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Bible Commentaries

Layman's Bible Commentary

2 Samuel 4

Verses 1-12

The Murder of Ish-bosheth (4:1-12)

Ish-bosheth’s spirit was broken with the loss of Abner, who was the dominant power of the kingdom. The story emphasizes the fact that Ish-bosheth’s murderers were Benjaminites, and thus Saul’s fellow tribesmen. It then digresses into an account of Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth (originally Merib-baal — 1 Chronicles 8:34 — and altered for the same reason as the name of Eshbaal; see comment on 2:8-32). This digression seems to have no bearing on the murder of Ish-bosheth; rather it explains the boy’s lameness and thus provides a background for the later events recorded in 2 Samuel 9.

Confusion apparently abounded in the entourage of Ish-bosheth, and his murderers were able to take him unaware as he rested in the heat of the day. There seems to have been no adequate bodyguard, for with Abner’s death the backbone of order was broken. The murderers brought the head of Ish-bosheth to David, reasoning that they would be credited for this deed and hoping that it would give them good standing with the one who was manifestly to be the new king. They miscalculated, however. Their attempt to represent themselves as agents of the divine judgment met with little sympathy from David who, out of his own experience of the redeeming activity of the Lord, had learned to preserve life whenever possible, even that of his enemies. Citing the precedent of his treatment of the Amalekite who had claimed credit for the slaying of Saul (see comment on 1:1-16), David now ordered his young men to kill these murderers, whose crime was more dastardly because they had taken the life of a righteous man and had done so while he slept. Probably David regarded Ish-bosheth as so weak and ineffective, now that Abner was gone, that alive he would have offered no serious obstacle to David’s attaining the kingship over all Israel. David’s action now publicly showed that he had had nothing to do with the murder of his ineffective rival, while his treatment of the murderers demonstrated his concern for justice. The blood of Ishbosheth cried up to heaven for justice until those who shed it were destroyed from the earth (vs. 11; see Genesis 4:10). A life taken, it was thought, had to be avenged.

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on 2 Samuel 4". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/2-samuel-4.html.