing Saul because he thought that David would be pleased. In this case, David does not call Ish-Bosheth the LORD’s anointed, but he does call him an “innocent man”, even though David himself had been fighting a war against Ish-Bosheth. That strikes me as a bit peculiar, that David would have no qualms about killing hundreds of men to unseat Ish-Bosheth and take the kingdom for himself, but kills these two men for assassinating the person that David was trying to dethrone.

To be fair, there is a pretty big difference between killing someone in battle and striking them while they are unarmed in their own home. Similarly, this is why David was furious at Joab, for killing Abner, while Abner was not guilty for killing Asahel. Abner killed Asahel in clean combat, while Joab killed Abner deceptively under the banner of peace.

Unfortunately for Baanah and Recab, they are not nearly as important figures as Joab, so David has them both put to death and had their bodies hung as a sign of shame, exposed to be eaten by birds and rats. (Recall the Philistines hanging the body of Saul for the same reason). Their crime is almost identical to that of Joab, but their punishment is immediate death, just like the unnamed Amalekite, rather than Joab who goes entirely unpunished until near the end of his life.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Bible Commentary - 2 Samuel 3

In this chapter, Abner defects to David's side, but is murdered by Joab.

This is another fascinating chapter that explores a lot of the political dynamics that I touched on in the previous chapter.

First of all, this chapter begins with "a long war", and though it doesn't tell us how long the war is, it does tell us that David has six sons by six different wives, so it had to have been a minimum of one year, but more likely it is somewhere between 3 and 6 years.

One interesting little detail from v. 3 is that Absalom's grandfather is the king of Geshur.  Geshur is one of the native tribes that inhabited Canaan before the Israelites moved in.  They are referenced in Joshua 13 as being one of the tribes that was not driven out by Israel, and referenced again in 1 Samuel 27 as being one of the tribes that David himself would attack while he was living in Gath.  These were the people that Moses commanded the Israelites that they should not intermarry with.

So at least to some extent, David marrying Maacah is contrary to the Law of Moses.  Without trying to justify David's action, I'll just point out that it was very common in antiquity for the royalty of different nations to intermarry in order to form political alliances or end wars.  I think this is plausibly true for this case, that David married Maacah in order to end conflict between Judah and the Geshurites.

Next, we are told that David is growing progressively stronger while "the house of Saul", i.e. Ish-Bosheth and Abner, is growing progressively weaker.

Verse 6 tells us that "Abner was making himself strong in the house of Saul."  To those who read my commentary over the last 2 chapters, this should not be a surprise because I already stated that Abner was the person who "made Ish-Bosheth king", and therefore is already in a position where he could very well take away Ish-Bosheth's kingdom.  Abner is in a strong position "in the house of Saul", but "the house of Saul" is progressively losing ground to the "house of David".  Although it's hard to discern Abner's intentions at this point, it is clear that his position is growing increasingly tenuous as David wins more victories, so Abner is perhaps making some sort of move to establish some kingdom of his own.

In v. 7, Ish-Bosheth accuses Abner of having sex with his father's concubine.  The text does not exactly say if this is true, although v. 6 seems to imply that Abner might have done so.  Something like this happened before when Reuben had sex with his father Jacob's concubine, in Genesis 35.  Jacob got so upset about it that he gives the double portion (which would normally have gone to the firstborn) to his favored son Joseph, and that's why the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh get equal portions with the other sons of Jacob.

In this case, Abner is probably making a similar calculation, trying to sleep with Saul's concubine in order to establish himself as Saul's successor.  Ish-Bosheth obviously senses Abner trying to maneuver around him, but Ish-Bosheth has little leverage over Abner, and simply accuses him of the act without having any real ability to move against Abner.  Not only does Abner know that Ish-Bosheth can't touch him, Ish-Bosheth knows it too, as v. 11 makes abundantly clear.  This proves to be a fatal mistake for Ish-Bosheth, because Abner already sees the house of Saul circling around the drain (so to speak), and takes this as his opportunity to defect to David.

David, for his part, has not forgotten about his wife Michal, the daughter of Saul, whom he married back in 1 Samuel 18.  Michal had been loyal to David and loved him, but was separated from him when David fled Gibeah, and it appears that David has remained attached to Michal even though he now has at least 6 wives or concubines.  What makes this story a little weird is that David gives this as a condition to Abner (that Abner should send Michal), but then in v. 14 it says that David sent messengers to Ish-Bosheth, and that Ish-Bosheth sends Michal to him.  Abner's incentive is clear, but what I don't understand is why Ish-Bosheth is motivated to send Michal to David.  Common courtesy, perhaps?  But these situations are so political because Michal is a daughter of Saul (and therefore marries David into the house of Saul), so it just seems like there had to have been some important subtleties about this.  I would guess that Abner pressures Ish-Bosheth into releasing Michal to David.

To summarize, Ish-Bosheth and Abner are tied together in a fragile alliance.  Abner decides to betray Ish-Bosheth, and David asks for Michal in exchange for sparing Abner's life.  Abner (probably) pressures Ish-Bosheth to release Michal to David (the text does not directly say this, but I think it's the most likely explanation), but it is unlikely that Ish-Bosheth realizes that Abner is already betraying him.

V. 16 is particularly striking, because it shows us how Paltiel is also emotionally attached to Michal (Paltiel is the man to whom Michal was given after David fled).  However, Abner is direct and ruthless, and Paltiel is sent home.

After sending Michal to David, Abner visits the elders of Israel to convince them to join David, and then visits David to relay Israel's acceptance of David as their new king.  I think it's funny how Abner starts talking about "the LORD has spoken of David" after he is done negotiating his own assurances and after serving Saul and Ish-Bosheth for years.  It's not like Abner heard these prophecies for the first time immediately before defecting.  So Abner referring to the LORD is pretty cynical right now, in my opinion.

Regardless, Abner makes peace with David and goes off to draw together all the people of Israel to come and anoint David as king.  Joab happened to have been away at the time, and when he gets back, he immediately warns David that Abner came to spy on him, but in truth Joab is thinking about his dead brother, Asahel, who was slain by Abner.  Joab sends for Abner again, not content to let him live, and murders him deceptively.

What follows after this is also quite interesting.  David mourns the death of Abner, and disclaims any responsibility for his murder, but does not act against Joab.  David pronounces a curse upon Joab, but cannot act against him, for many of the same reasons that Ish-Bosheth could not act against Abner.  Now, Joab did not "make David king", but Joab was a very powerful soldier and very influential as the commander of David's armies, and David himself is only now taking Israel as his kingdom.  In v. 39, David says that he is "weak today", and that weakness is ultimately why he cannot act against Joab, even though Joab killed an innocent person against his will.

This is how the death of Asahel has repercussions throughout later parts of this story, because after Joab kills Abner, it sours the relationship between David and Joab, and ultimately David never forgets it, nor does he ever forgive Joab, but he never has the power or courage to move against Joab during his lifetime.