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Bible Commentaries
2 Samuel 2

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 1-4

2. David’s move to Hebron 2:1-4a

"Without doubt this portion [of 2 Samuel, i.e., chapters 2-8] forms the crux of the book. Here the fertility motif reaches a peak. The thesis of the author-that Israel is blessed with fertility when the nation (and the epitome of the nation, the king) is following the covenant-is demonstrated in these chapters. The king, the ark (representing the presence of God and the Word of God, the covenant), and fertility are all intertwined in a beautifully artistic way." [Note: Ibid., p. 37.]

David again expressed his dependence on God by asking, probably by using the sacred lots (cf. 1 Samuel 14:37-42; 1 Samuel 23:9-11; 1 Samuel 30:7-8; 2 Samuel 19, 23) or by consulting a seer (cf. 1 Samuel 28:6; 2 Samuel 7:2-3), where God wanted him to relocate. He realized that he could not make the wisest choice alone since he did not have God’s perspective. He wanted God to use him most effectively, so he allowed God to place him in that spot. The territory of Judah was the divine choice. That was David’s tribal homeland and where he had the greatest acceptance (cf. 1 Samuel 30:26-30). Hebron stood about 19 miles south-southwest of Jerusalem on the highest promontory in the Judean hill country. [Note: See the map "Israel in the Time of David" in Joyce Baldwin, 1 & 2 Samuel, p. 48.] 2 Samuel 2:1 gives the key to David’s triumphs, namely, his dependence on God. 2 Samuel 2:2 gives the key to his tragedy, namely, his relationships with women (cf. Genesis 2:24). This was David’s second anointing (in 1011 B.C.; cf. 1 Samuel 16:13). It represented a formal acknowledgment that the people of Judah viewed David as the Lord’s anointed.

Verses 4-7

3. David’s overtures to Jabesh-gilead 2:4b-7

"The much later crisis of 1 Kings 12 suggests that the Davidic hold on the north is never deeply established. In our chapter we are given two episodes of David’s attentiveness to the north. One (2 Samuel 2:4-7) is a peaceable act of friendship. The other (2 Samuel 2:8-32) is an act of confrontation and hostility." [Note: Brueggemann, p. 220.]

The people of Jabesh-gilead were very loyal to Saul (cf. 1 Samuel 11:1-13; 1 Samuel 31:11-13). David took special pains to express his sorrow over Saul’s death to those residents, to show that the antagonism that had existed between Saul and himself was one-sided. If he could win their favor, David could gain a foothold of support in northern Israel. We see in these verses how David sought peace and unity with those who had been loyal to Saul in Israel. First, he took the initiative in contacting them (2 Samuel 2:5 a). Second, he paid them a sincere compliment (2 Samuel 2:5 b). Third, he obliquely reminded them that he was now the Lord’s anointed (2 Samuel 2:6). Finally, he offered a "treaty of friendship" (2 Samuel 2:6-7; cf. Deuteronomy 23:6; 1 Samuel 25:30). [Note: Delbert R. Hillers, "A Note on Some Treaty Terminology in the Old Testament," Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 176 (1964):47.]

"David wishes to take Saul’s place as suzerain of Jabesh-Gilead. Since treaties did not automatically continue in force when a new king took the throne, it was necessary for David actively to seek a renewal of the pact." [Note: Ibid.]

David’s support at this time came mainly from the Judahites. Hostilities had existed between the Israelites in the northern tribes and those in the South for many generations. [Note: For a review of these hostilities, see Eugene H. Merrill, Kingdom of Priests, pp. 223-28.]

"One could almost say that the first recorded act of the new king of Judah was to offer friendship and comfort to a group of Israelites, with the implication that David may be a Judean but his heart belongs to all Israel." [Note: Anderson, p. 29.]

Verses 8-11

4. Ish-bosheth’s coronation over Israel 2:8-11

David’s overtures to the Jabesh-gileadites were very important. Saul’s commander-in-chief and cousin, Abner, was working to install Saul’s youngest son, Ish-bosheth (called Eshbaal in 1 Chronicles 9:39), Abner’s nephew, as Saul’s successor. This was not a move that Yahweh had ordained (cf. 1 Samuel 13:14). David was God’s anointed. Abner, Saul’s cousin, was simply doing what was customary in the ancient Near East and in the process securing his own future. Mahanaim was only 16 miles south of Jabesh-gilead in Transjordan. [Note: However see ibid., pp. 42-43, for an alternative site (cf. Jeremiah 41:12).] It became the center for Saul’s supporters at this time (cf. 2 Samuel 2:29).

Abner’s initiative ignited conflict between Saul’s and David’s houses that occupied the writer’s attention in 2 Samuel 2:8-32. This section is chiastic in its arrangement and focuses on Abner’s killing of Asahel (2 Samuel 2:18-23). [Note: Youngblood, p. 822.] Whereas David was seeking peace and unity (2 Samuel 2:4-7), Abner was seeking power and victory (2 Samuel 2:8-32; cf. Psalms 120:7).

Ish-bosheth (lit. man of shame, boshet, "shame," being substituted for baal, "lord" or "Lord," on occasion, cf. 1 Chronicles 8:33; 1 Chronicles 9:39; Jeremiah 3:24; Jeremiah 11:13; Hosea 9:10) appears only in chapters 2-4. He may be the Ishvi of 1 Samuel 14:49. Since he did not die in battle with Saul and his brothers, he may have been somewhat cowardly. This possibility may find support in the fact that Abner, rather than he, was the real leader of Saul’s forces. The people of Judah made David their king (2 Samuel 2:4), but Abner single-handedly made Ish-bosheth king over "all Israel" (2 Samuel 2:9). This was not God’s will since God had chosen David to succeed Saul (1 Samuel 13:14). Abner’s act fueled conflict between the northern and southern inhabitants of the land.

"The distinctive concepts of ’Judah and Israel’ evolved during David’s kingdom in Hebron, and after a period of reunification these entities were allowed to live on in the United Monarchy, though without an official division." [Note: Zechariah Kallai, "Judah and Israel-A Study in Israelite Historiography," Israel Exploration Journal 28:4 (1978):257.]

When David eventually became king of all Israel and Judah, seven and one-half years later, he ended Ish-bosheth’s two-year reign. Evidently it took Abner over five years to establish Ish-bosheth on Israel’s throne. Abner put his personal preferences and cultural precedent (that a son of Saul would succeed his father) over God’s will. Consequently life became very complicated and problems followed in Israel, as always happens when people behave as Abner did.

Verses 12-32

5. The conflict between Abner and Joab 2:12-32

Travelers can visit the pool of Gibeon today. It lies about three miles northwest of Gibeah.

"The pool is a cylindrical shaft thirty-seven feet in diameter and thirty-five feet deep. Its five-feet-wide spiral stairway, which winds downward around the inside wall of the pool in a clockwise direction, continues below the floor level to an additional depth of forty-five feet." [Note: Youngblood, p. 825.]

There the forces of Ish-bosheth and David met for a peace conference (2 Samuel 2:13). Abner broke off the peace talks, however, by suggesting that the two sides determine which of them would win in a battle by champions (cf. 1 Samuel 17). [Note: See F. Charles Fensham, "The Battle Between the Men of Joab and Abner as a Possible Ordeal by Battle?" Vetus Testamentum 20:3 (July 1970):356-57.] Twelve soldiers from each side (2 Samuel 2:15), perhaps representing each of the twelve tribes, engaged in hand-to-hand combat to decide the leadership of the nation. The fight was a draw, so the battle between the two armies escalated. Joab’s men finally got the upper hand. Abner warned Asahel twice to stop pursuing him and to fight with someone he might be able to defeat (2 Samuel 2:21-22). He evidently wanted to avoid a blood feud with Joab’s family that might go on for generations. Nevertheless Asahel kept pushing Abner who finally killed him rather than simply knocking him out. It is unclear whether Abner turned to face Asahel and slew him with the butt end of his spear, or slew him with his back toward Asahel as he ran from him, or stopped suddenly and Asahel ran into the butt end of Abner’s spear. [Note: Anderson (p. 45) preferred the first option, A. R. S. Kennedy (Samuel, p. 201) the second, and H. W. Hertzberg (I & II Samuel: A Commentary, p. 252) the third.]

"’Every man’ who ’stopped when he came’ to the place where Asahel had died (2 Samuel 2:23) does not refer to travelers or others who stop to pay their respects, as many commentators believe (e.g., Baldwin, Hertzberg), but to David’s men, Asahel’s pursuers, who stand transfixed in horror at the death of a fallen comrade . . ." [Note: Youngblood, p. 826. Cf. 20:12.]

Many of David’s soldiers stopped, but Joab and Abishai continued to pursue Abner. The other soldiers from Benjamin, Saul and Abner’s tribe, rallied around Abner, and the hostility climaxed when they took a stand to defend themselves on a hilltop (2 Samuel 2:25). Abner tried to call a truce (2 Samuel 2:26), but Joab correctly blamed him for starting the conflict in the first place (2 Samuel 2:27; cf. 2 Samuel 2:14). Joab agreed to the truce, however, and both armies went home. Abner’s side lost 360 soldiers in this fight, and 19 of Joab’s men died.

This incident accounts for the personal hostility that later resulted in Abner’s death and the disintegration of Ish-bosheth’s throne. Note that David played no part in it. God worked through Joab and Abner to place His anointed on the throne of all Israel. This passage shows how hostilities between the two factions in Israel escalated, as they often do in modern nations, neighborhoods, and families. First, the opposing parties stopped talking (2 Samuel 2:12). Next, they started fighting (2 Samuel 2:13). Then, Asahel kept pushing (2 Samuel 2:23). Finally, Abner insisted on defending himself (2 Samuel 2:23).

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 2". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/2-samuel-2.html. 2012.
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