2 Samuel 2:1-32
And it came to pass after this, that David inquired of the Lord.
Strength and weakness
David's sense of dependence upon God!
1. His passive patience is exquisitely touching, and presents such a contrast to his recent unsettled haste of spirit. We shall find this quiet restfulness characterising his triumphant hours. Not inertness and supineness--active dependence. Not sloth--that marked his faithless hours--but a calm restfulness, betokening living faith. He makes no effort to secure the throne, and yet every hope concerning it he has ever nourished is moving toward fruition. Had his eye rested upon the human side, he was well able to make the forward movement. By nature a man of quick decision and quicker action, his valiant men would urge him to move towards Jerusalem. Instead of any such movement, he stays “to inquire of the Lord” (2 Samuel 2:1).
2. Additional emphasis is given to this view of David's state of heart in the tone of his prayer: “Shall I go up into any of the cities of Judah?” not selecting the city. Being of the tribe of Judah, it rises to his lips to ask if he may be among his own people. Do we not often ask advice, with deepest emphasis when we see not our way? It is strong faith, genuine humility, which submits our choice to Divine over-ruling.
3. How simple the record I “So David went up thither.” How much the record covers! Prompt obedience and unfaltering trust. This is the way to move towards the consummation of Divine purposes--to obey Divine commands unhesitatingly. “I made haste, and delayed not to keep Thy commandments” (Psalms 119:60).
4. The consequences of sin remain long after the sin itself is forgiven. David's sojourn among the Philistines bore fruit after many days--fruit that was bitter to the taste. For David to ally himself with the Philistines could bring only pain and weakness. To-day the believer marries the worldling, the child of God takes into partnership the child of the world. Ziklag experiences are repeated all too surely around us. Prompted to the deed by personal jealousy or fear of losing his position, Abner sets up as king Ishbosheth, Saul's son (2 Samuel 2:8). To this the western tribes agree;--their fear lest David's compact with Philistia be yet undissolved largely minister.
(H. E. Stone.)
2 Samuel 2:3-4
And they dwelt in the cities of Hebron, and the men of Judah came, and there they anointed David.
David's reign at Hebron
The death of Saul did not end David's domestic troubles, and did not leave him free, for a considerable number of years, to employ his energies for the good of the whole kingdom. It appears that his chastisement for allying himself with Achish was not yet exhausted. The more remote fruits of that step were now only beginning to emerge, and years elapsed before its evil influence ceased to be felt. The close alliance which had subsisted between him and the great enemy of his country, arid author of its disasters, could hardly fail to render him an object of distrust and suspicion to many of his countrymen. All his former achievements against the Philistines--the cruel injustice of Saul which had driven him in despair to Achish--his recent services against the Amalekites--the generous use he had made of the spoil--and the influence of his high personal character, however powerfully they might tell is his immediate neighbourhood, would have but little weight in his favour in the more distant parts of the kingdom. For after a great disaster, the public mind is often exasperated, and ready to lay an enormous amount of blame on any one who can be assailed with any plausibility. Beyond all doubt, David would come in for his full share of such attacks. It was, therefore, in every way the most expedient course for David to establish his quarters immediately in one of the cities of Judah. But in the admirable frame of mind in which he now was, he declined taking this step, indispensable though it seemed, until he had obtained Divine direction regarding it 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. The city of Hebron, situated about eighteen miles to the south of Jerusalem, was the place to which he was directed to go. In was a spot abounding in holy and elevating associations. It was among the first, if not the very first haunt of civilised men in the land--so ancient, that it is said to have been built seven years before Zoan in Egypt (Numbers 13:22). The Father of the Faithful had often pitched his tent under its spreading oaks, and among its olive groves and vine-clad hills the gentle Isaac had meditated at eventide. There, Abraham had watched the last breath of his beloved Sarah, the companion of his wanderings and the partner of his faith; and there, from the sons of Heth, he had purchased the sepulchre where so much holy and venerable dust was deposited, in the hope of a glorious resurrection. Thither Joseph and his brethren had brought up the body of Jacob, laying it, in fulfilment of his dying command, beside the bones of Leah. It had been s, halting-place of the twelve spies, when they went up to search the land; and the cluster of grapes which they carried back was cut from the neighbouring valley, where the finest grapes of the country are still found. The sight of its venerable cave had doubtless elevated the faith and courage of Joshua and Caleb, when the other spies became so faithless and fearful. In the division of the land it had been assigned to Caleb, one of the noblest spirits the nation ever produced; and afterwards it had been made one of the Levitical cities of refuge. No place could have recalled more vividly the lessons of departed worth, and the victories of early faith, or abounded more in memorials of the blessedness of following the Lord. It was a token of God's kindness to David that He directed him to make Hebron his headquarters. And it was a further token of His goodness, that no sooner had David gone to Hebron, than “the men of Judah came and anointed him king over the house of Judah.” (W. G. Blaikie, M. A.)
Anointed first by Samuel in the secrecy of his lather's house, he was now anointed king over his own people; just as the Lord Jesus, of whom he was the great exemplar and type, was anointed first by the banks of the Jordan, and again as the representative of His people, when He ascended for them into the presence of the Father, and was set as King on the holy hill of Zion. We cannot turn from this second anointing without emphasising the obvious lesson that at each great crisis of our life, and especially when standing on the threshold of some new and enlarged sphere of service, we should seek and receive a fresh anointing to fit us to fulfil its fresh demands. There should be successive and repeated anointings in our life-history as our opportunities widen out in ever-increasing circles. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
2 Samuel 2:5-32
And David sent messengers unto the men of Jabesh-Gilead.
Attempts at conciliation defeated
1. The chief anxiety of David, alter being anointed king over the house of Judah, would naturally be how to secure the peaceful allegiance of the other tribes. Prompted by the desire to prevent civil war, and also by the amiable feelings of his own heart, he sent a kind and grateful message to the men of Jabesh-Gilead, complimenting them on the respect they had shown for the mutilated remains of Saul and his sons. Every action of David in reference to his great rival evinces the superiority of his spirit to that which has often prevailed in similar circumstances. Within the Scriptures themselves we have instances of the dishonour that was often put on the body of a conquered foe: the cases of Jehoram and Jezebel will readily occur to every one. The shocking fate of Hector's dead body, dragged thrice round the walls of Troy behind the chariot of Achilles, was regarded as only such a calamity as might be looked for amid the changing fortunes of war. Mark Anthony is said to have broken out into laughter at the sight of the hands and head of Cicero, which he had caused to be cut off. It is very true that David was not strong enough at this time to offer any such outrage to his opponents, even if he had been willing; it would have been alike impolitic and cruel; but it is unfair to allege, that motives of policy were the only consideration that influenced him. The spirit of kindly regard, both to the person and the family of his predecessor, evidently breathed out from David's inmost soul, and is not to be denied or disparaged because the course it prompted was likewise the course of sound policy. When we come to examine his proceeding in giving up seven of Soul's sons to the Gibeonites, we shall see that that act was not an exception to his ordinary spirit.
2. The message which David sent to the men of Jabesh-Gilead was not merely fitted to gratify them, but was calculated to give confidence to the old friends and supporters of the former king. It would have been natural enough for them to apprehend--considering the ordinary practice of conquerors and the ordinary fate of the conquered, that when David came to power he would adopt very rigid measures against the comrades of his persecutor. By the message which he sent to them across the country, and across the Jordan, he showed clearly that he was animated by quite an opposite spirit; that instead of trying to punish those who had served with Saul, he was rather disposed to show them favour. Divine grace, acting on his native character, made David thus kind and forgiving, and presented to the world the beautiful spectacle of an eminent religious profession in union with most honourable and magnanimous behaviour.
3. But the spirit in which David acted to the friends of Saul did not receive the fitting return. His peaceable purpose was defeated through Abner, captain of Soul's host, who set up Ishbosheth, one Of “Soul's sons, as king, in opposition to David. Ishbosheth himself was evidently a mere tool in Abner's hands; he was a man of no spirit or” activity; and in setting him up as a claimant for the kingdom, Abner most probably had an eye to his own interest. It is plain that he acted in this matter in the spirit of daring ungodliness; he knew that God had given the kingdom to David, for he afterwards taunted Ishbosheth with the fact (2 Samuel 3:9); and nothing but personal motives of irresistible strength could have induced him to act in direct opposition to God. Under Saul, he had been chief captain of the host; under David, he could not expect to hold so high a position; and if the secret motive that induced him to set up Ishbosheth were revealed, it would probably be this--that a better place might be provided for himself--that Abner might be the first subject in the realm. The world's annals, alas! contain but too many instances of such reckless selfishness; wars without number, with their untold masses of victims, have sprung from no higher motive than the ambition of some Diotrephes to have the pre-eminence. What need has every man to guard against this selfish and therefore murderous spirit, and to pray that the animating spring of his conduct may be that love--that Christian charity, which is the queen of all the graces, and the very bond of perfectness! The well-meant and earnest efforts of David to ward off strife were thus frustrated; it was now his bitter lot to see the kingdom torn by that most dreadful of all scourges--civil war. As regarded the immediate occasion of the war, he had a perfectly clear conscience--Abner alone was responsible; but the war itself, to a feeling and patriotic heart like David's, must have occasioned inconceivable anguish. Did it ever occur to him that he was now brought, against his will, into the very position which he had professed to King Achish to be so eager to occupy? Did he ever think that in the providence of God, placed, as he now was, in an attitude of hostility to his own countrymen, he was undergoing chastisement for the words he had then so rashly uttered? From a proposal made by Abner, with a view to simplify the contest (2 Samuel 2:14), it would appear that that general's conscience was not quite at ease in regard to the dismal slaughter he was on the point of provoking. The proposal seems to have been, that a small and equal number of young men should be chosen on each side, and that the contest should be held as settled in favour of the army whose young men should be victorious. The practice was common enough in ancient times; Roman history furnishes some memorable instances of it--that of Romulus and Aruns, and that of the Horatii and Curiatii; the challenge of Goliath to the host of Israel was another instance of the same practice. The young men were accordingly chosen; but they rushed against each other with such terrible impetuosity, that each of them slew his opponent, and the contest remained undecided as before. There was now nothing for it but a general appeal to arms; and when the shock of battle came at Gibeon, the victory fell to David; Abner and his troops were signally defeated. At the conclusion of the battle, at the sight of the flying foe, David might have said (though the psalm was, probably, not written for this occasion) “Now know I that the Lord saveth His anointed; He will hear him from His holy heaven, with the saving strength of His right hand. Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the name of the Lord our God. They are brought down and fallen, but we are risen and stand upright. Save, Lord: let the king hear us when we call (Psalms 20:6-9). (W. G. Blaikie, M. A.)
2 Samuel 2:8
Isbosheth and Abner
Saul's son was a poor, weak creature, who would never have thought of resisting David but for the stronger will behind him. To be weak is, in this world full of tempters, to drift into being wicked. We have to learn betimes to say “No,” and to stick to it. Moral weakness attracts tempters as surely as a camel fallen by the caravan track draws vultures from every corner of the sky. The fierce soldier who fought for his own hand while professing to be moved by loyalty to the dead king, may stand as a type of the self-deception with which we gloss over our ugliest selfishness with fine names, and for an instance of the madness which leads men to set themselves against God's plans, and therefore to be dashed in pieces, as some slim barrier reared across the track of a train would be. To “rush against the thick bosses of the Almighty's buckler” does no harm to the buckler, but kills the insane assailant. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
2 Samuel 2:12-13
The servants of Ishbosheth, the son of Saul, went out . . . the servants of David went out.
Guizot, in his life of St. Louis of France, says that the latter had many vassals who were also vassals of the King of England, and that many subtle and difficult questions arose as to the extent of the service which they owed to these kings. At length the French King commanded all those nobles who held lands in English territory to appear before him, and then he said to them, “As it is impossible for any man living in my kingdom and having possession in England rightly to serve two masters, you must either attach yourselves altogether to me, or inseparably to the King of England.” After saying this, he gave them a certain day by which to make their choice.
2 Samuel 2:26
Knowest thou not that it will be bitterness in the latter end?
Abner was the cousin of King Saul, and commander-in-chief of his army. Even after the death of Saul, Abner's ability and skill enabled him to uphold the failing fortunes of the family. While David reigned in Hebron, a son of Saul was the head of ten revolting tribes beyond Jordan. Abner was an eloquent lecturer on prudence, when recklessness had wrought his own ruin. Like many old men who had been dissipated all their lives, when they can no longer be rakes and libertines, they gravely advise young men to be chaste and sober. It would be well if every headstrong Abner would ask himself, in season to repent and amend, “Knowest thou not it will be bitterness in the latter end?” There is a dreadful condition, in the future, towards which every guilty soul is surely and swiftly drifting--a state of bitterness. It may serve a good purpose to inquire, in what this bitterness consists?
I. One of the ingredients in the cup of bitterness which the wrong-doer will assuredly drink is the consciousness that it was his own doing. “Thou hast destroyed thyself!” will be the taunting cry of the demon. The easy, good-natured world has a nice way of smoothing over such things, and saying, “He is not very steady, poor fellow; but, then, he does not mean any harm.” And the same mistaken spirit of charity adds, “He is nobody's enemy but his own!” The Bible teaches a different lesson: “The enemy of God, by wicked works” (Colossians 1:21). Inwardly and outwardly, the impenitent sinner is hostile to God.
II. Another reason why bitterness must be the portion of the transgressor will be, that he risked so much and received so little. The cup of worldly pleasure had a very small flavour of sweetness in it, after all. The most seductive forms of sensual indulgence are always followed by bitterness. Let any one study that terrible picture, sketched from real life, “The Man about Town,” in “The Diary of a London Physician,” and as he turns with a shudder from the sight, he will discover a new meaning in the prophet's words, “It is an evil thing, and a bitter, that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God” (Jeremiah 2:19).
III. Another ingredient of bitterness to the lost will be the memory of evil-doings. Hell is a place where the condemned will be shut up with themselves. Moreover, there will be a development of character in its inmates--no longer kept under any degree of restraint, by better surroundings--which imagination cannot conceive of. It would be well for them to remember that the devil is daily administering anodynes to keep men stupefied and inactive. Among these narcotics, are--
1. The business and distractions of life.
2. Another anodyne which the devil offers to his unsuspecting victim is the cup of worldly pleasure. If one has swallowed an overdose of laudanum, he must be kept moving about briskly, or he will sink down into the sleep of death. So, too, with those stupefied by Satan's arts, we must give them no peace, until they are fully aroused to a sense of their danger. (J. A. Norton.)
A sweet beginning but a bitter end
These are the words of Abner, a near relation of king Saul, and a distinguished general of his armies. They are addressed to Joab, one of David's nephews and a commander of his army, a man valiant it is true but bounding with ambition and burning with vengeance. A course of wrong conduct ends in bitterness.
I. That sin does not answer in the long run. A course of sin may and often does answer for a certain time; it may yield profit and pleasure to its author for years.
1. Unrighteous avarice may answer for a certain time. The greedy and over-reaching man of the world may be wondrously successful. He may see his fortune rising higher and glittering brighter as the result of his unscrupulous and unremitting efforts. In all this he may for a time find great, pleasure. Success keeps his brain active and his blood warm.
2. Unbridled sensuality may answer for a certain time. A young man gives himself up to the gratification of his animal appetites and lusts. He finds an elysium in purely sensual indulgences.
3. Unscrupulous ambition may answer for a certain time. In all men there is more or less a love of power; in some it is a dominant passion. These men, working out their passion, struggle upward in the social realm; their course yields them pleasure.
4. Social impositions may answer for a certain time. There are men who have a passion for deceiving, they live for imposture, and by imposture. Now, whilst in all these courses of conduct there is a certain kind of pleasure, the pleasure only runs on to a certain period. From an inevitable law in the moral universe, the time comes when the sweet becomes bitter, when all the pleasure becomes poison than rankles in every vein of the soul. We infer--
II. That we do not finish with life as we go on. The brute perhaps finishes his life as he proceeds; his yesterdays affect him only materially. Not so with man. We have not done with any of the conscious periods through which we have passed, not even with the earliest. Our first actions will vibrate on the ear a thousand ages on; the first scenes will unfold themselves to the eve in ages far on in the future. Two laws render this certain:--
1. The law of moral causation. Our consciousness is ourselves; and this consciousness is the product of the past. It is to-day the cause of what it will be to-morrow.
2. The law of mental association. There is a faculty within us we call memory, and this memory gathers up the fragments of our past life so that nothing is lost. How often, by the principle of contrast, resemblance, and proximity, are the past actions of our lives called vividly up before us! Memory is the course of the wicked, the paradise of the innocent, and the common resort of all souls. We infer:--
III. That a sinner's moral sense is destined to a great revolution. What was sweet once, becomes hitter in the future. Physically, the man who at one time felt an article of food delicious which afterwards he found to be nauseous, has had, of course, his natural palate greatly altered. Just so in morals: when a man finds that the things which at one time gave him highest delight yield him intense pain, some great change must have taken place in his moral sensibility. Ah, it is so. The time hastens when he will see with different eyes, hear with different ears, feel with different nerves, taste with different palate. The silver which Judas clutches with delight, through a change in his moral sensibility, becomes so red-hot that he throws it away as unbearable. The fact is, that all the pleasures connected with sinful life are dependent upon a torpidity of conscience; let the conscience be aroused to a sense of its guilty condition, and these pleasures vanish, nay, turn into wormwood and gall. (Homilist.)
Keeping the end in view
Here we have an inquiry which ought to be put under all circumstances that are doubtful, and especially under all circumstances that are marked by selfishness or disregard of the interests of others. The question never is, what is the present feeling, but what will be the ultimate condition. There is night as well as morning, and the darkness must be considered as certainly as the light. What do things grow to? What is the latter end? If a man sow good seed he will reap good fruit. He who sows the wind will reap the whirlwind.
1. This question may be put to every man who is pursuing evil courses:--Say to the indolent, “Knowest thou not that it will be bitterness in the latter end?” say to the drunkard the same thing; say to the debauchee, whose whole thought is taken up with the satisfaction of his passions, the same thing; say also to the gambler, the adventurer, to the man who is boasting immediate success founded upon immoral courses, “Knowest thou not that it will be bitterness in the latter end?” Remind every one that there is a latter end; that there is a war in which there is no discharge; that there is an audit in which we must give up every account, every voucher, and undergo Divine judgment. The whole of our life should be conducted under the consciousness of its latter end.
3. This need not becloud our prospects, depress our spirits, or take the inspiration out of our action: a man may so contemplate his latter end as to know nothing of melancholy; he may rather see in it the beginning of the blessedness that is pure and immortal. We shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ. God will bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be bad. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Progressive character of sin
Sin is like the descent of a hill, where every step we take increases the difficulty of our return. Sin is like a river in its course; the longer it runs it wears a deeper channel, and the further from the fountain, it swells in volume and acquires a greater strength. Sin is like a tree in its progress: the longer it grows, it spreads its roots the wider, grows taller, grows thicker, till the sapling which once an infant's arm could bend, raises its head aloft, defiant of the storm. Sin in its habits becomes stronger every day--the heart grows harder; the conscience grows duller; the distance between God and the soul grows greater; and, like a rock hurled from the mountain top, the farther we descend, we go down and down and down, with greater and greater rapidity. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
2 Samuel 2:28
Abner with the hinder end of the spear smote him.
Death comes unawares
1. How death often comes upon us by ways that we least suspect. Who would fear the hand of a flying enemy, or the butt end of a spear? yet from these Asahel receives his death wound.
2. See 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; and with it he ran upon his death, instead of running from it. (M. Henry.)
2 Samuel 2:29
And Abner and his men walked all that night through the plain.
The cost of success
We would remind ourselves of such events in order that we may see what has been accomplished by military discipline, by the subordination of merely personal whims and desires. Even conquerors have no easy time in life. We think of success, of triumph, of coronation, but we forget that before these things, and as necessary to them, there must be discipline, suffering, loss, trial of every kind. We read with glowing hearts the accounts of explorers, discoverers, adventurers, who have gone into regions unknown and undreamed of; and here, again, we forget the night watchings, the night marchings, the continual perils and difficulties of the road. Self-denial is not confined to Christian experience. Whoever would be great in any department or relation of life must over know the pain of self-mortification--must, in other words, achieve the mastery himself--must, so to say, stand upon himself in an attitude of triumph. (J. Parker, D. D.)
2 Samuel 2:32
They came to Hebron at break of day.
The break of day
Joab and his men walking all night towards Hebron, and reaching it at break of day. See in this a symbol of the pilgrimage of our earthly life, in what must be as darkness compared with the wondrous light to which we press, but reaching rest at last, yet not till the break of that golden day.
I. Are we pilgrims of the light, or of the night? Of both. Of the light as we press to reach it, as even now its beams fall on our pathway here, enlightening much that else might perplex. Yet must that light only make the remaining darkness felt. Is it not of the New Jerusalem that it is written, “There shall be no night there?” Can I say there is no night here--no night of sorrow, no pain, no burden clouding heart and mind? Even when life is brightest with us, the very sense of comfort and joy abides because we know that they have about them a heavenly atmosphere. They are to us God's gifts, and we know that He has in reserve still richer blessings. If we are in sorrow we yearn for God, and in joy we rest still in Him. There is always something before the Christian, a brighter life that is to be. We speak of the night of death. Henry Fawcett used to say that from the great illness which prostrated him for so long, he arose, having learnt, what he had recognised before, that death was not to be feared. Nay, more than this, for we need not speak only of the physical aspects of death: we may learn that in death there is not so much a passing into dark valleys--the valleys of the shadow, at all events, are past when death is reached--as a stepping into wondrous light. Death is an unveiling which lets in light and life to our poor human experience. Let us press on in the pilgrimage, though we walk all the night. There is the appointed path and the allotted time. To few will that time, in God's mercy, seem too long, so full is the night of quiet mercies, so little are we alone. But even if the way seem rough, and the hours dark, the night has its own appointed law and limit. Bear up, press on, and all shall be well.
II. The pilgrim shall reach a place of rest. “And Joab and his men went all night, and they came to Hebron.” Hebron is one of the most ancient cities of the world still standing. It is now a city of some 5,000 inhabitants. It has had many changes in its political history, and has once and again been in ruins. Abraham is called by the Mohammedans Khulil, “the Friend”--i.e., of God; and this, we are told by travellers, is the modern name of Hebron itself. It is “the city of 'the Friend of God.’” Among our quiet resting-places God not seldom brings us to the places from which we can look back, marking the goodness and mercy which have followed us since that long past when near to the same spot we built with them some altar to the Lord. The Lord accepted the offering of ourselves; through the pilgrimage He has been with us.
III. For notice, lastly, the rest shall be reached at its appointed time. “And Joab and his men went all night, and they came to Hebron at break of day.” The eternal morning shall not be missed by any who follow on in the way of the Lord's choosing. Only be brave, be faithful, until the day break, and the shadows flee away. Often the shadows of some trouble or some anxiety pass away even here. New light is on our path; the way of lowly duty is plain. Whenever the day-break is upon us, it is only that we may turn, refreshed by rest, to the duty of the new day. (J. Gasquoine, B. A.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "2 Samuel 2". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week of Lent