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Bible Commentaries
1 Chronicles 3

Carroll's Interpretation of the English BibleCarroll's Biblical Interpretation

Verses 1-4



2 Samuel 1:1-4:13; 1 Chronicles 3:1-4

The state of the nation just after the battle of Gilboa was this:

1. The Philistines held all central Palestine, the remnants of Saul’s family and army, together with the people of that section, having fled across the Jordan, leaving all their possessions to the enemy.

2. David had gained a sweeping victory in the South country over the Amalekites and their allies, and had distributed the spoils among the near-by cities of Judah, but as Ziklag was destroyed he had no home.

In these conditions David displayed both piety and wisdom. He submitted the whole matter of his duty to Jehovah’s direction, and accordingly went with all his family and forces and possessions and settled at Hebron, there to await further indications of the divine will as they might be expressed to him by communication through prophet, priest, or providential leadings. He knew on many assurances that he was anointed to be king over Israel, but would not complicate a distressful situation by hasty assertion of his claim. He well knew that the charter of the kingdom required the people’s voluntary ratification of the divine choice, and took no steps to coerce their acquiescence.

Hebron was specially valuable as his home and headquarters pending the ratification by the people. It was the sacred city of Judah, hallowed by many historic memories from Abraham’s day to his own time. These memories clustered around him as a shelter and comfort, and a reminder of all the precious promises given to the fathers. Hebron was their home when living and burial place when dead. The aegis of a long line of illustrious sires was over him there as the heir of all legacies. It was also the most notable of the six cities of refuge. Whoever assaulted him, resting there by divine direction, must fight all the sacred memories of the past and all the glorious promises of the future. Jehovah, prophet, priest, and Levite were with him there. Moreover, this old city – one of the oldest in the world – was defensible against attack, and strategical for either observation or aggression.

The first expression of popular approval was when all Judah gathered there and made him king of the royal tribe concerning which a dying ancestor had prophesied: "The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, till Shiloh come; and unto him shall be the obedience of the nations." This act alone by this one tribe was worth more to David than recognition by all the other tribes.

The sending of an embassy by David to the men of Jabeshgilead, carrying his benediction for their loyalty to Saul in rescuing and burying with due honor his body and the bodies of his sons gibbetted in public shame on the walls of Besshan, together with his promise to requite what they had done, bears every stamp of tender sincerity and not one mark of a mere politician. What he did is in entire accord with all his past and future acts toward the house of Saul. He himself, under the greatest provocation, had never struck back at Saul, twice sparing his life, never conspiring against him, not only in every way honoring him as God’s anointed, but instantly inflicting the death penalty on every man who sought to gain his favor by indignity offered to Saul or any of his family.

Considering this past and future conduct toward the house of Saul, the evident tenderness of his elegy over Saul and Jonathan, we may not construe as the adroit stroke of a politician the last clause of his message, to wit.: "Now, therefore, let your hands be strong, and be ye valiant; for Saul your lord is dead, and also the house of Judah have anointed me king over them." This is an exceedingly modest intimation that the way is now open for them without any disloyalty to the fallen house, to turn their allegiance to God’s choice of Saul’s successor. But this generous proposition of David was defeated, and a long and bloody civil war was brought on by the ambition of one man, Abner) the uncle of Saul, who, for mere selfish ends set up Ishbosheth, a son of Saul, as king. Here we need to explain the parenthetical clause of 2 Samuel 2:10 in connection with 2 Samuel 3:1. This parenthetical clause reads: "Ishbosheth, Saul’s son, was forty years old when he began to reign over Israel, and he reigned two years." The other verse reads: "Now there was long war between the house of Saul and the house of David."

Attention has been called more than once to the uncertainty in Old Testament text, in numbers, because its numerals are expressed in letters, and that mistakes of transcription easily occur. Now if the two years in this clause expresses the true text, and not seven years and a half, then the meaning must be this – that Abner set up Ishbosheth just as soon as possible after the battle of Gilboa, but it took him more than five years to bring all of the tribes except Judah into acceptance of Ishbosheth as king, and two years describes the last two of the seven and a half. If that be the meaning, then the history does not give the details of Abner’s five and a half years’ struggle to bring about Ishbosheth’s rule over all Israel but Judah, and these details must have shown, if we had any, that he had to drive out the Philistines that held the territory, and hence it was only in the latter part of Ishbosheth’s reign, counting from the time he was set up, to the approach to the west side of the Jordan which is described in this chapter.

It is evident from all the context that Abner knew that David was God’s choice, for he says so later on and makes a point on it. It is also evident that he regards Ishbosheth as assumption of the sovereignty. His taking to himself of Saul’s harem, against which Ishbosheth protested, did mean Just what Ishbosheth said it meant – that it was equal to claiming the kingdom for himself. As soon, therefore, as he finds out that his motive is thoroughly understood, then as an evidence that good motives have not actuated him, he announces to Ishbosheth that he is going to carry all the people back to David, God’s choice.

We recall from English history that the Duke of Warwick is called "The King Maker;" that he made Edward IV king, and when Edward IV insulted him then he took sides with Henry VI and made him king. Just exactly in this way Abner acts in this history. His motives, therefore, are merely the motives of a man who knows that his course is opposed to God and to the best interests of the people, but is determined to further his own selfish ambitions.

This war of seven and a half years was thus characterized: "And David waxed stronger and stronger, but the house of Saul waxed weaker and weaker." But when, after five and a half years of confirming the authority of Ishbosheth, Abner felt himself strong enough, he left the east side of the Jordan and carried his army over near Gibeah, Saul’s old home, with the evident purpose of making Ishbosheth king over the whole nation. David did not make the aggression, but he resisted aggression, so he sends out his army under Joab and they stand opposed to each other near a pool of water at Gibeah. A hostile army being brought that near Hebron, David has to meet it. The war then was evidently forced by the house of Saul.

The events, in order, leading up to David’s being made king over all Israel are as follows: The first event is Joab’s great victory over Abner at Gibeah. Abner proposed that a dozen champions from each side fight a duel and let that settle the whole question. When these twenty-four men met they met with such fury that at the first stroke every man on either side killed his opponent and was killed by his opponent, so that the duel was not decisive, but it brought on the fight. Joab then gains an easy victory. One of Joab’s brothers, Asahel, swift of foot, follows Abner, pursues him, and your history tells you that Abner killed Asahel by thrusting him through with the butt end of his spear, striking backward. I suppose the end of the spear was sharp, as he didn’t hit him with the point, but with the sharpened butt of it. That stopped the battle, but no injury to Joab ever stopped him until he wreaked his vengeance. So here it ended by killing Abner for the death of Asahel, as we will see a little later.

The next event, in order, is the quarrel between Abner and Ishbosheth on account of Ishbosheth’s protest against the infamous deed of Abner, and the next is Abner’s deserting to David, persuading the tribes that Ishbosheth is just a figurehead and his cause getting weaker all the time, and David is getting stronger, and the right thing to do was for all to come in and recognize the king that God had chosen. Abner came to David making that proposition. David told him that the first thing to be done was that he should restore Michal, his wife, who had been given to another man. I do not know that any particular love prompted David. I don’t see why, with the number of wives he already had, he had any love to pour out on her, but if he had any political stroke in view it was that if the daughter of Saul was brought back to him as his wife, then it would make it easier for the followers of Saul to come to this united family, representing both sides, as it was proposed by Catherine de Medici to unite the Huguenots and the Romanists by marriage between Henry of Navarre on the Huguenot side to Margaret, the sister of King Charles of France, on the other side.

The next event is the murder of Abner by Joab – a cold blooded murder. The plan of it was agreed on between himself and his brother Abishai that they would send for Abner, who had left after his interview with David, and bring him back in David’s name, and then Joab proposed to step aside and inquire about his health, and while he is inquiring about his health he stabbed him under the fifth rib. David laments the death of Abner, but does not punish Joab. On the contrary, he says, "These sons of Zeruiah are too hard for me." His sister, Zeruiah, had three sons – Joab, Abishai, and Asahel. He will have a good deal more trouble with that family yet. They will be harder than they were in this case.

The next step was, seeing that Ishbosheth now has no standing; Abner dead, no general, the people all agreeing to go back to David, two ruffians who wanted to make capital with David assassinated Ishbosheth and carried the news of their assassination to David, expecting to be rewarded. He rewarded them very promptly – by executing them. There are the events in order that led up to the union of the nation under David.

The children born to David in Hebron are mentioned in the record: Ammon, or Amnon, the son of Abinoam. We will find out about him later. It would have been better if he had never been born. The next one is Chileab, or Daniel, as he is called in Chronicles, a son of Abigail. We do not know whether he turned out well or ill, as he drops out of the history. The next one is Absalom, the son of Maacah, the daughter of Tairnai, the king of Geshur. We will certainly hear of him later. It would have been better if he had never been born. The others make no mark in the history at all. O this polygamy! This polygamy! The jealousies of polygamy! It is an awful thing. Now let us look at the character of Abner, Ishbosheth, and Joab. Abner was a man of considerable talent and influence, but unscrupulously ambitious. Ishbosheth had just about as much backbone as a jellyfish. Joab was a great general – a very stern, selfish warrior. Himself as unscrupulous as Abner, though not as disloyal. But we are a long way from being done with Joab. A great text for a sermon in this section is: "These sons of Zeruiah are too hard for me;" that is, a man should beware, in accomplishing his purposes, of the character of the instruments that he associates with him. If he calls in Turks, Tartars, and Huns to be his allies, then after a while he will have to settle with his allies, and he may find that his allies are too strong for him. A proverb advises us to keep no company with a violent man. We are always in danger if a violent, unscrupulous man is our associate. Like poor dog, Tray, we may get a beating for being in their company.

We have Joab’s reply to Abner in 2 Samuel 2:27: "Then Abner called to Joab and said, Shall the sword devour forever? Knowest thou not that it will be bitterness in the latter end? How long shall it be then, ere thou bid the people return from following their brethren?" Joab was pursuing them sorely. "And Joab said, Ag God liveth, if thou hadst not spoken, surely then in the morning the people had gone away, nor followed every one his brother." What is the sense of that last verse? Abner speaks and wants to know why they are pursuing him, and Joab says, "If thou hadst not spoken then every man would not be pursuing his brother." I will leave that to the reader and the commentaries as to just what Joab meant.


1. What is the state of the nation just after the battle of Gilboa?

2. In these conditions how did David display both piety and wisdom?

3. What was the value of Hebron as his home and headquarters pending the ratification by the people?

4. What was the first expression of popular approval?

5. Was was David’s embassy to the men of Jabeshgilead the sincere act of a statesman, or an adroit stroke of a politician?

6. What defeated this generous proposition of David and brought on a long and bloody civil war?

7. Explain the parenthetical clause of 2 Samuel 2:10 in connection with 2 Samuel 3:1.

8. Judging from his conduct throughout, what motives must have inspired Abner?

9. What characterizes this war of seven and one-half years?

10. Show how aggression came from Abner.

11. State, in order, the events leading up to David’s being made king over all Israel.

12. What children were born to David in Hebron, and what may we say about them?

13. What was the character of Abner, Ishbosheth, and Joab?

14. What is a great text for a sermon in this section?

15. What is the sense of Joab’s reply to Abner. 2 Samuel 2:27?

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on 1 Chronicles 3". "Carroll's Interpretation of the English Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bhc/1-chronicles-3.html.
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