2 Samuel 2:1. And he said, Unto Hebron— Though God had appointed David to the kingdom, he would not pretend to take upon him the administration of affairs without immediately applying himself to him, by Abiathar the high-priest, to know when and by what means he should best be put into possession of it. He was directed by God to go up to Hebron, which was situated in the midst of the tribe of Judah, on the top of a ridge of high mountains, equally famed for fruits, herbage, and honey. Mr. Sandys seems to have surveyed the whole region round it with uncommon rapture; and Dr. Shaw has considered it with singular care and attention. He observes of that region, that it is admirably fitted for olives and vineyards, and in many parts for grain and pasture. It seems, therefore, to be a region peculiarly adapted to the reception of David and his men; for there they might then dwell, as Dr. Shaw tells us the inhabitants do now, in greater numbers, and with greater advantage: for here, says he, they themselves have bread to the full, while their cattle browse upon a richer herbage; and both of them are refreshed by springs of excellent water. Besides this, Hebron had also other advantages; it was a Levitical, priestly, and patriarchal city; venerable for the sepulchres of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and, as tradition adds, of Adam also; and upon all these accounts, long reputed (as it is at this day, even by the Turks) holy, and honoured with the title chosen or beloved. God had before appointed it for the residence of his favourite servants, and it was now peculiarly proper for the reception of David, as being the metropolis of his tribe. See Numbers 13:22. Joshua 14:13.
2 Samuel 2:4. And the men of Judah came, and there they anointed David king— David had no other title to the succession than the appointment of God by Samuel; and this claim, on which he founded his pretensions, was universally known to the people of Israel, and the avowed reason why they advanced him to the throne. It was known to Jonathan his friend; Saul himself was no stranger to it; Abigail confesses this appointment of God; Abner was not ignorant of it, as appears by his words to Ish-bosheth; and his message to the elders of Israel, who also acknowledged it: so that David's appointment to be king by the God of Israel, who anointed him by Samuel, was the foundation of his claim, and the reason why all at last centered in him; and which justified his pretensions to, and contest for the crown, after the death of Saul: and it was a better claim than what Ish-bosheth had, who, in reality, had none at all, as the crown was never made hereditary in Saul's family, and was entirely at God's disposal, who was the supreme King and Governor of Israel. Besides, it was natural for the men of Judah to prefer one of their own family. Jacob had long since predicted the establishment of the sovereignty in the tribe of Judah. David was of that tribe, beyond all dispute elected and appointed to succeed Saul; and what had the men of Judah to do, but to concur with the predeterminations of Providence in his favour? Accordingly, they anointed him king. But whether they did this with more dispatch to influence the determination of the other tribes in his favour, or whether it was delayed until their dispositions were founded upon the point, is nowhere said. This is certain, that one tribe's acting separate and independent of the rest, might be in a general point of view of dangerous example; nor could any thing but the divine authority justify it. Houbigant, however, is of opinion, and he combats Calmet on this head, that, as the tribe of Judah well knew the designation of David to the throne, they ought not to have waited till the other tribes were assembled that they might all unanimously acknowledge David king, unless they meant to thwart what God had done; or unless David was not king, though immediately appointed by God, if all the tribes did not give their assent to the divine appointment.
REFLECTIONS.—David's army had been much reinforced, as appears 1 Chronicles 12., yet he does not immediately seize the throne, or march to compel allegiance to himself, though Israel's anointed sovereign; but,
1. Inquires of God whether it be his will that he should go up into Judah, where, as being his own tribe, he hoped to be most readily received? Note; They who wait upon God for direction, will be led in the right way to the kingdom.
2. David immediately obeys the divine direction, and takes his wives along with him, and his men of war and their households; they had been his companions in tribulation, it is but right and honourable to take them to share in his advancement. Note; They who follow Christ under the cross, shall reign with him in the day of his appearing and glory.
3. He meets with a very welcome reception. The men of Judah recognised the divine designation, and anointed him their king. Note; They who would have Christ to reign over them, must choose him for their king.
4. On inquiry, probably, after Saul's corpse and Jonathan's, for which he purposed an honourable interment, he is informed of the generous behaviour of the men of Jabesh-gilead. As a token how kindly he took this noble action of theirs, he sends them a hearty commendation, prays the Lord to bless them for their kindness, and declares that he will take occasion to requite them. Though Saul is dead, who defended them, David, who is anointed in his stead, will be their friend; therefore they need not fear any thing from the Philistines, who might resent their deed: he bids them be strong and valiant; and, as he hoped they would receive him as their king, they might depend upon his protection. Note; (1.) A kindness shewn to our friends is an obligation conferred on ourselves. (2.) It is not enough to bestow our good wishes, but we must recompense in such manner as we are able, those who have well deserved. (3.) To have those for our friends, whose fidelity to others has been tried, is a valuable acquisition.
2 Samuel 2:8. Abner, the son of Ner— Abner was Saul's general, and near kinsman. Interest and ambition, therefore, and it may be envy too, strongly swayed him against his duty; for it appears sufficiently from the sequel of his history, that he was well acquainted with David's divine designation to the throne. But should he now submit to it, he must no more hope for the supreme command of the army, of which Joab was in possession, and well deserved to be so, as he was a tried friend and near kinsman of David. Nor was this all: Ish-bosheth was Abner's near kinsman, the interest of whose tribe and family was connected with his own. Add to all this, that Abner commanded under Saul in all the expeditions that he made against David; and it appears sufficiently clear from the history, that David was greatly an over-match for him in all military conduct. Thus envy, ambition, interest, and personal pique, led him to espouse the cause of Ish-bosheth, whom he brought over Jordan with him to Mahanaim; a city in the tribe of Gad, (see Genesis 32:2.) which he chose for his residence, the better to gain that part of the country to his interest, to be more out of the reach of David's and the Philistines' incursions, and to have the better opportunity of recruiting his army among a people not only brave and courageous, but very well affected to the cause that he had espoused.
2 Samuel 2:10. Ish-bosheth—was forty years old,—and reigned two years— Ish-bosheth was born in the year that Saul was made king, for Saul reigned forty years, Acts 13:21. Ish-bosheth reigned two years, says the sacred writer. Now, by referring to the next verse, and the first of the next chapter, we shall see that this is to be understood with some restriction. Ish-bosheth reigned all the time that David resided at Hebron, that is seven years and a half; but they both reigned two years in peace, without attacking each other; which seems to be all that the sacred historian would affirm. The five last years of Ish-bosheth's reign, were rather the years of Abner's reign than of his own; for this general left him only the name of a king. Different solutions are given to this passage by other interpreters. Houbigant, in particular, reads six instead of two years, but without any authority; and Le Clerc and Schmidt think, that Ish-bosheth really reigned only two years; an opinion utterly irreconcileable with the next chapter. Possibly, the words reigned two years, may be considered as referring to what follows in the 12th verse, to mark out the epocha of the commencement of hostilities between the two kings; and so they might be rendered, and he had reigned two years: then, inclosing the next and what follows in a parenthesis, the 12th verse might begin, Then Abner, &c. The phrase, went out, in that verse is military; and we frequently find to come in and go out, used in that sense in Scripture.
2 Samuel 2:14. Let the young men now arise, and play before us— The word rendered play signifies to conflict, or contend together. See Parkhurst on שׂחק sachak. It seems most probable, that Joab was ordered to act only upon the defensive, David having sworn not to destroy the family of Saul. 1 Samuel 24:22. In all likelihood, this was only a scheme of Abner's to pique Joab, and draw on the battle. Josephus understands the proposal as a trial of skill, to shew who had the best disciplined or bravest soldiers. Antiq. lib. vii. c. 1. and see Dr. Shaw's Travels, part ii. p. 250.
2 Samuel 2:16. They caught every one his fellow by the head— i.e. By the hair of the head, or beard. See 2 Samuel 20:9. Plutarch tells us, in his Apophthegms, that all things being prepared for a battle, Alexander's captains asked him, whether he had any thing else to command them? "Nothing," said he, "but that the Macedonians shave their beards." Parmenio wondering what he meant, "Don't you know," replied he, "that there is no better hold in fight than the beard."
REFLECTIONS.—The ambition of Abner, (who was general to Saul,) and zeal for his family, prevail upon him to set up Ish-bosheth, the only surviving and legitimate son of Saul as king; and whilst David, in dependance upon God's promises, remained quiet at Hebron, Abner, by his assiduity, gained over the land of Gilead beyond Jordan first, and then all the tribes but Judah, to acknowledge Ish-bosheth. And thus began that competition which, after two years of peace and five of war, terminated in the death of Ish-bosheth, and the entire submission of all the tribes to David. Note; Before we come to the throne, our faith will be tried, and we must expect war in the gates.
1. Abner begins the war, which, as it seems, David would never have entered into, though his right to the crown was so evident, if he had not been obliged; so desirous was he, rather to preserve the lives of those who should be his future subjects, than treat them now as rebels against his crown.
2. Abner seeing Joab, probably, backward to engage, David being unwilling to shed Israelitish blood, challenges him to produce twelve men of Judah, against twelve of his Israelites, to play before them, that is, fight so many duels; for, to a fierce warrior, blood and wounds are sport and pastime. Joab, like too many, had entertained those false notions of honour, according to which he dared not refuse the challenge; the men are selected, matched, enter the lists, and engage: each instantly seizes his fellow, plunges his sword into the other's side, and all of them fall together; so lavish are generals often of the lives of their brave soldiers, to gratify their caprice. The place, from this occurrence, is called הצרים חלקת cehelkath hazzurim, The Field of Rocks, from the brave men, hardy and firm as rocks, who fell there. Note; (1.) They buy honour very dear, who purchase it at the expence of their brother's blood. (2.) False notions of honour are among the accursed wiles that Satan employs for the destruction both of men's bodies and souls.
3. The general battle hereupon ensues, and Abner and his forces are routed. They who thus stir up strife, often meddle to their own hurt; and it is just in God, to punish the aggressor, and cover those with shame who seek to advance themselves upon their neighbour's ruin.
2 Samuel 2:18. And Asahel was as light of foot as a wild roe— Asahel was a gallant man, and one of David's twelve captains, remarkably valiant, but more remarkably swift; light of foot as a roe in the field. See 1 Chronicles 12:8. Hasselquist's Travels, p. 190 and Shaw's Travels, part 2: p. 414.
2 Samuel 2:21. Turn thee aside to thy right hand, &c.— The conduct of Abner appears heroic and amiable. He was very desirous of sparing Asahel, advising him not to engage with an old and experienced officer like himself, but to turn against one of the young men, who would be an easy conquest, and whose armour he might carry off as his spoil. Asahel, however, was not to be persuaded; and therefore Abner smote him under the fifth rib, 2 Samuel 2:23 or in the belly. See 2 Samuel 20:10. With the hinder end of the spear we render it, which does not seem to have been the case, as he rather smote him with the upper end of the spear; for the spear went through his belly and came out at his back: therefore Houbigant renders it, properly, Abner smote him in the belly, turning his spear backwards: as Abner was foremost, he turned his spear behind him, and so killed Asahel. See Scheuchzer on the place.
2 Samuel 2:27. And Joab said, as God liveth, &c.— "Unless thou hadst spoken, probably means, unless thou had said, let the young men, &c. 2 Samuel 2:14 i.e. unless thou hadst provoked me to battle; surely all the people had ceased from following their brethren even from the morning: unless thou hadst drawn on the combat, there had been neither slaughter nor pursuit." Cicero well observes of civil wars, that all things are miserable in them, but victory most miserable of all. Joab seems to have been very sensible of this, as he so readily withdrew his forces from the pursuit.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, Abner's forces being routed, he himself is compelled to fly for his life, but is closely pursued by Joab's brother Asahel, whose swiftness was as the mountain roe: having singled him out, he sticks close to him, ambitious to make him his prisoner, and hoping thus to end the war, of which Abner was the chief support. It was nobly aimed, but he was an unequal match, and therefore pursued only his own ruin. Note; They who aim too high, stand on a precipice which makes their fall the deeper. Abner saw the young man's ambition, and kindly admonished him of his danger, desiring him to seize some other prey, to which he might be equal; but, fired with ambition, he continues the pursuit, and perhaps imputes to timidity the friendly caution. Once more Abner begs him not to put him on the unwilling necessity of hurting him; for how should he then look his brother in the face, whom, though an enemy, he respected. The remonstrance was vain, Asahel persists, and rues his folly. Abner, as he advanced, gave him a mortal stroke, and he fell dead to the earth. Note; (1.) The qualifications that we are proud of commonly prove our ruin. (2.) When we are most eager in the pursuit of our worldly schemes, and seem ready to grasp the prize of happiness, death, like Abner's spear, stops our career, and lays our big-swoln hopes and honour in the dust.
2nd, The routed troops of Abner making a stand on the hill, being joined by some fresh forces from Benjamin,
1. Abner begs of Joab to stay the pursuit. He who made a sport of the sword in the morning, now dreads its devouring edge, and fain would have it return to the scabbard again; he pleads with Joab the near relation between the people; they were brethren; and if brother imbrued his hands in brother's blood, whichever of them gained the day, the remembrance would be bitter: sound reasoning, but just a day too late; had he thus argued with himself before, the sword had not been drawn. But we can see that right when the case is our own, which pride and prejudice prevented us from discerning when our neighbour's interest only was at stake.
2. Joab nobly agrees to the request: no doubt, his orders were to be sparing of blood, and therefore he lays the blame of what had been shed on Abner's obstinacy, but for whose challenge they might have retired in the morning in peace. A retreat is now sounded, and Abner suffered to depart to Mahanaim, while Joab returns to his king at Hebron. Asahel receives all military honours, and is buried in the sepulchre of his fathers, but the rest on the field of battle. Thus terminates the first rencounter in favour of David, as a prelude to his greater future successes. Note; (1.) It is vain to struggle against the divine appointment. (2.) Though the clods of the valley are made more honourable to some than others, and they are distinguished in the grave, yet when they come again from thence, nobility will meet no distinction, and only the good be great on a resurrection-day.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 2". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany