Saturday, November 14, 2009

Death of Asahel

I remember when I was in seventh grade a particularly brutal math exam in which most of the class did not fare well. Our teacher, citing lack of study due to overconfidence commented, "Some of you have been reading your own press clippings."

Similarly, a public figure -- say, a sitting President like Bush or Obama -- may read the press releases and P.R. put out by his own people and begin to believe the hype about himself. This generally leads to some ill-conceived policies and programs that bring his popularity crashing down around him.

When you have a reputation -- whether earned or imagined -- it's easy to "read the press releases" and believe you can do no wrong. (Think, "Mike Tyson".)

The same goes for heroes. Asahel was just such a hero.

Asahel was the king's nephew, son of Zeruiah, David's sister (I Chron. 2:13-16). He was also listed among David's Mighty Men (II Sam. 23:23), a roster of elite fighters renowned for their warrior skills.

After King Saul's death, there ensued a struggle to confirm and consolidate David's political position as rightful king. Asahel played a role in a particularly nasty incident in that struggle which took place at the Field of Sharp Edges near Gibeon (II Samuel 2:13-16).

The incident ended with David's nephews -- Joab, Abishai and Asahel -- pursuing Abner, who had served as leader of Saul's armed forces. Asahel evidently outdistanced his brothers in the pursuit and closed in on his quarry.

In the midst of pursuit, the following exchange took place:

Then Abner looked behind him, and said, "Art thou Asahel?"

And he answered, "I am."

And Abner said to him, "Turn thee aside to thy right hand or to thy left, and lay thee hold on one of the young men, and take thee his armour." But Asahel would not turn aside from following of him. And Abner said again to Asahel, "Turn thee aside from following me. Wherefore should I smite thee to the ground? How then should I hold up my face to Joab thy brother?"
(2Sa 2:20-22)

In his single-minded pursuit, Asahel no doubt thought he had nothing to fear from Abner. After all, Abner was the one who was running away, wasn't he?

When Asahel crossed the mental line between reasonable confidence in his abilities and hubris, he also crossed the line between necessary aggressiveness and foolhardiness. In terms of tactics, his pride blinded him to the fact that sometimes an enemy's withdrawal can lead to ambush -- in individual as well as group combat.

Howbeit [Asahel] refused to turn aside: wherefore Abner with the hinder end of the spear smote him under the fifth rib, that the spear came out behind him; and he fell down there, and died in the same place: and it came to pass, that as many as came to the place where Asahel fell down and died stood still. (2Sa 2:23)

I can see it my mind's eye: Abner appears to be tiring and slows his pace enough for Asahel to close the distance between. Then he warns Asahel off, but Asahel sees Abner's warning as bravado borne of desperation and fatigue.

Asahel thinks that Abner's endurance is spent and he closes in behind for the kill. As he raises his sword to strike, Abner suddenly stops in his tracks and meets Asahel's forward momentum with a backward thrust of his spear.

Every fellow-soldier who came upon his body lying in the bloody dirt stopped and stood stock still. They evidently did this out of absolute incredulity.

One of the king's combat elite lying dead in the wake of a retreating enemy! How could this be?

Answer: A man's pride shall bring him low: but honour shall uphold the humble in spirit. (Pro 29:23)

Honor? Seems I've encountered that concept recently.

Is there a link between humility and true honor? hmm. . . .


Randall Gerard said...

Great observations!

This story reminds me of an old adage I'm fond of now that I'm officially over the hill..

'old age and treachery will always beat youth and inexperience.'

It takes a man of wide experience to realize, in the heat of pursuit, the utility of BOTH ENDS of his spear.

The Warrior said...

I just read this a while ago....

Even more thought-provoking than usual. Must turn over in my head....

Thanks once again!