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Bible Commentaries
2 Samuel 3

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verses 1-21


2 Samuel 3:1. “The war.” “Not continual fighting, but the state of hostility in which they continued to stand towards one another.” (Keil.)

2 Samuel 3:3. “Chiliab.” Called Daniel in 1 Chronicles 3:1. “Probably had two names.” (Keil.) “Geshur.” A small independent kingdom in Syria.

2 Samuel 3:4. Nothing is known of the origin of these wives of David, nor of the one mentioned in the following verse.

2 Samuel 3:5. “David’s wife.” This appendage to Eglah has led some to conjecture that Michal is here intended; but Keil and others think it merely serves as a fitting conclusion to the list.

2 Samuel 3:6. “That Abner,” etc. Keil here reads and Abner, making 2 Samuel 3:6-7 into one sentence, expanded by the introduction of circumstantial clauses; the conjunction before said (i.e. Ishbosheth said), must then be translated that. “Wherefore hast thou.” As the harem of an Oriental king becomes the property of his successor, such an act on the part of Abner Would be an act of political treason.

2 Samuel 3:8. “Then was Abner very wroth,” etc. He neither admits nor denies the charge, and most expositors regard him as guilty of the act; but as Erdmann remarks, it “seems rather the outflow of passionate self-will and presumptuous contempt towards Ishbosheth” than an attempt to secure the throne. His subsequent conduct towards David seems to contradict the idea that he had such an intention.

2 Samuel 3:9. “As the Lord hath sworn.” We have no record of any formal Divine oath such as Abner here speaks of. “But the promise of God is equivalent to an oath, as God is the true God, who can neither lie nor deceive” (1 Samuel 15:29, etc.).

2 Samuel 3:10. “From Dan even to Beersheba,” i.e., throughout the entire land, from north to south. (Judges 20:1, etc.)

2 Samuel 3:11. “And he could not answer,” etc. “This characterises Ishboseth sufficiently for the whole situation. Having with an effort plucked up courage to ask that reproachful question, he here shows the greatest feebleness, cowardice, and timidity towards Abner. This also contributes to the explanation of what is said in 2 Samuel 3:1 concerning the house of Saul.” (Erdmann.)

2 Samuel 3:12. “On his behalf.” Two general renderings of this phrase are found in the ancient versions, viz., in his place, equivalent to the English version, and “immediately” or “on the spot.” Keil adopts the first, but Erdmann the latter, remarking that it accords well with. Abner’s passionate excitement in 2 Samuel 3:9, and that the former translation makes a superfluous phrase. “Whose is the land?” Some expositors (Schmidt, Keil, Ewald, etc.) understand Abner to declare by this question that the land belonged to David by virtue of his anointing; but others (Erdmann, Thenius, etc.) think that the following words indicate that Abner considered the land was virtually in his hand. “This,” says Erdmann, “is quite in keeping with his proud, haughty nature, as hitherto manifested in his words and conduct, and also with the facts of the case, since, in fact, the whole land, except Judah, was still subject to Saul’s house, that is, to him (Abner) as dictator.”

2 Samuel 3:13. “One thing I require.” “This condition was imposed by David, not only because Michal had been unjustly taken away by Saul, … so that he could demand her back again with perfect justice, … but probably on political grounds also, namely, because the renewal of his marriage to the king’s daughter would show to all Israel that he cherished no hatred in his heart towards the fallen king.” (Keil.) “He was led to a re-union partly by love (‘she loved him,’ 1 Samuel 18:27; 1 Samuel 19:11 sq.), and … as king he could not, in the presence of the people, leave Michal in a relation into which she had been forced against her will.” (Erdmann.)

2 Samuel 3:15. “Phaltiel.” (See 1 Samuel 25:44.)

2 Samuel 3:16. “Bahurim.” A village near Jerusalem, north east, on the road between the Mount of Olives and Gilgal. Phaltiel followed his wife to the border of David’s kingdom.

2 Samuel 3:17. “Ye sought for David in times past.” “A striking testimony to the fact that outside of Judah also there had been a favourable sentiment towards David, against which Abner had energetically established and hitherto maintained Ishbosheth’s authority.” (Erdmann.) (See 1 Chronicles 12:0) “The Lord had spoken.” “Abner either had some expression used by one of the prophets (Samuel or Gad) in his mind … or he regarded the anointing of David by Samuel by command of the Lord, and the marvellous success of all that David had attempted, as a practical declaration on the part of God.” (Keil.)

2 Samuel 3:19. “The ears of Benjamin,” Because the family of Saul belonged to this tribe, and they had enjoyed many advantages in consequence. See 1 Samuel 22:7. “Also … also.” These denote mutualness, and point out the close connection and relation between the negotiation carried on with Benjamin as the tribe most important for David, and the earnest conversation that Abner therefore had with David (in the ears of David).

2 Samuel 3:20. “Twenty men.” “As representatives of all Israel.” (Keil.) “A feast.” “Not merely an entertainment, but of the nature of a league.” (Patrick.)

2 Samuel 3:21. “I will arise,” etc. The gradation in these words is characteristic of the rapidity, excitedness, and energy that we everywhere find in Abner.” (Erdmann.) “A league.” “This was not to consist in the establishment of a constitution after the nature of a constitutional monarchy, which is wholly foreign to the theocratic kingdom; but they are to vow to obey David as the king given them by the Lord, he promising to govern them as the theocratic king.” (Erdmann.) “Thine heart desireth.” David had indicated the desire of his heart in his message to the Jabeshites. (Erdmann.)



I. When the will of God and the will of men are contending, however long the struggle, the issue is not doubtful. In the preceding chapter we have the history of a contest in which the combatants were so equally matched that neither could conquer the other, but death claimed victory over both. This is not so very uncommon a case where there is an equality of resolution and resource and patience, and where neither side has any right to call in reinforcements from the God of right. But that episode in the warfare between Judah and Israel was not a type of the final issue of the struggle. It was the will of God that that struggle should be protracted for years, both to perfect the patience and faith of David, and to show the men of Israel where their true interest lay. But even had the men of Judah been as inferior to their opponents in bravery and skill as they probably were in numbers—if every one of lshbosheth’s supporters had been an Abner and their number multiplied a thousandfold—it could have availed nothing in the long run, for they were fighting against the purpose and plan of God. This must be the issue of every contest of a like character. It may be good for the servants of God that the struggle be lengthened from years into centuries, but victory on the side of those who are on the side of God is only a question of time.

II. Men who consult God’s will in some acts of their life are sometimes strangely forgetful to do it in others. We take it as certain that David consulted only his own desires or his own idea of what would conduce to his honour and prosperity when he multiplied the number of his wives, and even took one at least from outside his own nation. Although we have no reason to suppose he broke any express Divine command in so doing, yet it was evidently a violation of God’s original intention, and an imitation of the customs of the heathen monarchs, and such an alliance with them was in direct opposition to that separation from them and their ways which is commanded by the law of Moses. If he had been as careful to inquire of the Lord concerning this matter as he was in others, how much domestic misery might he have escaped. But all good men omit sometimes to obey the command, “In all thy ways acknowledge Him,” and, following their own inclination instead of hearkening to the voice of God, sow seeds of evil which afterwards yield them very bitter fruit. (On this subject see also on 2 Samuel 1:2.)

III. A good deed done from a wrong motive is of no value to the doer. By their fruits ye shall know them (Matthew 7:16) is the word of Divine wisdom, and yet it is quite true, as F. W. Robertson remarks, that we must not always judge a man by his deeds, but the deeds by the man. The repentance which follows when a good man does wrong must be taken into account, and the motive that goes before when a bad man does right must be considered, before passing judgment. When Abner came over to David’s side he was performing an act of tardy justice, but it was not the fruit of repentance. It was prompted by no desire to repair the wrong of the past, but by a determination to avenge an offence in the present. The same motive moved him to make friends with David as induced him to set Ishbosheth upon the throne, and, therefore, no more moral value can be attached to the one action than to the other. The declaration, “the Lord hath sworn to David” did not come from the lips of one who consulted the Divine will, but from one who made his own ambition his rule of life, and Abner only confesses his guilt when he utters it, because he makes it plain that he did not sin through ignorance.

IV. Those who receive from others what they have no right to bestow will find punishment in being compelled to relinquish it. Two men in this chapter are in this case. Ishbosheth received his crown, and Phaltiel his wife from men who were wronging others when they bestowed them, and the issue in both is what it must ever be under such circumstances. Every gift given by man which is not at the same time given by God is not bestowed upon its righful owner, and will sooner or later be taken from the unlawful possessor to become the property of him to whom it belongs. However far and with whatever force a stone is thrown into the air, we feel that its return to the earth is certain. Whatever may be the height to which it ascends, we know there will come a moment when its return journey will begin, and its fall will be more rapid than its rise. So, however great may be the power and strength which is behind unjust promotion, and however long we may hold a gift which belongs to another, there is a law above all others which can only be held at abeyance for a limited time, and when that limit has been reached the law will assert its dominion, and the work of restitution will often be as sudden as it is painful. Phaltiel must have known he was wronging David to take his wife, and Ishbosheth knew also that he had no right to the throne, but the one thought himself secure in the power of Saul, and the other trusted to the ability of Abner. The day of reckoning came for both, and they had both cause to bitterly regret they had accepted favours from men who had no right to bestow them.


2 Samuel 3:1. What grievous tales of distress are folded up in these brief words. Probably it was only irregular war, without much bloodshed; the war of skirmish and surprises, not of pitched battles or protracted sieges, or desperate assaults; but many a pillaged town and many a homestead laid in ashes, and many a heart crushed in despair or maddened to fury, and many a deep and deadly curse and fearful vow of vengeance would everywhere follow the track of war. And it was war of the most distressing and demoralising kind.—not foreign, but civil. Great national wars are usually attended by one counteracting benefit—they soften the keenness of private quarrels. But when parties in the same nation are fighting with each other, private quarrels, instead of being healed, are only exasperated in greater bitterness. In the painful war, therefore, in which David was engaged, he was deprived of the comfort of reflecting that whatever ravages it was producing abroad, it was drawing men’s hearts closer to each other at home, and sweetening the breath of domestic society.—Blaikie.

2 Samuel 3:8. In the variance of these two, we see there is no solid and constant friendship among the wicked, for that which is in God is only like unto Him, immutable and sure, and worthy of the name of amity, the other being more properly conspiracies.—Guild.

2 Samuel 3:13. In David’s yielding and acceptation of Abner’s offer we see that, albeit he hath a good cause, yet he neglects no occasion of secondary means offered, which is an example of imitation, for as men are said to contemn God who rely altogether upon seconds, so are they to be thought to tempt God, who altogether reject the use of lawful seconds.—Guild.

2 Samuel 3:16. From this occurrence it is clear that, among the wild briars of unsettled family relationships by which Israel was then overgrown, here and there also the flowers of a true genuine love and fidelity were to be met with. They bloomed, indeed, in the house of David, but their growth was not unhindered, and he did not remain untouched by the curse which the Lord had attached to the crime of polygamy in Israel.—Krummacher.

2 Samuel 3:18. Abner wins the heart of Israel, by showing God’s charter for him whom he had so long opposed. Hypocrites make use of God for their own purposes, and care only to make Divine authority a colour for their own designs. No man ever heard Abner godly till now; neither had he been so at this time, if he had not intended a revengeful departure from Ishbosheth. Nothing is more odious than to make religion a stalking-horse to policy.—Bishop Hall.

Verses 22-39


2 Samuel 3:22. “Joab came from pursuing,” etc. “Whither, it is not said, but probably outside the Israelitish territory near the tribe of Judah. In the incomplete organisation of David’s court such expeditions were necessary for the support of the large army.… Probably Abner had purposely chosen the time when Joab with the army was absent to carry out his plan.” (Erdmann.)

2 Samuel 3:24-25. Joab may have spoken what he believed to be the truth concerning Abner, or he was prompted by a fear that the older and more renowned general would take his place at the head of David’s army.

2 Samuel 3:26. “The Well of Sirah.” According to Josephus, only about two and a half English miles from Hebron.

2 Samuel 3:27. “When Abner was returned.” Joab probably used David’s name to recall him. “Abner’s conduct bespeaks his entire reliance upon David’s good faith.” (Biblical Commentary.)

2 Samuel 3:27. “In the gate.” Literally “to the middle of the gate.” It was no doubt roofed, and “Joab drew Abner to the middle of the inner gate space because it was not so light there, and one could better escape the notice of the passers-by.” (Erdmann.) “For the blood of Asahel.” This was no doubt the plea which Joab used; but Abner had slain Asahel in battle and in self-defence, and Josephus and most commentators ascribe the murder to jealousy.

2 Samuel 3:29. “Let it rest.” Literally, turn, or be hurled. “This strong expression, instead of the ordinary ‘let it come,’ answers to the enormity of the crime and the energy of David’s righteous anger.” (Erdmann.) “Hath an issue” “One that pines away miserably with seminal or mucous flow. Compare Leviticus 15:2.” (Erdmann.) “That leaneth on a staff.” This last word means a distaff, and many scholars take this phrase to designate an effeminate or weakly person. “The Greeks also had their ‘Hercules with the distaff’ as a type of unmanly feebleness, and for a warrior like Joab there could be no worse wish than that there might be a distaff-holder among his descendants.” (Bottcher.) In favour of this reading, Erdmann remarks that one that holds a staff is not necessarily a cripple, since the staff was held by rulers, by old men, by travellers, and by shepherds (Judges 5:14; Numbers 21:18; Zechariah 8:4; Luke 6:3; Micah 7:14, etc.), and that where a cripple is described with a staff the expression is different (Exodus 21:19.) However, Gesenius, Ewald, Phillippson, Keil, and others render the word crutch or staff. Ancient Jewish writers regard this imprecation of David’s as sinful.

2 Samuel 3:31. “Before Abner.” In the presence of his corpse. They were to take part in the funeral procession.

2 Samuel 3:33. “A fool.” A nabal, or worthless man.

2 Samuel 3:34. “Thy hands were not bound.” This means, either “Thou hadst not made thyself guilty of any crime, so as to die like a malefactor, in chains and bonds” (Keil), or, “with free hands, with which he might have defended himself; with free feet, with which he might have escaped from overpowering force. Without suspecting evil, he was attacked and murdered as a defenceless man.” (Erdmann.)

2 Samuel 3:35. “To eat meat.” “It is uncertain whether David was to eat with the people (cf. 2 Samuel 12:17), i.e., to take part in the funeral meal that was held after the burial, or whether the people simply urged him to take some food for the purpose of soothing his own sorrow.” (Keil.)

2 Samuel 3:38. “A prince,” etc. A prince by reason of his position—a great man because of his intellectual endowments.

2 Samuel 3:39. “Weak, though anointed.” Most commentators understand David to mean that he was too weak—too lately come into power—to be able to visit upon Joab and his brother the just reward of their crime, but Erdmann objects to this view—

(1). Because it would have been very unwise to acknowledge his fear before such men; and
(2). Because it would have been untrue, for he who had conquered Abner, and who had the people on his side, must have possessed the power to punish Joab. He understands the first adjective to signify soft, and hard to apply, not to the contrast between himself and the sons of Zeruiah as to political situation but as to disposition. While he, though a king, is absorbed in grief, they are unmoved and indifferent.



I. Unprincipled men judge others by themselves. A man looking in a glass sees a reflection of himself—not perhaps of the man he ought to be or might have been, but exactly what he is. So a bad man is apt to think, when he looks upon his brother, that he is but a reflection of himself in character, that his motives, and hopes, and intentions are the same as his own. Not being accustomed himself to act from principle, but in all things to put his own supposed interest in the foremost place, he thinks every other man must do the same. This was the way in which Joab regarded Abner and his conduct. He knew that if he were in Abner’s place he should not hesitate to do what he now charged him with doing if he thought he should gain by it, and was, or pretended to be, far more suspicious of his honesty than David was. Or if he really believed that Abner was in earnest in his professions of loyalty to David, still judging him by his own standard, he looked forward to what would happen in the future. He knew that in the same circumstances he should endeavour to supplant all David’s old servants, and never rest till he attained to the highest honour the king could bestow. That would involve a decrease of his power—a prospect his ambitious spirit could not brook. Hence his anger and his revenge.

II. In God’s government of the world, one bad man is often the means of removing another. Neither God nor godlike creatures delight in destructive work—they love to build up rather than to destroy—to dispense reward rather than retribution. But as in the natural world the ground must be cleared of weeds if the corn is to have space to grow, so the power of evil men must be limited, and they sometimes removed from the earth, that the good may live and multiply. And this work of removal is often done by their own kind, and it is the only work for God that they can do. Wicked men cannot bring any positive blessing upon the world, but they can be used in this negative way to lessen the evil and make room for the work of the good. When the fire burns up the weeds and clears the ground for the sower, one destructive force in nature is used to destroy another, and when one bad man, in his self-seeking and passion, ends the career of another, he is the unconscious instrument in the hands of God of clearing the ground for the work of godly men. So was it with Joab in relation to Abner—both were godless, and consequently hindrances to the progress and happiness of the kingdom of God in Israel, and when one was permitted to fall by the sword of the other, one moral destroyer was used for the destruction of another that God’s servant might find the place and do the work allotted to him.

III. Although one man is thus the retribution of God to another, the responsibility of the deed rests upon himself. Every human action must be judged, not by its consequences, but by its character. Men have sometimes murdered one whom they rightly judged to be an enemy of their country; but even if the belief was correct, neither it nor the good consequences arising from the deed affected its morality. The belief may be right and the consequences may be according to the belief, but the end can never justify the use of means which are contrary to the command of God. Still less can the results of such an act as that of Joab’s justify the doer or lessen his guilt in the smallest degree. Joab was a murderer, although he was a sword of retribution in the hand of God. If he had slain Abner because he believed him to be a traitor to David and an enemy to God, the motives which actuated him could not have absolved him from blood-guiltiness. Still less can the fact of Abner’s guilt justify a deed done purely from motives of revenge and jealousy, although that deed brought just punishment to a bad man. The fact that God overrules men’s sin to further His purposes, does not do away with the sinfulness. (See also chapter 4)


2 Samuel 3:28-29. These words have often been regarded as an expression of exaggerated passion … but David here wishes nothing more than what the law predicts, and it can never be sinful to wish God to do what, in accordance with His will, He must do. The extension of the curse to the descendants clearly refers to the threatenings of the law; and in both cases the offensive character disappears, if we only remember that whoever by true repentance freed himself from connection with the guilt was also exempted from participation in the punishment.—Hengstenberg.

2 Samuel 3:38. This verse has been made the text of many sermons on the death of great men. We subjoin the outline of one. I. A man has fallen. I do not mean a mere male human individual, one whom the tailor rather than the mantua maker clothes,—a walking thing that wears a hat. I speak of that which God meant when He said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” Marred sadly now by the concussion of that fearful fall, but capable of restoration through the cross, and justifying well, in the renewal of its fair proportions and its countenance erect, the sacred record, “God has made man upright”—a man that has a mind and uses it—a man that has a heart and yields to it—a man that shapes his circumstances—a man that cares not for himself … a man to make occasions—a man to meet emergencies—a man to dare not only but to bear.… II. A great man has fallen. A great man first must be a man, and then must find or make the occasion to be great. In every man that is a man there is, potentially, a great man.… III. A prince has fallen. A prince in place. The head, as the word simply means, of twenty millions of free people, so constituted and declared by their own choice and act. A prince in rank … a prince in power … a prince in quiet dignity—a prince in calm indomitable resolution—a prince in utter disregard of consequences, when the right is seen and done.… “Know ye not”—who does not know, who does not feel, who does not own that it is so?—Bishop Doane on the Death of President Taylor of the United States. 1850.

2 Samuel 3:39. David was weak, not so much because Joab was strong, as because he himself shrank from doing what he knew to be right in the case. Had he put Joab to death, public opinion would have sustained him in the execution of justice; and even if it had not, he would have had the inward witness that he was doing his duty to the State. For a magistrate to be weak, is to be wicked. He is set to administer and execute the law without fear or favour; and whensoever he swerves from justice from either cause, he is a traitor at once to God and to the commonwealth. “Weak!” this is not to speak like a man, not to say a king.—Taylor.

It seems surprising that David, who was then in the flower of his age, and who had long been distinguished for his courage and skill as a military leader, should now decline into a subordinate position as a warrior, and that Joab should occupy the principal place in the wars of Israel and should exercise a dominant influence over David, so that the king was constrained to say this.… Was this unhappy condition a consequence of his polygamy? Was this multiplication of wives, contrary to God’s command, a cause of effeminacy and softness? Did it disqualify him for the hardness of the field, and afford an opportunity for such bold, ambitious, and insidious persons as Joab, who profited by his weakness and favoured it, to gain a mastery over him?… If David had done what his conscience told him was right, and what he did to the murderers of Ishbosheth; if he had fully trusted God, and done justice with courage, according to God’s law (Genesis 9:6); relying on God, and not looking to the carnal advantages he derived from the military skill of Joab and Abishai, he would probably have prevented other murders, such as that of Ishbosheth and Amasa; and he would have been spared the sorrow of giving on his deathbed the warrant of execution against Joab to be put in effect by Solomon. “Impunity invites to greater crimes.” “He is cruel to the innocent who spares the guilty.”—Wordsworth.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 3". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/2-samuel-3.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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