“And David said to Joab, and to all the people that were with him, Rend your clothes, and gird you with sackcloth, and mourn before Abner. And king David himself followed the bier. And they buried Abner in Hebron: and the king lifted up his voice, and wept at the grave of Abner; and all the people wept. And the king lamented over Abner, and said, Died Abner as a fool dieth? Thy hands were not bound, nor thy feet put into fetters: as a man falleth before wicked men, so fellest thou. And all the people wept again over him. And when all the people came to cause David to eat meat while it was yet day, David sware, saying, So do God to me, and more also, if I taste bread, or ought else, till the sun be down. And all the people took notice of it, and it pleased them: as whatsoever the king did pleased all the people. For all the people and all Israel understood that day that it was not of the king to slay Abner the son of Ner. And the king said unto his servants, Know ye not that there is a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel? And I am this day weak, though anointed king; and these men the sons of Zeruiah be too hard for me: the LORD shall reward the doer of evil according to his wickedness” (2 Samuel 3:31-39).
David’s mourning over Abner’s death follows a similar pattern as with that of King Saul. This probably indicates that there was a prescribed way of grieving over the dead in those days.
David ordered that everyone was to mourn over Abner’s death. We notice that Joab is named first. Whatever rejoicing he may have had over the death of his enemy was not allowed to reveal itself, and no doubt this would have humiliated him before all the people. Joab had no cause for complaint though, for if David had done what the law required, then the murderer would have been executed. We find David walking behind the pallet on which the body was carried to the grave. Everyone in the funeral procession wept for Abner.
At the graveside David spoke of the way Abner had been murdered, which once again must have caused Joab a great deal of discomfort. The words spoken here are probably only an outline of a longer eulogy. He speaks of, though not mentioning the murderer’s name, the cowardly and treacherous act of the one who had put Abner to death, and revealed him to be a wicked man. David mentions “wicked men” because Joab had easily coerced Abishai his brother into helping him with the crime. In verse 39 David asks the Lord to punish the evil doers for their wickedness.
Later in the text David’s tribute describes Abner was a “prince and a great man”. There is nothing in Scripture that speaks this highly of Abner, so maybe the lamentation is David’s way of honouring the dead. “Abner was buried in Hebron. His tomb, according to a medieval Jewish tradition, is considered to be in a building not far from the Cave of the Patriarchs” (Wikipedia). David honoured Abner by exalting his son Jaasiel as a leader of a tribe of Israel; “Of Benjamin, Jaasiel the son of Abner” (1 Chronicles 27:21). “Though Abner was David’s enemy, and opposed his coming to the throne, yet David would not oppose the preferment of his son, but perhaps nominated him to this post of honour, which teaches us to render good for evil” (Matthew Henry).
David’s grief did not end at the graveside, but instead he mourned all day over Abner. He refused to eat anything, which the people took to be a further sign that David had not been a conspirator in the murder. They saw him as a good and honourable king in contrast to the cruelty of King Saul. Their love of him was all the endorsement he needed. “David’s feelings and conduct on hearing of the death, together with the whole character and accompaniments of the funeral solemnity, tended not only to remove all suspicion of guilt from him, but even to turn the tide of popular opinion in his favour, and to pave the way for his reigning over all the tribes more honourably than by the treacherous negotiations of Abner” (Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Bible Commentary).
David speaks of the weakness he felt over the death of Abner. This means that he feels that Joab’s wicked act had undermined the unification of Israel and Judah. Maybe he felt weak because he had not punished Joab the way he ought to have done, and this is likely to be caused by the close ties to the family of Zeruiah. His final words in this chapter, though asking for the punishment of the wicked men who had carried out the crime, reveal that David was off-loading the responsibility onto God. God would indeed deal with them, but as king, David should have put his trust in the Lord instead of worrying about the perceived trouble that the Zeruiah clan might cause.
In this passage of Scripture we find David to be an honourable ruler, but also a man who was too weak to live up to his kingly responsibility. “If the law had had its course against Joab, it is probable the murder of Ishbosheth, Ammon, and others, had been prevented” (John Wesley). His weakness was probably mental stress. The whole affair troubled him greatly and caused him to feel that whatever he did in response would bring more problems for him. “David bears the sword in vain, and contents himself, as a private person, to leave them to the judgment of God” (Matthew Henry). We do not see David seeking God over the matter, so maybe this was the main reason for his weakness. “Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you” (1 Peter 5:7) … “Cast thy burden upon the LORD, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved. But thou, O God, shalt bring them down into the pit of destruction: bloody and deceitful men shall not live out half their days; but I will trust in thee” (Psalm 55:22-23).