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Bible Commentaries
2 Samuel 3

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

Verse 1


“There was a long war between the house of Saul and the house of David; and David grew stronger and stronger, while the house of Saul became weaker and weaker.”

This progressive shift of power from the house of Saul to that of David fulfilled Samuel’s prophecy in 1 Samuel 15:28.

During this extended conflict, there was not a succession of many battles, but an atmosphere of constant hostility. At least part of Abner’s attention had to be directed against the encroaching demands of the Philistines; and, having lost the most of his able soldiers in the battle that resulted in Saul’s death, Abner doubtless became less and less successful in his forays against the Philistines. In all probability, that failure was the basic reason which lay behind Abner’s decision to switch allegiance to David. Abner, of course wanted to be king, as indicated by his taking one of Saul’s concubines, but when it became evident that he would be unable to deliver northern Israel from the dominant power of the Philistines, he perceived that his own personal interests would probably be best served by his changing sides in the conflict.

Verses 2-5


“And sons were born to David at Hebron: his first-born was Amnon of Ahinoam of Jezreel; and his second, Chileab of Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel; and the third, Absalom the son of Maacah the daughter of Talmai king of Geshur; and the fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith and the fifth, Shephatiah the son of Abital; and the sixth, Ithream, of Eglah, David’s wife. These were born to David in Hebron.”

In a collective sense, these sons of David were nothing special. Amnon raped his half-sister Tamar, the full sister of Absalom (2 Samuel 13:1) and was murdered by Absalom, who also rebelled against his father and sought to dethrone him. Practically nothing is known of Chileab, who is called Daniel in 1 Chronicles 3:1. Adonijah had himself proclaimed king during the final illness of David; but upon what pretext we are not told. It has been supposed that Chileab (his older brother) was dead; and, if so, he might have claimed to be David’s oldest living son, the other older sons Absalom and Ammon both having been killed. Nothing is known either of Shephatiah or Ithream except what is stated here. Regarding Adonijah, Beecher declared that, “His conduct gives us no reason”(F1) to have a high opinion of him. If we may judge, therefore, by the behavior of the three sons whose records have come down to us, the group of sons mentioned here could not have been, in any sense, ideal princes of David’s kingdom.

Among David’s many sins, his polygamy must be cited as one of the worst. “It resulted in friction, hatred, and division in his household.”(F2) Apparently, love for the women he married had little to do with David’s marriages, in which financial, political and other motives also entered. For example, his marriage to a daughter of Talmai, king of Geshur, strengthened his relative position with regard to the house of Saul, because, “It cemented an alliance which helped to isolate Ishbosheth, since Geshur was an Aramaean state lying north of Gilead.”(F3) “Talmai’s capital was Bashan where Og was once king (Deuteronomy 3:11).”(F4)

“Ithream, of Eglah, David’s wife” As Willis noted: “This statement that Eglah was David’s wife is a mystery.”(F5) The statement applies equally to all six of the wives mentioned here, and commentators are puzzled by the appearance of these words regarding Eglah. Matthew Henry stated that, “Some think that `Eglah’ is another name for Michal, David’s first and most rightful wife, and that, although she had no child after mocking David, she might have borne a son before that.”(F6) To this writer, the most logical explanation, while unprovable, is that there were two prominent women named Eglah known to the people of that time, and that “David’s wife” was added here to distinguish between them.

Verses 6-11


“While there was war between the house of Saul and the house of David, Abner was making himself strong in the house of Saul. Now Saul had a concubine whose name was Rizpah, the daughter of Ahiah; and Ishbosheth said to Abner, “Why have you gone in to my father’s concubine”? Then Abner was very angry over the words of Ishbosheth, and said, “Am I a dog’s head of Judah? This day I keep showing loyalty to the house of Saul your father, to his brothers, and to his friends, and have not given you into the hand of David; and yet you charge me today with a fault concerning a woman. God do so to Abner and more also, if I do not accomplish for David what the Lord has sworn to him, to transfer the kingdom from the house of Saul and set up the throne of David over Israel and over Judah, from Dan to Beersheba” And Ishbosheth could not answer Abner another word, because he feared him.”

This paragraph, along with what has been written earlier, identifies Abner as, “Not only the founder but the grave-digger of the kingdom of Ishbosheth.”(F7)

“Why have you gone in to my father’s concubine?” “It was the exclusive right of the successor to the throne to cohabit with the concubines of the deceased king.”(F8) Right here is the full explanation of why it is stated in 2 Samuel 2:10 that Ishbosheth reigned only two years. Afterward and until Abner’s defection to David the real king and ruler of northern Israel was no one else but Abner. Ishbosheth, although nominally king, was no such thing. “He would soon show the nominal king who was the real master.”(F9)

Although Abner pretended to miss the point of Ishbosheth’s objection, “He was not stupid enough really to have missed it, but he pretended to treat the objection as a criticism made on moral grounds.”(F10)

“A concubine whose name was Rizpah” We shall meet with this noble woman again in 2 Samuel 3:21.

“What the Lord has sworn (to David) to transfer the kingdom… and set up the throne of David” These words of Abner, like those of Saul and Jonathan at an earlier date, acknowledge explicitly that all of them knew that it was God’s will for David to succeed Saul.”(F11) In this light, the shameful criminality of Abner in setting up Ishbosheth appears extremely wicked. The following is an accurate comment on Abner’s behavior:

“With the utmost arrogance and insolence he lets Ishbosheth know that he had raised him up and that he could put him down and that he would indeed do so. He knew that God willed that David should have the kingdom, but Abner opposed it with all his might from a principle of ambition, but now he will comply with God’s will from a principle of revenge, under cover of some regard for God’s will, which was but a pretence.”(F12)

Verses 12-16


“And Abner sent messengers to David at Hebron, saying, “To whom does the land belong? Make your covenant with me, and behold, my hand shall be with you to bring over all Israel to you.” And he said, “Good, I will make a covenant with you; but one thing I require of you; that is, you shall not see my face, unless you bring Michal, Saul’s daughter, when you come to see my face.” Then David sent messengers to Ishbosheth Saul’s son, saying, “Give me my wife Michal, whom I betrothed at the price of a hundred foreskins of the Philistines.” And Ishbosheth sent, and took her from her husband Paltiel the son of Laish. But her husband went with her, weeping after her all the way to Bahurim. Then Abner said to him, “Go, return”; and he returned.”

Payne explained this demand on the part of David as a maneuver that would, “Greatly strengthen David’s claim to Saul’s throne; and the fact of Ishbosheth’s meek compliance is significant.”(F13) We agree with Tatum that, “David did not seek the return of Michal in love, but rather as a political move.”(F14) It is also perfectly evident that Michal and Paltiel loved each other, and there is hardly a more pitiful scene in all the Bible than that of the brutal, arbitrary separation of this man and his wife by the self-seeking, power-brokers of that era. “The feelings of Michal were not consulted here. The love which she once had for David had been fully transferred to Paltiel, because two people cannot live separate lives for as long as Michal and David had been separated, and then pick up the threads of their old affections again.”(F15) It is virtually certain that Michal never forgave David for his breaking up her marriage with Paltiel. This would explain her mocking reference to David at a later time.

When once the God-given law of marriage has been violated, the law which requires a man and his wife to live together “until death do us part” - once that command is broken, there is no way to repair the resulting damage to human lives. God has revealed no “remedy” to cure the mess that people make for themselves with multiple marriages, divorces, etc. Why? There really is no way to make “everything all right” after the law of God has been flouted and disobeyed.

And, since God has not given any “remedy” for such sad conditions, people should be warned against letting any church or any preacher or religious prelate lay down the rules on how to “fix the situation.” Some things CANNOT be “fixed.” DeHoff put it this way: “Some of the problems, no human being can solve.”(F16)

Young pointed out that what David did (by taking Michal back as his wife) was against God’s law. “According to the law of Deuteronomy 24:1-4, David could not legitimately receive his wife back after her marriage to Paltiel.”(F17) This action must therefore be reckoned among the shameful sins of this “man after God’s own heart.” There was only one way in which David was entitled to be so-called, and that lay in his absolute refusal to love and trust any other god except the Lord God. Even when condemned for his gross and lustful sins, David continued to confess his unworthiness, seek God’s forgiveness, and pledge again to walk in the paths of righteousness.

“Michal… whom I betrothed at the price of a hundred foreskins of the Philistines” The snide critical comment that, “This passage knows nothing of David’s paying double the price demanded,”(F18) is typical of the unfairness of much criticism. There is no contradiction whatever between what is said here and what was reported in 1 Samuel 18:25; 1 Samuel 18:27. What David mentioned here was not what he paid, but what the price was! And in both accounts, the price is given as a hundred foreskins of the Philistines. Compare 1 Samuel 18:24 and 2 Samuel 3:14 here. What David actually paid is not mentioned here.

Verses 17-19


“And Abner conferred with the elders of Israel, saying, “For some time past, you have been seeking David as king over you. Now then bring it about; for the Lord has promised David, saying, `By the hand of my servant David, I will save my people from the hand of the Philistines, and from the hand of all their enemies.’“ Abner also spoke to Benjamin, and then Abner went to tell David at Hebron all that Israel and the whole house of Benjamin thought good to do.”

“For some time you have been seeking to make David king over you” Evidently, following the death of Saul, there had been an attempt to make David king of all Israel, but David’s involvement with the Philistines and Abner’s personal ambition had frustrated that effort.

“The Lord has promised… by the hand of David to deliver (Israel)… from all their enemies” “Here Abner went far beyond the text of anything found in the Holy Scriptures.”(F19) Abner’s mention here of what he called the Lord’s promise that David would deliver the Israelites from the hand of the Philistines gives the clue behind the real reason for Abner’s changing over to David. Abner had not been successful in breaking the Philistines’ strangle-hold on the greater part of northern Israel. At that time, all Israel was sorely in need of a deliverer.

Keil and many other dependable scholars suggest that this paragraph has the nature of a parenthesis, recounting what Abner had already done before his first trip to David and the episode involving Michal.(F20)

Verses 20-21


“When Abner came with twenty men to David at Hebron, David made a feast for Abner and the men who were with him. And Abner said to David, “I will arise and go, and will gather all Israel to my lord the king, that they may make a covenant with you, and that you may reign over all that your heart desires.” So David sent Abner away, and he went in peace.”

There was one big thing wrong with this arrangement, and that was the fact that, although David knew of Joab’s murderous hatred of Abner, due to his having slain Asahel, he did not take Joab into his confidence here and brief him on what was afoot with Abner. In fact, some have supposed that, it is not unlikely that David had sent Joab on some kind of a foray in order to have him out of Hebron at the time of Abner’s visit. As H. P. Smith stated it, “Not improbably David had so planned it.”(F21) This error on the part of David resulted in Abner’s murder and the collapse of the prospective union of the two Israels.

Verses 22-25


“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. When Joab and all the army that were 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..” 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? 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.”

“H. P. Smith thought that Joab’s anger at David was because David had sent Abner away in peace, when, as a kinsman of Asahel, he should have taken action.”(F22) If that was Joab’s reason for anger, it was without any justification whatever. Killing during a battle neither required nor allowed that the next of kin should avenge the death. Abner’s slaying of Asahel was justified as being in a battle and in self-defense and absolutely unavoidable, except upon the premise that Abner should have sacrificed his own life to avoid it. David himself gave this evaluation of the killing of Abner in 1 Kings 2:5. “Joab… murdered (Amasa and Abner), avenging in time of peace blood which had been shed in war and putting innocent blood upon the girdle of my loins.” This contradicts what H. P. Smith stated, namely, that, “By tribal morality, David as kinsman of Asahel was bound to take blood revenge as much as Joab himself.”(F23) Keil stated that:

“This act of Joab in which Abishai was also concerned (2 Samuel 3:30), was a treacherous act of assassination, which could not even be defended as blood-revenge, since Abner had slain Asahel in battle after repeated warnings, and only for the purpose of saving his own life. The principle motive for Joab’s action was his most contemptible jealousy, or the fear lest Abner’s reconciliation to David should diminish his own influence with the king. The same was true later in his murder of Amasa (2 Samuel 22:10).”(F24)

Following this insulting tirade against his king, Joab rushed off to carry out his own diabolical scheme of jealous envy against Abner. We must agree with R. Payne Smith that, “Had David acted openly, all would have been done with Joab’s consent and approval.”(F25)

Verses 26-30


“When Joab came oat 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. And when Abner returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside into the midst of the gate to speak with him privately, and there he smote him in the belly, so that he died, for the blood of Asahel his brother. Afterward when David heard of it, he said, “I and my kingdom are forever guiltless before the Lord for the blood of Abner the son of Ner. May it fall upon the head of Joab, and upon all his father’s house; and may the house of Joab never be without one who has a discharge, or who is leprous, or who holds a spindle, or who is slain by the sword, or who lacks bread.” So Joab and his brother Abishai slew Abner, because he had killed their brother Asahel in the battle of Gibeon.”

One may only pity David’s helplessness in this situation. Much as was the case with Ishbosheth and Abner, David was dependent upon the man who commanded his army. The only difference was that Joab was loyal to what he believed to be the interests of the king, whereas Abner changed his loyalty to David.

The terrible curse which David invoked upon the house of Joab finally culminated in Solomon’s slaughter of Joab between the horns of the altar, following Joab’s backing of Adonijah to be the successor of David. Among David’s last words, were those in which he admonished Solomon not to allow the gray hairs of Joab to go down to the grave in peace. The incredible damage to the entire history of Israel which resulted from this shameful assassination of Abner could hardly be overestimated. The eventual division of the kingdom in the reign of Rehoboam was due in part to the mistrust and hatred that followed this terribly unjust action of Joab and Abishai.

“They brought him (Abner) back from the cistern of Sirah” Josephus tell us that this place was located only, “Twenty furlongs from Hebron,”(F26) that is, about two miles.

Abner was a very evil man and fully deserved to die for his long and bitter opposition to David at a time when he most certainly knew that he was opposing God’s will, but that in no way justified the totally unjustifiable murder inflicted upon him by the evil hands of Joab and Abishai. “This evil deed brought upon David an evil name, and four or five more years had to elapse before the tribes could be induced to take him as their king.”(F27)

“One who has a discharge, or who is leprous, or who holds a spindle, or who is slain by the sword, or who lacks bread” The five curses here invoked by David upon the head of Joab and upon his father’s house were itemized by Willis as: “(1) gonorrhea; (2) leprosy; (3) effeminacy; (4) untimely death; and (5) hunger.”(F28)

David did not content himself with this imprecation against Joab; he also took further action against Joab. “During the intervening years, Joab was deprived of his office, which he regained only by an act of daring bravery (1 Chronicles 11:6).”(F29)

Verses 31-39


“Then David said to Joab and to all the people who were with him, “Rend your clothes, and gird on sackcloth, and mourn before Abner.” And King David followed the bier. They buried Abner at Hebron; and the king lifted up his voice and wept at the grave of Abner; and all the people wept. And the king lamented for Abner, saying, Should Abner die as a fool dies? Your hands were not bound, Your feet were not fettered; As one falls before the wicked you have fallen. And all the people wept again over him. Then all the people came to persuade David to eat bread while it was yet day; but David swore, `God do so to me and more also, if I taste bread or anything else until the sun goes down.’ And all the people took notice of it, and it pleased them, as everything that the king did pleased all the people. So all the people and all Israel understood that day that it had not been the king’s will to slay Abner the son of Ner. And the king said to his servants, `Do you not know that a prince and a great man has fallen this day in Israel? And I am this day weak, though anointed king; these men, the sons of Zeruiah are too hard for me. The Lord requite the evildoer according to his wickedness.’“

Here David exerted himself mightily to dissociate himself from the crime of Abner’s treacherous assassination; and Willis was of the opinion that, “The north Israelites were convinced of David’s sincerity.”(F30) However, we have some reservations in agreeing with this. There was some reason why it took an additional five years to unite all Israel under David’s authority. And it seems to us, that had Abner lived, that objective might have been achieved much sooner. Some reluctance on the part of northern Israel must surely have followed the death of Abner.

“These sons of Zeruiah are too hard for me” Young noted that, “Although David dealt harshly with the Amalekites, put to death the Amalekite who claimed to have killed Saul, and ordered the execution of the men who murdered Ishbosheth, David failed to act in the case of the misdeeds of Joab. He washed his hands and left the family of Joab to the judgment of God.”(F31)

“I am this day weak, though anointed king” This is the sad truth with many a man in high office. He is bound by the prejudices, vices, and ambitions of his subordinates, upon whom, in many instances, he is dependent for the continuation of his authority. So it was with David here. He could not afford to order the execution of Joab to whom the army most certainly was loyal. Furthermore, without the ability and loyalty of Joab, David’s kingship might have been endangered. Only the providence of God could have brought out of this situation the glorious Israel that later developed.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 3". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/2-samuel-3.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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