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Bible Commentaries
2 Samuel 2

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verses 1-7


2 Samuel 2:1. “Hebron.” “A city of Judah, situated among the mountains (Joshua 20:7), twenty Roman miles south of Jerusalem, and the same distance north of Beersheba. Hebron is one of the most ancient cities of the world still existing, and in this respect it was the rival of Damascus.… It was a well-known city when Abraham entered Canaan 3,780 years ago (Genesis 13:18).… Sarah died here, and here is the famous Cave of Machpelah, the burying-place of the patriarchs.… At the division of Canaan it was given to Caleb (Joshua 10:36), and was assigned to the Levites and made a city of refuge … Its modern name is el-Khulil, i.e., the friend, the same designation as is given to Abraham by the Mohammedans.… It now contains about 5,000 inhabitants, of whom some fifty families are Jews. It is picturesquely situated in a narrow valley surrounded by hills, whose sides are still clothed with luxurious vineyards.” (Smith’s Bible Dictionary.) “This city must now have had for David a very special importance, which appeared all the clearer from the Divine decision, and in respect to his future life became indubitable; here now was to be fulfilled the old patriarchal promise (Genesis 49:8. s.q.) the establishment of the theocratic kingdom in the tribe of Judah.” (Erdmann.)

2 Samuel 2:3. “Cities of Hebron.” “The places belonging to the territory of Hebron.”

2 Samuel 2:4. “And the men of Judah came,” etc. AS the throne was now vacant by Saul’s death—the crown never entailed upon his descendants, and his whole family rejected by God, who first advanced him to the kingdom—David, without injuring the rights of any person whatsoever, might have taken any just and honourable measures to have gained over the tribes to his interest and secured the succession, as the election of a new king now devolved upon the nation, even if he had not previously been designed by God the supreme governor of Israel … But as this circumstance of the consecration was known throughout the whole nation, it was natural for the tribe of Judah to seize the opportunity of Saul’s death, and acknowledge him whom God had pointed out as their king.… It is also probable that they were further induced because of the ancient prophecy (Genesis 49:10).… This tribe was also the most powerful and respectable of all the twelve, and as they had a right to choose their own prince they might reasonably have expected that the other tribes would follow their example. (Chandler.)

2 Samuel 2:6. “Kindness,” or favour, “in general the gracious love that God shows His people on the ground of His covenant with them. Truth is the trustworthiness and attestation of all His promises.” (Erdmann.) As this expression of thanks involved the solemn recognition of the departed king—by which David divested himself of even the appearance of a rebellion—the announcement of the anointing he had received contained an indirect summons to the Jabeshites to recognise him as their king now.” (Keil.) “I also will,” etc. It is incorrect to render this in the future. It may be rendered “I greet you with blessing,” viz., the prayer already uttered.

2 Samuel 2:7. “Be ye valiant.” Literally, be ye sons of force or strength. “The opposite are ‘men of Belial,’ that is, of no force of character.” (Biblical Commentary.) “His exhortation to valour and courage is intelligible only on the supposition that he gives them to understand that for them also he has taken Saul’s place as king, and that they must valiantly espouse his cause against his enemies.… It is not clear whether Ishbosheth had at this time been set up as king by Abner. But from 2 Samuel 2:9 (which states that Gilead was one of the districts gained by Abner for Ishbosheth) it is evident that David, seeing Abner’s movement thither (comp. 1 Samuel 26:7), must have been concerned to secure to himself the capital city (Jabesh) of this province. Whether he succeeded in this is questionable.” (Erdmann.)



In David’s conduct here we have:—

I. A recognition that God knows the best time to fulfil His promises. Many promises are given both by human fathers and by the Divine Father to their children without any specification of the time when they will be fulfilled, and this for a good reason. For such a reservation on the part of the human parents or of God serves to test faith in a superior wisdom, and to work submission to a higher will, and so to foster and increase a truly filial spirit. And so the child or the man is by the uncertainty being fitted and prepared to receive the promised blessing in a right spirit—a spirit of grateful dependence which brings him nearer to the giver. David had long before been promised the throne of Israel—the anointing of Samuel had been such a promise, and both Saul and Jonathan had declared that such was the intention of God. At times he had seemed to doubt it, and but lately his want of faith had led him into sin, but he had doubtless upon the whole regarded it as certain that the time would come when he should be king. And now that time seemed to have arrived, but the discipline of the past had borne the fruit for which it was given, and David’s confidence in God, and dependence upon Him, were not now marred by any intrusion of his own desires or opinions. By this inquiry of the Lord, he said most emphatically, “My times are in thy hand” (Psalms 31:15), and recognised by his conduct that it was not for him to judge when God should fulfil His word. We cannot do justice to the completeness of David’s self-surrender at this time, unless we contemplate the irksomeness of his present position, the strength of the desire he must have had to return to his own country, and the opportunity which Saul’s death seemed to open up to him. Most men would have been unable to control their impatience, and would have counted every delay—even such a delay as this of David—as so much gain to the opposite party, but David had learned that time spent in waiting upon God is only such a delay as that which the traveller in the desert makes when he stands still to take his bearings by the stars—a delay which is the truest way to speed him on his journey.

II. That when that time has come, the fulfilment will only be accomplished by man’s active and obedient co-operation. Although the time and the method of working are to be left to God, all the working is not to be left to Him. Faith in God makes a man willing to wait when it is God’s will, but it makes him equally willing to be up and doing when the time for action has come. When God gave Canaan to the Israelites at first, although it was in fulfilment of a promise made long before, yet they were obliged to go up and fight for the land before they could possess it, and to fight according to the directions given them by God. David here shows that he does not expect God to fulfil His word to him except by means of his own active and unconditional obedience. Although the sovereignty of Israel was secure to him, he knew that he must use means to secure it, and that the means must be those which God appointed and no other. By his questions he doubly binds himself to do whatever God commands and to go wherever He directs; for if when we know the will of God we are bound to do it, we are surely under a double obligation when we ask for guidance.


2 Samuel 2:1. The form in which he made the inquiry shows how clear the expediency of going up to one of the cities of Judah was to his own mind; probably it was also the earnest advice of his followers; there seemed no doubt or difficulty as to its being the proper course; but all the more on that account does his devout and pious spirit shine out, in his asking direction from God. Prayer, on this occasion, was not the resort of one whom all other refuge failed, but the first resort of one by whom the guidance of God was regarded as all-important.—Blaikie.

The time now came when David’s faith in the existence of a righteous kingdom, which had its ground in the unseen world, and which might exhibit itself really, though not perfectly in this, was to be brought to the severest of all trials.… The new mode of government for which the people craved so earnestly had been tried—they had become like the countries round about—these countries were now their masters. They had gained such a king as they had imagined—a leader of their hosts. They had lost law, discipline, and fellowship; now their hosts had perished. Could there come order out of this chaos? Whence was it to come? From a band of freebooters? That was to be seen. If the chief of this band thought of setting up a dominion for himself, of making his followers possessors of the lands from which they had been driven out, of putting down his private enemies, of rising, by the arms of his soldiers and the choice of a faction, to be a tyrant, his life would be merely a vulgar tale such as age after age has to record.… But if David took this miserable country of his fathers into his hands, not as a prize which he had won but as a heavy and awful trust committed to him.… then, however hopeless the materials with which he had to work, and which he had to mould, he might believe confidently that he should be in his own day the restorer of Israel, and the witness and prophet of the complete restoration of it and mankind. This was the man after God’s own heart—the man who thoroughly believed in God as a living and righteous Being; who in all changes clung to that conviction; who could act upon it, live upon it; who could give himself up to be used as he pleased … who could walk on in darkness secure of nothing but this, that truth must prevail at last, and that he was sent into the world to live and die that it might prevail.—Maurice.

God sends him to Hebron, a city of Judah; neither will David go up thither alone, but he takes with him all his men, with their whole households: they shall take such part as himself; as they had shared with him in his misery, so they shall now in his prosperity: neither doth he take advantage of their late mutiny, which was yet fresh and green, to cashier those unthankful and ungracious followers; but, pardoning their secret rebellions, he makes them partakers of his good success. Thus doth our heavenly leader, whom David prefigured, take us to reign with Him, who have suffered with Him. Passing by our manifold infirmities, as if they had not been, He removeth us from the land of our banishment, and the ashes of our forlorn Ziklag, to the Hebron of our peace and glory: the expectation of this day must, as it did with David’s soldiers, digest all our sorrows.—Bp. Hall.

We can see that Hebron is a fit place. The city of Abraham, Caleb, and the Levites—a city of refuge—the principal town in David’s tribe, and somewhat remote from Saul’s tribe—and David had taken pains to conciliate its inhabitants (1 Samuel 30:31). Divine directions are seen to coincide with true human wisdom wherever we sufficiently understand the facts.—Transr. of Lange’s Commentary.

In that orderly he begins at God, we see that it is not sufficient to have good causes public or private, but in like manner it is requisite to prosecute them aright, otherwise a good cause in the matter may become evil in the preposterous (inverted in order) form, albeit the reciprocant be never true, that a good form may make an evil cause good in substance.—Guild.

Psalms 27:0 is traditionally referred to this part of David’s life. (The 70 gives as the title, “Before the anointing,”) and the courageous and hopeful spirit which it breathes, the confident expectation that a better day was at hand, whilst it lends itself to the manifold applications of our own later days, well serves as an introduction to the new crisis in the history of David and the Jewish Church which is now at hand.—Stanley.

In that Judah apart from all Israel anointed David their king, being warranted herein by the promises of God concerning the pre-eminence of that tribe, and by the manifest declaration of God’s will concerning David, therefore having and following the warrant of God’s will and word herein, they are not the division or schism makers, but Israel wanting the same though the greater multitude by far. It is not they, then, who separate themselves from the company or persons of men, but who separate themselves from the truth, and God’s word (which is the touchstone thereof) that are schismatical or rent-makers in the Church, and all those who follow the direction of it (as Judah doth here) assuredly shall go aright, where such as contemn the same, and with Israel glory in multitude, shall go astray.—Guild.

2 Samuel 2:5-7. People were persuaded by it that this man, uninfluenced by the low spirit of revenge and malice, knew how to forgive and to forget, and that all the wrongs and injuries which he had experienced had not the power to obscure to him the dignity and sacredness of his predecessor, as the anointed of the Lord. Moreover, by that conduct of David, the decided impression was produced among the people that they might expect from him a humane government, whilst he would also honour the lowliest and most insignificant praiseworthy actions which might be anywhere done in the land, with a thankful recognition of their worth.—Krummacher.

Grace and truth (2 Samuel 2:6) are the fundamental attributes of God which set forth His relation to the people of Israel as the covenant people. Grace is the special exhibition of His love by which He

(1) chooses the people,
(2) establishes the covenant with them, and
(3) in this covenant relation imparts favour and salvation. Truth is God’s love unchanging and continuing over against the people’s sin—love that

(1) does not suffer the choice of free-grace to fail,
(2) maintains the covenant, and

(3) fulfils uncurtailed the promises that correspond to the covenant relation. Compare Exodus 32:6; Psalms 25:10.—Lange’s Commentary.

Every human work well-pleasing to God, wrought out of genuine love and truth, is a reflection of God’s love and truth, of which the heart has had experience, an offering brought to the Lord, the impulsion of which has come from this inwardly experienced love and truth, an object of God’s love and truth which repays with blessing and salvation, and of men’s honouring recognition in respect to its ethical value.—Lange’s Commentary.

Verses 8-32


2 Samuel 2:8. “Took Ishbosheth.” Rather had taken. “Ishbosheth had probably been in the battle of Gilboa, and fled with Abner across the Jordan after the battle had been lost.” (Keil.) “Mahanaim,” On the eastern side of the Jordan, north of the brook Jabbok (Genesis 32:2-3). Ishbosheth or “Esh-baal” (see 1 Chronicles 8:33). Literally son of Baal. “It seems probable that the name Baal (lord) was in early times given to the God of Israel, and proper names were formed from it afterwards. When the worship of the false Baal was introduced into Israel the change into Bosheth, or shame, was made. Possibly this change was made by later editors and scribes, and the original form was retained in the Book of Chronicles because this book was less read than the prophetic historical books.” (Transr. of Lange’s Commentary.)

2 Samuel 2:9. “Over,” rather for, etc. The use of this preposition seems to indicate that the title was assumed before the places named really became subject to Ishbosheth. “Gilead,” the whole of trans-Jordanic Israelitish territory. “Ashurites.” This name cannot be identified, and commentators vary greatly in the opinions concerning the people here referred to. “Jezreel.” The plain as well as the city, so-called, which had just been occupied by the Philistines, and therefore must have needed to be re-conquered by Abner. “All Israel,” i.e., all the rest excepting Judah.

2 Samuel 2:10. “Two years.” It is not quite clear how these words are to be understood, inasmuch as it seems certain that Ishbosheth was proclaimed king immediately after Saul’s death, and we know that he reigned until the time (seven and a half years later) when David became king over all Israel. He reigned two years, may be understood to mean that five years and a half were occupied in re-conquering the territory from the Philistines, so that Ishbosheth was only a nominal king during that period. Or the last clause of 2 Samuel 2:10 and 2 Samuel 2:11 may be regarded as a parenthesis, and the two years taken as referring to the time which elapsed before the event recorded in the following paragraph. Each of these interpretations has been adopted by eminent Biblical scholars, but the latter seems most in keeping with the movement of Abner which is now recorded.

2 Samuel 2:12. To “Gibeon.” Now “El-Jib” in the western part of Benjamin, about six miles north of Jerusalem. He came here, doubtless, with the view of subduing Judah also to the rule of Ishbosheth, and it is remarked by Erdmann that he would not have taken this step if he had not already subdued the Philistines.

2 Samuel 2:13. “Joab, the son of Zeruiah.” This man here for the first time comes forward in the history of David. “He had no doubt already, as his brother Abishai, had a military training with his uncle, and had taken a prominent position among his warriors, else he would not now appear as the chief leader of David’s forces. In the roll of heroes, in 2 Samuel 23:8, his name is not given, probably because his name already stood above them all as general, as we may conjecture from 2 Samuel 23:18; 2 Samuel 23:24.” (Erdmann.). Zeruiah was David’s sister, and is most likely named, instead of her husband, to show Joab’s relation to David. “The pool of Gibeon.” A spring still “issues in a cave excavated in the limestone rock, so as to form a large reservoir. In the trees farther down are the remains of a pool or tank of considerable size, probably, says Dr. Robinson, 120 feet by 100.” (Biblical Dictionary.). This is the “great water” mentioned by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 41:12).

2 Samuel 2:14. “Play.” Here used to denote the war-play of single combat. (Keil.)

2 Samuel 2:15. “Went over.” They probably met at some intermediate place. (Transr. of Lange’s Commentary.)

2 Samuel 2:16. “Helkath-hazzurim,” i.e., The field of knives, or sharp edges. Everyone must recall to mind the similar combat of the Horatii and the Curatii of Roman history (Livy i. 25). “These single combats still occur among the Arabs.” (Trans. of Lange’s Commentary.)

2 Samuel 2:17. “A sore battle.” Consequent upon the undecisive nature of the single combat.

2 Samuel 2:21. “And Abner said,” etc. Abner’s speaking supposes that Asahel had already overtaken him. “Take his armour,” i.e., after slaying him.

2 Samuel 2:22. “How, then, should I,” etc. “Abner did not want to put the young hero to death, out of regard for Joab and their former friendship.” (Keil.)

2 Samuel 2:23. “The hinder end of the spear.” He used the hinder end from his desire to spare Asahel’s life. But owing to his great strength and prowess, the wooden end which was more or less pointed to enable the owner to stick it into the ground (1 Samuel 27:7), ran into his body.” (Biblical Commentary.)

2 Samuel 2:24. “Ammah.” … “Giah.” Nothing further is known about these places.

2 Samuel 2:27. “If thou,” etc. “If thou hadst not by that challenge given the signal for the battle, then early in the morning one side would have retreated before the other, and the battle would not have occurred.… In Joab’s address and bearing it may be seen that he would not have made the attack, but that his march against Abner was simply to protect the territory of Judah.” (Erdmann.) Keil, Lightfoot, Patrick, Wordsworth, and others agree with Erdmann’s interpretation, but others understand Joab to say, “Even if thou hadst not spoken, the pursuit would have ceased to-morrow morning.”

2 Samuel 2:29. “The plain,” or the “Arabah,” the deep gorge of the Jordan. “Having marched first from the battle-field directly east towards Jericho.” (Erdmann.) “All Bithron,” rather “All the Bithron.” As the word signifies a cutting, it was probably a name given to some ravine between Jordan and Mahanaim.

2 Samuel 2:31. “Three hundred and threescore.” “This striking disproportion in the numbers may be accounted for from the fact that in Joab’s army there were none but brave and well-tried men, who had gathered round David a long time before; whereas in Abner’s army there were only the remnants of those who had been beaten upon Gilboa, and who had been still further weakened and depressed by their attempts to recover the land which was occupied by the Philistines.” (Keil.)

2 Samuel 2:32. “They burled him.” Bethlehem lay only a little to the left of the road between Gibeon and Hebron, and about fifteen miles from the latter place.



I. Self-will is a sin that dies hard. We should have thought before experience that the humiliating disaster at Gilboa would have been sufficient to bring Abner and the men of Israel into grateful submission to God’s will concerning the person who was to be their ruler. Having but barely escaped with their own lives, and having to mourn the best and bravest of their kindred, it might have been expected they would gladly welcome one under whose rule they might look for God’s protection and their own consequent security and comfort. But their own way was yet so much dearer to them than God’s way that to have it they were willing to enter upon all the miseries of a civil war. Abner, as he himself afterwards confesses (2 Samuel 3:9), knew that the Lord had sworn unto David to translate the kingdom from the house of Saul, yet he is here found the most prominent person concerned in the elevation of Ishbosheth to the kingship. If his followers could plead ignorance of the Divine will in the matter, their leader could not, and his act must be regarded as a declaration that, whatever God had said, he would do as he pleased. He was not, however, we may well believe, so honest a man as to permit himself thus to interpret his own conduct, but probably sheltered himself behind some plea of necessity or policy. The sin of Abner and his followers is the sin of all men who, when the will of God is plainly revealed either by His word or providence, set up their own in opposition to it—who, when the finger-post of duty points in one direction, choose another because they are so deluded as to fancy there is something to be gained by it.

II. The sin of one often affects the destiny of many. All the bloodshed by the pool of Gibeon on this day must be laid to the account of one man. Joab spoke truly when he said (2 Samuel 2:27) that Abner’s word was the spark that lighted the fire of battle which afterwards raged so fiercely, and with such special fatality among his own men. Although each man had to some extent the power of individual choice when he followed his general into the field, yet position and ability give some so great an influence over others that the few who possess them have the many in a large measure in their hands, and are the makers of their weal or woe, so far at least as this life is concerned. If such a man as Abner had not put forth a rival to David, we may conclude with certainty that there would have been no organised opposition to him, and this murderous affray and the civil strife of the following years would have been avoided. The same may be said of most of the wars that have cursed the world. They have almost all been to gratify the ambition of one or two, and thousands have been the sufferers. This dependence of the many upon the few is one of the facts of human life, and often one of its mysteries. If not an ordination of God, it is certainly a Divine permission; and unless society were all upon a dead level it is hard to see how it could be otherwise. And although this incident shows its dark side, we know it has a bright one—a side which will efface the darkness when all leaders and rulers of men have learnt of Him who rules to save and to redeem souls from deceit and violence, and in whose sight the blood of His followers is precious. (Psalms 72:13-14.)


Even the Amalekite could carry the crown to him as the true owner: yet there wants not an Abner to resist him, and the title of an Ishbosheth to colour his resistance. If any of Saul’s house could have made challenge to the crown, it should have been Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan, who, it seems, had too much of his father’s blood to be a competitor with David: the question is, not who may claim the most right, but who may best serve the faction: neither was Ishbosheth any other than Abner’s stale.—Bp. Hall.

2 Samuel 2:10. When David came into possession of his kingdom, even yet he remained quiet awhile, without considering how he might increase it, because he cast all this care upon Divine Providence. He thus shames the behaviour of those spiritual men, who, when they recognise that God wishes to do something through them, are constantly making attempts and all sorts of beginnings to see whether they may, perhaps, achieve the work, and are never willing in patience and self-forgetfulness to wait on God, until God Himself performs His will. The hour must come itself, and so it must simply be waited for.—Berlenberger Bible.

2 Samuel 2:13. A righteous war is a royal duty, from which no prince can venture to withdraw, even if it were fraternal war. It may have come hard to David to take up war against his brothers, and yet he could not do otherwise. God the Lord had Himself given the arms into his hand.—Schlier.

2 Samuel 2:23. See here

(1). How often death comes upon us by ways that we least suspect. Who would fear the hand of a flying enemy, or the buttend of a spear?
(2). How we are often betrayed by the accomplishments we are proud of. Asahel’s swiftness, which he presumed so much upon, did him no kindness, but forwarded his fate.—Henry.

2 Samuel 2:18-23. (A Sunday-school address.) The rash young prince.

1. He had a shining gift (2 Samuel 2:18). In ancient warfare more were often slain in the pursuit than in the battle; and so swiftness of foot was important in a warrior.

2. He was ambitious—pursuing the distinguished general of the enemy.
3. He had decision and perseverance—turning not to the right or left, and yielding to no persuasion.
4. He fancied himself superior to an old man—a common and natural, but grave fault in the young.
5. He was slain as the penalty of self-confidence and rashness—besetting sins of many gifted youths.—Translator of Lange’s Commentary.

2 Samuel 2:26. This may have been a mere stroke of policy, or it may have been the promptings of conscience bringing home the guilt of the slaughter to himself. What he probably meant was, that matters might remain as they were, Ishbosheth reigning over the ten tribes, and David over Judah.… He who had been so keen for war in the morning, was still more keen for peace in the evening, for it is not easy for a man with even a shred of conscience to think of nearly four hundred of his own brethren lying dead on the field of battle, and to remember that the responsibility of the terrific slaughter lies at his own door.—Blaikie.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 2". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/2-samuel-2.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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