Bible Commentaries
2 Samuel 3

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-16

The Treason of Abner (3:1-16)

A list of David’s family is followed in verse 6 by an account of the continued conflict between David and Ish-bosheth. This story begins with the quarrel between Ish-bosheth and Abner. The latter had had relations with Rizpah, one of Saul’s concubines. The wrongness of this act was not regarded as primarily a moral issue. It arose from the fact that Saul’s wives and concubines passed into the possession of his successor. Abner was performing an act of insubordination, and his action could be regarded as a direct challenge to the royal rights of Ish-bosheth. Abner endeavored to evade this by seeing only the moral aspect. "Am I a dog’s head?" he asked, a question which was grounded in the fact that in the Near East, the dog was a despised and impure animal. The attitude of Ish-bosheth led Abner to seek revenge by coming to terms with David. He promised to bring over all Israel to David, but the latter demanded, as a necessary precondition for any covenant with Abner, the return of Michal. There was political wisdom in this, for as Saul’s son-in-law, David could have a greater claim on the loyalty of the rest of Israel. David is represented as making the request for Michal’s return directly to Ish-bosheth, who complied. On her return, Michal was met by Abner, who then presumably carried out his part of the agreement with David.

Verses 17-39

Abner’s Death (3:17-39)

Abner was virtually the leader of the rest of Israel, and Ishbosheth was his puppet. In accord with his agreement with David, Abner won over all Israel to David’s side, apparently with some ease. The tribe of Benjamin may have shown some reluctance, and hence it is singled out for special attention (vs. 19). It was Saul’s own tribe, but Abner was also a Benjaminite and the return of Michal would help to swing things in David’s favor.

Abner went to report to David at Hebron and was entertained at a feast from which Joab was absent. Abner arranged to assemble the leaders of Israel to make a covenant with David as their king and then departed. Joab on his return heard of the visit and protested to David, but secretly he sent out his own messengers to apprehend Abner and bring him back to Hebron. Without David’s knowledge, Joab slew Abner, in revenge for the death of his brother Asahel. When the news reached David, he was horrified at the treacherous act, partly no doubt because of the harm it might do to the negotiations in which Abner was involved. He invoked a curse on Joab and his house. We see the strong sense of blood revenge in Hebrew relations in the act of Joab and the terrible burden of bloodguilt in the horrible curse of David. Joab’s fiery temper is evident throughout this story.

Abner was given a public mourning and funeral, David being the principal mourner. Undoubtedly there was a political motive in David’s action, for he had been on the verge of gaining the whole kingdom when this tragic act occurred. He was still anxious to placate those who had followed Abner and who had been about to acknowledge his own kingship. The lament of David over Abner in verses 33-34 conveys an authentic note and again discloses David as a poet and psalmist. In the closing verses of the chapter the editor is careful to show that no blame rested on the shoulders of David. David could not deal with Joab his nephew as he dealt with other murderers, but he left him to the judgment of God.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on 2 Samuel 3". "Layman's Bible Commentary".