2 Samuel 2:24-29
Joab also and Abishai pursued after Abner: and the sun went down when they were come to the hill of Ammah…
Shall the sword devour forever? (ver. 26; 2 Samuel 11:25). The sword is more destructive than ravenous beasts, famine, pestilence (2 Samuel 24:13; Leviticus 26:26), earthquake, tempest, or fire. The history of its ravages constitutes a considerable portion of the history of mankind. Of these we have here a slight but noteworthy instance. Twenty-four brave men of the same nation (half of them chosen from each of the opposing forces) fell, pierced by each other's weapons. In the succeeding battle and flight several hundreds were slain (ver. 31). At sunset the defeated general rallied his scattered troops on the hill of Ammah, and appealed to the commander of the pursuing forces to withdraw them and avert the bitter consequences that would otherwise ensue. "Now the battle is going against him he complains of the devouring sword; and, though it had been employed but a few hours, it seemed long to him - a sort of eternity" (Gill). Joab answered that but for his challenge in the morning there would have been no conflict at all; but (probably as yet unacquainted with the death of his brother Asahel) he sounded a retreat (ver. 28); and Abner and his men forthwith departed, not to Gibeon, but across the Jordan to Mahanaim (ver. 29). Regarding the question not merely as the utterance of Abner, nor from an Old Testament point of view, we may take it as expressive of ?
I. A CONVICTION OF THE EVILS OF WAR. "Shall the sword devour forever?" By it:
1. Numberless lives are consumed. The immediate and avowed object of war is the destruction of men's lives; and its most effective instruments (to the Construction of which the utmost ingenuity is devoted) are those that destroy the greatest number in the shortest possible time. "War is the work, the element, or rather the sport and triumph of death, who glories not only in the extent of his conquest, but in the richness of his spoil" (R. Hall, 'Reflections on War'). Since its ravages began many times more than the whole number of the present population of the globe have probably been its victims.
2. Incalculable snfferings are inflicted; on those who are left to die on the field, or are borne to hospitals and linger out a miserable existence; on the non-combatant population among whom the devourer pursues his way; on whole nations and multitudes of desolate and sorrowing homes far distant from the scene of strife.
3. Enormous cost is incurred; in the maintenance of armies and the provision of materiel, besides the withdrawal of great numbers from the operations of productive industry and serious interference with commerce; immense national debts are accumulated and burdensome taxes imposed on present and succeeding generations. There are nearly thirteen millions of men in Europe who have been trained for arms, and between four and five millions actually under arms, costing in all ways about five hundred millions sterling a year. The sum total of the national debts of the European nations amounts to nearly five thousand millions of pounds ('Statesman's Year-Book').
4. A pernicious influence is exerted, with respect to morality and religion. "War does more harm to the morals of men than even their property and their persons" (Erasmus). It has its origin in unregulated desire (James 4:1; 1 John 2:16), which it excites, manifests, and intensifies. "The causes of all wars may be reduced to five heads: ambition, avarice, revenge, providence (precaution), and defence" (Owen Feltham, 'Resolves'). "If the existence of war always implies injustice in one at least of the parties concerned, it is also the fruitful parent of crimes. It reverses, with respect to its objects, all the rules of morality. It is nothing less than a temporary repeal of the principles of virtue. It is a system out of which almost all the virtues are excluded and on which nearly all the vices are incorporated" (R. Hall). What angry feelings does it stir up between nations whom "God hath made of one blood"! What infuriated passions does it arouse in contending armies! What cruel deeds does it commend! What iniquitous courses of conduct does it induce! What false views of glory does it inculcate! What bitter and lasting enmities does it leave behind!
"One murder makes a villain,
Millions a hero! Princes were privileged to kill,
And numbers sanctified the crime!
Ah! why will kings forget that they are men,
And men that they are brethren? Why delight;
In human sacrifice? Why burst the ties
Of nature, that should knit their souls together
In one soft bond of amity and love?"
(Bishop Porteus.) Is war, then, under all circumstances, inexpedient and wrong? It is maintained that:
(1) The state, like the individual, has a natural right of self-defence, and is bound (in fulfilment of the purpose for which it exists) to protect its citizens by repelling external invasion as well as repressing internal violence (Whewell, 'Elements of Morality;' Paley; Gisborne; Mozley, 'University Sermons').
(2) By means of war national subjection is sometimes prevented, national grievances are redressed, national honour is upheld, aggression checked, pride abased, liberty, peace, and prosperity secured, patriotism kindled, powerful energies and heroic virtues developed.
(3) It has often received the Divine sanction (Exodus 17:14; Joshua 8:1; 1 Samuel 11:6). "Perpetual peace is a dream, and it is not even a beautiful dream. War is an element in the order of the world ordained by God. In it the noblest virtues of mankind are developed - courage and the abnegation of self, faithfulness to duty, and the spirit of sacrifice; the soldier gives his life. Without war the world would stagnate and lose itself in materialism" (Von Moltke). But this is the view of one who has been "a man of war from his youth" and "shed much blood" (1 Chronicles 22:8). And it may be said that:
(1) War is not ordained by God like tempests and earthquakes or even pestilence, but is directly due to the wickedness of men. That which is in itself evil, however, often becomes an occasion of good.
(2) "There is at least equal scope for courage and magnanimity in blessing as in destroying mankind. The condition of the human race offers inexhaustible objects for enterprise and fortitude and magnanimity. In relieving the countless wants and sorrows of the world, in exploring unknown regions, in carrying the arts and virtues of civilization to unimproved communities, in extending the bounds of knowledge, in diffusing the spirit of freedom, and especially in spreading the light and influence of Christianity, how much may be dared, how much endured!" (Channing).
(3) The right of resistance to evil is limited, and does not justify the taking away of life (Wayland, 'Elements of Moral Science;' Dymond, 'Essays').
(4) No advantages gained by war are an adequate compensation for the miseries inflicted by it; less suffering is experienced and higher honour acquired by enduring wrong than avenging it; the exercise of justice, forbearance, and active benevolence is the most effectual means of averting injury and securing safety and happiness.
(5) The Divine sanction given to specific wars in the Old Testament was not given to war in general, and it does not justify the wars which are waged, without the like authority, at the present time.
(6) War is virtually forbidden by numerous precepts and the whole spirit of the New Testament (Matthew 5:9, 39, 44; Matthew 26:52; Romans 12:18-21; 1 Thessalonians 5:15; 1 Peter 2:23; 1 Peter 3:9-13). The most that can be said is that "any principles upon which the Christian casuist would justify war in certain circumstances would not justify perhaps one in ten of the wars that have been waged" (J. Foster, 'Lectures,' vol. 2.).
II. AN APPEAL FOB THE CESSATION OF STRIPE. "Shall the sword devour forever?" Its ravages may be stayed; and means must be employed for that end, such as:
1. The consideration of the real nature and terrible consequences of war; and the education of the people, especially the young, so that they may cease to admire military glory and to be beguiled by "the pomp and circumstance of war" - may feel an intense aversion to it, and seek in other ways their common interest and true elevation.
2. The adoption of political measures for the settlement of international disputes and the removal of causes of strife; viE. arbitration by friendly powers, the reduction and disbandment of standing armies, etc.
3. The repression of evil passions in ourselves and others.
4. The practice and diffusion of Christian principles; which indispose all in whom they dwell to break the peace themselves, and dispose them to make peace among others. "The sons of peace are the sons of God."
III. AN ANTICIPATION OF TEE PREVALENCE or PEACE, "Shall the sword devour forever?" Surely not. The hope of universal peace is warranted from:
1. The advancing intelligence of men, the growth of popular government (making war less dependent than heretofore on the arbitrary will of rulers), the possession of "nobler modes of life, with sweeter manners, purer laws."
2. The better understanding and more perfect realization of the spirit of Christianity.
3. The overruling Providence and quickening Spirit of "the God of peace."
4. The express predictions of his Word concerning the effects of the reign of "the Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:7; Micah 4:3; Micah 5:2, 5; Psalm 72:7). "It is in war that the power of the beast culminates in the history of the world. This beast will then be destroyed. The true humanity which sin has choked up will gain the mastery, and the world's history will keep sabbath. What the prophetic words affirm is a moral postulate, the goal of sacred history, the predicted counsel of God" (Delitzsch, on Isaiah 2:4).
"O scenes surpassing fable and yet true;
Scenes of accomplished bliss; which who can see (Though but in distant prospect) and not feel
His soul refreshed with foretaste and with joy?"
Parallel VersesKJV: Joab also and Abishai pursued after Abner: and the sun went down when they were come to the hill of Ammah, that lieth before Giah by the way of the wilderness of Gibeon.