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the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
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Bible Commentaries
2 Samuel 2

Garner-Howes Baptist CommentaryGarner-Howes

Verses 1-7

Second Samuel - Chapter 2

David Takes Steps to the Kingship, vs. 1-7

With Saul now dead David was ready to assume the kingship over Israel. However, he would not act without knowing the will of the Lord, a custom that endeared him to the Lord, although he failed to follow it at times in his later life, and had to repent. It is not said by what means David inquired of the Lord. Probably he used the ephod, as he had on other occasions, but he learned that the Lord wished him to remove from Ziklag into Judah, to Hebron, the principal city of that tribe. So David, his two wives, his men and their wives moved into Judah and dwelled in Hebron and its satellite towns.

The people of Judah seem to have readily welcomed their fellow ­tribesman and readily anointed him to be their king. This seems to have been done without consultation with the other tribes, or an invitation to them to join in making David king over all Israel. Already there were strained relations between Judah and other of the tribes, and this doubtless did nothing to help the situation.

David himself took the initiative in seeking to win support for his rule from other of the tribes. When he learned that it was the men of Jabesh-gilead who had stolen the bodies of Saul and his sons and given them honorable burial he sent them a message of congratulation and commendation to the Lord. He prayed for them the kindness and truth of the Lord and promised to reward them himself for that kindness to Saul. He then asked them to strengthen themselves and act valiantly on his behalf, informing them that Judah has crowned him their king and inviting them to follow suit. Jabesh was in Gilead on the east of Jordan the tribal possession of Gad.

Verses 8-17

Opposed by Abner and Ish-bosheth, vs. 8-17

David’s attempt to unify the kingdom quickly was not to be. Formidable opposition soon appeared through the leadership of Abner, who had been the captain of Saul’s host and also Saul’s near kinsman. He took Ish-bosheth, the surviving son of Saul, carried him across the Jordan to Mahanaim, in the tribe of Gad on the river Jabbok. Perhaps this was a maneuver to counteract the invitation of David to the men of Jabesh in the same tribe. Eventually Abner was able to gain the allegiance for Ish-bosheth of this eastern area, along with the tribes of Asher, Manasseh, Ephraim, and Benjamin in the west.

It appears that Abner was some five years and better in getting all the northern tribes to acclaim Ish-bosheth. It is said that he became king at the age of forty and that he reigned over Israel for two years. However, David had reigned over Judah seven and a half years at the time of Ish-ish-bosheth’s’s death and David’s accession over all Israel (compare 2Sa ch. 4; 2 Samuel 5:1-3). So Abner must have encountered considerable reluctance of the tribes with regard to making Ish-bosheth their king.

Ish-bosheth had not been prominent enough to have been mentioned heretofore among Saul’s sons. It is quite evident that he was not a warrior like the other three. Even after becoming king he did not accompany his men in battle as did his father before him (see verse 12). It seems likely that Ish-bosheth was not physically strong and may even have been somewhat mentally incompetent (note 2 Samuel 3:6-11; 2 Samuel 3:14-16; 2 Samuel 4:1; 2 Samuel 4:5-7).

After consolidating Ish-bosheth over the north Abner took to the field against David’s men, under the leadership of Joab, the son of David’s sister, Zeruiah. They came to face at Gibeon in the tribe of Benjamin, posting themselves on either side of a notable pool near that Hivite city. Here Abner proposed to Joab that they select twelve young men from each side and let them engage in hand-to-hand combat for the sport of the thing. Joab agreed and the young men engaged one another in a deadly serious encounter there by the pool. It resulted in the death of all twenty-four, each one having stabbed his opponent in the side with his sword. The site of this encounter gained a new name Helkath-Hazzurim, meaning "the field of strong men." The armies then assaulted one another in a bloody battle, eventuating in the ’defeat of Abner and the forces of Ish-bosheth and victory for Abner and the men of David.

Verses 18-32

Abner Routed; Asahel Slain, vs. 18-32

Now there occurs a very significant event which affected the reign of David throughout its existence. Three sons of David’s sister, Zeruiah had risen to prominence among his men. Joab, the oldest, is here noted for the first time, but will be the most prominent later as the captain of the host. Abishai, the second, has already been found a valiant and courageous servant of his uncle, David (see 1 Samuel 26:6 ff). The youngest was Asahel, whose death at the hands of Abner on this occasion, had lasting results which led to the execution of Joab (1 Kings 2:28-34). He was among the mighty men of David (2 Samuel 23:24; 1 Chronicles 11:26).

The forces of Abner and Israel were scattered following their defeat by the men of Joab and David, many of them fleeing from the battle. Among these was Abner the captain. Asahel is said to have been "as light of foot as a wild roe," and he went in pursuit of Abner to kill him. As he was overtaking Abner that one inquired whether he was Asahel. When Asahel replied affirmatively Abner advised him to turn aside to combat one of the younger soldiers and take his armor. But Asahel persisted in following Abner.

When Asahel was just about to overtake Abner the captain again advised him to turn aside from following him lest Abner should kill him and be answerable to Joab as a consequence. Asahel refused, so Abner stopped and rammed the butt of his spear into the side of Asahel, under the fifth rib. It was a lethal blow, aimed at the heart and delivered with such strength, coupled with the force of Asahel’s running, that the spear went all the way through Asahel’s body.

When the soldiers of David reached the spot where Asahel died they halted. Joab and Abishai, however, continued pursuit of Abner, but were unable to take him. In fact Abner rallied his men on the hill of Ammah, near Giah, in the wilderness of Gibeon. The sun was setting by this time, and Abner accosted Joab as to why he continued the pursuit knowing that it would only result in bitterness in the end. How long would it be, he asked, before Joab called off this civil war between brethren?

The questions and the answer of Joab are somewhat enigmatical. It appears that Abner is chiding Joab for fighting against Israel, perhaps desiring that they be allowed to maintain their rival kingdom in peace. Joab’s reply may be in sarcasm; that if Abner had not spoken the people of Judah would have given up the war the next day. It is unclear what Joab or Abner meant. Perhaps Joab meant that if Abner had not spoken by his spear in slaying Asahel his brother things might have been worked out amicably.

Nevertheless Joab blew the trumpet to gather his troops and stop the battle. Abner and his men walked all night and crossed the Jordan through the Bithron, or rift valley of the river, and came to their seat of government at Mahanaim. Joab and his men had lost nineteen in the battle, and Asahel. The special notice of Asahel shows his prominence in the army of David. Abner had lost three hundred and sixty men in the fray.

The body of Asahel was taken up and carried to Bethlehem where he was buried in the tomb of his father. This reference indicates that his father, who is not named in the Scriptures, was already dead before the prominence of David. Joab and his army returned to their home base at Hebron.

Lessons from chapter two: 1) Favors bestowed will reap benefits for a future time of need; 2) a conciliatory attitude is good toward those who have been former enemies if in the will of the Lord; 3) continued efforts to frustrate the Lord’s will never accomplish their intended purpose; 4) unwise zeal in a purpose may end in destruction of the one promoting it; 5) continued strife always leads to more and greater sorrow when conciliation is in order.

Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 2". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/2-samuel-2.html. 1985.
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