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SECTION 6. David is Initially Crowned King Of Judah And Then Of All Israel (2 Samuel 2:1 to 2 Samuel 5:5 ).
By now the all-conquering Philistines had swept into central Israel and at least up to the Jordan, and possibly beyond it, and had in the process occupied the main cities of central Israel (1 Samuel 31:7). The statement in 1 Samuel 31:7 about ‘those on the side of the Jordan’ may have been intended to indicate troops stationed beyond the Jordan, or alternatively it may simply have intended to indicate troops who had been stationed near the Jordan on the west side but to the rear of the battle, possibly in the hills around Gilgal and Jericho as in the times of Saul (compare 1 Samuel 13:6-7; 1 Samuel 13:11; 1 Samuel 14:11; 1 Samuel 14:22).
However, in view of the fact that it was not until five years later that Abner was able to set up Ish-bosheth as king over Israel in Mahanaim, (he reigned two years compared to David’s seven) it is probable that the Philistines certainly exercised some control in Transjordan, at least for a time. But the Philistines possibly came to recognise that in the end this was stretching their resources too far, for their major concern would no doubt have been to consolidate their empire west of Jordan, and they may thus have relaxed their grip on Transjordan, and even have allowed the appointment of Ish-bosheth as a vassal king. This may all be suggested by the extent of his rule.
This may also have been because the guerilla operations of the survivors of the Israelite army who had fled across the Jordan, and were now ably led by Abner, had been able to make life continually uncomfortable for them. The Philistines never liked hill fighting and guerilla warfare (compare the Syrians in 1 Kings 20:28), because in such circumstances they could not use their chariots, and they would also have recognised that they could not leave their own cities and farms unattended and unprotected for too long. They were simply not numerous enough to constantly occupy such a large area. Thus to appoint Ish-bosheth to rule for them might have been seen by them as a good way to ‘pacify the natives’, while at the same time allowing them to turn their attention elsewhere.
It is probable that their next move after defeating the Israelite army and occupying the Israelite cities would have been to occupy Judah to the south, but it would appear that this move was circumvented by David, who, after obtaining directions from YHWH, himself occupied Judah with his men (that would be how it appeared to the Philistines). The fact that the Philistines raised no objection to this suggests that they saw him as still their vassal and as having done this under the aegis of Achish, king of Gath. Indeed, they may well have admired the way in which, having been prevented from marching with the main army, he had demonstrated his initiative by himself ‘conquering’ that part of the land that they themselves had not invaded, for we must remember:
1). That Achish believed that David and the men of Judah were bitter enemies, and had no doubt told the other lords that it was so (1 Samuel 27:10-12).
2). That the remainder of the Philistine lords had only refused to allow him to accompany them lest he turn traitor in the midst of the battle, not because they were in general suspicious of his loyalty to Achish of Gath. They would thus have had no objection to his taking over Judah if, as they thought, he had done it in the name of Achish. We need not doubt that David meanwhile continued to use his gifts of diplomacy in his dealings with Achish.
The defeated and demoralised Israelites who had survived the battle, and had fled to places out of reach of the Philistines, would gradually over the next few months filter back, and if so were probably soon mobilised by Abner, Saul’s cousin and general, along with the men who were still with him, into a guerilla army. This is what we might have anticipated, for so demoralising had been their defeat that we would expect it to take a few years for them to stage a recovery. This would then explain why it took around five years before Abner was able to set up Ish-bosheth, Saul’s remaining son, as king in Mahanaim, east of Jordan. And as that rule was stated to have been over areas including the plain of Jezreel (unless this was a town or area in Transjordan, for there was also a Jezreel in Judah - Joshua 15:56), Benjamin and Ephraim in the central hill country, it is not likely that he could have achieved it without the consent of the Philistines. (Unless, of course, the descriptions were only theoretical). We are, however, left to guess all this, because it was not of interest to the writer whose main interest was first in describing how David became king over Judah, and then king over all Israel, in accordance with YHWH’s purpose.
a David is anointed as King over Judah and Ish-bosheth is set over Israel (2 Samuel 2:1-11).
b Abner and Israel seek to win the whole kingdom for Ish-bosheth by defeating Judah, but are soundly beaten. Abner personally slays Asahel, something which will finally result in his own death (2 Samuel 2:12-28).
c The aftermath of the invasion, the number of the slain, Judah mourn over Asahel (2 Samuel 2:29-32).
d David grows stronger in Hebron while Abner makes himself strong in the house of Saul in the midst of a weakening Israel (2 Samuel 3:1-6).
e Abner quarrels with Ish-bosheth and determines to betray him to David by advancing David’s claims in Israel (2 Samuel 3:7-16).
e Abner negotiates to advance David’s claims in Israel (2 Samuel 3:17-26).
d Joab makes himself strong by slaying Abner and obtaining blood revenge and the death of a rival (2 Samuel 3:27-30).
c The aftermath of Joab’s vengeance, description of the slain, Judah mourn over Abner (2 Samuel 3:31-39).
b The kingdom is taken from Ish-bosheth as a result of his assassination by two of his commanders, something which will finally result in their own death (2 Samuel 4:1-11).
a David becomes king over all Israel (2 Samuel 5:1-5).
Approaching these next chapters we need to pause and remember the words of the writer of Ecclesiastes 5:2, ‘God is in Heaven and you are on the earth, therefore let your words be few’, for they reveal a picture of the sovereign God enabling David to surmount all the temptations that came his way, while around him all were trying to lead him astray. For from that triumphant moment when he was anointed king over Judah, to his next moment of triumph when he was anointed king over all Israel, he was constantly beset by the temptation to use irregular methods for achieving God’s purposes, only to be kept from them either by YHWH or because of his own spiritual awareness (thus continuing YHWH’s perpetual watch over him portrayed in 1 Samuel 21-30).
In 2 Samuel 2:0, when his victorious army had swept an invading Israel before them there must have been the temptation for Judah to carry on the chase and take over the territory occupied by Ish-bosheth, a temptation brought under control by Abner’s wise words to Joab (2 Samuel 2:26), thus preventing a great deal of bitterness. In 2 Samuel 3:0 there was the temptation to enter into a league with Abner and stage a coup against Ish-bosheth, thus causing dissension in Israel, a temptation brought under control by the death of Abner at the hands of Joab, followed immediately by the temptation to take the way of Joab which his own spiritual morality protected him from. And in 2 Samuel 4:0 there was at least theoretically the temptation to accept the opportunity offered by the two commanders who had slain Ish-bosheth, by displaying the head of Ish-bosheth in order to demonstrate his own right to be king, from which he was again saved by his moral sensitivity. So in each case he was preserved, either by the activity of others whom YHWH used within His purposes (as with Abigail in 1 Samuel 25:0, and the Philistines in 1 Samuel 29:7), or more regularly because of his own innate spirituality and moral sensitivity (as so often in 1 Samuel). For in the end it was YHWH’s purpose that he receive the crown without arousing bitterness, by the public acclamation of all Israel. We can briefly sum up this section as follows:
After receiving and following the guidance of YHWH David is anointed king in Judah and we are given details of his reign (2 Samuel 2:1-11).
An invasion by Abner and Israel is thwarted and Asahel is slain (2 Samuel 2:13-32).
Abner comes to David with the offer of a coup against Ish-bosheth, something which is prevented when Abner is slain (2 Samuel 3:1-39).
Two of Ish-bosheth’s commanders bring to David the head of Ish-bosheth, only for them to be slain by David (2 Samuel 4:1-12).
David is acclaimed as king of all Israel and we are given details of his reign (2 Samuel 5:1-5).
Thus amidst all the battles, intrigues and murders that take place YHWH triumphantly bears David to the throne of Israel untainted by all that is going on.
David Makes Himself Strong In Hebron While Abner Makes Himself Strong In A Weakened House Of Saul (2 Samuel 3:1-6 ).
There would appear to have been constant antagonism between Judah and Israel from the moment when David was made King of Judah, and the result was that while David and his house continued to grow in power, the house of Saul became weaker and weaker, until in the end it was dominated by one man, Abner, Saul’s cousin and former general. This probably does not indicate continuing warfare. Apart from the one incursion above which for Israel had been a disaster, which had taken place once Abner had made the house of Saul safe from Israel’s internal wrangling, Israel were in no position to make war on David. And David, in his usual manner, was seemingly happy to wait for YHWH to decide when he should make his next move. Indeed one of the reasons why the house of Saul grew so weak would be precisely because it was involved in these internal Israelite squabbles, with the result that Abner had to take control with a firm hand and assert his authority. David on the other hand was meanwhile prospering, marrying well and producing six fine sons, which the writer clearly saw as indicating his overall wellbeing and prosperity.
David’s growth in strength is thus illustrated in terms of his son-producing wives, for sons were always seen as making a man’s house strong. The marriages of people like David usually had political aims. His first two wives had firmly established his position in Judah and as a man of influence and great wealth. His third resulted in a treaty relationship with Talmai, the king of Geshur, a city in Syria, north east of Bashan (2 Samuel 15:8; 1 Chronicles 3:2; Joshua 12:5; Joshua 13:11; Joshua 13:13). We know little about the others but we need not doubt their importance in his plans.
a Now there was long antagonism (war) between the house of Saul and the house of David, but David grew stronger and stronger, and the house of Saul grew weaker and weaker (2 Samuel 3:1).
b And to David sons were born in Hebron (2 Samuel 3:2 a).
c And his first-born was Amnon, of Ahinoam the Jezreelitess; and his second, Chileab, of Abigail the wife of Nabal the Carmelite; and the third, Absalom the son of Maacah the daughter of Talmai king of Geshur; and the fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith; and the fifth, Shephatiah the son of Abital; and the sixth, Ithream, of Eglah, David’s wife (3:2b-5a).
b These were born to David in Hebron (2 Samuel 3:5 b).
a And it came about that, while there was antagonism (war) between the house of Saul and the house of David, Abner made himself strong in the house of Saul (2 Samuel 3:6).
Note that in ‘a’ the continual antagonism between the two houses is mentioned along with the growing strong of David, while in the parallel the continual antagonism is again mentioned, along with the growing weakness of the Saulides as Abner begins to take over. In ‘b’ it is emphasised that sons were born to David in Hebron, and in the parallel the same is emphasised. Centrally in ‘c’ we have the names of David’s wives and sons.
2 Samuel 3:1
‘ Now there was long antagonism (war) 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.’
As already mentioned the antagonism probably did not express itself in continual warfare in view of Israel’s weak condition. It rather resulted in non-recognition of each other’s positions and an attitude of opposition to each other’s claims. As we have seen in 2 Samuel 2:0 Israel’s one failed attempt at warfare came when Abner thought that he had established Ish-bosheth’s position firmly, and as we know, it resulted in dismal failure, simply because Abner had underestimated David’s power. (Had relations been more friendly Abner might have had contact with David and have recognised how foolish it would be to challenge him). David was meanwhile establishing Judah, while making raids on different antagonists in order to gain booty, as he had previously in Ziklag (2 Samuel 3:22), while at the same time leaving Israel well alone. He was prepared to wait for YHWH to fulfil His promises and did not therefore wish to antagonise Israel itself.
2 Samuel 3:2-5
‘ And to David sons were born in Hebron: and his first-born was Amnon, of Ahinoam the Jezreelitess; and his second, Chileab, of Abigail the wife of Nabal the Carmelite; and the third, Absalom the son of Maacah the daughter of Talmai king of Geshur; and the fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith; and the fifth, Shephatiah the son of Abital; and the sixth, Ithream, of Eglah, David’s wife. These were born to David in Hebron.’
The double emphasis on the fact that David had six sons in Hebron is clearly intended to demonstrate how God was prospering him, and how strong he was becoming. His time in Hebron was to be seen as one of growth and blessing. Later we will learn of further sons born to him in Jerusalem (2 Samuel 5:13-16).
Ahinoam and Abigail we know of from previous references. The remaining four marriages no doubt took place in Hebron. But what was most important was that they all bore him sons. Such sons when grown up could be politically useful (2 Chronicles 11:22-23). The fact that some of them in fact became a thorn in his side was due solely to his own sin with regard to Uriah the Hittite and Bathsheba.
Apart from Maacah we know nothing about the wives he married in Hebron but they were probably politically influential. To a king marriage was a means of cementing his position and gaining political allies (concubines were for love). Thus these marriages emphasised his growing prestige and influence.
2 Samuel 3:6
‘ And it came about that, while there was antagonism (war) between the house of Saul and the house of David, Abner made himself strong in the house of Saul.’
One result of the continual antagonism between the two houses and the resulting weakness that it brought to the house of Saul was that Abner was able to establish his own position.
Abner Quarrels With Ish-bosheth Over One Of Saul’s Concubines And Decides As A Consequence To Advance David’s Claims To The Throne Of Israel (2 Samuel 3:7-16 ).
While David’s strengthening position is seen by the writer in terms of his wives and sons, Abner and Ish-bosheth are seen as falling out over Abner’s association with one of Saul’s former concubines. This may well have been an attempt by Abner to further strengthen his position in the house of Saul, for any children resulting from his relationship would be in line for the throne. And besides, to cohabit with a dead king’s concubines was the privilege of the heir so that his action could be seen as a veiled claim to be Saul’s heir (compare 16:21; 1 Kings 2:21-22). Thus either way Abner was treading a dangerous path. Alternately it is possible that it really was simply because he desired her. Whichever way it was, however, the writer uses it to contrast Abner and his concubine with David who was married to a true-born daughter of Saul (2 Samuel 3:13-14).
a Now Saul had a concubine, whose name was Rizpah, the daughter of Aiah: and Ish-bosheth said to Abner, “Why have you gone in to my father’s concubine?” (2 Samuel 3:7).
b Then Abner was very angry because of the words of Ish-bosheth, and he said, “Am I a dog’s head who belongs to Judah? This day do I show kindness to the house of Saul your father, to his relatives (brothers), and to his friends, and have not delivered you into the hand of David, and yet you charge me this day with a fault concerning this woman (2 Samuel 3:8).
c “God do so to Abner, and more also, if, as YHWH has sworn to David, I do not even so to him, to transfer the kingdom from the house of Saul, and to set up the throne of David over Israel and over Judah, from Dan even to Beer-sheba” (2 Samuel 3:9-10).
d And he could not answer Abner another word, because he feared him (2 Samuel 3:11).
c And Abner sent messengers to David on his behalf, saying, “Whose is the land?” saying also, “Make your league with me, and, look, my hand will be with you, to bring about all Israel to you” (2 Samuel 3:12).
b And he said, “Well. I will make a league with you. But one thing I require of you, that is, you shall not see my face, except you first bring Michal, Saul’s daughter, when you come to see my face” (2 Samuel 3:13).
a And David sent messengers to Ish-bosheth, Saul’s son, saying, “Deliver me my wife Michal, whom I betrothed to myself for a hundred foreskins of the Philistines.” And Ish-bosheth sent, and took her from her husband, even from Paltiel the son of Laish. And her husband went with her, weeping as he went, and followed her to Bahurim. Then said Abner to him, “Go, return,” and he returned (2 Samuel 3:14-16).
Note that in ‘a’ Ish-bosheth chides Abner for having relations with his father’s concubine, and in the parallel he responds to David’s demand for the return of his wife Michal. In ‘b’ Abner is angry at being put at fault over a woman, and in the parallel David demands from him a woman, Michal his former wife, if he is to deal with him. In ‘c’ Abner declares that he will deliver the kingdom to David, and in the parallel he contacts David and offers to bring all Israel to him. Centrally in ‘d’ the ‘brave’ king of Israel does not answer because he is afraid of Abner.
2 Samuel 3:7
‘ Now Saul had a concubine, whose name was Rizpah, the daughter of Aiah, and Ish-bosheth said to Abner, “Why have you gone in to my father’s concubine?” ’
When Abner has sexual relations with his father’s concubine Ish-bosheth chides him and asks him to explain himself. A dead king’s concubines belonged to his heir, and to have sexual relations with them could be seen as a claim to be in line for the kingship, as Ish-bosheth recognised. Furthermore any children produced could be seen as in line for the throne. We should probably see in this not just a simple, annoyed, private enquiry, but an official calling to account. This time Ish-bosheth considered that Abner had gone too far and was afraid of what it might mean. In fact Abner had probably done it simply because he desired the girl and was contemptuous of Ish-bosheth (he hardly had any need to further his claims, even had he wanted to, for he was already the king-maker). But it is possible that he had done it partly in order to test out Ish-bosheth’s reaction. Great men like Abner often liked to display their untouchable position by their actions.
2 Samuel 3:8-9
‘ Then Abner was very angry because of the words of Ish-bosheth, and he said, “Am I a dog’s head who belongs to Judah? This day do I show kindness to the house of Saul your father, to his relatives (brothers), and to his friends, and have not delivered you into the hand of David, and yet you charge me this day with a fault concerning this woman. God do so to Abner, and more also, if, as YHWH has sworn to David, I do not even so to him,”
Abner was taken aback and furious at Ish-bosheth daring to challenge him. He was clearly very proud of his loyalty to Saul’s house (even though he was the gainer by it) and was angry that Ish-bosheth should throw doubt on it. He may also have felt that Ish-bosheth was beginning to ‘show his teeth’. So he asked whether Ish-bosheth really thought that he was less trustworthy than David. His real opinion of David and of Judah is made clear by his words, ‘Am I a dog’s head of Judah?’. He had no doubt been present when David had likened himself to a dead dog (1 Samuel 24:14), and here he made it quite clear that he considered it a good description of David. Or it may be that the Israelites were simply in the habit of scathingly describing the men of Judah as ‘dogs’ or ‘dogs’ heads’.
He then stressed how, rather than trying to dethrone Ish-bosheth, (as he saw David as wishing to do), he had rather shown kindness to him and to all Saul’s relations, and had not, as he could have done, delivered them into the hands of David. And now Ish-bosheth was chiding him simply because of a woman? He saw it as totally unacceptable. Then in his anger he swore that he would do for David just as YHWH had sworn to him, make him king over all Israel. There is an indication here that he was aware that in maintaining Ish-bosheth as king he was going against the will of YHWH. He was admitting that he knew what YHWH really wanted, and had fought against it. We should therefore see all that subsequently happened to him in that light.
2 Samuel 3:10
“ To transfer the kingdom from the house of Saul, and to set up the throne of David over Israel and over Judah, from Dan even to Beer-sheba.”
And what was YHWH’s purpose for David? It was that He would transfer the kingship of Israel from the house of Saul to the house of David, and set up David as king over all Israel and Judah, ‘from Dan to Beersheba’. Dan in the north and Beersheba in the south, in the Negeb, were always seen as the northern and southern limits to the land. The phrase was thus indicating the whole land (compare 1 Samuel 3:20). It is an indication that with all their tribal divisions Israel/Judah were in another way seen as potentially one whole.
2 Samuel 3:11
‘ And he could not answer Abner another word, because he feared him.’
The silence of Ish-bosheth at this juncture spoke volumes. Having plucked up the courage to challenge Abner (there had probably been much comment in the court) it demonstrated that he was so terrified of Abner that he dared do nothing more. It made him fully aware that he was powerless to do anything to prevent Abner doing precisely what he wanted. So much for his position as king of Israel.
2 Samuel 3:12
‘ And Abner sent messengers to David on his behalf, saying, “Whose is the land?” saying also, “Make your league with me, and, look, my hand will be with you, to bring about all Israel to you.”
Had Abner been wise he would have recognised that in fact he had won and have left things as they were. But in the event he carried out his threat. This seems to suggest that he had already been considering betraying Ish-bosheth to David and finally made this his excuse. Thus he sent messengers to David to speak on his behalf, asking whose the land of Israel was? The implication was that it was ‘open to grabs’. Then he promised that if David would enter into a league with him he would use all his power and authority to bring all Israel to David’s feet. He was still determined to be the king-maker. But he was to learn that David was made of harder mettle.
2 Samuel 3:13
‘ And he said, “Well. I will make a league with you. But one thing I require of you, that is, you shall not see my face, except you first bring Michal, Saul’s daughter, when you come to see my face.” ’
David answered in a measured fashion. He said that he considered the proposal was a good one, and agreed to make a league with Abner, but only on condition that his previous wife Michal, the daughter of Saul, was delivered up to him. Until that had happened he would not meet Abner face to face. He wanted him to know who was in charge.
His demand was also significant because if Michal was delivered up to him as his true wife, all would know that he was therefore seen by Abner as the true heir of Saul. It would be reuniting him to the house of Saul in a position of privilege as the acknowledged son-in-law of Saul.
2 Samuel 3:14
‘ And David sent messengers to Ish-bosheth, Saul’s son, saying, “Deliver me my wife Michal, whom I betrothed to myself for a hundred foreskins of the Philistines.” ’
At around the same time as he sent his message to Abner David also on his own initiative sent a message to Ish-bosheth demanding the return of Michal on the grounds that he had betrothed her to him for a hundred foreskins of the Philistines, a marriage gift that had never been returned to him. It was an indication of David’s awareness of the superiority of his army that he made the demand, for it would fly in the face of Ish-bosheth’s own kingship. It was also a pointed reminder to Abner not to see him as dependent on Abner. He wanted it recognised that if he did make a league with Abner, it would be on his own terms.
2 Samuel 3:15
‘ And Ish-bosheth sent, and took her from her husband, even from Paltiel the son of Laish.’
It was also an indication of Ish-bosheth’s awareness of his own weakness that he meekly submitted to David as he had to Abner, for he sent and took Michal from her second husband, Paltiel, the son of Laish (of whom nothing is known apart from the fact that he dearly loved Michal) and sent her to David. It was an indication of just how weak Ish-bosheth was. It had reached a point where he did not dare to refuse to do what David wanted. First he had been afraid of Abner. Now he was afraid of David.
It should, however, be noted that David’s request was not unreasonable. His wife had been taken from him by force when he had been outlawed, and Ancient Near Eastern law allowed in such a case for a man to take his wife back once he was no longer outlawed, or when he was released from foreign captivity. So anyone who married such a wife recognised that if the husband did ever return, he might lose his wife back to him. This was thus not a breach of Deuteronomy 24:1-4. But what it would be was a recognition that David was no longer to be seen as outside the pale.
2 Samuel 3:16
‘ And her husband went with her, weeping as he went, and followed her to Bahurim. Then said Abner to him, “Go, return,” and he returned.’
Paltiel was heart broken at losing his wife, and tearfully followed her all the way to Bahurim, until Abner told him to return home. In all the power politics here was the real loser, the poor, innocent, unimportant Paltiel, although we should note that in agreeing to marry Michal he had risked this happening. He must have known what he was doing.
Such was Abner’s power that when he ordered him to return home and forget about Michal, he dared not refuse, in spite of his grief. Abner had truly made himself strong in the house of Saul (2 Samuel 3:6).
Bahurim is modern Ras et-Tmim which is to the east of Mount Scopus near Jerusalem. A man of Bahurim, Shimei, would later curse David as David and his men were passing by when he was fleeing from Absalom (2 Samuel 16:5). It was also at Bahurim that some of David’s men would hide in a well when evading discovery by Absalom’s men (2 Samuel 17:17-21).
Treachery, Treachery! (2 Samuel 3:17-26 ).
In this passage we have an account of double treachery. First we have portrayed the treachery of Abner who, having installed Ish-bosheth as king, callously betrayed him and sought to make Israel turn to David, and then the treachery of Joab who equally callously betrayed David behind his back and called on Abner to return on the pretence that David wanted to see him again, simply in order that he might assassinate him, and that in the face of the fact that he was covered by David’s promise of safe conduct. He had little regard for David’s honour. This was partly because he wanted revenge for his brother Asahel, but he was an astute politician, and it can hardly be doubted that it was also partly because he feared, probably rightly, that under the new deal it was Abner who would be made commander of the host of all Israel rather than himself.
In contrast David comes out of the episode as an honourable man. He received Abner and gave him hospitality and a guarantee of security, and genuinely meant it and was unaware of what Joab was going to do. Furthermore once the evil deed was done he disassociated himself from it, wrote an open lament, publicly bewailed what had happened to Abner, and announced to the world Abner’s true greatness. We might possibly have seen this as feigned (as some do) in order to maintain his reputation were it not for the fact that David’s genuine innocence is emphasised by the curse that he put on the house of Joab. That would not have been necessary in order to demonstrate his innocence if his grief been feigned, especially as we must remember that all would believe that it would come about. It was no light thing that he did and furthermore its dire consequences would fall on his own relatives (they would be his sister’s seed). Thus we can safely exonerate him from blame. Indeed the one charge that we might make against David was that by his curse he was affecting innocent people in the future simply because of the sin of Joab, for he, like the rest, would consider that the curse would be effective. But we have to remember in this respect that the idea that the sins of the fathers fell on the children was a commonly held one and was seen as being just (such children would probably behave like their fathers), while it should also be remembered that David would believe that all such effects could be avoided by any who turned to God in genuine repentance and faith, a principle on which he built his own life. In the end therefore he would see those affected as bringing it on themselves.
And behind all these dealings we are intended to see that the hand of YHWH was at work. It was not He Who caused the treachery, but He simply took it up and used it in His purpose. David’s path would move on smoothly towards the kingship because YHWH was with him, and it would have done so whether there had been treachery or not. In one case the treachery simply speeded the process up, while in the other it merely caused a small blip. It would have been a very different matter if David had been involved in it himself.
a And Abner had communication with the elders of Israel, saying, “In times past you sought for David to be king over you, now then do it; for YHWH has spoken of David, 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.” And Abner also spoke in the ears of Benjamin, and Abner went also to speak in the ears of David in Hebron all that seemed good to Israel, and to the whole house of Benjamin (2 Samuel 3:17-19).
b So Abner came to David to Hebron, and twenty men with him. And David made Abner and the men who were with him a feast. And Abner said to David, “I will arise and go, and will gather all Israel to my lord the king, that they may make a covenant with you, and that you may reign over all that your soul desires” (2 Samuel 3:20-21 a).
c And David sent Abner away, and he went in peace (2 Samuel 3:21 b).
d And, behold, the servants of David and Joab came from a foray, 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 (2 Samuel 3:22).
c When Joab and all the host who were with him were come, they told Joab, saying, “Abner the son of Ner came to the king, and he has sent him away, and he is gone in peace” (2 Samuel 3:23).
b Then Joab came to the king, and said, “What have you done? See, Abner came to you. Why is it that you have sent him away, and he is quite gone? You know Abner the son of Ner, that he came to deceive you, and to know your going out and your coming in, and to know all that you do” (2 Samuel 3:24-25).
a And when Joab was come out from David, he sent messengers after Abner, and they brought him back from the Cystern of Sirah, but David did not know it (2 Samuel 3:26).
Note than in ‘a’ we have described the gross treachery of Abner, and in the parallel the gross treachery of Joab. In ‘b’ David honourably receives Abner and his men and gives them hospitality, confident in the genuineness of Abner’s proposal, and in the parallel Joab asserts that Abner’s proposal and their purpose in coming was totally dishonourable. In ‘c’ David sends Abner away with a guarantee of security (‘go in peace’), and in the parallel Joab is informed that David had sent Abner away with a guarantee of security. Centrally in ‘d’ David’s men return from a raiding expedition with great spoil, while Abner has meanwhile left with a guarantee of security. Note the threefold mention of the guarantee of security which emphasises its completeness and thus makes Joab’s treachery doubly heinous.
2 Samuel 3:17-18
‘ And Abner had communication with the elders of Israel, saying, “In times past you sought for David to be king over you, now then do it; for YHWH has spoken of David, 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.” ’
Having decided that he had had enough of Ish-bosheth, Abner treacherously turned his attention to the task of supplanting him. This tends to reveal that his pretended loyalty to the house of Saul had been a sham. With Saul dead and Ish-bosheth seemingly recalcitrant, all his attention was now clearly on how he could revenge himself against Ish-bosheth and achieve the highest status for himself. (It is quite possible that he did not know of Ish-bosheth’s fear of him and thought that he might try to get rid of him. Alternately he might have considered that being commander of the combined forces of Israel and Judah, which he would demand in return for the support that he gave, offered him a much better opportunity for glory and wealth than being the commander of a relatively weak Israel). So he sent communications to the elders of Israel suggesting to them that as they had always really wanted David as king over them, now was the time to act to bring it about. For, he pointed out, as they all knew, that was what YHWH had promised. But we may ask, how did he know that that was how they felt? It possibly suggests that in the five years prior to his achieving Ish-bosheth’s coronation he had had to constantly argue against just such desires in order to maintain Ish-bosheth’s position. Now he was becoming a turncoat and treacherously urging them to take up the opposite position merely because he was offended at his treatment by Ish-bosheth.
Even more insidious was his method of doing this, for he piously called on the promises of YHWH concerning David as though his only concern was to please YHWH, when previously we know from his own confession that he had been deliberately acting against YHWH’s will in maintaining the rights of Ish-bosheth. He was a blatant religious hypocrite.
“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.” There is no reference elsewhere to this specific promise, but there is no doubt that the elders would see it as soundly based on what YHWH had declared or revealed in the past, for it had undoubtedly been made clear in the past that YHWH had raised David up to be the scourge of the Philistines (1 Samuel 16:13; 1 Samuel 17:46-47; 1Sa 17:54 ; 1 Samuel 18:6-7; 1 Samuel 18:27; 1Sa 18:30 ; 1 Samuel 19:8; 1 Samuel 23:5), and all would undoubtedly have seen his promises concerning David’s future kingship as indicating that he would be their God-given deliverer against both the Philistines and all their enemies (1 Samuel 16:1; 1 Samuel 16:13). That was why you had a king. Furthermore the expectations expressed in 1 Samuel 23:17; 1 Samuel 24:20 must surely themselves have mainly arisen as a result of prophetic pronouncements (possibly from Nathan or Gad), or at the very least as a result of expectations expressed among the people who saw it as something determined by YHWH. Thus the idea that YHWH had purposed that David be king over all Israel must have been very widespread.
2 Samuel 3:19
‘ And Abner also spoke in the ears of Benjamin, and Abner went also to speak in the ears of David in Hebron all that seemed good to Israel, and to the whole house of Benjamin.’
We might have seen the differentiation between Israel and Benjamin here as simply indicating Abner’s close associations with that tribe because it was the tribe of his and Saul’s family were it not for the fact that later, at the time of the division of the kingdoms, Benjamin will side with Judah (1 Kings 12:21; 2 Chronicles 11:12). This therefore suggest that the Benjaminites, who were renowned as fierce and skilled fighters, had a proud spirit of independence and, in a similar way to Judah, did not like just being lumped in with ‘all Israel’. It may well have arisen over what they saw as their unjust treatment by the tribes in Judges 20-21. Abner, who was well aware of this, therefore negotiated with them separately, and pointed out how all the other tribes felt. Then having established what he saw as a satisfactory position he sought out David in Hebron. As far as he was concerned he had successfully staged a treacherous coup against Ish-bosheth.
2 Samuel 3:20
‘ So Abner came to David to Hebron, and twenty men with him. And David made Abner and the men who were with him a feast.’
Whatever David thought privately about Abner’s behaviour he was wise enough to recognise that he was the only one who could really speak for Israel, and that without him Ish-bosheth’s position would be untenable. Thus he the more readily entered into negotiations with him. Unlike Abner he owed nothing to Ish-bosheth who was still in a state of ‘non-recognition’ towards him..
So on Abner arriving with twenty men, no doubt already having been given the promise of safe conduct, David welcomed them and made a feast for them. As both were aware, such hospitality was the guarantee of peaceful intent. To have eaten together if there had been any intentions of hostilities, would have been contrary to the recognised etiquette obtaining among powerful leaders, and would have been something which was treated very seriously and seen as disgraceful.
2 Samuel 3:21
‘ And Abner said to David, “I will arise and go, and will gather all Israel to my lord the king, that they may make a covenant with you, and that you may reign over all that your soul desires.” And David sent Abner away, and he went in peace.’
The result of their negotiations was that Abner promised that he would go and gather all Israel together (i.e. its elders) so that they could come to David with a view to making a covenant with him, a covenant which would include his appointment as king over them. We are not told what concessions were made to Abner but it seems very probable that he was in turn assured that he would be made commander of the joint forces, being second only to David, thus in effect fulfilling David’s compact with Jonathan (1 Samuel 23:17). This is not certain, however, for David’s present commander was ‘family’, and family was often the safest option as far as loyalty was concerned. On the other hand David was becoming a little disenamoured of Joab, and Abner would certainly have wanted something in return. (As usual the writer was not interested in the details of the treaty as such. He was interested in what it meant for David).
The promise that David could then reign over all that his soul desired may reflect Abner’s view of David rather than the correct one. We cannot doubt that David wanted to reign over all Israel, because that was what YHWH had promised him, and that he was even prepared to peacefully work to that end, but we never have any indication of his desire to force the issue, or of any great desire for it. He was content to receive whatever YHWH committed to him and await YHWH’s good time. That was what made him so spiritually outstanding. Not to understand this would be to reflect more on us than on him.
All being satisfactorily concluded, David then sent Abner away to fulfil his promises, and guaranteed him continual safe conduct (‘he went in peace’). The fact that this is emphasised three times (2 Samuel 3:21-23) indicates how important the breach of this safe conduct would be seen to be.
2 Samuel 3:22
‘ And, behold, the servants of David and Joab came from a foray, 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.
Meanwhile David’s nephew and general Joab (2 Samuel 2:12-14) had been away on a raiding expedition with David’s men, and they now arrived back bringing great booty. But it was too late for them to be able to meet up with Abner, for Abner was no longer there having been sent off by David with a guarantee of safe conduct.
2 Samuel 3:23
‘ When Joab and all the host who were with him were come, they told Joab, saying, “Abner the son of Ner came to the king, and he has sent him away, and he is gone in peace.” ’
On their arrival someone informed Joab of Abner’s visit and of the fact that he had been sent away with the guarantee of safe conduct. We do not know how much else they would tell him for they would probably not have been privy to the king’s negotiations, but we can be sure that Joab would have recognised that it must have been to do with Israel and Judah coming to terms, and he would no doubt also have had his spies in crucial places. But he was also a very suspicious man who saw others (especially generals) as being like himself, and thus to his mind any approach by Abner could only really have been in order to sound out Judah’s strength. After all, the last time that he had spoken to him had been when he was on the run after a hard fought battle. Why then should he think that his attitude had changed? Thinking in terms of how he would have thought himself he would have considered that Abner was seething with a desire for revenge.
2 Samuel 3:24-25
‘ Then Joab came to the king, and said, “What have you done? See, Abner came to you. Why is it that you have sent him away, and he is quite gone? You know Abner the son of Ner, that he came to deceive you, and to know your going out and your coming in, and to know all that you do.” ’
So seeing himself as a little craftier than his pious uncle David, he came to the king and asked him what he had done. Here he had had Abner in his power and he had sent him away with safe conduct, so that how he was out of reach. How foolish. Was he not aware that Abner’s real reason for coming had been to sound out his defences? Did he not realise that on his visit the experienced Abner would have picked up a lot of useful information about both their strong and weak points?
We must assume that David told him at least a little of the reason for Abner’s visit, but it is clear that the suspicious Joab was not convinced (or at least pretended not to be) as we can tell from his next step. If David was foolish enough to let the fish slip out of the net, Abner would discover that Joab was made of different mettle..
2 Samuel 3:26
‘ And when Joab was come out from David, he sent messengers after Abner, and they brought him back from the Cystern of Sirah, but David did not know it.’
So as soon as he had come out from his audience with David, he sent messengers after Abner calling on him to return. These messengers caught up with Abner and his men at the cystern of Sirah, which is probably the modern Ayin Sarah, one and a half miles (two and a half kilometres) from Hebron. Abner was clearly in no hurry and he and his men were no doubt taking advantage of the opportunity to replenish their water supplies. After all he had David’s promise of safe conduct, and whatever he thought privately about David, he was content that he was an honourable man. He had not reckoned on Joab acting on his own authority, for ‘David did not know it’.
That this was an act of great treachery cannot be doubted. Joab was well aware that Abner had been given safe conduct by David, and that such safe conduct was sacred. Only the most evil of kings would breach such a safe conduct. Furthermore he was taking advantage of his position as David’s general with the specific aim of doing so, for he knew perfectly well that Abner would see him as acting as David’s representative. It is actually very difficult to assess whose treachery was the greater, Abner’s towards Ish-bosheth or Joab’s towards David. Both were inexcusable, the one arising from vanity and ambition, the other arising from a desire for vengeance and ambition. It says much for David that the treacherous Abner never even smelled a whiff of treachery. Had he known the true circumstances how differently he would have acted.
Joab Treacherously Gains Blood Revenge For The Death of His Brother Asahel And At The Same Time Rids Himself Of A Dangerous Rival (2 Samuel 3:27-30 ).
We have to remember here that the desire and responsibility of relatives for blood revenge when a member of the family was killed was widespread throughout the Ancient Near East (it was the only policing system available). Indeed it was this responsibility and passionate desire to obtain revenge for the slaying of a relative that had caused God to set up Cities of Refuge where people who had slain another accidentally could take shelter in order to obtain a fair trial before the experienced Judges of the Cities of Refuge (Numbers 35:9-34). The manslayer (however innocently) who did not reach a City of Refuge in time could have no guarantee of his safety. We remember how Gideon slew his noted captives when he discovered that they had been responsible for the deaths of his brothers (Judges 8:18-21). And here Asahel had been deliberately slain by an identified person during a war between ‘brothers’. It is quite apparent from the story that Joab and Abishai, Asahel’s brothers, actually considered it their duty to kill Abner.
The specific detailed rules concerning blood vengeance are not clear and would indeed have been seen differently by different people, so that while Abner probably considered that he had been perfectly justified in slaying a man whose sole intent had been to kill him after a battle, Joab clearly did not see it in that way. Furthermore the fact that Joab escaped punishment for slaying Abner suggests that most agreed with him. Indeed Abner himself had recognised that that might be so (2 Samuel 2:22), but was probably confident that his safe conduct protected him, especially as Hebron was a City of Refuge. Joab, on the other hand, no doubt argued that his responsibility as the brother of the person who had been killed overrode any safe conduct, because while the safe conduct provided protection politically, it did not provide protection in a matter of personal, family vengeance. It will also be noted that he slew Abner while he was ‘in the midst of the gate’, that is, before he had entered the City of Refuge. It was no doubt because he had these reasons that he was able to escape direct punishment, however angry David was. No one living in that day could have denied the right of blood vengeance. It was too firmly rooted in society. That was why David put Joab’s punishment in YHWH’s hands.
a And when Abner was returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside into the midst of the gate to speak with him quietly, and smote him there in the body, so that he died, for the blood of Asahel his brother (2 Samuel 3:27).
b And afterward, when David heard it, he said, “I and my kingdom are guiltless before YHWH for ever of the blood of Abner the son of Ner, let it fall on the head of Joab, and on all his father’s house, and let there not fail from the house of Joab one who has an issue, or who is a leper, or who leans on a staff, or who falls by the sword, or who lacks bread” (2 Samuel 3:28-29).
a So Joab and Abishai his brother slew Abner, because he had killed their brother Asahel at Gibeon in the battle (2 Samuel 3:30).
Note that in ‘a’ Joab slew Abner in revenge for the blood of Asahel his brother, and in the parallel Joab and Abishai are described as having done it together because it was seen as a joint responsibility. In ‘b’ and centrally we have David’s declaration of his freedom from guilt in the eyes of YHWH and asks for the punishment to fall on Joab and his seed, demonstrating how angry he felt at what Joab had done..
2 Samuel 3:27
‘ And when Abner was returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside into the midst of the gate to speak with him quietly, and smote him there in the body, so that he died, for the blood of Asahel his brother.’
When Abner returned to Hebron, believing that David wished to have further consultation, he was met outside the city by Joab who drew him into the area within the gate purportedly so as to speak to him privately. It is clear that he had no thought that Joab intended him harm. As Joab was well aware it was not until he was through the gate that he could have claimed that he was protected by it being a City of Refuge. Thus he slew him ‘in the midst of the gate’. Note the emphasis on the fact that it was blood vengeance. It was ‘for the blood of Asahel his brother’. Abner had been a marked man from the moment that he had done it.
2 Samuel 3:28-29
‘ And afterward, when David heard it, he said, “I and my kingdom are guiltless before YHWH for ever of the blood of Abner the son of Ner, let it fall on the head of Joab, and on all his father’s house, and let there not fail from the house of Joab one who has an issue, or who is skin-diseased, or who leans on a stout staff, or who falls by the sword, or who lacks bread.” ’
But David was not at all pleased. While he no doubt recognised that Joab had had the right to blood revenge he clearly considered that he should have observed the safe conduct that he had given to Abner so as not to put him in a difficult position. He recognised that it could put him in a very bad light with the elders of Israel. So he openly declared his own freedom, and the freedom of his kingship, from guilt in the eyes of YHWH ‘for ever’, and called for YHWH’s judgment on Joab and his house.
It is this curse that definitely confirms David’s innocence and genuine anger, and reveals how bitter he felt at Joab’s betrayal. It was a curse on his own relations. ‘One who had an issue’ would be permanently unclean (see Leviticus 15:2). It refers to a urinary disease. To be skin-diseased was also to be permanently unclean. In David’s eyes nothing could have been worse. It prevented close contact with the worship of YHWH. One who leaned on a stout staff was permanently lame, which again prevented their entry into the main court of the Tabernacle ‘before YHWH’. To be slain by the sword would be direct revenge for what had happened to Abner, and was a common enough fate in those days. To lack bread would indicate total poverty, in itself often seen as a judgment of YHWH.
2 Samuel 3:30
‘ So Joab and Abishai his brother slew Abner, because he had killed their brother Asahel at Gibeon in the battle.’
The writer then summarises the position and the reason for Abner’s death (which clears David of any responsibility for it). The mention of Abishai probably indicates that he had been aware of Joab’s plan and had agreed with it. How far they were justified is open to question. Both would probably have felt that a skilled warrior like Abner could have disarmed Asahel or just wounded him. And as it had been during a civil war it could reasonably be argued that it was simply murder during an illegal war which Abner had commenced. Besides, as we have already seen, slaying someone during warfare seemingly did not remove bloodguilt (Judges 8:18-21). So technically Joab would have been seen as in the right by many if not all of the people. This explains why he was allowed to ‘get away with it’. It was in fact a basic and ancient right that none could deny, and it was one that even David dared not question, even though his own view on the matter was slightly different (1 Kings 3:5). The fact is that it was too strongly embedded in the thinking of the day. Indeed his reaction against it was courageous, given the current thinking, and demonstrated his disapproval of what Joab had done, whether because he felt that Joab had been disloyal to him, or because he felt that Joab had had other motives, such as getting rid of his rival for the position of commander-in-chief. But to see David as lax in his treatment of Joab is to apply the ideas of our own day to his day which is not justifiable. He could not deny him the right to blood vengeance which all saw as self-evident.
David Laments The Death of Abner And Demonstrates His Innocence In The Matter (2 Samuel 3:31-39 ).
In this final passage in the chapter David makes clear his grief over the death of Abner, thus establishing his innocence, and emphasises what a great man he had been. He also writes a lament so as the better to express his feelings. He then finishes by making it quite clear that he does not approve of his commander-in chiefs political tactics and attitude.
a And David said to Joab, and to all the people who were with him, “Rend your clothes, and gird yourselves with sackcloth, and mourn before Abner” (2 Samuel 3:31 a)
b And king David followed the bier (2 Samuel 3:31 b).
c And they buried Abner in Hebron, and the king lifted up his voice, and wept at the grave of Abner (2 Samuel 3:32 a).
d And all the people wept (2 Samuel 3:32 b).
e And the king lamented for Abner, and said,
“Should Abner die as a fool dies?
Your hands were not bound,
Nor your feet put into fetters.
As a man falls before the children of iniquity,
So did you fall” (2 Samuel 3:33-34 a).
d And all the people wept again over him (2 Samuel 3:34 b).
c And all the people came to cause David to eat bread while it was yet day, but David swore, saying, “God do so to me, and more also, if I taste bread, or anything else, until the sun is down.” And all the people took notice of it, and it pleased them, as whatever the king did pleased all the people (2 Samuel 3:35-36).
b So all the people and all Israel understood that day that it was not of the king to slay Abner the son of Ner (2 Samuel 3:37).
a And the king said to his servants, “Do you not know that there is a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel? And I am this day weak, though anointed king, and these men the sons of Zeruiah are too hard for me. YHWH reward the evildoer according to his wickedness” (2 Samuel 3:38-39).
Note that in ‘a’ David calls on Joab to weep for Abner, and declares his own innocence, while in the parallel he declares that Joab is too hard for him which is why as a king he is made weak. In ‘b’ David followed the bier, and in the parallel the people recognised that the death of Abner was not the result of David’s decision. In ‘c’ the king wept at the grave of Abner, and in the parallel he fasted and refused to eat food until the day was done. In ‘d’ all the people wept, and in the parallel they all wept over Abner again. Centrally in ‘e’ we have David’s lament for Abner.
2 Samuel 3:31
‘ And David said to Joab, and to all the people who were with him, “Rend your clothes, and gird yourselves with sackcloth, and mourn before Abner.” And King David followed the bier.
David now called on Joab and all the people who were with him to ritually tear their clothes, put on sackcloth and act as mourners before Abner’s coffin. They were to show outward respect and grief at the great man’s death and so indicate that the death had not been official policy.
This mourning was not excluded for Joab because David was ensuring by it that it was being officially recognised before all the world (whatever might have been true in Joab’s private thoughts), that Joab had slain Abner, not out of malice, but out of loyalty to his own family and its honour. Joab had simply done what most of them would have seen themselves as called upon to do (In that sense it had been true that ‘Abner died as a fool dies’. He knew the custom). For in those days it was seen as incumbent on someone to avenge the violent death of a close relative by slaying the one who had done it. A careful reading of Numbers 35:0 brings out that even an ‘unintentional’ manslayer was seen as having, according to the custom of the time, to be sought out and put to death in order to maintain the family honour, without any blame being attached to the ‘avenger of blood’. The City of Refuge was thus provided in order to prevent this from happening to an innocent manslayer. So if such a one was caught outside a City of Refuge (as Abner had allowed himself to be, even if only by the width of a gate) he would have only himself to blame. It was a method of controlling cold-blooded murder, by ensuring that the guilty party would know that he would be brought to justice in a time when there were no police to investigate such matters. Indeed if on examination at the City of Refuge the killing was found to have been murder in cold blood, then the City of Refuge provided no sanctuary. The killer would be expelled and thus become vulnerable to the Avengers of blood.
It is, however, important to recognise that this ‘avenging of blood’ was not a requirement of God’s Law. What God’s Law did was provide a way by which innocent manslayers could avoid being put to death by the relatives of the dead man without their case even being heard.
“And King David followed the bier.” While the majority of the mourners would go ahead of the coffin, David, even though he was the king, followed humbly behind as a mark of respect to the dead man. This is the first reference to ‘King David’ as such.
2 Samuel 3:32
‘ And they buried Abner in Hebron, and the king lifted up his voice, and wept at the grave of Abner; and all the people wept.’
Abner was thus buried in Hebron, and the king then wept loudly over his grave. Loud weeping was seen as an essential mark of respect at a funeral, and often professionals would be paid to do it. But here professionals were not needed. ‘All the people wept.’ It was a clear indication that the death had not been officially condoned and was lamented by all.
2 Samuel 3:33-34 a
‘And the king lamented for Abner, and said,
“Should Abner die as a fool dies?
Your hands were not bound,
Nor your feet put into fetters.
As a man falls before the children of iniquity,
So did you fall.”
David then composed and rendered a lamentation over Abner. It was a further indication of his innocence with regard to what had happened. The reference to Abner ‘dying as a fool dies’ may well have had in mind that he should have been more wary of Joab. The suggestion is that he died because he was not alert and ready to defend himself when he should have been. His very greatness may well have made him careless when, knowing Joab, he should have known that Joab would not rest until he was dead. Certainly it indicates that he should have been more aware and not so trusting. The remainder of the lamentation then indicates that he was caught napping. He had not been bound or fettered so that he could not defend himself. Then he might have been excused. Rather he had fallen prey to evil men whom he had unwisely trusted, even when he had had his sword at his side. The suggestion is that he had too easily discounted Joab. David does not specifically call Joab and Abishai ‘workers of iniquity, but he gets very close to it and by it indicates his disapproval of what they had done.
2 Samuel 3:34 b
‘And all the people wept again over him.’
Then it is stressed that all the people continued to weep over Abner. The mourning was loud and prolonged. Abner was being given a royal send off.
2 Samuel 3:35
‘ And all the people came to cause David to eat bread while it was yet day; but David swore, saying, “God do so to me, and more also, if I taste bread, or anything else, until the sun is down.” ’
Once the funeral was over the people became concerned for David because he had not eaten all day. But when they tried to persuade him to eat he refused, and swore that he would eat nothing until after sundown. It was out of respect for Abner. He was determined that all should see the genuineness of his mourning.
2 Samuel 3:36
‘ And all the people took notice of it, and it pleased them, as whatever the king did pleased all the people.’
As he had hoped ‘all the people’ noted his actions and were pleased because it indicated the integrity of the king and his innocence of all charges of treachery. He had after all little to gain by it. The writer then indicates that indeed all that David did pleased the people. They recognised him as an honourable man and worthy of being a king in Israel.
2 Samuel 3:37
‘ So all the people and all Israel understood that day that it was not of the king to slay Abner the son of Ner.’
For that day all recognised, including the whole people of Israel, that it had not been the intention of David that Abner be slain. Indeed, the truth is that he had nothing at all to gain by it. But what is clear is to us is that by Abner’s death David was saved by YHWH from being part of a coup that might well have caused great bitterness among many in Israel, and was especially saved from the charge that he had displaced the true heir of Saul.
2 Samuel 3:38-39
‘ And the king said to his servants, “Do you not know that there is a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel? And I am this day weak, though anointed king, and these men the sons of Zeruiah are too hard for me. YHWH reward the evildoer according to his wickedness.” ’
David then made clear his real feelings about the actions of Joab and Abishai. He emphasised what a great and princely man Abner had been, and how great therefore the evil had been in slaying him. He felt that in a sense it had even weakened him as king, because thereby he had lost a valuable and capable ally and an astute general. Furthermore it accentuated the fact that a king in Israel could not just do whatever he wanted. However he felt about things he had to obey the Laws and customs, even though he was the anointed king, and that even though sometimes they could be made use of by harsh men in order to achieve their ambitions within the Law. He was restricted to carrying out what was seen by all as just. And that meant that he could do nothing against Joab and Abishai because they had strictly adhered to the customs of the people even if they had ignored what they knew to be his desire.
The suggestion that Joab and Abishai, his sister’s sons, were ‘too hard’ for him indicated his disapproval of their merciless attitude. In his view they had failed to recognise that sometimes justice must be tempered by mercy. Nevertheless what he also wanted them to recognise was that YHWH, Who knows the hearts of all men, would judge men in terms of the hardness or otherwise of their hearts. There would be no such weakness in Him. Thus he prayed that YHWH would ‘reward the evildoer according to his wickedness’. He committed them to the judgment of YHWH. There is a warning to us all in this that in demanding our rights at all costs we too may well often simply be revealing our own wickedness and the unpleasant truth about ourselves.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 3". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34