Bible Commentaries

Garner-Howes Baptist CommentaryGarner-Howes

2 Samuel 3

Verses 1-5

Second Samuel - Chapter 3

David Rules in Hebron, vs. 1- 5.

As the war between the forces of Abner and those of David progressed it seems that David gradually became ascendant. The strife itself is but a measure of the jealousy between the northern tribes and that of Judah which dominated the south. From the beginning Ephraim had been a leader of the north, and jealous of any endeavor in which they had no prominent part. Why the Lord did not allow David to gain a speedy victory is not stated. However, it may be that in this way He would bring the tribes all to see that David is the obvious king for the nation.

Meantime David’s family grew prolifically. His six older and more prominent sons were all born at this time, all of a different wife. Doubtless there were other children, but these were the chief princes in later years of their father’s reign.

Ammon, the firstborn, would turn out to be an evil man and die a victim of fratricide (2 Samuel 13:23 ff); Absalom would rebel against his father and be killed in battle (2 Samuel 18:9 ff); Adonijah would seek to usurp the throne while his father lay on his death bed and be executed by Solomon (1 Kings 1:5-10; 1 Kings 2:13 ff). Chileab, also called Daniel (1 Chronicles 3:1), is the second son, but not prominently mentioned elsewhere, leading some to speculate that he died as a child. Sons numbers five and six, Shephatiah and Ithream, also are not prominently mentioned elsewhere. All these were born while David had his capital in Hebron.

Verses 6-12

Abner Deserts Ish-bosheth, vs. 6-12

Verse 6 emphasizes the great amount of exertion Abner put himself to in order to save the kingdom for the house of Saul. However, the long struggle and his deteriorating position seem to have made Abner fractious. The matter came up over a concubine of Saul’s named Rizpah. This is the first mention of Rizpah, though. she bore two sons to Saul (see 2 Samuel 21:8). Ish-bosheth charged Abner with having committed incest with Rizpah, his father’s concubine..

Judging from the vigorous reaction of Abner toward Ish­bosheth over this charge it would appear that he was innocent. In fact he refers to himself as a "dog’s head" if this were true. On the other hand it could be that Abner felt that it was no great matter if he took the concubine of the late king to himself, and that Ish-bosheth should not make such a commotion about it. Still another interpretation of his reference to the "dog’s head" might be that he feels himself treated like a dog’s head by the ungrateful Ish-bosheth.

The weakness of Ish-bosheth is plain to see in this event. It is specifically stated that he was afraid of Abner, indicating that the real power in his kingdom lay with Abner. When Abner swore to give up his efforts for Ish-bosheth and the house of Saul and to work toward the consolidation of the kingdom in the hand of David, Ish-bosheth was dumbfounded and speechless.

Immediately Abner acted on his vow and sent messengers to David asking him to make a league, or treaty, and he would proceed to align the tribes in the kingdom of David.

Verses 13-21

Abner Treats with David, vs. 13-21

David responded affirmatively to Abner’s suit for peace, with only one stipulation, that his wife Michal, Saul’s daughter, be restored to him. Michal was the first wife of David, and he had a legal right to request that the wrong done him by marrying her to another man righted. However, it would seem that David insisted on this more as a matter of diplomacy than a lingering love for her. Out of spite for David, Michal’s father, Saul, had taken her and married her to a man named Phalti, or Phaltiel.

Acting upon this requirement David sent his messengers to Ish­bosheth demanding that Michal be sent to him.lsh-bosheth complied by sending and taking her from her husband. David had won the hand of Michal by answering Saul’s challenge of a hundred foreskins of the Philistines as the dowry. He had produced two hundred, and Saul who had hoped David would be killed, was compelled to give him Michal (see 1 Samuel 18:20 ff). After David was driven to flight from Saul,her father married Michal to Phalti (1 Samuel 25:44).

Michal had loved David and had saved his life (1 Samuel 18:28; 1 Samuel 19:11 -­17). Her present feeling for him is unknown, though at later time she despised him (2 Samuel 6:16; 2 Samuel 6:20-23). One thing is positively clear in the section under study, Michal’s new husband, Phaltiel, loved her. It is a very pathetic scene that is related. Phaltiel accompanied the men conveying Michal to David as far as Bahurim, in the Jordan valley east of Jerusalem, where he was made to go back by Abner. Actually he followed along behind the company weeping all the way. The feeling of Michal for Phaltiel might have been mutual. At any rate it seems, from the modern viewpoint, David would have acted in a magnanimous and commendable way to have released Michal to her husband after he made his point of diplomacy.

Abner went first to the elders of Israel, reminding them how they had wanted to make David their king in past times. They had evidently been persuaded against that by Abner, but now he urges them to turn their allegiance to David, reminding them also that the prophecy from the Lord was that David would deliver them from the Philistines. Next he went to the Benjamites, his own and Saul’s tribesmen, and encouraged them to turn to David. Finally he came with his proposal to David himself at Hebron, bringing with him a twenty man delegation. David feasted them, and Abner agreed to leave the meeting and go out into Israel and gather them to David that they may make a treaty of allegiance with him to be their king. So all that David had desired and long awaited would be effected. Thus David allowed Abner to leave peacefully on his errand.

Verses 22-30

The Murder of Abner, vs. 22-30

Soon after the departure of Abner Joab and his men returned from a campaign in which they had acquired great spoil. When Joab learned that Abner had been in Hebron treating with David for peace and to enthrone David king over all the tribes he was very angry. For Joab had been biding his time until he could wreak vengeance on Abner for the slaying of his brother Asahel. Under the law of the manslayer Abner perhaps should have claimed sanctuary in a city of refuge. In actuality he had killed Asahel in a clear act of self defense, but Joab and Abishai claimed the right of the avenger of blood, even though their brother had been killed in battle, in time of warfare.

In this incident is found the first of many times when Joab demonstrated a great deal of insubordination toward the king. Perhaps he was as old, or older, than David, and being a close kinsman felt that he could rightfully so treat the king. And David for some mysterious reason allowed him to do this continually. Joab chided the king as having allowed himself to be deceived by Joab, and that Abner had surely come to see how things stood, to spy against David and see his weakness. And David had allowed him to depart in peace.

Joab went out from David without announcing his own evil plans for deceiving Abner and getting him back to Hebron. Abner had reached the well of Sirah about a mile north of Hebron. Joab’s messengers brought him back for what he believed was to be a quiet consultation with Joab. After all Joab was a leader of David’s forces, and it would not have been unusual for him to wish to confer with the commander of the opposing forces. However, Joab and Abishai took him aside quietly in the gate of Hebron and there murdered him by stabbing him under the fifth rib as Asahel had been killed.

It is astounding that David seems not to have meted out any punishment on the murderers. However he disclaimed any part in the affair insofar as he or his kingdom was concerned. He absolved them from any blood guiltiness before the Lord. But as for Joab David called for a curse on him whereby in all the generations of Joab’s descendants there should be afflictions; incurable issues, a leper, cripples, suicides, hungry, that they might always be reminded of the bloody deed of Joab.

Verses 31-39

The Funeral of Abner, vs. 31-39

David declared a period of national mourning for Abner, wherein the people were to tear their clothing and put on sackcloth and to mourn for the slain captain. The king followed the bier to the burial in Hebron, and wept over Abner’s grave. The people also wept for Abner. In his lamentation David cried, "Did Abner as a fool dieth? Thy hands were not bound, nor thy feet put into fetters: as a man falleth before wicked men so fellest thou."

Various interpretations have been put on David’s words. It would appear that David raises the question whether Abner did not act foolishly in allowing himself to fall into the hands of Joab and Abishai. Some suggest that Abner, at Hebron, was in the city of refuge and could have claimed its protection, and that Joab’s awareness of this explains why he took Abner out of the city into the gate to take vengeance. There is, of course, uncertainty that the law of the city of refuge would have applied in the case, since Asahel though slain in self defense by Abner, was a victim of war.

Was the reference to unbound hands and unfettered feet relative to Abner’s failure to seek sanctuary in the city? More likely, it would seem, it simply meant that Abner should have known the mean character of Zeruiah’s sons and have avoided them. But Abner had allowed himself to be enticed back into the city by the conniving Joab.

David humiliated Joab by compelling him to join in the mourning for Abner. Then when it was time for them to eat food David refused, fasting throughout the day. The people observed the genuineness of David’s behavior, the word spread, and he won the hearty approval of the people. By it they knew that David did not desire the death of Abner. David reminded his servants that in Abner a great prince of a man had perished out of Israel. He also expressed his impotence in the hands of his nephews, the sons of Zeruiah, whom, he said, were too hard for him. For some reason unclear he was unable to deal with them according to their deserts. So he left them in the hands of the Lord to deal with according to their evil deed.

Lessons from chapter three: 1) Though it may seem long the Lord will eventually give victory to His people; 2) men serving a bad cause cannot trust one another; 3) it is wrong to insist on one’s own way to the hurt of others, even if it seems lawful; 4) deceitful persons cannot be trusted to change for the better; 5) God’s people should always disassociate themselves from those guilty of evil; 6) zeal is good, but only when directed to good purposes; otherwise it is weakening and hurtful.

Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 3". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. 1985.