Bible Commentaries
2 Samuel 3

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 1-5

A. The Beginning of David’s Kingdom 1:1-3:5

The present section begins with Yahweh’s destruction of Saul’s line and ends with a summary of David’s fecundity. In the middle we find the record of David’s anointing as king over Judah (2 Samuel 2:1-7). In 2 Samuel 1:1 to 2 Samuel 3:5 we see the Israelites turning to David as their king. They saw David as their source of deliverance and blessing. Furthermore, David’s supporters were overcoming those of Saul.

Verses 1-5

6. The strengthening of David’s position 3:1-5

The first verse in this chapter summarizes 2 Samuel 2:8-32. The point of the remaining verses is that during the seven and one-half years that David ruled Judah, he grew stronger because God was blessing him. Many of the sections of 2 Samuel, beginning with this pericope, plus 1 Samuel 31, were recast in 1 Chronicles. [Note: For the parallel references, see Youngblood, p. 803; William D. Crockett, A Harmony of the Books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles, pp. 106-41; James D. Newsome Jr., ed., A Synoptic Harmony of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles, pp. 23-79; or, for the Hebrew, Abba Bendavid, Parallels in the Bible, pp. 31-70.] David resorted to further polygamy even though God had commanded Israel’s kings not to multiply wives (Deuteronomy 17:17). He undoubtedly married the women mentioned, partially in order to cement political alliances, as was common in the ancient Near East. [Note: Abraham Malamat, "Aspects of the Foreign Policies of David and Solomon," Journal of Near Eastern Studies 22:1 (1963):8.]

The site of Gesher (2 Samuel 3:3) was northeast of the Sea of Chinnereth (Galilee) and north of Jabesh-gilead. The Israelites were to make no covenants with the inhabitants of the Promised Land (Exodus 23:32; Exodus 34:12). That is where the king of Gesher lived. Perhaps if David had relied less on foreign alliances, he would not have had to fight as many battles with his neighbors as he did. Unfortunately he spent a large portion of his total reign as king fighting battles (cf. 1 Chronicles 22:8).

Verses 6-16

B. The Unification of the Kingdom 3:6-5:16

The writer also documented God’s blessing on David in this record of how David wisely unified the nation of Israel and became the leader of all 12 tribes.

"The story of how David became king of all Israel follows, in most essentials, the same outline already established in the account of his accession to kingship over Judah (2 Samuel 1:1 to 2 Samuel 3:5). Both begin with a warrior trying to curry David’s favor (an unnamed Amalekite, 2 Samuel 1:1-13; Saul’s army commander Abner, 2 Samuel 3:6-21) and continue with the execution or murder of the warrior (2 Samuel 1:14-16; 2 Samuel 3:22-32), which is followed by a lament uttered by David (over Saul and Jonathan, 2 Samuel 1:17-27; over Abner, 2 Samuel 3:33-34). Near the center of each literary unit is a brief report of the anointing of David as king (over Judah, 2 Samuel 2:1-7; over Israel, 2 Samuel 5:1-5). David and his men are then successful in defeating their enemies (2 Samuel 2:8 to 2 Samuel 3:1; 2 Samuel 5:6-12), and each unit concludes with a list of sons/children born to David (in Hebron, 2 Samuel 3:2-5; in Jerusalem, 2 Samuel 5:13-16). The similarities between the two sections point to the careful craftsmanship of a single author, who now sets about to tell his readers that just as the house of David has replaced Saul and his house in southern Canaan (2 Samuel 1:1 to 2 Samuel 3:5), so also David’s house is about to replace that of Saul in the rest of the land as well (2 Samuel 3:6 to 2 Samuel 5:16)." [Note: Youngblood, pp. 832-33.]

"Avraham Biran and his team of Israeli excavators were wrapping up a day’s work when one of them noticed a faint outline of characters incised on a rock embedded in a wall. Study showed it to be an Aramaic text from about 830 B.C., the substance of which was the account by an Aramaean king of his military operations against the ’house of David.’ Along with a possible example in the Mesha inscription, this is the only reference to David so far in any extrabiblical text. This puts the historical existence of David beyond doubt and furthermore shows him to be so powerful a figure that the nation was named for him." [Note: Eugene Merrill, "The Veracity of the Word: A Summary of Major Archaeological Finds," Kindred Spirit 34:3 (Winter 2010):13.]

Verses 6-39

1. David’s acceptance of Abner 3:6-39

Abner was the strong man in Israel; Ish-bosheth was simply a figurehead (2 Samuel 3:11). Abner’s loyalty to the house of Saul is clear from his actions so far. However there was conflict between Ish-bosheth and Abner. In the ancient Near East the king’s concubines were his means for raising up heirs if the queen could not bear children, or even if she could. Ish-bosheth regarded Abner’s act as a sign of disloyalty. He seemed to be trying to have an heir by a royal concubine who could have, according to custom, become king one day (cf. 2 Samuel 16:22; 1 Kings 2:22). We do not know whether this was Abner’s plan or not. He implied denial of that motive but not the act. In any case, this incident resulted in Abner shifting his support from Ish-bosheth to David. Perhaps it was the last straw for Abner, who had recently suffered a devastating defeat by David’s men, and who must have seen that he could not win. "A dog’s head" (2 Samuel 3:8) seems to mean a worthless dog (cf. 2 Kings 6:25).

"It was the exclusive right of the successor to the throne to cohabit with the concubine of the deceased king, who came down to him as part of the property which he inherited [according to ancient Near Eastern custom, not according to the Mosaic Law]." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, pp. 301-2.]

"It may be that Abner, as de facto ruler of all Israel, offered David his allegiance in exchange for the position of sar saba’ [commander of the army], the equivalent of his office in Eshbaal’s army and the post currently held by Joab. 2 Samuel 3:12 suggests something of the sort when it speaks of a personal deal between these two men." [Note: James Vanderkam, "Davidic Complicity in the Deaths of Abner and Eshbaal: A Historical and Redactional Study," Journal of Biblical Literature 99:4 (1980):531-32.]

The fact that Michal was Saul’s daughter was clearly part of the reason David requested her (2 Samuel 3:13). Reunion with her would have tied David in to Saul’s house and made him more acceptable to the northern tribes.

"By making her his queen he would divide the loyalties of citizens in the north: did loyalty to Saul’s memory mean that they should be the subjects of his son, Ish-bosheth, or of his daughter? By such means David could weaken his opponent without killing a single Israelite soldier and without causing any resentment at all." [Note: David F. Payne, I & II Samuel, pp. 168-69.]

It was contrary to God’s will for David to remarry Michal (Deuteronomy 24:1-4). God graciously blessed David in spite of his disobedience (2 Samuel 3:2-5; 2 Samuel 3:12-16), but this sin undoubtedly weakened David.

Abner lobbied for David with Israel’s leading men (2 Samuel 3:17) on the basis that they had previously favored David. Perhaps Abner and Ish-bosheth had blocked their efforts. He also did so because David was the Lord’s anointed king (2 Samuel 3:18). The Benjamites needed special courting since Saul was a Benjamite. Abner may have expected an appointment in David’s administration for his efforts.

There were many reasons why Joab disliked Abner. He hated him because he was the rival commander-in-chief and because he evidently had a superior character in some respects (cf. 2 Samuel 3:38). He also opposed Abner because he was a threat to Joab’s career advancement, if the alliance went through. Mostly Joab opposed Abner because Abner had killed his brother, Asahel, in battle (2 Samuel 3:30). Joab murdered Abner in a city of refuge, Hebron, where God had prohibited the taking of revenge (Numbers 35:22-25). Abner may have been too sure of his own importance in David’s eyes to suspect that one of David’s officers would dare to attack him. David was very careful to let everyone know that Abner’s murder was Joab’s doing and not his. If it had been David’s doing, he would have lost the support of the northern tribes.

"Rarely in the Old Testament has a narrator gone to such lengths, as has the writer of this passage, to preserve the good name of one of his characters. In one way and another, he assures us that neither David’s heart nor his hand was set against Abner: Joab acted on his own account." [Note: Gordon, pp. 216-17.]

Why did David not execute or at least punish Joab? The writer did not record the answer. However, we notice that David was characteristically too slow to discipline members of his own family when they deserved it (e.g., Joab, Ammon, and Absalom). Some interpreters of the Hebrew text believe what David wished on Joab’s descendants was that they would continually experience diseases, violent death, and poverty. This is what God promised to bring on those of His people who despised His will (cf. Deuteronomy 21:1-9). One scholar believed David meant that Joab would always count among his descendants men fit only for the occupations of women, since David referred to one "who takes hold of a distaff" (i.e., a spindle). [Note: S. R. Driver, Notes on the Hebrew Text and the Topography of the Books of Samuel, p. 251.] Another writer suggested that David prayed that Joab’s household would never be without a corvée-worker, namely, a person forced to work without pay. [Note: Steven Holloway, "Distaff, Crutch or Chain Gang: The Curse of the House of Joab in 2 Samuel III 29," Vetus Testamentum 37:3 (July 1987):370-75.]

"We need not doubt David’s genuine respect for Abner, but the funeral is also a media event. It is like a U.S. president with the returned body of a soldier from an unauthorized war. The president must lead national mourning, which is genuine, but at the same time must stage a media event designed to legitimate policy." [Note: Brueggemann, p. 230.]

For the first time the writer referred to David as "King David" (2 Samuel 3:31). The writer had referred to David as the king previously (2 Samuel 2:4; 2 Samuel 2:7; 2 Samuel 2:11; 2 Samuel 3:17; 2 Samuel 3:21-24), but he never used the title "King David." Now that the threat of the north had died with Abner, David’s throne was secure enough to warrant this title.

The description of Abner as "a prince and a great man" who had fallen that day in Israel (2 Samuel 3:38) has inspired eulogizers in funerals for generations. David’s good public relations were essential for support, but they would not avert divine discipline for his disobedience.

"Thenius (156) once noted that it is very surprising that David should openly confess his own weakness and fear of Joab and Abishai, yet this may be a possible explanation as to why David as king and judge failed to punish Joab. Alternatively, one could argue that in some way or other Joab’s deed had some justification: his brother’s blood had been shed and the killer was known. Even at a later time a manslayer could be killed by the avenger of blood if he did not reach the city of refuge in time (see Deuteronomy 19:6). Only after David’s death was Joab’s deed interpreted (for political reasons?) as crime worthy of death." [Note: Anderson, p. 64. His reference is to O. Thenius, Die Bücher Samuels, p. 156.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 3". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". 2012.