Nine who came home

Charles Barnes provides a fascinating window into home ministry here in Idaho Falls with this post on “Nine who came home”:

Over the history of Idaho Falls, the average length of time that pastors have served their church in our city has been between 4 and 5 years, a value not much different from national averages. That value also matches the average tenure of CEOs with Fortune 500 companies (4.6 years in 2013), although if a broader range of companies is included, the average increases to 8 years. Jesus, as permanent CEO and Chief Shepherd of His church, can certainly move his junior shepherds around as much as He wants, for their own good and the good of His church. But there is something admirable about pastors who stick with a church for the long haul, who remain faithful and committed to a community and a congregation through all their ups and downs, year after year. And it’s even more notable when that place that they serve is their hometown. Jesus Himself pointed out that a prophet has no honor in his own hometown (John 4:44). But in the history of Idaho Falls, at least seven men and two women have come back to their hometown to serve Jesus as pastors.

The earliest was Rev. Don Austin. His father, Herbert, was born in England, came to America in 1887 and to Idaho Falls in 1903 when he was 19. Along with his brother Joseph, Herbert worked on farms north of town and in the Birch Creek area. He married Clara Smith in Idaho Falls in 1905. Don, the fifth of six children, was born in 1913. Don attended the Payne Siding School about four miles north of town on the west side of the river; he later went to schools in Idaho Falls. When Don was eight, his parents purchased the Eagle Rock Ranch eight miles north of town. The following year Don lost his sight in one eye from an accident involving barbed wire, and late in life lost most of the sight in his other eye as well. Raised in the Idaho Falls Methodist Church, Don accepted the Lord in a tent meeting on the property that is now Hawthorne Elementary School. In his late teens, Don went to Oregon and there met and married Evalyn Mae Kissler. He attended Bible School at a church in Caldwell, working there on a dairy farm. Don pastored Pentecostal churches in Fruitland and Albion for a few years before coming back to Idaho Falls in the late 1930’s. By then all three of Don’s brothers were farming along the Snake River north of town. His brothers asked Don and his wife to move in town and start a church. After purchasing property, the brothers drove their tractors into Idaho Falls to dig the basement of the church, and with the help of his father as well, built the church building that still stands at 260 Gladstone Street. Don served as pastor in Idaho Falls for 50 years, from 1941 until 1990. A member of his church recalls that he was one of the kindest ministers she ever knew – he loved people and would help them any way he could. She also remembers him as a man of prayer and fasting, and his son adds that it was very common to hear Don praying in his church at any hour of the day. It was also common for Don and his brother Bill to spend a full week in prayer and fasting. For many years, Don led evangelistic street meetings in downtown Idaho Falls, often on Saturday nights. Most every Sunday, his church would eat dinner together after their worship service. Rev. Austin occasionally filled the pulpit and led special meetings at other churches in Idaho Falls. He was a leader in the Idaho Falls Ministerial Association in the 1950’s and 1960’s, and over the years preached in numerous churches and held revival meetings in many communities in the Northwest. Like many pastors in Idaho Falls, he was bi-vocational. For about 15 years he ran a second hand store called Circle Dot Furniture, located on the corner of Park and Eagle Rock Avenues. Rev. Austin died in 2003 and is buried in Rose Hill Cemetery. His legacy includes the ministry of his two children – his daughter Donna married a pastor and they started churches in Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Illinois and Iowa, and his son Ken traveled as an evangelist for a number of years, served as minister in churches in Idaho Falls, Great Falls, Montana and Redwood City, California, opened a work in Boise – the Boise Bible Assembly, and has spoken in many churches across the United States, Canada and Haiti.

Ron Dugone and Mike Stearns served as back to back pastors at New Life Assembly of God over a period of nearly 30 years. Ron was born in Oklahoma but moved to Idaho Falls at a very early age; on his blogs and Facebook page he lists Idaho Falls as his home town. Ron’s father Joseph worked as an engineer at the INL and was highly regarded in the Idaho Falls Christian community. Ron graduated from Skyline High School in 1973 and Mike a year later. Both grew up going to the Assembly of God Church on Holmes Avenue. After high school, Ron enrolled in Northwest University in Kirkland, Washington. Mike studied for a year at the University of Idaho, and then transferred to Northwest University. After graduating from NU, Ron took a youth pastor position in Porterville, California, while Mike became the Associate Pastor of the Idaho Falls Assembly of God Church. Before a year was out Mike found himself filling in as the senior pastor of the church, a position he didn’t feel qualified for. After six months, Ron and Jody Dugone came back to Idaho Falls to fill the pastorate. Mike stayed on as Associate Pastor until September, 1983. This was a time of rapid growth for the church, doubling and then tripling in size. One Sunday afternoon they baptized 72 people. Four lots on 12th street had been donated to the church, and construction of a new building was started in 1981 and completed in May of 1984, with most of the work being done by members of the church. The church name was changed to New Life Assembly of God, and a kindergarten through Junior High school started. Ron and Jody stayed until 1988, and then Mike Stearns, who had been pastoring churches in Challis, Payette and New Plymouth in the mid 1980’s, came back to lead the church until 2008.

Don Patterson has a heart for the Lord and for Idaho Falls, and has seen a lot of change in the spiritual climate of the city during his lifetime. He has pastored the Community Church of God in Christ since 1993. This is the same church Don attended growing up in Idaho Falls (he lived next door to the church), and prior to becoming pastor, served as youth pastor, choir director and Sunday school superintendent. Don graduated from Idaho Falls High School in 1966 and Idaho State University in 1972, with a degree in Business Administration. In both high school and college, Don was a member of school choirs and a frequent soloist. He will tell you that he always felt that he would someday be a pastor, and at age 33, while working for Mountain Bell Telephone in Idaho Falls, Don experienced a call to ministry, and began to prepare. Since taking the helm at Community Church of God in Christ, Don has continued working in telecommunications – for many years for Idaho National Laboratory contractors, and more recently for the University of Idaho in their offices at University Place. Don has spent many hours in prayer for the welfare of our community, and given many hours volunteering in community activities and organizations, including serving as president of the Eastern Idaho Chapter of the Urban League, being on the board of the East-Central Idaho Planning and Development Association, being a member of the Mayor’s Cultural Awareness and Human Relations Committee, a member of the Idaho Falls Symphony Chorale, and speaking at events held in Idaho Falls on the National Day of Prayer. Don looks for opportunities to minister for the Lord wherever he is, and the Lord brings people to him, to point them to Christ or encourage their faith.

Don Casper was born in Sacred Heart Hospital on South Boulevard. His father was also born in Idaho Falls and served as pastor of Assembly of God churches in several communities in Utah and Idaho, including Firth from 1965 to 1980. In his teenage years Don went through a rebellious period, leaving home and leaving church. Through his sister and niece, he came back to Lord and was introduced to a small Apostolic church that was meeting in what had once been a garage. Don felt called to preach in 1997, and began a rigorous time of preparation through his church. He has been the pastor of New Hope Apostolic Church since it began in 2004. The church initially met in the Idaho Falls library, moving in just after Berean Baptist moved out into their own building. The church moved to its present location on Yellowstone Avenue in 2006, and now, in 2015, is looking for a larger facility. Like Don Patterson, Don Casper is bi-vocational and is currently the lead instructor of computer networking at Eastern Idaho Technical College. If you ask Don about how God has worked in the people of his church, he will tell you story after story of how God answered prayers. The people of his church have learned to pray, and when they encounter problems they connect with each other to pray, and they expect God to answer. He will also tell you the reality of God’s love in his life and the life of the members of his church.

Todd Wood was born in the LDS hospital on the banks of the Snake River in Idaho Falls in December of 1969. Reared in a Christian home, his parents enrolled him in Gethsemane Christian School in 1974. Mrs. Sue Lovegrove, the wife of Gethsemane’s pastor, was his fouryear-old kindergarten teacher. His family attended Gethsemane Baptist Church throughout his days as a youth. During a high school week at Red Cliff Bible Camp near Pinedale, Wyoming, the Lord directed Todd’s heart towards Christian ministry. He graduated from Skyline High School in 1988 and went to Bible college in South Carolina. After obtaining his undergraduate degree in Christian missions in 1992, he married his high school sweetheart, Kristie Ann Grothaus. Born in Idaho Falls as well, she was finishing her nursing degree from Boise State University in 1993. Todd and Kristie then went back East so that he could obtain a Master of Divinity degree. After school, Todd did a church internship in Elko, Nevada, before settling once again in Idaho Falls in 1997 to pastor the new church plant of Berean Baptist Church. He resigned as senior pastor of Berean Baptist Church in 2014 and ministers currently as interim pastor. Todd loves the people of Idaho Falls and the great outdoors. His desire is to see multiple, thriving, small church fellowships in the city in future years for the glory of God. He enjoys hiking and leading Bible studies. One of his favorite passages in the Bible is Isaiah 61:1-3.

Like Don Patterson, Nathan Swisher knew from an early age that he was called into the ministry. Having parents who were very involved in music and other ministries, Nathan grew up going to many church services and activities. As a teen he became disenchanted with church, but not with God. At age 18, while watching the movie Brave Heart, God gripped Nathan’s heart with the desire to serve Him. Following graduation from Idaho Falls High School, Nathan took off to Scotland to attend Youth With A Mission’s Discipleship Training School. As part of that training, he was involved in missions in Amman, Jordan and in northern India. After being in the Himalayas about a year, Nathan was asked by his family to come home to Idaho Falls to help with his sister, who had a kidney disease and needed a transplant. Nathan, who by this time was leading the outreach in India, struggled with the decision and didn’t want to come back to Idaho, but became convinced it was the Lord’s will. Back in Idaho Falls in 1997, Nathan and a friend, Zach Blickens, founded Freedom Ministries, a citywide youth outreach that focused on using music and the arts to reach and equip young people for Christ. As their ministry grew, they met in different venues at different times, and for several years saw 150 youth come weekly to a former theater by the old Fred Meyer building. After Zach moved to Cedar Rapids in 2000, Nathan shifted the emphasis of Freedom Ministries to discipleship. In 2001 Nathan became the youth pastor at Shiloh Foursquare Church, and now serves there as Associate Pastor. Since joining Shiloh he has taken on ever increasing responsibilities, including developing teams that work with youth of all ages, leading worship, organizing youth camps, helping with the Mountain River Bible Institute in Idaho Falls and leading mission teams from various Foursquare churches in Eastern Idaho in ministry in Mexico.

Cathy Chisholm grew up in Indiana but made Idaho Falls her home in 1977 when her husband took a job with Westinghouse. She says the congregation of First Presbyterian Church “nurtured me and my children, called forth gifts for ministry, and offered so many opportunities to learn, grow and serve.” Her service in the church included volunteering as secretary, serving as elder and, for five years, as director of adult ministries. Realizing a call to pastoral ministry while in Idaho Falls, she left in 1990 to pursue a degree from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. After seminary, she led congregations in Illinois, Wisconsin, Texas, and California. With her 4-year contract with a church in the Los Angeles area coming to a close late last year, she took time off for a trip to Yellowstone and the Tetons in September, and stopped in Idaho Falls to see friends from First Presbyterian Church. They not only told her that that very day was their pastor’s last Sunday, concluding his 14 years of ministry at the church, but they encouraged Cathy to apply for the newly-opened position of Transitional Pastor. Cathy did, was given the position, and moved back to Idaho Falls in early January, 2015. She views her role now as helping the church “reflect on the past, come to terms with the reality of loss and change, celebrate joys, prepare for what’s next and be moved by the Holy Spirit to use God’s gifts to glorify Jesus Christ through service, worship, teaching and celebration.”

Growing up in Idaho Falls, Katie Trent had a desire to know the truth about God. Her father was a Catholic, her mother had an LDS background. Katie met her husband James in 2003 while attending Boise State University, and accepted Jesus into her heart in 2004. She obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Social Work in 2006 from Boise State and Master’s Degree in 2011 from Northwest Nazarene University. She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and since graduating has worked as a counselor and program manager of a mental health clinic in Boise. She is passionate about ministering to people, and helping them know and become like Christ. She and her husband James moved to Idaho Falls in late February 2015 to prepare to plant a new church, Grace Falls, here. Katie has also started work as a counselor with New Life Counseling, a ministry of the Idaho Falls Rescue Mission. We have no doubt that God has called and used many other men and women in Idaho Falls, some who stayed for decades and others who were here but a few years, some who God brought from other parts of the country, others who grew up in nearby communities in Southeast Idaho, and many who grew up in Idaho Falls and served in Christ’s body in various ways. Yet this brief summary provides a glimpse one of the ways Jesus has been at work in Idaho Falls – calling men and women to serve him as pastors in their hometown.

Samuel Wishard on Christ-centered homiletics

Charles Barnes notes this:

Samuel Wishard organized the First Presbyterian Church in Idaho Falls in 1891, and several other churches in Southeast Idaho in the 1890’s. Here is his advice on sermon preparation and preaching:

  • Preach the Lord Jesus Christ
  • Preach by the authority of Christ
  • Preach in Christ’s stead
  • Preach with the help of Christ
  • Preach with hope in Christ
  • Preach with the love of Christ
  • Preach to please Christ
  • Preach to glorify Christ
  • Preach in imitation of Christ
  • Preach expecting to give account to Christ.

Bitter to the End

With Pastor Tim Rupp’s permission, I am posting his message which he shared yesterday at Old Faithful Christian Ranch.

Bitter to the End

2 Samuel 2

March 1, 2015

(OFCR Men’s Retreat)

Purpose statement: Bitterness will kill you.

Background: I was a bitter man. I’d like to tell you my story. You call it a “testimony.” It’s a story of God working in my life. I was a soldier in the army of Israel, serving under Israel’s greatest king, King David. I’d seen combat, in fact I’d seen plenty of combat. Men’s lives had been shed on my blade. I was good at my job, in fact I was the best. There was no one better than I at strategy and military tactics.

My specialty was my ability to read men.

Sometimes a soldier must strike quickly; sometimes he must wait. I could read men, I knew their strengths and their weaknesses. As a soldier I knew when to strike. I knew how to bide my time. To be patient and wait when the time was right. I didn’t always fight fair—but I always fought to win. In warfare winning is the only option.

But my passion for winning spilled over into every aspect of my life. For me winning was everything. I didn’t just win, I crushed my enemies. A dead enemy was a harmless enemy, in war or in everyday life. For me there were two types of people in life, winners and losers. I wasn’t a loser. When those close to me would suggest I had an unhealthy obsession with winning, I’d laugh it off and tell them I was just driven.

Yes, I used to think of myself as driven, or perhaps determined or maybe even ambitious. But never obsessed. Obsession suggests I’m not in control. But driven, determined, and ambitious are positive words! They suggest I’m in control of my own destiny. Obsessed! Are you kidding me!

Let me share a little of my family and background before the army.

  1. Before the Army

Ever since I was a young boy I dreamed of growing up and being a soldier like my famous uncle. My name is Joab. My story is recorded in three OT books, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, and 1 Chronicles. I am one of three boys; my brothers are Abishai [abby-shy] and Asahel [asa-el], our mother is Zeruiah, my dad is Suri.[1] We were from the little village of Bethlehem. Yes, that Bethlehem, where a thousand years after my day Jesus would be born.

My family’s genealogy is given in 1 Chronicles 2, go there. You might note my father’s name isn’t given, only my mother’s. This is because mom comes from a really important family. Mom had several brothers and a sister, her father, my maternal grandfather, is Jesse.

I don’t like to brag, well, maybe I do, take a look, 1 Chron. 2:13-16, “Jesse [that’s my grandfather] fathered Eliab his firstborn, Abinadab the second, Shimea the third, Nethanel the fourth, Raddai the fifth, Ozem the sixth, David [that’s King David] the seventh.  And their sisters were Zeruiah [that’s mom, David’s sister] and Abigail. The sons of Zeruiah: Abishai, Joab [that’s me], and Asahel, three.”

So there I am listed with my two brothers, Abishai and Asahel along with Grandpa Jesse and Uncle David. But also note the one cousin listed, Amasa, 2:17, “Abigail bore Amasa, and the father of Amasa was Jether the Ishmaelite.Amasa will figure an important part later in my life.

I remember with fondness my early childhood, we three boys were inseparable. Being so close in age, we were always horse-playing, which often led to fighting. But that seems to be common with brothers. The passion for soldiering was shared among my brothers. Coming from a shepherding family we found lots of time to hone our weaponry skills while tending sheep.

Because our Uncle David wasn’t much older than we were, we always regarded him as an older brother more than an uncle. In fact, we tended sheep with him before he became famous after killing Goliath. It was David that began to teach us the skills of weaponry, as you might have guessed, David was partial to the sling. David was amazing with the sling, I recall when he took out a lion one fall and in the spring he knocked down a bear; both with his sling! But the most amazing thing about David was that he had a quiet confidence about him that I envied. David was able to detach himself from the violence that seemed to follow him wherever he went. Whereas, I wasn’t able to separate myself from the violence.

Often I’d catch David quietly meditating or writing. “Come on, David, let’s practice sword fighting!” I’d say to him. “In a little bit,” he’d reply, “I’m busy now.” I just couldn’t figure my uncle out. He was so unassuming. If I hadn’t personally witnessed his skill and courage, I’d have thought he was some harp playin’, poetry lovin’ sissy. But David was different. Unlike me, he had compassion and a forgiving spirit. I forgave no man, you cross me—you will pay.

Shortly after killing Goliath David left to serve Saul, Israel’s king. Saul was our first king and the first to raise a standing army for Israel. As a nation we’d had our share of war, but since conquering the land under the leadership of Joshua, Israel never had a standing national army. Under King Saul the army mustered some 3,000 men, but it quickly dwindled down to only 600. I was afraid there’d be nothing left by the time I was old enough to join the army. But, that turned out not to be true at all.

After David left, my brothers and I were left to carry on without him. But he became our inspiration. We couldn’t wait to grow up and join the army, serving with David.

We’d have contests using our handmade bows, spears, and wooden swords and daggers, and of course the sling. My brothers were every bit as competitive as I; the result was we all became very skilled with our weapons. My favorite was the dagger [display dagger]. I liked close combat. Often a fight would break out after one of our “friendly” competitions and Abishai and Asahel would gang up on me. Knowing their weaknesses, I was always able to take the two of them—separately or together. I discovered I had a mental edge over them. It was then that I realized how important the mind was in battle. My brothers had skill, but I had just the little edge needed that put me over the top. I knew what they were thinking. I knew their weaknesses. When they hesitated, I struck.

Before I knew it, we had grown into strong, competent, and skilled young men. Our desire for war never faltered. To be honest, I’d put my brothers up against any man I knew. But in close, hand-to-hand combat, I could still take either one or both. Unless, of course, Abishai used his spear. I hate to admit it, but my brothers did regularly beat me in two areas in which they specialized, and would become famous for. Abishai could use a spear like no man I’d seen.

It was like he became one with the spear. I swear Abishai could split a hair at twenty paces! Not only that, he learned to use it to wield off attacks using both the sharp and the blunt end. When Abishai drew his spear, I’d not get near him. You may think I’m exaggerating about Abishai’s skill, but consider what is recorded of him in the Bible. In 1 Chronicles 11 is a list of mighty warriors who severed under King David. Look at what is said of Abishai, 1 Chron. 11:20, “Now Abishai, the brother of Joab, was chief of the thirty. And he wielded his spear against 300 men and killed them and won a name beside the three.” I told you he was good!

Asahel’s specialty was speed. He could run like the wind, a great advantage in our day when most men fought afoot. Asahel had endurance and never seemed to be winded. Although the least skilled fighter, he was by far the fastest of us three, again the Bible records his skill, 2 Sam. 2:18, “And the three sons of Zeruiah were there, Joab, Abishai, and Asahel. Now Asahel was as swift of foot as a wild gazelle.”

So, there we were all grown up when the most unexpected thing happened, David deserted the army.

  1. Joining David’s Army

After going into the army David quickly made a name for himself, became a captain, and married one of Saul’s daughters. David and Jonathan (Saul’s eldest son), another war hero, became best of friends. Everything was set for my brothers and me to join the army when things went awry.

Seems Saul had it in for Uncle David and attempted to kill him. But with the help of Jonathan, David escaped and fled into the wilderness with Saul and his army in pursuit. This is when my brothers and I joined with David. I didn’t want to go against my king, but I knew my uncle’s heart. David wouldn’t have fled without good reason. I figured if I were on David’s side, I’d be on the side of right. That turned out to be a good call.

It was during this time, under the command of David that I learned the art of war. I learned how to outsmart the enemy, how to use the terrain to gain an advantage, and how to beat a superior numbered force. But most what I learned from David was how he trusted God for victory. It seemed David had not stopped his habit of meditating or writing. Nor did he lack that quiet confidence I found in him. But, I was no David. David may have trusted God for victory, but I was much more pragmatic. Or, so I believed—I trusted me.

While there’s no doubt David was a brave warrior he was also a man with a gentle and quiet spirit. I was not. I was a man of violence and I used violent means to achieve an end.

I recall one night, after everyone had turned in I found David sitting next to a dwindling camp fire, writing. “What are you writing, David, strategic plans of attack?” I asked. He smiled, shook his head and said, “No, I’m writing a song.” “A song! Are you kidding me! Saul’s army is encamped just on the other side of those rocks and you’re writing lyrics to a song!” I exclaimed.

David looked up from his work and smiled, “Yes, Joab, I am.” “Okay, I’m game. Read me what you have so far.” As David looked into the fire I could see the flames dancing in his eyes as he contemplated, “Well, I was thinking about all this fighting and how scary it gets at times when death is so close it feels like a shadow covering you. Then the Lord called to mind the time when we used to tend sheep. Remember those days, Joab?” I nodded my recollection. “Well, here’s what I’ve written:”

1The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

4      Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

“Well good luck with that David!” I smirked; “I’m going to get some shuteye.” Again a sincere smile came across David’s face, “Goodnight, Joab.”

That’s the difference between David and me; while the Lord is his Shepherd, I follow no one. When wronged, I take action. When wronged, I make things right. When wronged, I go for the kill. So, there you have it. David took matters to the Lord, I took matters in my own hands, let me give you an example, it comes from the first battle after David was crowned king over Judah.

  • The Battle of Gibeon

As you know, America’s bloodiest war was its Civil War. Civil war is the worst kind. Brother against brother, father against son, families split, and victory doesn’t feel like victory when your brother receives the business end of your weapon.

The decisive battle in your American Civil War took place at Gettysburg, it was a victory for the Union. The first battle the Bible records of my involvement was also the decisive battle of our first civil war, it was fought at the pool of Gibeon, half-way between where the two kings had set up their thrones. The story is recorded in 2 Samuel 2. Remember, Saul was king and had been pursing David. At the same time Saul was also at war against the Philistines. My brothers and I were with David and a band of about 600 warriors loyal to David—fighting men all. While Israel was at war with the Philistines our little army had been engaged in secret guerilla warfare against the Philistines. But even with our help things went bad for Israel. King Saul and three of his sons, including Jonathan, were killed in battle against the Philistines leaving no king on the throne.

David, having been anointed by Samuel years before to succeed Saul as king over Israel, inquired of the Lord if he should go to Judah, which is in southern Israel. The Lord told him to go, so David led the whole clan, some 600 men, and our families, to Judah. When we arrived at the towns around Hebron the people crowned him king over Judah. This wasn’t a big surprise, this was the area where we grew up; our hometown of Bethlehem was only about ten miles north of Hebron, where David set up headquarters.

Judah was the largest of the tribes; but, mind you, not all of Israel was ready to forsake Saul’s family. In an effort to maintain his power, Abner, the commander of Saul’s army, established Ishbosheth, a son of Saul by a mistress, as king over the remaining tribes of Israel, causing an immediate split, 2 Sam. 2:8-10,8 But Abner the son of Ner, commander of Saul’s army, took Ish-bosheth the son of Saul and brought him over to Mahanaim, and he made him king over Gilead and the Ashurites and Jezreel and Ephraim and Benjamin and all Israel. 10 Ish-bosheth, Saul’s son, was forty years old when he began to reign over Israel, and he reigned two years. But the house of Judah followed David.”

As you might have imagined, things were tense. Like America split North and South with two presidents, Lincoln and Davis. We too were split North and South with two kings, Ishbosheth and David.

The years under David proved that not only was I competent in military tactics, I was also a leader. I was a leader men would follow into combat. And David could find no one more loyal than me. I was loyal to my king and my country. David had several competent soldiers, but I was the one he chose to be his commanding general.

After months of posturing and small skirmishes the two armies met. On that fateful day Abner brought his army south and I led mine north. The two armies came face-to-face at a small pool located at a place called Gibeon, 2:12-13, 12 Abner the son of Ner, and the servants of Ish-bosheth the son of Saul, went out from Mahanaim to Gibeon. 13 And Joab the son of Zeruiah and the servants of David went out and met them at the pool of Gibeon. And they sat down, the one on the one side of the pool, and the other on the other side of the pool.”

So there we were, in a face-off. Neither side making a move. I had been discussing strategy with my brothers and was about to call for an attack when Abner proposed a compromise. He suggested each side select 12 men to represent the two armies. The 24 men would engage in battle and the winner would decide the victory. Well, that suited me just fine, I agreed to the challenge, here’s how it’s recorded, 2:14-15, 14 And Abner said to Joab, ‘Let the young men arise and compete before us.’ And Joab said, ‘Let them arise.’ 15 Then they arose and passed over by number, twelve for Benjamin and Ish-bosheth the son of Saul, and twelve of the servants of David.”

The 24 men fought bravely, each fighting for his king and country, but it ended with no one victorious, and no one left alive, 2:16, “And each caught his opponent by the head and thrust his sword in his opponent’s side, so they fell down together. Therefore that place was called Helkath-hazzurim, which is at Gibeon.” Helkath-hazzurim—the field of daggers!

As soon as the last of the men fell I signaled for an attack, Abner was caught off guard and we scored a decisive victory, 2:17, “And the battle was very fierce that day. And Abner and the men of Israel were beaten before the servants of David.” It’s a day that I will never forget, not because we won the battle; but because of the great loss I suffered.

Abner realized he couldn’t take us and fled, making a beeline north attempting to save what he could of his men. But my brothers and I weren’t about to let him escape unscathed, Abishai and I glanced at Asahel. No words needed to be exchanged, we three were of one spirit. Asahel met our look, gave us a smile of conformation and bolted like a wild gazelle after Abner who was running for all he’s worth, 2:18-19, 18 And the three sons of Zeruiah were there, Joab, Abishai, and Asahel. Now Asahel was as swift of foot as a wild gazelle. 19 And Asahel pursued Abner, and as he went, he turned neither to the right hand nor to the left from following Abner.”

Abner didn’t get far when Asahel started closing in on him, 2:20, “Then Abner looked behind him and said, ‘Is it you, Asahel?’ And he answered, ‘It is I.’” Looking back, I have to admit, Abner did give Asahel warning. Asahel was faster and stronger, but Abner was the more seasoned soldier. In many ways Abner and I were alike, we could read people. We knew their weaknesses and would strike when they least expected it. But, this time Abner warned Asahel twice.

Abner wasn’t warning Asahel out of mercy, he knew if something happened to Asahel he’d have me to deal with, 2:21-22, 21 Abner said to him, ‘Turn aside to your right hand or to your left, and seize one of the young men and take his spoil.’ But Asahel would not turn aside from following him. 22 And Abner said again to Asahel, ‘Turn aside from following me. Why should I strike you to the ground? How then could I lift up my face to your brother Joab?’”

Asahel was a son of Zeruiah. We were cut from the same cloth. Concede victory? No way. It was all or nothing, we cower to no man, 2:23, “But he refused to turn aside. Therefore Abner struck him in the stomach with the butt of his spear, so that the spear came out at his back. And he fell there and died where he was. And all who came to the place where Asahel had fallen and died, stood still.”

Asahel’s death brought our army to a screeching halt. As the men came upon my brother’s lifeless body, they stopped. The sight of Asahel lying dead, with his insides poured out on the ground caused the men to stop and think. They realized Abner was luring them into a trap. Abner was gaining the high ground placing his army at a tactical advantage. My men stopped their pursuit. By now it was getting late. Abner was assembling his troops and preparing to redeploy them. My men were right to stop. I didn’t.

When we caught up to the men gathered around Asahel’s body Abishai and I continued on right to the front of our army. It wasn’t good tactics, a sense of duty, or loyalty to the king that was driving us. It was bitter anger, 2:24, “But Joab and Abishai pursued Abner. And as the sun was going down they came to the hill of Ammah, which lies before Giah on the way to the wilderness of Gibeon.” The men, loyal soldiers all, had fallen in behind and continued the pursuit, foolish as it was.

That’s when Abner stopped; he had gained the upper hand, 2:25, “And the people of Benjamin gathered themselves together behind Abner and became one group and took their stand on the top of a hill.”

Abishai and I stopped at the bottom of the hill and looked up at Abner and his army. It would have been nothing short of suicide to attempt further pursuit. Abner knew it and we knew it.

Then Abner spoke some words of wisdom. In the midst of battle he kept his wits about him, for that I must respect him. Here’s what he said, 2:26, “Then Abner called to Joab, ‘Shall the sword devour forever? Do you not know that the end will be bitter? How long will it be before you tell your people to turn from the pursuit of their brothers?’”

He asked three rhetorical questions; all that cut to the heart of the matter. This is the wisdom of a counselor. Rather than telling me what to do he asked me questions. Asking questions is much less threatening to me. It makes me think, it gives me a choice, and makes me defend my position. Look again at what he said, his first question was, “Shall the sword devour forever?” This war had been going on for a long time. When would it end? In conflict that pits brother against brother the only winner is death, symbolized by the sword. It may not always be physical death, it may be the death of a relationship. But death is the only winner.

His second question was, “Do you not know that the end will be bitter?” Nothing good comes from a power struggle within a family. When there’s a winner, there must be a loser. No matter who prevails there will remain a bitterness between the parties.

His third question was, “How long will it be before you tell your people to turn from the pursuit of their brothers?” In other words, “The ball’s in your court, you can stop this right now.” Still seething with anger I realized Abner’s words hit a cord with my men and resentfully, I told him as much, 2:27, “And Joab said, ‘As God lives, if you had not spoken, surely the men would not have given up the pursuit of their brothers until the morning.’”

I’d like to say I listened to Abner’s wisdom, but I didn’t. This moment was a turning point in my life. Had I listened, my life would have taken a very different direction. But, I didn’t listen; I was controlled by bitterness. Rather than believing he was being honest, I suspected Abner realized eventually I’d prevail…I mean we’d prevail, David’s army would…this wasn’t about me; was it? Maybe it was. Maybe my life was all about me.

Nevertheless, I realized charging up that hill would be suicide for me and my men. This day’s battle was over; I sounded retreat, 2:28, “So Joab blew the trumpet, and all the men stopped and pursued Israel no more, nor did they fight anymore.”

IV.            Joab commits murder

As the war dredged on David became more powerful and Ishbosheth weaker. It became abundantly clear that soon all of Israel would recognize David as king. Abner was no fool, he could see what was coming. Although Ishbosheth was king, Abner was the one with the real power in Israel and he sent a message to David seeking a truce. David took the bait and welcomed Abner with open arms, even making a big feast for him. After negotiations Abner departed in peace.

I knew nothing of this until I returned to Hebron from a campaign, 2 Sam. 3:22-23, 22 Just then the servants of David arrived with Joab from a raid, bringing much spoil with them. But Abner was not with David at Hebron, for he had sent him away, and he had gone in peace. 23 When Joab and all the army that was with him came, it was told Joab, ‘Abner the son of Ner came to the king, and he has let him go, and he has gone in peace.’”

I couldn’t believe it! Was David getting soft? Was he losing his edge, didn’t he realize what Abner was up to? Abner came to spy out David’s resources, not to make peace—or at least that’s the way I saw it! I had a private word with the King, 3:24-25, 24 Then Joab went to the king and said, ‘What have you done? Behold, Abner came to you. Why is it that you have sent him away, so that he is gone? 25 You know that Abner the son of Ner came to deceive you and to know your going out and your coming in, and to know all that you are doing.’”

David wouldn’t listen. He figured Abner was being straight. David told me it was done and he had sent Abner away in peace, I was told to leave it alone. Well I wasn’t. This wasn’t about peace between Israel and Judah, this was about what Abner did to my brother. I wasn’t about to let it go.

As soon as I left I sent men to entice Abner back to the city, 3:26, “When Joab came out from David’s presence, he sent messengers after Abner, and they brought him back from the cistern of Sirah. But David did not know about it.” If David wasn’t going to take care of matters, I would.

I went to the city gate and waited. It wasn’t long before Abner and his entourage crested the horizon and made their way back to the city gate. Abner greeted me with a smile and a customary bow. I returned the gestures and asked him inside the gate’s guardroom, “I have a special message for you, my friend,” I told him, 3:27, “And when Abner returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside into the midst of the gate to speak with him privately, and there he struck him in the stomach, so that he died, for the blood of Asahel his brother.”

As his life was draining from his body Abner looked into my eyes, his lips struggling to form words. Slowly I removed my dagger from his gut and I heard a gurgled whisper, “Do you not know that the end will be bitter?”

How did he know bitterness would mark my life? I served David as commander of his army my whole life. Success? I had it. Position? I had it. Wealth, I had it. But all was wrapped in bitterness.

Abner was right. I died a bitter man. In another fit of rage I murdered a second time; this time it was my own cousin, Amasa. David chose Amasa to replace me as commander after I killed Absalom against David’s wishes. I held my position under David as commander to the bitter end. And that’s what it was, a bitter end.

After David died I sided with his son Adonijah to replace him as king, even though I knew David’s wish was for Solomon to take the throne. From his deathbed David warned Solomon about me, 1 Kings 2:5-6 ‘Moreover, you also know what Joab the son of Zeruiah did to me, how he dealt with the two commanders of the armies of Israel, Abner the son of Ner, and Amasa the son of Jether, whom he killed, avenging in time of peace for blood that had been shed in war, and putting the blood of war on the belt around his waist and on the sandals on his feet. Act therefore according to your wisdom, but do not let his gray head go down to Sheol in peace.’” As Abner, David too was prophetic. I wouldn’t go to the grave in peace.

Solomon became king and upon learning I had sided against him, he ordered my death. I fled to the tabernacle and took hold of the altar; 2:28, “When the news came to Joab—for Joab had supported Adonijah although he had not supported Absalom—Joab fled to the tent of the Lord and caught hold of the horns of the altar.”

As I knelt there my bloodstained hands on the altar I thought about my life. It had been all about me. When someone crossed me, I’d eliminate them. I had no use for anyone that didn’t see things my way. The words David wrote came to mind, “He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” Why didn’t I follow that path? Because it had always been about me and what I wanted. For me life was a never ending war. I was at war with everyone, my king, my wife, my children, and even my God.

Would anyone mourn my passing? How would I be remembered? I prayed my children would not be like their father. Again Abner’s words came to mind, “Do you not know that the end will be bitter?”

Solomon was given word as to my whereabouts; I knew the end was near, 2:29-32, “29 And when it was told King Solomon, ‘Joab has fled to the tent of the Lord, and behold, he is beside the altar,’ Solomon sent Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, saying, ‘Go, strike him down.’ 30 So Benaiah came to the tent of the Lord and said to him, ‘The king commands, ‘Come out.’’ But he said, ‘No, I will die here.’” My last recorded words were words of defiance, life was about me; so was my death.

“Then Benaiah brought the king word again, saying, ‘Thus said Joab, and thus he answered me.’ 31 The king replied to him, ‘Do as he has said, strike him down and bury him, and thus take away from me and from my father’s house the guilt for the blood that Joab shed without cause. 32 The Lord will bring back his bloody deeds on his own head, because, without the knowledge of my father David, he attacked and killed with the sword two men more righteous and better than himself, Abner the son of Ner, commander of the army of Israel, and Amasa the son of Jether, commander of the army of Judah.’”

Conclusion: Today’s story capsulized Joab’s life. Joab lived with a “root of bitterness.” Bitterness spouts when a person fails to obtain God’s grace, Heb. 12:15, “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.”

The life of David stands in stark contrast to Joab’s life. Cleary David not only obtained God’s grace he extended grace to others.

Recall Abner’s advice through his rhetorical questions? “Shall the sword devour forever?” The conflict had been going on for a long time. When would it end? In conflict that pits brother against brother the only winner is death. It may not always be physical death, it may be the death of a relationship.

His second question was, “Do you not know that the end will be bitter?” Nothing good comes from a power struggle within a family. When there’s a winner, there must be a loser. No matter who prevails there will remain a bitterness between the parties.

His third question was, “How long will it be before you tell your people to turn from the pursuit of their brothers?” In other words, “The ball’s in your court, you can stop this right now.”

Joab had come to a turning point in his life. He was in a position to put a stop to the conflict, but he chose not to. Even after peace was made Joab refused to submit his stubborn will.

Is there conflict in your life? Are you at odds with someone in your family? Someone you work with? A friend? A brother or sister at church? “Do you not know that the end will be bitter?” Let’s pray.

[1] (See Josephus, Ant. 7.1.3)