Bible Commentaries
2 Samuel 3

Parker's The People's BibleParker's The People's Bible

Verses 1-39

2 Samuel 3:0

1. Now there was long war [not actual fighting but a hostile and military temper] between the house of Saul and the house of David: but David waxed stronger and stronger, and the house of Saul waxed weaker and weaker [Providence works through time].

2. ¶ And unto David were sons born in Hebron: and his firstborn was Amnon [see chap. xiii.], of Ahinoam the Jezreelitess;

3. And his second, Chileab [supposed to have died early], of Abigail the wife of Nabal the Carmelite; and the third, Absalom [see chaps. xiii.-xviii.] the son of Maacah the daughter of Talmai king of Geshur;

4. And the fourth, Adonijah [put to death by Solomon ( 1Ki 11:25 )] the son of Haggith; and the fifth, Shephatiah the son of Abital;

5. And the sixth, Ithream, by Eglah David's wife. These were born to David in Hebron. [It is quite in the manner of the sacred historians to give such statistics about the house or family of the king.]

6. ¶ And it came to pass, while there was war between the house of Saul and the house of David, that Abner made himself strong for the house of Saul.

7. And Saul had a concubine, whose name was Rizpah [see chap. 2Sa 21:8-11 ], the daughter of Aiah: and Ish-bosheth said to Abner, Wherefore hast thou gone in unto my father's concubine?

8. Then was Abner very wroth for the words of Ish-bosheth, and said, Am I a dog's head, which against Judah [ lit. Am I a dog's head belonging to Judah?] do shew kindness this day unto the house of Saul thy father, to his brethren, and to his friends, and have not delivered thee into the hand of David, that thou chargest me today with a fault concerning this woman?

9. So do God to Abner, and more also [for he now saw the utter and contemptible weakness of Ish-bosheth], except, as the Lord hath sworn to David, even so I do to him;

10. To translate the kingdom from the house of Saul, and to set up the throne of David over Israel and over Judah, from Dan even to Beersheba.

11. And he could not answer Abner a word again, because he feared him.

12. ¶ And Abner sent messengers to David on his behalf, saying, Whose is the land? saying also, Make thy league with me, and, behold, my hand shall be with thee, to bring about all Israel unto thee.

13. ¶ And he said, Well; I will make a league with thee: but one thing I require of thee, that is, Thou shalt not see my face, except thou first bring Michal Saul's daughter, when thou comest to see my face. ["Besides the justice of this demand Michal having been wrongfully taken from him by Saul and besides all question of affection towards one who had loved him and saved his life (1 Samuel 18:20 ; 1Sa 19:11-17 ), there were political reasons of importance for the demand. The demand itself shewed that he bore no malice against the house of Saul, and the restoration would again constitute him Saul's son-in-law, and thus further his claims to the throne; while it also shewed publicly that he was in a condition to enforce his rights as against the house of Saul."]

14. And David sent messengers to Ish-bosheth Saul's son, saying, Deliver me my wife Michal, which I espoused to me for an hundred foreskins of the Philistines.

15. And Ish-bosheth sent, and took her from her husband, even from Phaltiel the son of Laish.

16. And her husband went with her along weeping behind her to Bahurim [on the road from the Mount of Olives to the Jordan valley]. Then said Abner unto him, Go, return. And he returned.

17. And Abner had communication with the elders of Israel, saying, Ye sought for David in times past to be king over you:

18. Now then do it: for the Lord hath spoken of David [an unrecorded utterance], saying, By the hand of my servant David I will save my people Israel out of the hand of the Philistines, and out of the hand of all their enemies.

19. And Abner also spake in the ears of Benjamin [with whom careful negotiations were always made]: and Abner went also to speak in the ears of David in Hebron all that seemed good to Israel, and that seemed good to the whole house of Benjamin.

20. So Abner came to David to Hebron, and twenty [representative] men with him. And David made Abner and the men that were with him a feast [not convivial but sacrificial].

21. And Abner said unto David, I will arise and go, and will gather all Israel unto my lord the king, that they may make a league with thee, and that thou mayest reign over all that thine heart desireth. And David sent Abner away; and he went in peace.

22. ¶ And, behold, the servants of David and Joab came from pursuing a troop, and brought in a great spoil with them: but Abner was not with David in Hebron; for he had sent him away, and he was gone in peace.

23. When Joab and all the host that was with him were come, they told Joab, saying, Abner the son of Ner came to the king, and he hath sent him away, and he is gone in peace.

24. Then Joab came to the king, and said [in the tone of a rough remonstrance], What hast thou done? behold, Abner came unto thee; why is it that thou hast sent him away, and he is quite gone? [an inquiry inspired by suspicion].

25. Thou knowest Abner the son of Ner, that he came to deceive thee, and to know thy going out and thy coming in, and to know all that thou doest.

26. And when Joab was come out from David, he sent messengers after Abner, which brought him again from the well of Sirah [two and a half miles from Hebron]: but David knew it not [yet the messengers might have used his name].

27. And when Abner was returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside in the gate [customary place of conference in the east] to speak with him quietly, and smote him there under the fifth rib [abdomen must always be understood], that he died, for the blood of Asahel his brother [but more from jealousy].

28. ¶ And afterwards when David heard it, he said, I and my kingdom are guiltless before the Lord for ever from the blood of Abner the son of Ner:

29. Let it rest on the head of Joab [who was not the Goel, or lawful Avenger], and on all his father's house; and let there not fail from the house of Joab one that hath an issue, or that is a leper, or that leaneth on a staff [a person unfit for war], or that falleth on [by] the sword, or that lacketh bread.

30. So Joab and Abishai his brother slew [denoting violence] Abner, because he had slain [had put to death] their brother Asahel at Gibeon in the battle.

31. ¶ And David said to Joab, and to all the people that were with him, Rend your clothes, and gird you with sackcloth, and [publicly] mourn before Abner. And king David himself followed the bier.

32. And they buried Abner in Hebron [in the royal city]: and the king lifted up his voice, and wept at the grave of Abner; and all the people wept.

33. And the king lamented over Abner, and said, Died Abner as a fool dieth?

34. Thy hands were not bound, nor thy feet put into fetters: as a man falleth before wicked men, so fellest thou. ["Abner, so valiant in war, with his hands free for defence, with his feet unfettered, unsuspicious of evil, fell by the treacherous act of a wicked man."] And all the people wept again over him.

35. And when all the people came to cause David to eat meat while it was yet day, David sware, saying, So do God to me, and more also, if I taste bread, or aught else, till the sun be down.

36. And all the people took notice of it, and it pleased them: as whatsoever the king did pleased all the people.

37. For all the people and all Israel understood that day that it was not of the king to slay Abner the son of Ner.

38. And the king said unto his servants, Know ye not that there is a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel?

39. And I am this day weak, though anointed king; and these men the sons of Zeruiah be too hard for me: the Lord shall reward the doer of evil according to his wickedness.

David's Magnanimity

DAVID will rejoice now that he sees his great foe is dead, or he will otherwise show the true quality of his life and character and purpose. The man who wrote this mighty lament, this thunderstorm turned into tears, was not a man who could afterwards write vindictive psalms. This lament is the key of his character. He will speak strongly, for he must speak strongly, if he speak at all. But understand that in this lament we have the secret and standard of his character. He is never so near breaking down in tears as when he is in a great tempest of wrath. Sometimes we hardly know how the paroxysm will end; but it always ends in some grand religious exclamation, some psalm of confidence in the living God. To prove this we must go over the history. The principal line in the narrative of these chapters points in the direction of David's magnanimity. In no single line does he play the little man. He is strong in his weakness. We shall see at the conclusion how weak he was bent down because the burden was too strong for him, and yet still bent only as a true king can bend. The Philistines had overpowered Saul, first slaying Jonathan, Abinadab, and Melchishua, Saul's son. That was hard enough. History suffers a great impoverishment when a man like Jonathan is taken out of it as an active presence; true, a new and celestial odour fills the pages of memory, but when Jonathan is removed actively, who can fill up the void?

A beautiful thing it is so to live that nobody can succeed us easily, as if the gap were a very small one, a mere handbreadth. We do not know how much space some men have filled until they are dead: then we find that it may take some ten or twenty men to fill up the vacancy and to do all the work, because so much of it was hidden: it was a work of influence, inspiration, stimulus, comfort, the kind of work that cannot be scheduled and set forth before the critical eye in plain figures and common estimates. But the worst is to come. The archers were hard upon Saul himself; he was sore wounded, and then he fell upon his sword and died. Many a wound was gaping in the flesh of king Saul. He would be killed; he would fall upon his sword; he would not have the last stroke dealt by a Philistinian hand if he could possibly help it: he would do otherwise. A noble pride comes up even in this last agony. Here is a test of his quality which we might not have suspected. Yet, on the other hand, why should he care how he died? He had seen views of life which are not granted to ordinary experience. He began "to peep," as the poet says "to peep into glory." He had begun to see somewhat of destiny, to feel the awfulness and grandeur of life, and the sacredness of a divine anointing.

We have seen how the king died. Now David comes to the front more than ever. He went unto Hebron under divine protection "and the men of Judah came, and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah." And then for some motive or other, not altogether clear, they tell him that the men of Jabesh-gilead were the men that buried Saul. Why did they communicate that information to king David? Did they want to please the king? Or to create for the king an opportunity to avenge himself upon a hostile people? It is difficult to find the motive of all the actions of men, but we shall see David's action in reply to the information:

"And David sent messengers unto the men of Jabesh-gilead, and said unto them, Blessed be ye of the Lord, that ye have shewed this kindness unto your lord, even unto Saul, and have buried him. And now the Lord shew kindness and truth unto you: and I also will requite you this kindness, because ye have done this thing. Therefore now let your hands be strengthened, and be ye valiant: for your master Saul is dead, and also the house of Judah have anointed me king over them" ( 2Sa 2:5-7 ).

Where is the vindictiveness? Where is there one note of evil triumph and glory? Why did not king David go out and slay the men of Jabesh-gilead and bury them in the dishonoured grave of a discrowned king? Is this the man to write imprecatory psalms psalms toned to the evil music of the worst wickedness? Is this the man to spend his after days in writing poetry of iniquity? We must have misunderstood him if we have thought there was anything meanly and narrowly personal in his imprecations; there must be some deeper meaning than this: otherwise David, a mightier man than Saul, fell infinitely more deeply. But the lesson to us comes in the form of a question: How much further than this have we advanced? We speak in somewhat of a tone of patronage of Old Testament saints men who "lived in the twilight," who were "not permitted to see the full blaze of gospel day." Historically the comment is true, but regarding this action of David as a standard, how do we measure ourselves? Could we have done this? When our enemies die, what is our inmost feeling? Is there not an unuttered sense of thankfulness and relief? Do we visit their graves and bedew them with tears? Do we listen with delight to a recital of their virtues? Do we become their encomiasts? Let us not fear these lance-questions; let them pierce us till the blood comes. Our boasting is great as to our historical position: we live in the Christian centuries; the whole heaven is flooded with Christian light, the whole air vibrates with evangelical music, what about our spirit, the reality of our heart's desire? Who can compare with David? Who so great, so magnanimous? Surely he is in a great lineage: what if after this there shall arise a Man unlike all other men, who shall be hailed and blessed and worshipped as "the Son of David"?

Now another enemy arises. David was educated in the school of hostility. The experience of David was enough to make a poet of him, if the divine faculty were slumbering within him. Sorrow oftentimes makes us take the harp down as well as hang it up; sometimes we can have no comfort but in the harp; if the Gospel is to come to us at all it must come through the medium of music The next enemy is Abner. "Now there was long war between the house of Saul and the house of David" ( 2Sa 3:1 ), not open standing battles: for such conflicts we can prepare ourselves. The "long war" was not a succession of fights in the open field, but vexatious war, hostility in which there was no possibility of renown: the little mischievous fretful chafing wars which make life so rough. When Saul spake he was misunderstood; when David spake he was misunderstood: the people on both sides did everything they could to irritate one another. That is the meaning of the long war; and this course of petty vexation was varied by open battle, great conflict and clash of arms. The leader of the host of Israel was Abner. He was inspired by the spirit of opposition. He was the hope of the followers of Saul. Not a man to be closely looked into, from a moral point of view. In the very height of his pride, in the very boasting of his strength, Ish-bosheth brought him to the ground. Ish-bosheth, the son of Saul, charged Abner with an evil deed. He put the thing before him in plain words. Let us have no hinted accusations. Men cannot answer such impeachments. Ish-bosheth put the case before Abner in terms that could not be misundertood, and Abner, like many a hard-hearted hypocrite, started into indignant self-defence, and asked if he was "a dog's head" which could do the thing that was charged upon him, and sought to shut the mouth of Abner by telling him what he, Abner, had done for the house of Saul; saying in effect: You ought to be the last man to speak; seeing what I have done for the house of Saul you should let my conduct go without criticism or hostile comment. So Abner would no longer play the part of enemy to David. He said he would leave the cause of Israel. Is there any counterpart of this in our day? He said he would have no longer anything to do with the house that could treat him so in the person of its most conspicuous representative. So he left the cause. How very frail is the link that binds us to some causes! How soon our most faithful friends may become detached! But who can trust the man who will leave on such a ground as Abner indicated? If we are really bound to any cause, it should not be in the power of any man, bring what charge he may, to shake us from our purpose, or to break us in the completeness of our homage. The Christian cause is continually exposed to this kind of impoverishment. Men will flee from the Church on any pretence. We need not await the time when we can bring against them, even in the form of an inquiry, some desperate accusation: a little offence will do it; a small disappointment will sunder the connection, which consisted not of the very heart, and show that the love was only a conscious or unconscious pretence.

Abner had to undergo very severe criticism, but nevertheless very just. There was a follower of David, a servant, really a nephew, who had a head as long as Iscariot's; a desperate man; nothing could drive him from his purpose. When Abner came to David and said, I will now be upon your side if you please, David made him a feast. Joab would have made him no banquet. When Joab heard of it he said, with a nephew's license, "What hast thou done? Behold, Abner came unto thee; why is it that thou hast sent him away, and he is quite gone?" he should have been lying here, weltering in his blood; thou hast been taken in again; thou art king, and I am but thy nephew, servant, but I am amazed at this want of sagacity: the enemy was within the gate, and might never have left. Joab was not content with words only. "When Abner was returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside in the gate to speak with him quietly, and smote him there under the fifth rib, that he died, for the blood of Asahel his brother " ( 2Sa 3:27 ). The king was the great man; the servant was the inferior man. It is true that Abner had done many a wicked deed, true that he was an enemy of the crown and throne of David. Now that he is dead, how does David view the circumstances? He will be secretly glad. That would only be a human frailty. But there is no proof of it. "King David himself followed the bier" of Abner. He went to his funeral. "They buried Abner in Hebron: and the king lifted up his voice, and wept at the grave of Abner; and all the people wept" ( 2Sa 3:32 ). Tears are infectious. Why all this tearfulness on the part of David now so valiant, so strong, so daring, at home and on the mountains, domesticated in the wilderness, counting a cave a palace? Why so broken down now? Because it is not in human nature to stand more than a certain amount of pressure. The old man weeps easily. Old soldiers often find their tears near at hand; they have had such discipline, such wearing experience, they have suffered so many losses, they have been pressed and pushed and driven with violence so extreme and unpitying, that there comes a time of reaction; they never shed tears in the fight; they were stronger than lions, they were swifter than eagles, in action, but there comes a time of recall, and then who can keep back the river of sorrow? There comes, too, a time when a man cannot bear to see all his contemporaries cut down one after another, even though in some respects they were hostile contemporaries. Their death makes him a stranger. He does not know the men who are coming on behind him. He has been accustomed to certain faces, salutations, messages, reciprocations, and now that men are falling on the right hand and on the left he feels a strange sense of solitude. What wonder if even the most valiant soldier-spirit should often break down in a child's tears?

How did David treat the dead Abner and estimate him?

"And the king said unto his servants, Know ye not that there is a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel?" ( 2Sa 3:38 ).

If these considerations applied to David only, we might dismiss them as not bearing upon our immediate life, but they bring with them a present and urgent application. David was the most illustrious type of Christ. In a sense, he was the father of the Saviour of the world. "Son of David," said the poor, the blind, the distressed, "have mercy on me." Jesus himself spake about David in relation to sonship and lordship, and propounded a great question concerning the relation between David and himself. When did Christ rejoice over his enemies? We cannot point to a single instance in which he was glad when evil befell his foes. When did he rejoice, saying, Behold their harvest fields are blighted, their fountains are dried up, all their ships are sunk, and their fortunes are scattered by an avenging wind? When did one malevolent word escape the lips of this Son of David? What was Christ's doctrine concerning the treatment of enemies? He said: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." He was in very deed David's Lord. He advanced beyond the poet and stood forth as the inspirer. All the beautiful things we find in the Old Testament that are beautiful by reason of moral quality and value culminate in Jesus Christ. They are incomplete in themselves; they say, if we could hear them distinctly, Follow us; we are leading up to our own consummation that will be found in the Son of God. What view of his enemies did Christ take at the very last? Now that he hangs upon the tree he will speak what he feels. In his great agony his very soul will utter itself. In that hour he said: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." Are we not right, therefore, in thinking of David in all these historical details as more than an actor in a vanishing scene even as a type and forerunner of the Lord Jesus Christ? What was dim yet beautiful in David, is bright and divine in Christ.

Now observe the point of weakness referred to at the outset:

"And I am this day weak, though anointed king; and these men the sons of Zeruiah be too hard for me: the Lord shall reward the doer of evil according to his wickedness" ( 2Sa 3:39 ).

Selected Note

" Rend your clothes, and gird you with sackcloth, and mourn " ( 2Sa 3:31 ). Sacks are usually made of hair in the East, whence we may understand that where sackcloth is mentioned, haircloth is intended. Hence the idea is different from that which we, whose sacks are not of the same material, would affix to the term. That this is correct, seems to be confirmed by the fact that the use of haircloth as a penitential dress was retained by the early Oriental monks, hermits, and pilgrims, and was adopted by the Roman Church, which still retains it for the same purposes. Haircloth was, moreover, called "sackcloth" by the early Greek and Latin fathers, and this seems conclusive. Perhaps, in a general sense, the word means any kind of very coarse cloth, but undoubtedly more particularly cloth of hair than any other. There is a reference to this practice of assuming a mortifying dress as an expression of grief or repentance in Exodus 33:4 . The principle is so obvious that there are few nations among which, in mournings for the dead some kind of mortifying habit has not been adopted. We do not know that sackcloth is now much used for this purpose in the East; but ornaments ate relinquished, the usual dress is neglected, or it is laid aside, and one coarse or old assumed in its place.


Almighty God, our hearts live in the great hope that all flesh shall see thy glory. The clouds are very dark, and there are many who do not like to retain God in their thought. Broad is the road that leadeth to destruction, and many there be who walk its perilous way. Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. Yet amid all these discouragements thou dost lift up thy voice like a trumpet and say that thy kingdom shall come and thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. How this is to be lieth not within the scope of our poor imagining. The mouth of the Lord hath spoken it this is our one and our indestructible trust. We rest in thy promise, a nation shall be born in a day, the little one shall put the great down, and the strong one shall be smitten by the weak hand. We know that thou doest all things excellently, with a suddenness that doth startle our ignorance and with a completeness which none can amend. The earth is thine and the fulness thereof; thou lovest the little wandering star, thou dost leave the uncounted host that have not fallen from their orbits and thou hast come after that which was lost, and thou wilt not return until thou hast found it.

Behold us in prayer; look upon us inspired by one expectancy, as uttering one cry: "Even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly." Our heart is perverse and our way is crooked, and our arm is outstretched in cruel rebellion against thy throne, yet is thy cross, O Christ, higher than all the mountain of our guilt, and the shining of thy grace shall chase away the darkness of our sin. Our hope is in the cross, our confidence is in the Priest who died upon it: we look unto his blood, it is more than our sin, and it answers the charges of thy law, thou mighty, gracious Judge. Amen.

Verse 10

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"To translate the kingdom." 2 Samuel 3:10 .

That is to say, to hand over the kingdom from one man to another. The kingdom was to pass from the house of Saul to the house of David, and David was to be king "over Israel and over Judah, from Dan even to Beersheba." The thought is that kingdoms of an earthly kind change hands, and therefore they are to be regarded as belonging to things temporary and mutable, and not to things eternal and unchangeable. What hast thou that thou hast not received? The kingdom did not belong to Saul, except in a secondary sense, for God still retained the kingdom in his own hands; he setteth up, and he bringeth down; he creates the prince, and he sets the beggar in his lowly place. By long use men come to entertain the idea of sole proprietorship, and thus the sense of monopoly increases. Our children are not ours, they are God's; our lives are not our own, they belong to the Creator; we have nothing, except in the sense of stewardship and in the sense of involving responsibility for the use we make of it. Blessed is he who can say, amid the transition of kingdom and influence of every name and kind, "He must increase, but I must decrease." It is well that men can only reign for a certain time; it would be well if royalty could change its point of origin, so that human vanity might be checked and human ambition might be baffled in many a course. We are not to think of earthly kingdoms alone as meaning political sovereignties; we are to think of personal influence, institutional functions, and all arrangements made to meet the necessity of the present day: all these things must be changed in order to be purified; the direction may be altered in order that attention may be wakened; those who imagine themselves secure for ever must be shaken out of their security, that they may learn that there is no permanence but in God. The Lord reigneth. All men reign under him, and are subject to his will. They only are happy who use the world as not abusing it, and who hold it with so light a hand that at any moment they can lay it down again.

Verse 39

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"I am this day weak, though anointed king." 2 Samuel 3:39 .

Here is a remarkable distinction between the human and the official. What a tone of humiliation there is in the latter part of the text! Two men seem to be speaking here the one the man pure and simple, the other the man clothed with royal purple and loaded with a royal crown. Officialism does nothing towards the sustenance of humanity. Sometimes a man's office is greater than a man's strength. In all these circumstances it is the man who is to be considered, and not the officer. As the life is more than meat, so the man is more than the king; as the body is more than raiment, so the soul is more than the sovereign. It is most instructive to listen to the confessions of weakness made by kings and men who have all that the world can give them. It is too frequently supposed that if we had crown, and throne, and sceptre, and gilded palace, we should be content and strong, yea, even riotous in the overflow of power: nothing of the kind. All history shows us that a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth. We suppose that only poor men complain of being weak; yet here we have a king telling us that weakness has invaded the palace, and that weakness has thrown into contempt all the glamour and pomp of courts. Periods of weakness may be so used as to be the occasions of growing strength. One man was enabled to exclaim, "When I am weak, then am I strong." When our weakness is rightly felt we are driven to God for the renewal of our strength. All our springs are in him. He only can recover the soul from its moods of dejection, and build up our flesh into reality of power. So, again and again, in all conditions and varieties of life, we are brought back from heart-wandering and self-trusting to simple dependence upon the living and eternal God.

Bibliographical Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 3". Parker's The People's Bible. 1885-95.