King David is an interesting character. His gentleness is evident in 2 Samuel 3. David says quite rightly towards the end, “These men, the sons of Zeruiah, are more severe than I.” (v39), His lack of severity is to be broadly welcomed, and yet there is perhaps a weak side to this very strength. His gentility leads to passivity. Just like in the previous chapter, King David seems like almost a passenger in this story. Could it be that he was too gentle?
King David’s attitude is starkly contrasted with the hostility and aggression shown by the other key protagonists in the chapter. Saul’s son surely knew how precarious his grip on power was. Yet he challenged Abner over what might well simply have been a rumor that he’d slept with one of Saul’s concubines. By aggressively accusing Abner, in a moment he lost the support of the real power behind his throne. In an effort to appear strong, his weakness was exposed. Severity, when you lack the power to follow through, is ineffective. Clearly there was no trust between these two men and no love lost either. No wonder that the house of Saul was growing weaker and weaker.
Abner seems to have been someone who nobody trusted. Seeing that his master was getting weaker by the day, he built up his position in the house of Saul. When challenged he lost no time in switching sides. He was clearly not a man of conviction, however, as he made it clear that he knew God had promised the throne to David, but he had supported Saul’s successor in a long war.
You know that someone is severe and not kind or gentle when even their superiors fear them. Abner’s proclamation of support for David received no answer from the puppet king over Northern Israel due surely to the terror Abner inspired.
But the unruly Joab, David’s enforcer, has Abner killed. It’s really not enough for David to say he was innocent and knew nothing of this crime. Many leaders like to have a cruel ally to do the dirty deeds they don’t want to do. Joab would later go along with David in a murderous act in covering up his affair with Bathsheba. You do feel that although on the occasion outlined in this chapter, David was not guilty, he kept Joab around precisely because he knew how deadly he was and wanted to have opportunity in the future to use that to his benefit.
King David did begin to turn the hearts of the northern Israelis by his public mourning of his enemy and disavowal of Joab’s acts. People want to be led by someone they can trust to be gentle towards them, and put their needs first. Nobody wants to follow a hard ruler who seeks only his own good.
Sometimes modern leaders are told to demonstrate more authority. If that is code for “be more harsh” then the advice should be resisted at all costs. There is a clear reason why King David was loved in his time, and continues to be loved even today despite his weaknesses. Second only to Jesus as a model of gentleness and servant leadership, this man’s character towers over the Old Testament. No wonder Jesus was not ashamed to be called the Son of David.