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Bible Commentaries
2 Samuel 4

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-12


2 Samuel 4:1

When Saul's son heard that Abner was dead. The news of Abner's death must have had a doubly depressing effect upon Ishbosheth; for he learned, not only that the mainstay of his kingdom was slain, but that even he, in despair of a successful issue, had been engaged in treasonable negotiations with his rival. All the Israelites were troubled. Their trouble was caused rather by uncertainty than by fear. Abner's plans had fallen through, and the fact of his murder threw grave suspicions on David. Had he now attacked Israel, the chiefs would most probably have stood loyally by Saul's house. But he did nothing, and his innocence slowly but gradually was made clear. They were thus in a state of suspense, and waiting till some brave man arose to lead them to a decision. Unfortunately, a fresh crime threw everything back into hopeless confusion.

2 Samuel 4:2

Saul's son had two men captains of bands. The bands mentioned were light-armed troops, used in forays, such as that mentioned in 2 Samuel 3:22. Their captains would be men of importance with Ishbosheth, who is here described somewhat contemptuously, not as king, nor by his own name, but as "Saul's son." Beeroth. This place, literally the Wells, was one of the four towns reserved for the Gibeonites (Joshua 9:17), though nominally belonging to Benjamin (Joshua 18:25). The note, that it was reckoned to Benjamin, suggests that it had until quite lately been occupied by the Canaanites, whose flight to Gittaim had no doubt been caused by Saul's cruel attack upon them referred to in 2 Samuel 21:1, 2 Samuel 21:2. It was thus remarkable that the destruction of Saul's dynasty was the work of the Gibeonites of Beeroth. As we find another of these Beerothites, Naharai, holding the office of armour bearer to Joab (1 Chronicles 11:39), it seems probable that many of them saved themselves from expulsion by becoming soldiers. But among David's worthies a large number were strangers, and some even men of foreign extraction. Beeroth, however, was probably seized in Saul's reign by the Benjamites, by force, and occupied by them, as its citizens returned in large numbers from the exile (Ezra 2:25), and are counted as genuine Israelites. Moreover, by thus dispossessing the natives, Saul was able to give his tribesmen "fields and vineyards" (1 Samuel 22:7), which otherwise would have been in violation of the Mosaic Law.

2 Samuel 4:3

Gittaim. This word is a dual, and means "the two Gaths;" the one being, probably, the acropolis, or upper town, at the foot of which nestled a new Gath, protected by the ancient stronghold. It is mentioned as belonging to Benjamin in Nehemiah 11:33; but could not have been an Israelite town at this time, as the Beerothites are described as sojourners, that is, dwellers in a foreign country. When expelled from Beeroth, they probably seized Gittaim by force, and, on the reconciliation effected by the execution of Saul's sons, returned to their allegiance to Israel.

2 Samuel 4:4

Jonathan, Saul's son, had a son. This is mentioned to show that Saul's lineage virtually became extinct on Ishbosheth's death. Mephibosheth, the heir, was a cripple, and physically incapable of reigning. Saul had, indeed, sons by a concubine, and grandchildren by his daughter Merab (2 Samuel 21:8). But throughout the history there is no hint that any of these were regarded as the representatives of Saul's house. (For the name Mephibosheth, see note on 2 Samuel 2:8.)

2 Samuel 4:6, 2 Samuel 4:7

As though they would have fetched wheat. Not only is the narrative confused, but the versions offer extraordinary varieties of reading. The murder of Ishbosheth is fully described in 2 Samuel 4:7, and is there in its place, while it is out of place in 2 Samuel 4:6. And that the captains would themselves fetch wheat, instead of having it carried from the granary by their men; and that they would go through the king's chamber to obtain it; are both improbable. The very act of going to get wheat at midday, when everybody was having his siesta, would itself be suspicious. The Syriac says nothing about wheat, but that these "wicked men took and smote him." The Vulgate and LXX. lay the blame on the woman who kept the door, the narrative of the latter being as follows: "They entered into the house of Ishbosheth in the heat of the day, and he was asleep in his midday chamber And behold, the woman that kept the door of the house had been winnowing wheat, and she slumbered and slept. And the brothers Rechab and Baanah entered the house without being noticed, and Ishbosheth was asleep on his bed in his chamber, and they smote him," etc. There is, confessedly, considerable confusion in the text, but the versions do not altogether clear it up; and until we have better materials for forming a judgment, we must be content to wait. In 2 Samuel 4:5, instead of "who lay on a bed at noon," the Hebrew has "as he was taking his noonday rest." In 2 Samuel 4:7 the bed is the divan, or raised bank, which in an Oriental house runs along the wall, and is supplied with pieces of carpet, or cushions, on which to sit cross legged or recline. For sleep, the corners were the favourite places. Even the public rooms had these divans. But Ishbosheth had probably retired for his siesta into a private chamber, where the captains knew that he would be alone. The plain through which they fled was the Arabah, or Jordan valley, as in 2 Samuel 2:29.

2 Samuel 4:8

Which sought thy life. Saul had sought David's life, but Ishbosheth was innocent of any such attempts. Still, had he been victorious, David, as his rival, would certainly have been put to death. Jehovah hath avenged my lord the king. The ordinary language of the East is so religious that these words imply nothing more than that these wicked men saw in their base act a step towards the carrying out of a Divine purpose. But in thus referring to the common belief that David's kingdom was assured to him by Jehovah, they evidently intended to commend their deed to the really devout mind of the king.

2 Samuel 4:9, 2 Samuel 4:10

And David answered. David's answer is worthy of him. His appeal to Jehovah, as One that had saved him in all time of adversity, was a declaration that he had no need of criminals. And throughout he had carefully abstained from taking any steps to bring about the accomplishment of God's will, and had been upright and forbearing alike to Ishbosheth and Saul. How noble his conduct was we see by the contrast with Macbeth, whose better nature was poisoned and spoiled by the hope that he should be king hereafter. At the end of the verse the force is weakened in the Authorized Version by the insertion of irrelevant words. What David said is, "I slew him in Ziklag, and that was the reward I gave him for his tidings."

2 Samuel 4:11

A righteous person. Ishbosheth was probably a weak rather than a wicked man; but David is not speaking of him generally, and, as regards Rechab and Baanah, he was quite guiltless, and their crime was not in revenge for any wrong done them.

2 Samuel 4:12

They out off their hands and their feet. This was not intended for the purpose of mutilation, but to carry out an Eastern idea of retaliation. The hands were cut off because they had committed the murder; the feet, because they had brought the head to Hebron. Still, David was violating the spirit of the Mosaic Law. It ordered that the body of a man who had been put to death should be buried the same day (Deuteronomy 21:23). In the face of this humane enactment, it is wonderful that the laws of Christian countries should have allowed the mutilation of the bodies of traitors, and the hanging on gibbets of criminals convicted of smaller crimes. Remembering, therefore, the customs of our fathers, we must not blame David much for suspending the bands and feet of these murderers at the pool of Hebron, that all, when coming for water, might know of their punishment. The head of Ishbosheth was honourably buried in Abner's grave (see 2 Samuel 3:32).


2 Samuel 4:1-12

The facts are:

1. On the death of Abner, consternation seizes Ishbosheth and his friends.

2. The only other representative of the house of Saul was a mere boy, whose age and bodily infirmity rendered his coming to the front out of the question.

3. Two of Ishbosheth's officers, forming a secret design, visit Ishbosheth as though on business connected with their duties, and slay him.

4. Stealing away by night, they carry the head of Ishbosheth to David at Hebron, and think to satisfy thereby his love of revenge.

5. David, eagerly reminding himself that God had always delivered him without his having recourse to bloodshed, reminds his visitors also of the punishment he had inflicted on others in a similar case at Ziklag, and denounces their deed as even more atrocious.

6. Thereupon David causes the murderers to be executed, and their limbs to be exhibited in Hebron as a warning to the wicked, and meanwhile he bestows funereal honours on the head of Ishbosheth.

Worldly blindness the parent of sorrow and wrong.

The whole of the events of this chapter proceed from the inability of men to read the high principles that governed the conduct of David. The general truth may be developed as follows.

I. THE BODINGS OF IGNORANCE FILL A LARGE SPACE IN THE LIVES OF SOME MEN. When it is said that Ishbosheth and his people were paralyzed and troubled by the news of the death of Abner, the question comes—Why? Was it because now the healing policy of Abner and David (2 Samuel 3:17-21) would yield to the more fierce policy of Josh? Did the young king and his followers imagine that now it was simply a question of best terms, and that submission was inevitable? Or were they apprehensive that, although David made terms with Abner for the sake of securing his aid, now, when that aid was no longer available for the consolidation of his power, he would take revenge on all who had supported the Cause of Ishbosheth? In any case, their fears were not warranted by the governing facts of the situation. Their safety and welfare rested with David, and had they known him, had they read his principles aright, they might have been quite at ease in allowing events to take their course in his supremacy. Their forebodings of trouble sprang from ignorance of the man they had to deal with. They formed their estimate of his possible future conduct on the standards familiar amongst themselves. His life was too lofty in tone and aspiration for them to understand. How much of human life is spoiled, is charged with sorrows and fears, which would have no place were our vision clearer and our estimate of others more just and true! Men too often judge of the thoughts and ways of God by their own standard, and so apprehend what never need have troubled them. Our ignorance of coming events exercises a larger influence over our feelings than is proper; for though we do not know exactly what win occur, we ought to know that all things are in the wisest and kindest of hands. In human relationships men make troubles by supposing their fellow men, often, to be otherwise affected than they actually are. Even the disciples were troubled in consequence of their blameworthy ignorance of the wisdom and power of their Master, and they were challenged to get rid of the sorrows bred of ignorance by reposing in him a trust as absolute as they, pious Hebrews, were wont to repose in the Eternal (John 14:1, John 14:2).

II. THE ATTACHMENT OF MEN NOT SPIRITUALLY ENLIGHTENED IS OF DOUBTFUL PERMANENCE. The attachment of the sons of Rimmon and others to the cause of Ishbosheth was based on anything but enlightened views of the theocracy, or a clear interpretation of the events of the life of Saul and David, which must have been well known. Indeed, as in the days of "David's greater Son" the mark of distinction among men lay in the spiritual recognition of him as Divine amidst his sorrows and trials, so in David's time only true unworldly men, whose eyes were open to see the spiritual element in his life, formed political attachments on superior knowledge. That which is earthly partakes of the instability of earth, and, however outwardly zealous the supporters of Ishbosheth may have been and even sincere according to their light, they were open to the influences to change which are sure to arise in times of trouble, but which could never move a mind that saw the higher principles involved in David's claim. The historian seems to imply this in his reference to the age and infirmity of Mephibosheth, as much as to say there was no one else of the house of Saul around whom men might rally in case Ishbosheth's cause should fail. No resort was left but to abandon the young king in his troubles, and form new and more promising attachments. Imagine a Jonathan slackening his attachment to David in his time of stress! or a Paul losing interest in Christ when persecutions arose! On the other hand, there are many instances in which the weakened attachment of the sons of Rimmon, proceeding as that attachment did from low and mere conventional views, finds a counterpart in human life. Companionships based on community of sensual enjoyments are held by bonds which perish in adversity. Friendships are perishable in so far as they are pervaded by a worldly element. Whatever ties are formed on any feelings, interests, or considerations than those which make us all one in Christ, cannot but vanish as we pass from the earthly scene into the world where alone the spiritual bond endures. And in the Church militant the adherence of numbers lacks a permanence to be counted on in proportion as it is based on custom, convenience, fashion, superstition, defective knowledge of Scripture, and dimness of spiritual apprehension. Plate was not far from the truth in saying that knowledge and reality were one. Scripture everywhere gives prominence to the unifying, ennobling power of spiritual perception. The distinction of children of light and of darkness proceeds thereon. The "spiritual man judgeth all things." The rejection of Christ was connected with blindness to the higher and more spiritual qualities of his life (1 Corinthians 2:8-16).

III. MEN OF UNSPIRITUAL VIEWS ARE, BY REASON OF THEIR BLINDNESS, OPEN TO TERRIBLE TEMPTATIONS, AND MAY BE CARRIED AWAY TO EVIL BY THE LOWER PASSIONS OF THEIR NATURE. These sons of Rimmon, like others, began to consider what course would be most advantageous to themselves, now that the cause of Ishbosheth seemed to be on the wane. Looking on the position of the two kings as simply the consequence of purely worldly forces coming into competition, and caring most of all to be on the winning side, they asked themselves what conduct on their part would be sure to win the favour of David, the stronger of the two. Had they at that juncture in the process of thought conceived of David as a man of God, of high spiritual aims, destined to work out a Divine purpose on principles of righteousness, and ambitious to translate the purest principles of private life into the affairs of his kingdom, they would only have thought of doing some deed of justice and mercy, such as a man of that character would delight in. But being destitute of these spiritual perceptions, regarding all things on the low base level of a worldly expediency, and judging David to be much such a man as themselves, there arose in their process of thought fair opportunity for the cruellest and basest propensities of their nature, to put forth their strength and suggest the murder of the unfortunate king as an act of present wisdom. It takes many impulses and thoughts of advantage and disadvantage to bring about a great crime, and it is difficult, in analyzing the mental antecedents of the crime, to assign to each its exact influence; but it is obvious in this case that worldliness of view, lack of spiritual apprehension, undue estimate of a lofty character, rendered the crime possible, and even cleared away the barriers of reason against its accomplishment. They judged David to be as themselves, and they acted accordingly. The belief that he would be glad inspired the concoction of the plot, and gave tone of exultation in their approach to him with the head of the murdered man. Their darkness was dense, and in this sense theirs was a deed of darkness. It is often that men fall into the snare of the devil in consequence of their lack of spiritual perception. The false is glossed, the true is veiled. Even disciples, not clearly perceiving the purely spiritual character of their Lord's mission, desired fire from heaven to destroy the unbelieving. During the "dark ages" men perpetrated dreadful deeds to please Christ, not rising to a true appreciation of his character and methods. Low conceptions of the nature of the kingdom of Christ as it is in the world, now induce men professing an interest in it to render service in forms that would never be entertained were his kingdom regarded as he regards it—one of purity, of love, and of righteousness. And as this worldly mindedness was a sore cause of sorrow and trouble to David, and hindered the establishment of his authority, so the same evil militates much against the final triumph of our Lord. Hence the need of teaching and the power of the Holy Spirit to open the eyes of the blind, that they may appreciate and regulate their actions by the high principles embodied in the character and kingdom of Christ.


1. Destitution of the power of spiritual apprehension and appreciation is a radical evil of human nature, and can never be removed by any other means than those which God has provided in his truth and the grace of the Holy Spirit.

2. If we would have men knit in imperishable bonds of affection and common interest, we must seek to get them to see Christ as he is, and enter into relationships on the basis of his kingdom.

3. In all our dealings with men we should be careful not to put forward our own feelings and aims as a standard by which to judge them.

Clustered truths.

It is not easy to weave all the teaching of this chapter on one line, and yet the various incidents recorded all centre in the disaster which befell the King of Israel consequent on the secession and death of Abner. It may thus be advantageous, for the sake of securing unity of form, to look at the remaining leading truths of the chapter as clustering around this sad event.

I. THE SMALLER FIGURES OF HISTORY. Mephibosheth here figures as an insignificant person in the narrative of persons and events connected with the gradual unfolding of the purposes of God. A mere boy, lamed by a careless nurse, a son of one who had renounced all claim to the throne! His name and misfortune are mentioned, and the tide of events moves on. Now and then we meet with such incidental references in the Bible history. They are but specimens of multitudes equally insignificant who played a small part in the affairs of the world, and are unknown forever. Their selection for brief allusion is doubtless part of a vast providential method by which the historians were unconsciously guided to refer to whatever might illustrate the process of elimination by which God at last accomplished his purpose in first raising up David to supreme dominion of his people, and afterwards the true David of the present dispensation. The poor lad little knew that he was an element in the working out of a great purpose, and that, small as was his figure in life, it served as a foil to God's greater characters. Modern science teaches us that nothing is really lost, that all small items are used up in the great development of things towards a future higher condition. So the humbler forms of human life are not all lost. They play their part, and to some extent modify all that comes after them. In the Church of Christ, the little ones, feeble and uninfluential in a worldly sense, have some part to perform in the great spiritual development which God is working out. Our Mephibosheths are not lost to mankind. The smaller figures of life render the totality of life more varied, and develop qualities which uniform greatness could never originate.

II. NOTORIOUS IMMORTALITY. These sons of Rimmon have won for themselves a notorious immortality. Had it not been for their base and cruel deed, their names would never have appeared on the page of history. Their crime has given them a prominent place as compared with wiser and better men. In this case, the reason of it is doubtless to be found in the circumstance that their deed served to bring out into more distinctness the character of the kingdom which God was then establishing by means of David, and so, incidentally, it forms one of the links in that singular chain of events by which at last the Christ found a way prepared for him to dwell among men. There is a base passion in some men for this kind of notoriety. Some criminals have gloried in it, and have seemed to derive some satisfaction from the thought that, at all events, they have created a sensation, and will for a time, and perhaps forever, figure in history. Miserable consolations of sin! The utter delusiveness of sinful reasoning! The charm and delight could only be for a few days; the anguish and shame would come when the eye saw the world no more and the ear ceased to listen to the hum of the people, and then abide forever. The curse of the righteous rests on the notoriety, and so it becomes a very occasion of deep and recurring disgrace. In modern times incalculable injury is done by a low literature that feeds this morbid love of notoriety of evil, and in the education of youth too much care cannot be given to secure them from the infection.

III. IMPLICIT ASPERSION OF CHARACTER. When these sons of Rimmon went to David with the head of Ishbosheth, no doubt openly and even boasting before they reached his presence, they by that act implicitly cast on his character the foulest and most painful aspersions. It was in act a declaration to men that David was a man of blood, that he looked on the son of Saul as a foe to be got rid of by any means, and that if only supremacy could be obtained over all the people, he cared not particularly as to the means. To David this was the interpretation of the act, and the people about him could not but regard it in that light. Character may be aspersed by deeds in various forms, and by people who do not see that there is aspersion in their conduct. The flatteries of some men are virtually reflections on purity of life. The requests of some men for a certain line of action are founded sometimes on a supposition of character that would be repudiated and scorned.

IV. RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION. David at once saw the varied bearing of the conduct of these sons of Rimmon; its base treachery, its cold cruelty, its political treason, its disregard of the claims of misfortune, its foolish policy, and, not least, its false and wicked misrepresentations of his own character. To the man called of God, who had in all his adversities trusted in God, whose mission was to establish a rule more wise and just than that of Saul, and to raise the ideas of the people to a higher level and prepare them to perform a part in opening the way for the great Messiah, this insult must have been agonizing. His quick spiritual sensibilities were at once stirred, and yet his indignation was the more strong and impressive in that he selected words wherewith to show to them the enormity of their guilt, and then delivered them to the execution they deserved.. Apart from his natural aversion to "bloody men," and his regard for the sacredness of human life even in the case of those who injured him, he could not but dwell in his own private reflections on the shameful insult offered to himself in the supposition that he could glory in such a deed. A fire burned in his soul. All good men, who regard purity and righteousness of life as above all things, will fully sympathize with David. Have we not here a clue to the Saviour's anguish when evil men supposed that he performed miracles by means of the power of Beelzebub? And was not this, perhaps, the deadly sin against the Holy Ghost (Matthew 12:24-32)?

V. GENEROSITY TO UNFORTUNATE MEN. David was a man rich in noble feelings. His proud indignation at the insult paid to him was accompanied with immediate regard for the unfortunate king whose life had been brought to so untimely an end. For him he cherished true pity. He regarded him as the son of Saul the anointed of the Lord, a man forced probably into a position of danger by stronger wills, and at least mistaken in his views as to what was best for the tribes on the death of his father; and hence, with the generosity so characteristic of him, he had his few remains buried with all honour in the sepulchre of his distinguished captain. Here comes out the unworldliness of David's character. Success in life and rise to a high position too often render men indifferent to those on whom fortune has not smiled. There are many like Ishbosheth men who have been pushed into positions for which they were unfitted, or have been swayed by feeble reasons of their own into a course of life not useful, or have striven in vain against great social obstacles, and so have come to disappointment and grief. As our Lord was compassionate and considerate of the lowly, so all who cherish his spirit will find out means of showing kindness to the unfortunate, even though they may have been in the position of opponents.


2 Samuel 4:1-3


The unhappy lot of Ishbosheth.

Of the varied types of character which these chapters furnish, that which appears in Ishbosheth (Eshbaal, 1 Chronicles 8:33) is a most pitiable one. The last surviving son of Saul, he bore little resemblance to his heroic father; owed his life to his incapacity for military enterprise; was the legitimate successor of Saul according to the law of Oriental succession; after the brief suspense in which the elders of Israel seemed disposed to accept David as king (2 Samuel 2:7; 2 Samuel 3:17), was taken under the patronage of Abner; at the end of five years was fully recognized, being forty years old; and reigned two years (2 Samuel 2:10). It is uncertain how far he was aware of David's Divine designation to the throne, and consciously opposed its fulfilment; and, since the latter was not chosen by the elders, he was not guilty of usurpation. Although David could not speak of him as king, he called him "a righteous person" (2 Samuel 4:11)—"a man who had done no one any harm" (Josephus)—in the same magnanimous spirit as he always exhibited toward the house of Saul. He was:

1. Raised to a position for which he was unfit. "The Scripture presents in him a living example of how the sacredly held right of legitimate inheritance has no root when it is not ennobled by vigorous personality. When the Divine calling is lacking, no legitimate pretensions help" (Cassel). He was destitute of mental force, courage, and energy; ambitious of royal honour and ease; not of royal service and beneficence. The highest offices should be held by the best men. In an ideal state of society it cannot be otherwise; but in its actual condition we often see "servants upon horses, and princes walking as servants upon the earth" (Ecclesiastes 10:7). He who seeks or consents to occupy a position of influence and responsibility for which he is unfit, and those who seek or accept his appointment to it, inflict a serious injury upon themselves and one another. The rule of the "bramble" results in the destruction of all the trees of the forest (Judges 10:15).

2. Deprived of the support on which he relied. "Abner was dead;" by whom he had been exalted and sustained, and to whom, rather than to God, he looked for counsel and help. Although he had alienated him by imprudent remonstrance (2 Samuel 3:7), yet "he may have hoped to obtain an honourable satisfaction by his mediation" (Hengstenberg). This hope was now cut off. "Cursed be the man that trusteth in man," etc. (Jeremiah 17:5; Psalms 143:3, Psalms 143:4).

3. Reduced to a condition of extreme weakness. "His hands became feeble." Nothing remained but unconditional submission or ineffectual and hopeless resistance. He was prepared for neither, and surrendered himself to despair; suffering the consequences of his own "foolishness" (Proverbs 19:3).

4. Contributory to the distress of a whole people. "And all Israel was troubled"—agitated, alarmed, confounded, desponding; having no confidence in his ability, participating in his fears, and, like him, experiencing the effects of former errors. "By his death the treaty with David was broken off; or there was no one to manage it with such authority and prudence as Abner had done" (Patrick).

5. Exposed to the villainy of unfaithful servants. "And Saul's son had two men," etc. They belonged to his own tribe, and, should have been his protectors; served him in prosperity, when he could reward them; but turned against him in adversity, when he could no longer serve their interests; and, although they had suffered no wrong at his hands (2 Samuel 4:11), acted toward him unjustly and with "treasonous malice," craft, and cruelty.

6. Smitten at a season of apparent security. "At noon, in his own house, upon his bed;" where he sought a brief repose, and slept to wake no more. He was left unguarded, and perished "unawares" (Luke 21:34). His head was buried "in the sepulchre of Abner in Hebron;" and the opposition to "the house of David" was at an end. None survived of "the house of Saul" save an afflicted son of Jonathan (2 Samuel 4:4), who could be supposed to have any claim to the crown.

7. Removed as the last obstacle to the accession of a worthier man. And herein the overruling providence of God again appears in bringing to pass "the word of the Lord by Samuel" (2 Samuel 1:1, 2 Samuel 1:2). "It is significant that the destruction of Saul's house and kingdom should have issued from Beeroth, the Gibeonite city (2 Samuel 21:1, 2 Samuel 21:2)" ('Speaker's Commentary').—D.

2 Samuel 4:4


An unfortunate prince: a sermon to children.

Mephibosheth was the only son of Jonathan, the friend of David and eldest sort of King Saul. When he was five years old the country was invaded by the Philistines (1 Samuel 29:1), his father went forth with the king from Gibeah to fight against them in Jezreel, and he was left at home in the care of a nurse (his mother probably being dead). They waited anxiously for news of the conflict; and at length there came a messenger saying that the battle was lost, the king and Jonathan were dead, and the terrible Philistines were coming to plunder and burn the place. The nurse caught up the child, and carried him away on her shoulder; but in her flight across the hills she stumbled, and the little prince fell, was hurt in both his feet, and became a helpless cripple for the rest of his days.

I. CHILDHOOD IS BESET BY MANY PERILS. No other creature on earth is weaker, more helpless or dependent at the commencement of life, than a child. He is peculiarly liable to accident and susceptible to disease; incapable of defending himself from harm or preserving his own life; and is cast entirely upon the care of others. A little neglect on their part may prove fatal. More than a fourth of all the children that are born die before they are five years old. There is the still greater danger to your souls of being allowed to grow up in ignorance and led into "the way of transgressors," stumbling and perishing therein (Matthew 18:6). Be thankful to your parents, nurses, and teachers for their care over you; still more to your heavenly Father who has taught them such care, appointed his holy angels to be your guardians, sent his Son to bless you, and himself loves, preserves, watches over you, and seeks your salvation (Matthew 18:10-14).

II. EVEN A PRINCE IS NOT FREE FROM MISFORTUNE. You may sometimes wish that you belonged to a royal or wealthy family, lived in a palace, and had numerous servants to wait upon you; supposing that you would be happier than you are. Well, here is a prince; yet motherless, fatherless, homeless, helpless, and hopeless. How much better is your condition than that of this poor little orphan cripple! No condition of life is above the reach of trouble; none beneath the possession of enjoyment. Envy not the lot of others, nor fret and be dissatisfied with your own. Hear a fable of three little fishes that dwelt in a beautiful stream. On being asked what they wished for, one said, "Wings," and when these grew he flew away so high and so far that he could not get back, sank exhausted, and breathed his last; another said, "Knowledge," and when he obtained it, became anxious and fearful, and durst not touch a fly or a worm or eat any food, lest it should contain a fatal bait, pined away and died; the third said, "I wish for nothing, but am contented with my lot," and this little fish had a long and happy life. Have you not heard of the apostle who was a prisoner for Jesus' sake, and said, "I have learned in whatsoever state [am therewith to be content" (Philippians 4:11)?

"There is a cross in every lot,

And an earnest need for prayer;

But a lowly heart that leans on thee

Is happy anywhere."

When a little blind girl was asked the reason of her affliction, she replied, "Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight."

III. THE UNFORTUNATE ARE NEVER LEFT WITHOUT A FRIEND. And "a friend in need is a friend indeed." What became of Mephibosheth? He was carried beyond the river Jordan, out of the reach of the Philistines; found a home "in the house of Machir, the son of Ammiel, in Lo-debar" (2 Samuel 9:4; 2 Samuel 17:27), in the neighbourhood of Mahanaim, among the mountains of Gilead; was treated with kindness; and dwelt in a place of safety until he became a man. Only a few persons knew where he lived, or whether he were alive; and when King David heard of him, he invited him to Jerusalem, that he might show him kindness "for Jonathan's sake." Affliction appeals to our pity, and tends to call forth our sympathy and help. We should never despise the unfortunate nor mock at their misfortune; but always try to do them good. Above all, in our trouble we should trust in God, in whom "the fatherless findeth mercy" (Hosea 14:3). "When my father and mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up" (Psalms 27:10).

IV. A GREAT MISFORTUNE OFTEN PROVES A GREAT BLESSING. If Mephibosheth had not been made lame by the accident of his childhood, he would have been tempted to aim at the crown, and might have rushed into ambitious and godless enterprises as others did, and perished in like manner. As it was, he spent his days in quietness and peace. His affliction was the means of making him humble, thankful, patient, and devout. His father's property was restored to him by his father's friend; and he had an honourable place assigned to him at the royal table (2 Samuel 9:13). How often is an orphan taught by the loss of his father to seek his father's God! The hand of God overrules evil for good. And all earthly trouble, when endured in a right spirit, is a preparation for a heavenly home.—D.

2 Samuel 4:5-8



"And they brought the head of Ishbosheth unto David to Hebron" (2 Samuel 4:8).

1. What useful purpose can the record of the atrocious deeds of such men serve? To throw light upon the condition of the age in which they occurred. To confirm inspired testimony concerning human depravity (Psalms 14:1-7.). To exhibit the tendency of the evil principles and passions by which these men were actuated, and incite hatred and abhorrence of them. To show that the wickedness of the wicked is subject to restraint and returns upon their own heads in significant punishment. To make us grateful for our preservation from crime and from calamity; thankful for the improved condition of society, and zealous for its farther advancement.

2. The crime of the two brothers, Baanah and Rechab, which has given them an infamous immortality, was not an ordinary murder. What their former course had been, and whether they were influenced by any other motive besides the love of gain, we know not. But in taking away the life of the head of their tribe, the ruler under whom they held their position, and in their subsequent conduct, they acted disloyally, ungratefully, deceitfully, basely. Notice their—

I. DELIBERATE TREASON. Having lost the feeling of reverence and obligation, they marked the helplessness of Ishbosheth, and resolved to take advantage of it; consulted together as to the time and means of effecting their design; "went, and came about the heat of the day," etc. (2 Samuel 4:5); "and behold, the woman who kept the door of the house winnowed wheat, and she slumbered and slept. And the brothers Rechab and Baanah got through unobserved," etc. (LXX.).

1. In proportion to the duty of men to do good to others is their guilt in doing them evil.

2. Premeditated sin greatly aggravates its guilt.

3. Those whose hearts are set on crime are lured on by circumstances to its commission.

II. HEARTLESS CRUELTY. "He lay on his bed in his bed chamber," taking his midday siesta, "and they smote him" etc. (2 Samuel 4:7). Men of violence, with more than the ordinary fierceness of their tribe, they "murdered sleep, the innocent sleep," without pity and without compunction, being "past feeling;" escaped with their ghastly trophy; and "gat them away through the plain [of the Jordan] all night" to Hebron (a distance of sixty miles), knowing not that they were swiftly pursued by nemesis with unerring aim, and hurrying to their doom (Acts 28:4).

III. HYPOCRITICAL MEANNESS. "Behold the head of Ishbosheth thine enemy," etc. (2 Samuel 4:8). In order to gain the favour of David they hesitated not to blacken the character of their former master by attributing to him feelings of personal revenge; called him their lord the king; and represented their crime as an act of judgment performed by them under the sanction of Jehovah. How often do ungodly men profanely and hypocritically use the name of God when it suits their purpose; and even paint their shameful villainies as praiseworthy virtues! "Hypocrisy is the homage which vice pays to virtue."

IV. MERCENARY SELFISHNESS. Like the Amalekite (2 Samuel 1:2), they sought, not David's welfare, but their own interest (2 Samuel 4:10). Hence "their feet were swift to shed blood" (Isaiah 59:7; Romans 3:9-18), and "their mouth was fall of deceit" (Psalms 10:3-10). "Cursed be he that taketh reward to slay an innocent person" (Deuteronomy 27:26). For thirty pieces of silver Judas betrayed the Lord.

V. SELF-BLINDED MISJUDGMENT. They were probably acquainted with the manner in which Abner had been treated (2 Samuel 3:20) and with the impunity of his murderer; and not unnaturally supposed that whatever promoted the interests of David would be pleasing to him. The nature of the wicked is ever to measure others by themselves. Their ruling motive gives its colouring to their views of everything, and leads them to attribute to the same motive actions which are due to one entirely different. Their delusion is sometimes suddenly dispelled, and they fall into the pit which they have digged (Psalms 7:15; Psalms 37:15). "Hell is truth discovered too late."

VI. JUSTLY DESERVED DOOM. (2 Samuel 4:12.) "David acted with strict justice in this case also, not only to prove to the people that he had neither commanded nor approved the murder, but from heartfelt abhorrence of such crimes and to keep his conscience void of offence toward God and toward man" (Keil). "Indeed, in a war of five years' continuance, which followed upon Saul's death, David never lifted up his sword against a subject; and at the end of it he punished no rebel; he remembered no offence but the murder of his rival." "Though Mephibosheth (the next avenger of blood) was lame and could not overtake them, yet God's justice followed and punished them when they little expected" (Wordsworth).—D.

2 Samuel 4:9-11


A good man's motto.

"As Jehovah liveth, who hath redeemed my soul out of all adversity," etc.

1. An oath, such as David took, is properly an act of worship—a direct and solemn appeal to God as a witness, in confirmation of an assertion or of a promise or expressed obligation. There is implied an imprecation of Divine displeasure if the truth be not spoken or the engagement be not fulfilled. It was customary from ancient times (Genesis 14:22; Genesis 21:23); often enjoined in the Law (Deuteronomy 6:13; Exodus 22:10); and served important purposes (Hebrews 6:16). Nor is it absolutely prohibited under the Christian dispensation (Matthew 26:63; Rom 1:9; 2 Corinthians 1:23; Philippians 1:8). "The Saviour forbids absolutely such oaths only as are hostile to the reverence that is due to God" (Tholuck, 'Serm. on the Mount;' Hodge, 'Syst. Theology,' 3:307; Paley; Dymond, 'Essays').

2. Baanah and Rechab virtually claimed the Divine sanction to their deed, which, they said, was an act of judgment on David's enemies, and a means of preserving his life. But David could not admit their claim, and would have no part in their crime, however it might seem to promote his interest; and (lifting up his right hand toward heaven, Deuteronomy 32:40) he appealed to the living God, on whom, and not on man, least of all on man's wickedness, the preservation of his life depended, in confirmation of his purpose to inflict upon them the punishment of death, which was more richly deserved by them than by one on whom he formerly inflicted it when he confessed to a similar deed.

3. His appeal, considered with reference to the principles and feelings it involved, may be regarded as a statement of the motto of his life and expressive of—

I. BELIEF IN THE LIVING GOD. "Living (is) Jehovah," equivalent to "as surely as Jehovah liveth" (Judges 8:19; Ruth 3:13; 1 Samuel 20:3; 1Sa 25:34; 1 Samuel 29:6; Jeremiah 38:16, "who has made for us this soul"). "Along with the name of God, the person swearing would at the same time designate his other attributes, his power and greatness, or whatever else of the essence of this God appeared to him at the moment of swearing of special significance" (Ewald, 'Antiquities'). "Jehovah liveth" (2 Samuel 22:47; 1 Samuel 17:26). A godly man believes in:

1. His actual existence and self-originated, personal, independent life. With him "is the fountain of life" (Psalms 36:9). He "hath life in himself" (John 5:26). He "only hath immortality" (1 Timothy 6:16). The life of all creatures he gives, sustains, or takes away as it pleases him.

2. His immediate presence and accurate observation of everything as it really is, every thought, word, and action; and his approbation or disapprobation of it, according to its moral character. He is "a true and faithful Witness" (Jeremiah 42:3; Isaiah 65:16).

3. His active intervention in human affairs, with wisdom and might, justice and mercy. "He is the living God, and an everlasting King" (Jeremiah 10:10), and gives to every man his due reward (Hebrews 11:6). Faith is not merely a general persuasion of these sublime truths, but also an intense realization of them, and a personal surrender to their influence. It is "an intelligent conviction of the truth, a hearty affection for the truth, and a practical submission to the truth."

II. GRATITUDE FOR PAST DELIVERANCE. "Who hath redeemed my soul out of all adversity"—an expression often on the lips of David (1 Kings 1:29; Psalms 25:22; Psalms 34:22; Psalms 103:4; Psalms 116:8), and never uttered without thankfulness to God.

1. The path of even a good man is beset by many dangers. What a scene of peril was David's life from his youth upwards (2 Samuel 19:7)!

2. He traces his deliverance from them to the hand of God, and sees therein an evidence of his loving, constant, and distinguishing care for his "soul."

3. He is wont to cherish the recollection of such deliverance; and is incited thereby to "speak the praise of the Lord." Nothing is more becoming or beneficial than a thankful spirit; but it is by no means a common possession.

"Some murmur when their sky is clear

And wholly bright to view,

If one small speck of dark appear

In their great heaven of blue;

And some with thankful love are filled,

If but one streak of light,

One ray of God's good mercy, gild

The darkness of their night."

III. CONSCIOUSNESS OF PRESENT RESPONSIBILITY. A good man feels that he is accountable to God; not impelled by forces over which he has no control, nor liberated from moral law; but, whilst free to act, bound by the highest motives to obey. His faith in the living God quickens his conscience, and shows him plainly the way of duty; his gratitude for past deliverance incites him to walk therein.

1. By abhorring that which is evil, and avoiding it.

2. By sincerity of heart, speaking the truth, and doing what is just and right.

3. By using the authority and power entrusted to him, not according to his own will and for selfish ends, but according to the will of God, and for his honour and the welfare of men. His motto is Ich dien ("I serve"). He ever lives under a sense of obligation, and finds in faithful service his strength and joy (John 4:34). "I must work" (John 9:4). "Remember now and always that life is no idle dream, but a solemn reality; based upon eternity, and encompassed by eternity. Find out your task: stand to it: the night cometh when no man can work" (Carlyle).

IV. CONFIDENCE IN FUTURE PRESERVATION. The path of peril is not yet past. But a good man looks to God rather than to men to protect him against the wrath of men and deliver him from all evil. And his confidence is strong, because of:

1. His conviction of the Divine faithfulness. "Jehovah liveth," to fulfil both his promises and his threatenings.

2. His experience of the Divine favour (see 1 Samuel 17:32-37).

3. His obedience to the Divine will, and express assurances of safety and of a "crown of life" to every faithful servant. "The righteous hath hope in his death." "Into thine hand I commit my spirit: thou hast redeemed me, O Lord God of truth" (Psalms 31:5). "The foundation of David's character is a firm unshaken trust in Jehovah, a bright and most spiritual view of creation and the government of the world, a sensitive awe of the Holy One of Israel, a striving ever to be true to him, and a strong desire to return after errors and transgressions" (Ewald).—D.

2 Samuel 4:12


The reward of the wicked.

This book contains an account of many sudden and violent deaths (in addition to those that took place in battle) by assassination, suicide (2 Samuel 17:23), the direct judgment of God (2 Samuel 6:7), the judicial sentence of man. Capital punishment for murder was of old deemed right and necessary and divinely sanctioned (see 2 Samuel 1:13-16). In this execution, we see that:

1. The agents by whom the purposes of God are effected (2 Samuel 4:8) without his commission and from selfish motives are not entitled to the reward of faithful service, although they sometimes expect to obtain it, being turned aside by "a deceived heart."

2. The reward which wicked men obtain for their wickedness is the opposite of that which they expect (2 Samuel 4:10). Even if they gain their immediate object, they fail to find therein the happiness they anticipated, and sooner or later suffer loss and woe.

3. The guilt of the crime which such men commit against a fellow man is aggravated by his innocence and the circumstances under which the crime is committed. "A righteous person in his own house upon his bed."

4. The authority to which they vainly appeal in justification of their conduct surely requires their condemnation. "He will by no means clear the guilty" (Exodus 34:7). What they did as private persons to Ishbosheth without Divine commission, David, as king and "minister of God," was commissioned to do to them, and "take them away from the land" which the Lord had given, but which they had polluted and were unworthy to enjoy. "Gather not my soul with sinners, nor my life with bloody men" (Psalms 26:9).

5. The example afforded by a severe and signal punishment is sometimes necessary to maintain public justice; to manifest the evil of sin and the certainty of retribution; to deter others from wrong doing. The hands that did the deed and the feet that "ran eagerly for reward" were cut off, and their bodies exposed to open shame.

"He that's merciful
Unto the bad is cruel to the good."

6. The termination of strife in a land is usually attended with melancholy circumstances. "And they took the head of Ishbosheth," etc.

7. The saddest events are often succeeded by a season of gladness (1 Chronicles 12:40) and prosperity, and even directly conducive to it. With the death of Ishbosheth "the whole resistance to David's power collapses;" and "thus at last, not by his own act, but through circumstances over which he had no control—allowed by him who gives liberty to each man, though he overrules the darkest deeds of the wicked for the evolving of good—David was left undisputed claimant to the throne of Israel. Faith, patience, and integrity were vindicated; the Divine promise to David had come true in the course of natural events; and all this was better far than even if Saul had voluntarily resigned his place or Abner succeeded in his plans" (Edersheim). "Thus God will make all the sins of evil men to be one day ministerial to the extension and final settlement of the universal dominion of Christ" (Wordsworth).—D.


2 Samuel 4:4

A lifelong affliction.

Wars inflict innumerable evils which find no place in the history of them. This verse affords an illustration. When news reached the household of Saul that he and his sons had been slain in battle, a grandson, a boy of five years, was hurriedly borne away by his nurse, and, failing, was lamed in both feet. His lameness continued throughout life, and involved him in serious disadvantages and troubles. There are many who, like Mephibosheth, are weak and suffering from childhood to death. Either inheriting weakness of constitution, or deriving it from some early attack of disease, or injured through accident or the carelessness of those in charge of them when children, they are permanently disabled more or less. With reference to such troubles, notice—


1. Sometimes constant bodily suffering.

2. Always many privations. Incapacity for active employments and their emoluments. Yet it is wonderful how far this may be conquered. The writer knew a lady who was one of many pupils who learnt drawing from a teacher born without arms or legs, but who, by indomitable perseverance, became proficient in the art. Such affliction also involves inability to share in many enjoyments.

3. Much dependence on others. And hence liability to be neglected, ill treated, imposed upon, robbed, etc. Ziba's conduct to Mephibosheth is an instance (2 Samuel 16:3, 2 Samuel 16:4; 2 Samuel 19:24-27).

4. Various temptations. To despondency, spiritlessness, indolence; to discontent, murmuring, fretfulness; to resentment against those who may have occasioned the affliction; to envy of such as are free from similar trial.


1. Trustful resignation and patience. However they may have arisen, they are the appointment of the infinitely wise and good Father, who thereby calls for and exercises faith and submission. If active service of God be impossible, the service of patient endurance is not, and may be equally acceptable and useful.

2. Thankfulness. For the blessings which remain, and those of which the affliction is a channel; and for the affliction itself, as a sign of God's fatherly love and care.

3. Watchfulness against the peculiar temptations of such a condition.

4. Endeavours after the good which is attainable notwithstanding, or by means of, the affliction.


1. Larger enjoyment of spiritual blessings. If the earthly is a good deal closed by such a trouble, the heavenly is all the more open and accessible. The needs of the soul may be the more constantly felt, and their supply the more habitually sought. Reading, reflection, and prayer may be more practised. The grace of God may be more abundantly enjoyed. Constant affliction brings the Christian into fuller communion with the sufferings of Christ, and larger participation of his Spirit and realization of his love and salvation. The consolation received may outweigh the suffering.

2. Hence a higher Christian life and more beautiful Christian character are often attained by those who are so afflicted. They become more fully "partakers of God's holiness."

3. Human sympathy and kindness are usually enjoyed in greater measure and continuance. A source both of pleasure and profit.

4. Even the power for good over others is often increased. The increased Christian intelligence and force and beauty of character, the patience, cheerfulness, and thankfulness displayed, move the hearts of others towards him who is their source. The habitual sufferer might often adopt St. Paul's words in 2Co 4:10-12; 2 Corinthians 12:9, 2 Corinthians 12:10. His weakness may be made the occasion of the more powerful manifestation of the living energy of Christ through him for the spiritual profit of relatives and friends.


1. With pity and sympathy.

2. With practical assistance.

The weak and suffering are especially commended by our Lord to the care and kindness of the strong. His example enforces his words. To minister consolation, and, where necessary and practicable, material assistance, blesses him that gives as well as him that receives. The lifelong affliction of one may thus become a lifelong discipline and blessing to his benefactors. But to treat the feeble with hardness or contempt, or to take advantage of their weakness for our own selfish purposes, is peculiarly base, and will not be forgotten by him who will condemn, in the day of judgment, even the neglect of the poor and suffering (Matthew 25:41-46).


1. If we enjoy freedom from lifelong afflictions, or at least serious ones (for few, perhaps, are quite free from them), thankfulness should impel us to care the more for those who are burdened with them; and if we suffer from them, our sympathies should be the keener with fellow sufferers, and such help as we can render be all the more cheerfully given.

2. Let those who suffer much and long in this life make sure that their life hereafter shall be free from suffering, and that their afflictions shall work out for them an eternal greater glory (2 Corinthians 4:17). These unspeakable blessings are the portion of those who have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, receive his teaching, and follow his directions.—G.W.

2 Samuel 4:9

Redemption from all adversity.

"As the Lord liveth, who hath redeemed my soul out of all adversity." An expansion of the form of oath common with the Hebrews, "As the Lord liveth." By adding the words, "who hath redeemed," etc; David reminded himself of the goodness of God to him, and kept alive and expressed his gratitude. The same form of oath as used by him occurs in 1 Kings 1:29 (where the words of the original are precisely the same). Occurring thus at the beginning and the end of his reign, we may reasonably conclude that it was employed in the intervening years, reminding him, in the height of his prosperity and power, of the days of adversity which had preceded them, and of him who had rescued and exalted him. This representation of God would probably be more helpful to the piety of David than grander but more general conceptions of him. So shall we find it well to include in our thought of God what he has been to us and done for us individually (comp. Genesis 48:15, Genesis 48:16). As to the words: "redeemed" is not to be taken here in the signification suggested by its etymology, "bought back," "ransomed," but simply "delivered:" The use of the words, "my soul," must not lead us to suppose that David is thinking of the "redemption of the soul" in the spiritual sense. He refers to his deliverance from the perils, hardships, and anxieties of his previous life, through the enmity of Saul and his attempts to destroy him. The phrase is substantially equivalent to "me," though it may suggest that the seat of all the "distress" that attends adversity is the soul. The words are suitable to be used—

I. IN VIEW OF ACTUAL DELIVERANCE FROM VARIED OR PROLONGED TROUBLES. As David used them. They recognize and call to mind:

1. The extent of the deliverance. "From all adversity." The reference is to the past. David did not mean that he had done with adversity. Nor can we in this world use the words in that sense; but as from time to time troubles arise out of which we are delivered, be they adversities in the ordinary sense, or troubles of the soul strictly (temptations, conflicts, falls, pangs of remorse, fears, insensibility, gloom), let us mark and record our deliverance.

2. The Deliverer. "The Lord," Jehovah, the God who "liveth." Not self, not men, but God. David had employed his own great powers of thought and action, and had been well served by human helpers, but he does not ascribe his deliverance to the one or the other, but to God. He well knew that all power for self-help, and all human helpers, are the gift of God; that they are effectual through his working with them; and that apart from them God operates in ways transcendental and inexplicable. The greatness and variety of his troubles, the imminence of his perils, the wondrous special incidents which had contributed to his deliverance, all rendered conspicuous the hand of God. To him, therefore, he gave the glory. Most of our lives will, if carefully reviewed, furnish similar proofs of the operation of the living God, not merely of matter and dead laws, and of friends. And we should gratefully recognize and confess his goodness. Hence will spring humility, continuance and increase of thankfulness, and also confidence and hope in respect to future adversities (see 2 Corinthians 1:10; 2 Timothy 4:17, 2 Timothy 4:18).

II. IN VIEW OF THE REDEMPTION FROM ALL EVIL EFFECTED FOR US BY OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST. The word "redeem" will in this case have the full signification of "ransom by payment of a price." We have "redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins." In redeeming us from our sins, he redeemed us from all kinds and degrees of evil. All who accept him as their Redeemer and Lord are thus assured of complete deliverance from all that now distresses them, and from all in the future world that would have distressed them but for his redeeming work; and, in the certainty that the purposes of his death will be accomplished, may speak of their deliverance as already effected. Nor can they fail to remember with unutterable thankfulness and perpetual thanksgiving the redemption thus wrought for them.

III. BY THOSE WHO HAVE EXPERIENCED FINAL AND COMPLETE DELIVERANCE FROM ALL THE EVILS OF THIS PRESENT WORLD. What a blessed thing it will be to look back on all the evils of this present state, including death itself, as actually past! and to look forward to an eternity of complete freedom from evil, of full enjoyment of good! No sin, no want, no sickness, no pain, no sorrow, no peril; but perfect peace, perfect service of God, perfect communion with him, "fulness of joy" and "pleasures forevermore" (Psalms 16:11; Revelation 7:14-17; Revelation 21:4). And evermore will the "redeemed from the earth" be mindful of their Deliverer, and unite in praise of God and the Lamb. In view of this glorious and complete redemption:

1. Let Christians be patient and thankful while enduring the adversities which belong to their condition on earth.

2. Take heed lest, redemption being effected, you fail to attain to its actual experience. To reject Christ is to reject deliverance from death and misery.—G.W.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 4". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/2-samuel-4.html. 1897.
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