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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible
2 Samuel 3

 

 


Verses 1-39

Though Saul had died, yet there continues long war between his house and the house of David. We have seen that Saul stands for the energy of the flesh, which does not easily give up though it is doomed. The house of David waxes stronger and stronger, but the flesh cannot but expose its own weakness when it is given time.

We are told now of David's having six sons, each by a different wife (vs.2-5). Never was it God's intention that a man should have more than one wife. At the beginning He had said, "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother and shall cleave unto his wife" -- not "his wives." Yet under law God bore with bigamy and polygamy because of the hardness of men's hearts (cf.Mt.19:8). Also, far above men's natural thoughts, God used this occasion to illustrate various distinct characteristics of the Lord Jesus in His coming kingdom. Those who are interested to check this in detail will find the Numerical Bible (2 Samuel, pages 405-407) most enlightening. This enforces the striking truth that God can overrule man's failure in order to serve the greater purpose of highly exalting His beloved son, and reminds us that there will be certain precious fruits showing themselves in the Lord Jesus in "communion" (Hebron) before He reigns in glory.

The combination of Abner with Ish-bosheth seems to indicate the opposition of anti-christ in the Tribulation period, Abner showing his strength and Ish-bosheth his weakness (v.6). For the anti-christ will put on a show of strength that will in the end prove to be weakness, so that he will have an ignominious fall, as did both Abner and Ish-bosheth.

Verse 7 shows the beginning of the fall of Israel's government. How many since Abner have ruined themselves by similar moral infractions! When Ish-bosheth made an issue of Abner's having taken one of Saul's concubines, Abner was furious that the question was even raised (v.8). He has no defense, but attacks Ish-bosheth as being ungrateful for Abner's having elevated him to the place of king. He thinks Ish-bosheth should ignore his moral evil since he had backed up Ish-bosheth. Actually it was not really kindness to Ish-bosheth that had moved Abner, but jealousy for his own position of power.

Therefore his kindness quickly turns to bitter animosity. He will show Ish-bosheth who is in authority by just as quickly deposing him as he had exalted him. He would translate the kingdom from the house of Saul to the house of David, and thereby fulfil the word that God had sworn to David, that David would be king of all Israel (vs.9-10). Abner had known God's expressed oath as this matter, but until this time had brazenly defied it. Even now he was not changing because of any real regard for the word of God, but because Ish-bosheth had questioned his character. In changing he was of course counting on David's favor toward him.

This withering outburst was too much for Ish-bosheth: he was totally silenced from fear of Abner (v.11). If he had been a wise man he would have before refused to listen to Abner, to take any part in ruling Israel, for he knew he was not qualified for it. He loses everything.

But Abner does not intend to lose out. He immediately contacts David by Messenger, urging him to make a league with Abner, who would on his part bring all Israel into subjection to David (v.12). David responded also by messengers who told Abner that a league could be formed, but only on condition that Michal, Saul's daughter should be returned to David as his wife. David confirmed this to Ish-bosheth by insisting that Michal, whom he had purchased by his slaughter of 100 Philistines, should be given back to him (v.14, Though the Lord does not comment on whether David should have done this, yet the subsequent history (ch.6:16-23) shows that their relationship was far from satisfactory. In fact, Michal had shown no fidelity to David in 1 Samuel 19:17, when she told her father that David had threatened to kill her if she did not let him escape from Saul. Why should he want her returned when she had proven undependable? Was it only his own rights he was thinking of? He could have reasoned too that since he had not taken the initiative, in putting her away, the Deuteronomy 24:1-4 would not apply. But that passage does say that the first husband was not to take his wife back after she had been defiled by marrying another man (v.4). If David had sought wisdom from God, this scripture might have been a protection for him.

At Ish-bosheth's order Michal was taken from her husband, Phaltiel (v.15). Though she was not his in the first place the wrong was only compounded by her being taken from him and given again to David. When Phaltiel follows her weeping, Abner summarily tell him to return home. Saul had given Michal to Phaltiel but Abner does not have to reckon with a living Saul any longer. He wants David's patronage.

Verse 17 tells us that Abner had already spoken with the elders of Israel, reminding them that before this they had desired David as king. He knew this, yet he had tried to overrule it by exalting Ish-bosheth. When this did not work out, then he can easily ignore his mistake and ignore Ish-bosheth by telling the elders of Israel to now accept David as king. In this he appeals to what God had already said: "By the hand of my servant David I will save my people Israel from the hand of the Philistines and from the hand of all their enemies" (v.18).

In verse 19 we are told that Abner boldly took the message of his decision to turn the kingdom over to David, to the tribe of Benjamin. These of course would likely be slow to accept David, since Saul (and of course Ish-bosheth) were Benjamites. Being a strongly influential man (in contrast to Ish-bosheth), Abner was able to persuade them, so that he could go to David as representing Israel and the whole house of the Benjamites. He therefore made an agreement with David that he would gather Israel in order that they might make a covenant with David. David approvingly sent him away with this understanding (v.21).

Joab knew nothing of this until he returned from a raid in which he and his men had been successful in gaining "much spoil." However, when he heard of David's favorable reception of Abner, he sensed danger, -- not actually danger to David, but danger as regards his own position in David's government. He would see Abner as a threat to his prominence. Immediately he went in to David and remonstrated strongly with him (v.24). He made it clear that he thought David ought to have killed Abner when he had the opportunity, or to have at least imprisoned him. He claims that Abner came as a spy to deceive David and learn of David's activities in order to take advantage of him. Of course this was not true, but Joab wanted an excuse for getting rid of Abner. Nothing is said of how David responded to Joab's accusation.

Joab saw his opportunity to act quickly. Without David's knowledge, he sent messengers after Abner to bring him back. Abner, fully unsuspecting, came back willingly. Joab was ready to meet him at the gate of the city, and there took him aside as though to speak privately to him, and immediately plunged him through with his weapon "under the fifth rib," as Abner had done to Asahel (ch.2:23), killing him instantly with this blow to the heart (v.27).

Joab no doubt considered that he was "the avenger of blood" on behalf of Asahel, his brother, and was able to kill Abner just outside Hebron, the city of refuge (Joshua 20:7-9). Inside the city Abner would have been safe. Joab ignored the fact that Asahel had been killed in battle, and he killed Abner when showing himself outwardly on friendly terms with him. Joab had reproved David for being deceived by Abner, but he practiced far more cunning deception himself in dealing with Abner.

David was deeply affected by this news, and disavowed on behalf of himself and his kingdom all responsibility for the death of Abner. He does virtually ask for the intervention of God in discipline to Joab and to his family, that they might suffer as a consequence of this. But did David forget that he was king, and responsible to carry out some judgment against Joab? Joab had actually been guilty of cold-blooded, premeditated murder, and for this he deserved the death penalty. David very soon after ordered the death of the two men who murdered Ish-bosheth (ch.4:10-12). The murder of Abner was just as serious, but evidently because Joab was captain of his army, David made a difference. There is no word of David even speaking directly to Joab about this, let alone exercising more serious discipline. In this the weakness of David's kingdom is evident from the beginning.

Verse 30 also involves Abishai in the death of Abner, though we are not told exactly what part he had. We are reminded again that they killed Abner in reprisal for Abner's killing Asahel "in the battle," a far different matter than deception in a time of peace.

David does tell Joab and all the people to rend their clothes and put on sackcloth in mourning for Abner. So far as Joab and Abishai were concerned, this would only be a false show, for they had no regrets for the death of Abner. But David, following the coffin, wept at the grave of Abner, and the people followed his example. His lamentation would no doubt make Joab feel uncomfortable: "Died Abner as a fool dieth? Thy hands were not bound, nor thy feet put in fetters: as a man falleth before wicked men, so fellest thou" (v.34). If Abner had been on guard, he would have been sure to at least get inside the city of refuge before meeting Joab, for he had before anticipated that he would incur Joab's anger by his killing Asahel (ch.2:22). wisdom deserted him at that time, and he fell as "before wicked men." But his wisdom deserted him at that time, and he fell as "before wicked men."

The genuineness of David's mourning was further proven by his refusal to eat until the sun was down (v.35). The people were impressed by this and fully realized that David did not approve the killing of Abner. He said that Abner was "a prince and a great man" in Israel, and his fall was not an asset to David's kingdom, but rather weakened David, though he was anointed king. He tells the people also that the sons of Zeruiah (Joab and Abishai) were too hard for him, and that the Lord would justly reward their acts of wickedness.

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 3:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/2-samuel-3.html. 1897-1910.

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Thursday, December 3rd, 2020
the First Week of Advent
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