Joab, Abishai, and Asahel–the three sons of Zeruiah–were among David’s forces that day. Asahel could run like a gazelle.
Zeruiah means, “Balsam of Yah” Balsam is a spice, perfume,cosmetic and medicine. It is also an ingredient in the incense burned in the Tabernacle. Scholars are not in full agreement, some taking the position that Zeruiah means “Cleft”, as in a crack that occurs from pressure.
Hubris: excessive pride or self-confidence; arrogance.
…Asahel could run like a gazelle, and he began chasing Abner. He pursued him relentlessly, not stopping for anything. When Abner looked back and saw him coming, he called out, “Is that you, Asahel?”
“Yes, it is,” he replied.
“Go fight someone else!” Abner warned. “Take on one of the younger men, and strip him of his weapons.” But Asahel kept right on chasing Abner.
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?”
But Asahel refused to turn back, so Abner thrust the butt end of his spear through Asahel’s stomach, and the spear came out through his back. He stumbled to the ground and died there… -2 Samuel 2:18b-23a
Abishai was the oldest of the three brothers mentioned here. He was the only one brave enough to accompany David to sneak in on Saul as he slept (1 Sam. 26:5-12). Abishai was one of the mightiest warriors of David’s mighty men, and he personally slew 300 men by himself one time (2 Sam. 23:18-19). He also took part in the slaying of a Philistine giant (2 Sam. 21:15-17). But, and unfortunately, Abishai played a role in the murder of Joab (2 Sam. 3:30) and David pronounced a curse on Joab’s whole family (2 Sam. 3:29). Abishai receives the curse, since he was complacent in the murder.
These three brothers were mighty warriors, counted among David’s might men, that probably numbered between 30 and 37 guys (2 Sam. 23:8-39). Things went wrong for these three, when Asahel got ahead of his assignment. It was like Asahel got too big for his britches. This is hubris.
He authentically served David, and by extension, God; before this incident. But, perhaps the victories he had been involved in, gave birth to pride in himself. The more victories you are involved in, the more you must learn to discipline yourself to be humble.
Besides the wars with the pagan peoples, there were also civil wars in Israel where many were killed. Asahel ended up a casualty, and the record of his death documents that he died because of his own foolishness. Lack of wisdom, would be true of him also, but the word I was looking for was presumption (Psalm 19:13).
With just seeing here that Asahel has a gift for speed, what can we say? We can say, “be careful!”. We have a, “need for speed”, culture. We have a spirit of ‘hurry’ in our world, at least in the places I frequent. It used to be rare to see someone run a red light, but now I see it all the time.
God is not in a hurry. There is something good about getting up and going for it, but we also can get ahead of God. Patience is a virtue, but speediness is not. There is no, ‘peddle to the metal’ Bible verse, but there are many verses about continued perseverance.
But, what about our God given gifts? What is the difference between Asahel and Eric Liddle, the man who’s life was put on the big screen in ‘Chariots of Fire‘? Eric was in a missionary family, and there were expectations that he would himself serve God that way, but instead, he put off missionary service to became an Olympic runner.
When people said to Eric, “what are you doing?”, he told them that he felt the pleasure of God when he ran. Eric Liddle brought glory to God through is natural gift that was also his passion.
But, Asahel got in trouble and was killed. Why? He did not steward his gift properly and got into a presumptuous situation where he was blinded by his ambition. Asahel should have known this word of wisdom:
“Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall”
We can move ahead of God and be destroyed. Bravery and arrogance are not the same. We have to go after the targets God gives us. God gives grace to the humble and opposes pride (Prov. 3:34).
This last point might seem tangential, but I looked for a verse about getting too far ahead, and found 2 John 1:9, where John warns about getting ahead of the teachings of Christ and falling into deception. F.F. Bruce notes that it literally says, “whoever taketh the lead and abideth not in the teaching of Christ”.
We can get ahead of Christ, spiritually, and add things that are not in his teachings, nor in the apostolic witness, and ruin our selves and lead others away from Christ. Bruce notes that the junk that John is warning about is Docetism, which is the belief that Jesus was a phantom, that he was pure spirit, and did not have a physical body that really died on the cross. Docetism is a heretical belief within Gnosticism.
When we ‘take the lead’ and get ahead of God, we can get into trouble. Leadership, yes; but ‘taking the lead and not abiding in the teaching of Christ’, no.