David was by no means in a hurry to take advantage of the situation that had been brought about by Saul's death. Though he had not enquired of the Lord as to going down to king Achish at Gath (1 Samuel 27:1-2), he does enquire now as to leaving Ziklag and returning to Judah. The Lord tell him to do so. Yet in a spirit of felt dependence, he further inquires as to what city. God's answer, "Hebron" is not merely intended to indicate a favorable location. Its name means "communion," which would be a strong reminder to David that if he is to reign as king, he will need the place of constant communion with God.
In coming to Hebron David's circumstances are completely changed. His two wives accompany him and all his men with their households. These were dispersed throughout the towns surrounding (v.3). David being of the tribe of Judah, and having before attracted the approval of the people through his faithfulness and ability, it is not surprising that the men of Judah came to him to anoint him king (v.4). The rest of Israel was however not ready to accept him in this way at the time.
When David heard the news that it was the men of Jabesh-Gilead who had buried Saul, he sent messengers to them to express his appreciation of this expression of their regard for the throne of Israel established by God. He shows the confidence that the Lord would bless them for this kindness, while promising that he also would reward them with kindness (vs.5-6). He encourages them also to be strengthened and valiant, though Saul had died, and informs them that the tribe of Judah had anointed him king over them. Of course Jabesh-Gilead was far north of Judah and had not acknowledged David's rule, but David made no issue of this: he simply informed them of Judah's action.
Abner, the captain of Saul's army, could only understand natural succession. He did not seek the will of God, but decided to elevate Ish-bosheth, Saul's son, to the throne of Israel (vs.8-9). How many since him have thought that the military has the right of such decisions! But this is God's prerogative, and He had already anointed David as king of Israel (not only of Judah). Abner made Mahanaim the headquarters of Ish-bosheth's kingdom. Mahanaim means "two camps," therefore emphasizing the fact that Israel was divided. God would not allow this to continue, but Ish-bosheth did reign over Israel for two years, during which time there was "long war" between Judah and Israel. David reigned in Hebron seven and a half years (v.11). It seems that, after his being recognized as king by Israel (ch.5:1-3), he must have remained for a time in Hebron before going up to Jerusalem to reign there.
This history illustrates the necessity of the Lord Jesus first subduing His own people under Him before subduing His enemies. Abner was the strong man in Israel: Ish-bosheth was of no significance. Abner of course wanted to see Judah subject to him too, and desired to initiate a test of strength. He came to Gibeon with some of his men (v.12). Joab, the captain of David's army, was fully willing for the test, and went out with his men, they sitting down on one side of the pool of Gibeon with Abner and his men on the other side. But the occasion is not to be a discussion of their differences. Abner asks that the young men should hold a contest (v.14) and Joab readily responds. Twelve men from each side then meet in deadly combat.
Verse 15 seems to indicate that all these men, on both sides, were prepared to catch each other by the head, each one simultaneously piercing the other with his sword, so that they fell down together. They did not stop to consider that they were all Israelites, and therefore brethren. But since that time the people of God have too often used the sword of the word of God cruelly against others of God's people when they might have used it for the positive good of others.
The contest decided nothing, but was only the beginning of a battle that involved both armies, so that many more were dead before it was over. Nor did the battle make any real difference in the situation, though it was won by Judah. Only God's work can bring about unity among His people.
Judah pursues Israel in the battle, and Asahel, the brother of Joab and Abishai, picks out Abner to pursue him. Being very swift of foot, he could easily keep up with Abner. If Joab had been in his place, he would not have hesitated to kill Abner, but Asahel was evidently not a practiced man of war, and only wanted to be sure that Abner did not escape. Abner suspected it was Asahel who followed him, and when he was assured of it, he told him to leave him and follow someone else (v.21). Abner did not want to fight it out with Asahel and kill him, because he was afraid that if he did so, he might incur the special animosity of Joab.
Asahel, however, after a second warning from Abner, refused to listen to him. He continued to follow very close behind him, and was not prepared for Abner's cunning expertise in war. Abner suddenly pushed his spear backward, causing its butt end to pierce Abner under the fifth rib. He fell down and died. Asahel did not lack zeal, but did lack knowledge and wisdom as to warfare. The pursuers following Asahel were so shocked at finding him dead that they stopped their pursuit of Israel. They considered that Israel had been totally defeated, and to find that they had struck back in killing Asahel evidently gave them second thoughts.
Joab and Abishai continued their pursuit, both of them being capable warriors (v.24). However, Abner was able to regroup as the Benjamites came to him, and all ascended to the top of a hill. From there Abner calls to Joab, desiring a cessation of hostilities. He does not offer to surrender, but asks, "Shall the sword devour forever? do you not know that it will be bitter in the end?" This was true, for continued fighting would not resolve the issue as to who should be king. Yet Abner conveniently forgot that it was he who had initiated the battle. Still, Joab knew it would be wise to cease from battle, and tells Abner that if he had not spoken the battle would have ended by the next morning anyway (v.27). As if happened, however, Abner's speaking was an admission of defeat, though not in so many words.
Joab blew a trumpet to cause all his men to no longer pursue Israel. Abner and his men travelled all that night to return across the Jordan to Mahahaim
Returning from the war, Joab found that twenty men of Judah (including Asahel) had died in this sad conflict, but of Abner's men 360 were killed. Yet this had no decisive consequences, though it indicated a gradual weakening of Israel's opposition, which will be true also at the time of the Tribulation, when Israel's rebellion against the Lord Jesus will be worn down until an occasion of great public significance breaks them utterly in repentance and faith.
Asahel received an honorable burial, and Joab and his men returned by night to Hebron. This is significant in telling us that Judah must remain in "communion" with the Lord, to await His clear leading as to re-uniting the nation.
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Grant, L. M. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 2". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany