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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
2 Samuel 2

 

 

Introduction

SECTION 6. David is Initially Crowned King Of Judah And Then Of All Israel (2 Samuel 2:1 to 2 Samuel 5:5).

By now the all-conquering Philistines had swept into central Israel and at least up to the Jordan, and possibly beyond it, and had in the process occupied the main cities of central Israel (1 Samuel 31:7). The statement in 1 Samuel 31:7 about ‘those on the side of the Jordan’ may have been intended to indicate troops stationed beyond the Jordan, or alternatively it may simply have intended to indicate troops who had been stationed near the Jordan on the west side but to the rear of the battle, possibly in the hills around Gilgal and Jericho as in the times of Saul (compare 1 Samuel 13:6-7; 1 Samuel 13:11; 1 Samuel 14:11; 1 Samuel 14:22).

However, in view of the fact that it was not until five years later that Abner was able to set up Ish-bosheth as king over Israel in Mahanaim, (he reigned two years compared to David’s seven) it is probable that the Philistines certainly exercised some control in Transjordan, at least for a time. But the Philistines possibly came to recognise that in the end this was stretching their resources too far, for their major concern would no doubt have been to consolidate their empire west of Jordan, and they may thus have relaxed their grip on Transjordan, and even have allowed the appointment of Ish-bosheth as a vassal king. This may all be suggested by the extent of his rule.

This may also have been because the guerilla operations of the survivors of the Israelite army who had fled across the Jordan, and were now ably led by Abner, had been able to make life continually uncomfortable for them. The Philistines never liked hill fighting and guerilla warfare (compare the Syrians in 1 Kings 20:28), because in such circumstances they could not use their chariots, and they would also have recognised that they could not leave their own cities and farms unattended and unprotected for too long. They were simply not numerous enough to constantly occupy such a large area. Thus to appoint Ish-bosheth to rule for them might have been seen by them as a good way to ‘pacify the natives’, while at the same time allowing them to turn their attention elsewhere.

It is probable that their next move after defeating the Israelite army and occupying the Israelite cities would have been to occupy Judah to the south, but it would appear that this move was circumvented by David, who, after obtaining directions from YHWH, himself occupied Judah with his men (that would be how it appeared to the Philistines). The fact that the Philistines raised no objection to this suggests that they saw him as still their vassal and as having done this under the aegis of Achish, king of Gath. Indeed, they may well have admired the way in which, having been prevented from marching with the main army, he had demonstrated his initiative by himself ‘conquering’ that part of the land that they themselves had not invaded, for we must remember:

1). That Achish believed that David and the men of Judah were bitter enemies, and had no doubt told the other lords that it was so (1 Samuel 27:10-12).

2). That the remainder of the Philistine lords had only refused to allow him to accompany them lest he turn traitor in the midst of the battle, not because they were in general suspicious of his loyalty to Achish of Gath. They would thus have had no objection to his taking over Judah if, as they thought, he had done it in the name of Achish. We need not doubt that David meanwhile continued to use his gifts of diplomacy in his dealings with Achish.

The defeated and demoralised Israelites who had survived the battle, and had fled to places out of reach of the Philistines, would gradually over the next few months filter back, and if so were probably soon mobilised by Abner, Saul’s cousin and general, along with the men who were still with him, into a guerilla army. This is what we might have anticipated, for so demoralising had been their defeat that we would expect it to take a few years for them to stage a recovery. This would then explain why it took around five years before Abner was able to set up Ish-bosheth, Saul’s remaining son, as king in Mahanaim, east of Jordan. And as that rule was stated to have been over areas including the plain of Jezreel (unless this was a town or area in Transjordan, for there was also a Jezreel in Judah - Joshua 15:56), Benjamin and Ephraim in the central hill country, it is not likely that he could have achieved it without the consent of the Philistines. (Unless, of course, the descriptions were only theoretical). We are, however, left to guess all this, because it was not of interest to the writer whose main interest was first in describing how David became king over Judah, and then king over all Israel, in accordance with YHWH’s purpose.

Section Analysis.

a David is anointed as King over Judah and Ish-bosheth is set over Israel (2 Samuel 2:1-11).

b Abner and Israel seek to win the whole kingdom for Ish-bosheth by defeating Judah, but are soundly beaten. Abner personally slays Asahel, something which will finally result in his own death (2 Samuel 2:12-28).

c The aftermath of the invasion, the number of the slain, Judah mourn over Asahel (2 Samuel 2:29-32).

d David grows stronger in Hebron while Abner makes himself strong in the house of Saul in the midst of a weakening Israel (2 Samuel 3:1-6).

e Abner quarrels with Ish-bosheth and determines to betray him to David by advancing David’s claims in Israel (2 Samuel 3:7-16).

e Abner negotiates to advance David’s claims in Israel (2 Samuel 3:17-26).

d Joab makes himself strong by slaying Abner and obtaining blood revenge and the death of a rival (2 Samuel 3:27-30).

c The aftermath of Joab’s vengeance, description of the slain, Judah mourn over Abner (2 Samuel 3:31-39).

b The kingdom is taken from Ish-bosheth as a result of his assassination by two of his commanders, something which will finally result in their own death (2 Samuel 4:1-11).

a David becomes king over all Israel (2 Samuel 5:1-5).

Approaching these next chapters we need to pause and remember the words of the writer of Ecclesiastes 5:2, ‘God is in Heaven and you are on the earth, therefore let your words be few’, for they reveal a picture of the sovereign God enabling David to surmount all the temptations that came his way, while around him all were trying to lead him astray. For from that triumphant moment when he was anointed king over Judah, to his next moment of triumph when he was anointed king over all Israel, he was constantly beset by the temptation to use irregular methods for achieving God’s purposes, only to be kept from them either by YHWH or because of his own spiritual awareness (thus continuing YHWH’s perpetual watch over him portrayed in 1 Samuel 21-30).

In 2 Samuel 2, when his victorious army had swept an invading Israel before them there must have been the temptation for Judah to carry on the chase and take over the territory occupied by Ish-bosheth, a temptation brought under control by Abner’s wise words to Joab (2 Samuel 2:26), thus preventing a great deal of bitterness. In 2 Samuel 3 there was the temptation to enter into a league with Abner and stage a coup against Ish-bosheth, thus causing dissension in Israel, a temptation brought under control by the death of Abner at the hands of Joab, followed immediately by the temptation to take the way of Joab which his own spiritual morality protected him from. And in 2 Samuel 4 there was at least theoretically the temptation to accept the opportunity offered by the two commanders who had slain Ish-bosheth, by displaying the head of Ish-bosheth in order to demonstrate his own right to be king, from which he was again saved by his moral sensitivity. So in each case he was preserved, either by the activity of others whom YHWH used within His purposes (as with Abigail in 1 Samuel 25, and the Philistines in 1 Samuel 29:7), or more regularly because of his own innate spirituality and moral sensitivity (as so often in 1 Samuel). For in the end it was YHWH’s purpose that he receive the crown without arousing bitterness, by the public acclamation of all Israel. We can briefly sum up this section as follows:

After receiving and following the guidance of YHWH David is anointed king in Judah and we are given details of his reign (2 Samuel 2:1-11).

An invasion by Abner and Israel is thwarted and Asahel is slain (2 Samuel 2:13-32).

Abner comes to David with the offer of a coup against Ish-bosheth, something which is prevented when Abner is slain (2 Samuel 3:1-39).

Two of Ish-bosheth’s commanders bring to David the head of Ish-bosheth, only for them to be slain by David (2 Samuel 4:1-12).

David is acclaimed as king of all Israel and we are given details of his reign (2 Samuel 5:1-5).

Thus amidst all the battles, intrigues and murders that take place YHWH triumphantly bears David to the throne of Israel untainted by all that is going on.


Verses 1-11

David Is Anointed As King Over Judah And Ish-bosheth Receives The Crown Of Israel (2 Samuel 2:1-11).

After consulting YHWH David moved his men into Judah while still retaining authority over Ziklag, and was anointed as king over Judah. His upward career was moving in accordance with YHWH’s promises and plan. Meanwhile Abner was conducting a campaign in Transjordanian Israel in order to ensure that the rule of the Saulides continued over what remained of Israel, a campaign which took five years and may have included harassing the Philistines who had moved into their cities (1 Samuel 31:7), and dealing with any internal opposition to Ish-bosheth taking direct rule over Gilead. It may well be that, if the description of the area of his rule is to be taken in any sense literally, he then agreed to Ish-bosheth becoming a vassal king of the Philistines so as to consolidate his throne. The Philistines would be well pleased with this situation. Israel was divided into two, and their vassal kings ruled each part separately.

While Judah had always maintained a certain level of independence within the confederacy of tribes, this further accentuated it. For the first time in their history, Judah, and all who saw themselves as united with Judah and lived in the South (e.g. many of the Simeonites (Judges 1:3; Judges 1:17; 2 Chronicles 15:9), the Kenites (Judges 1:16; 1 Samuel 27:10), and the Jerahmeelites (1 Samuel 27:10)), now stood alone from the remainder of the tribes. They would never again really see themselves as part of Israel, and would later be joined by the Benjaminites (1 Kings 12:23) and some members of other tribes who would move into Judean territory (2 Chronicles 15:9). We must recognise in all this that tribal movements were fluid and not static, and that not all remained within their allotted boundaries (see e.g. 1 Chronicles 4:42; 2 Chronicles 15:9). The history of the tribes is very complicated and, for example, if we take ‘the ten tribes’ who made up Northern Israel to include Simeon (1 Kings 11:31; compare 2 Chronicles 34:6), many Simeonites clearly later moved to northern Israel. This would not be too surprising if they had found themselves being submerged by Judah and had resented it.

Analysis.

a And it came about after this, that David enquired of YHWH, saying, “Shall I go up into any of the cities of Judah?” And YHWH said to him, “Go up.” And David said, “Where shall I go up?” And he said, “To Hebron” (2 Samuel 2:1).

b So David went up there, and his two wives also, Ahinoam the Jezreelitess, and Abigail the wife of Nabal the Carmelite, and his men who were with him did David bring up, every man with his household, and they dwelt in the cities of Hebron. And the men of Judah came, and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah (2 Samuel 2:2-4 a).

c And they told David, saying, “The men of Jabesh-gilead were they who buried Saul.” And David sent messengers to the men of Jabesh-gilead, and said to them, “Blessed be you of YHWH, in that you have showed this kindness to your lord, even to Saul, and have buried him” (2 Samuel 2:4-5).

d “And now YHWH show lovingkindness and truth to you, and I also will requite you this kindness, because you have done this thing” (2 Samuel 2:6).

c “Now therefore let your hands be strong, and be you valiant, for Saul your lord is dead, and also the house of Judah have anointed me king over them” (2 Samuel 2:7).

b And Abner the son of Ner, captain of Saul’s host, had taken Ish-bosheth the son of Saul, and brought him over to Mahanaim, and he made him king over Gilead, and over the Ashurites, and over Jezreel, and over Ephraim, and over Benjamin, and over all Israel (2 Samuel 2:8-9).

a Ish-bosheth, Saul’s son, was forty years old when he began to reign over Israel, and he reigned two years. But the house of Judah followed David. And the time that David was king in Hebron over the house of Judah was seven years and six months’ (2 Samuel 2:10-11).

Note than in ‘a’ David is to go up to Hebron at the command of YHWH, and in the parallel David is reigning over Hebron in the midst of YHWH’s inheritance, in contrast with Ish-bosheth who is reigning in Mahanaim outside YHWH’s inheritance. In ‘b’ David dwells in Hebron and is anointed king over Judah and in the parallel Ish-bosheth is made king over Israel. In ‘c’ it is stressed by David that the men of Jabesh-gilead have buried Saul, and in the parallel David emphasises to them that their lord is now dead, and informs them that the men of Judah have anointed him as king over them. In ‘d’ and centrally David calls for YHWH’s blessing on the men of Jabesh-gilead because they have honoured Saul in his death, and assures them of his favour.

2 Samuel 2:1

And it came about after this, that David enquired of YHWH, saying, “Shall I go up into any of the cities of Judah?” And YHWH said to him, “Go up.” And David said, “Where shall I go up?” And he said, “To Hebron.” ’

News having reached David of the wholesale defeat of the Israelite army by the Philistines, and recognising that Judah would be next to feel their iron hand, he was naturally concerned for his fellow-tribesmen and decided that it was time that he provided them with some support. But it was a sign of his genuine determination to do YHWH’s will and not to act before YHWH’s time, that he would not do so without YHWH’s agreement. So he enquired of YHWH through the ephod as to whether he should go up into the hill country of Judah, into one of their cities. And when the answer was positive the next question was as to which one. The reply was unambiguous. It was ‘to Hebron’.

We need not doubt that he did have some expectation that they might well ask him to be their king, (the death of Saul had left them almost defenceless), but his method of approach counts against any suggestion that it was simply a cynical ploy. Whatever others might do David was not the kind of person who would have manipulated God’s method of revealing His will, for with all his ambition he constantly comes through as determined not to act before YHWH’s time. We must therefore accept his approach to YHWH as genuine.

Hebron was the natural capital of Judah. It was a very ancient city in the Judean highlands, previously named Kiriath-arba, and dating back to the time of Abraham who spent much time there (Genesis 23:2; Genesis 35:27).

2 Samuel 2:2-3

So David went up there, and his two wives also, Ahinoam the Jezreelitess, and Abigail the wife of Nabal the Carmelite. And his men who were with him did David bring up, every man with his household, and they dwelt in the cities of Hebron.’

Accordingly David took his two wives (a sign that he saw the move as at least semi-permanent) and along with his men and their households took up residence in the cities of Hebron. In view of his previous generosity to them, and the parlous situation in which the Philistine victory had left them, we need not doubt that they were doubly welcome.

2 Samuel 2:2-4 a

‘And the men of Judah came, and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah.’

As a result of his arrival the men of Judah came to him and asked him to be king over them, and there they anointed him as king over the house of Judah. Whether they had any choice in the matter or not, it can hardly be doubted that the appointment of David as king of Judah was almost automatic. Consider the circumstances.

· The Philistines were no doubt about to invade.

· Many of their choicest warriors would have died alongside Saul.

· They would have among them no other war-leaders of note.

· They had to hand a man whom Samuel had approved of, (even if they did not yet know about his anointing by Samuel).

· The same man had a reputation as a warrior that reached throughout the whole of Israel, and was imbedded in their folklore (‘David has slain his ten thousands’).

· Many said of him that he was YHWH’s choice as their next king.

· He owned much land in Judah through his marriage to Abigail.

· He had always been generous to them and had shared with them the fruits of his victories.

· He was a man whom they themselves favoured, and who had a powerful standing army. It really was ‘no contest’, even if he was in danger of getting a negative vote from the Ziphites.

So we will not find it surprising that they immediately anointed him as king over Judah. What would turn out to be a bonus was that this would then satisfy the Philistines, who would see him as taking possession of Judah as their vassal, so that any danger of invasion ceased.

To be anointed as king over the house of Judah would remind the writer of the promise of the coming of the powerful king Shiloh in Genesis 49:10, the king to whom all the people would gather and who would bring great prosperity. The crowning of this coming king would thus in his eyes be closely associated with the house of Judah.

2 Samuel 2:2-4 b

‘And they told David, saying, “The men of Jabesh-gilead were they who buried Saul.” ’

The reintroduction of the men of Jabesh-gilead confirms the writer’s deep interest in them. These men were the bright spot amidst Israel’s failure, and demonstrated the resilient spirit that would be Israel’s hope in the future. David recognised this and sought to fan the flame within them. Here were the men who by their brave action had restored some of Israel’s lost pride and had dented the reputation of the Philistines. It was clearly something being boasted about among those who could be trusted, for when a nation has almost reached rock bottom in its morale, even such a seemingly ‘small’ victory can have a far reaching effect. It had not altered the parlous situation in which they were, but it was the one peace of good news that they still had left for them to boast about. They had shown those Philistines a thing or two. It strengthened their feeling of national pride. And besides, David may well have been intrigued as to who had carried out the act that had so enraged the Philistines. Now he was given the answer.

It was, of course, more than a titbit of good news to David, for he was Saul’s son-in-law and had once been on very good terms with him, and he had looked to him as YHWH’s anointed. What had happened to his body was therefore something in which he had a great personal interest.

2 Samuel 2:5-6

And David sent messengers to the men of Jabesh-gilead, and said to them, “Blessed be you of YHWH, in that you have showed this kindness to your lord, even to Saul, and have buried him. And now YHWH show lovingkindness and truth to you, and I also will requite you this kindness, because you have done this thing.”

So David despatched messengers to the men of Jabesh-gilead bearing a message of goodwill and gratitude. He asked YHWH to bless them because they had ‘shown compassion to their lord’ and had ensured that he had a decent burial. And he prayed that in the same way YHWH would show compassion and truth towards them, and assured them that, as regards himself, he would requite them with kindness for what they had done. It would never be forgotten. From now on they could be sure of his goodwill.

2 Samuel 2:7

Now therefore let your hands be strong, and be you valiant, for Saul your lord is dead, and also the house of Judah have anointed me king over them.”

Then he called on them in the face of the death of Saul to be strong of hand and to be ‘valiant’, and brought to their attention the fact that he has been anointed as king over Judah. He was thus a good friend to have. It was hardly a call to them to make him their king as well, for they were probably not in a position to do so, but it was a call for them to continue to be strong and to look to him if they ever needed his help. It was an assurance that he would be there for them if ever they were in need. Just as he had previously prepared the elders of Judah in order that later they might find him acceptable, so he now wanted these Transjordanians to see him in the same way for when the possibility of his receiving the kingship of Israel might arise. But it is being over-cynical to suggest that that was his only motive. Genuine gratitude very much played its part, together with the desire to keep the spirit of Israel alive.

It is probably to be seen as significant that while David is described as being ‘anointed’ as king, the same is not said of Ish-bosheth (2 Samuel 2:9) even though he probably was anointed (compare Judges 9:8 which suggests that the idea of a king being anointed on appointment was normal). To the writer there was only one anointed king, the one whom YHWH had anointed.

2 Samuel 2:8

Now Abner the son of Ner, captain of Saul’s host, had taken Ish-bosheth the son of Saul, and brought him over to Mahanaim,’

We are now given a description of what was meanwhile happening in Israel. Here there is no mention of anointing, and the king is established outside YHWH’s inheritance in Transjordan. Furthermore he is not of the house of Judah.

It would be natural for a power seeking Abner to seek to establish a member of the Saulide house as king, especially one whom he was sure that he could control. For there seems little doubt that Ish-bosheth was in some ways somewhat lacking, although we do not know how. This comes out in that he was never mentioned along with his brothers as a warrior, even though he was of fighting age and five years or so older than David. We are given no details about him but something was clearly lacking in him. He may have been partly disabled, or mentally weak.

The name Ish-bosheth means ‘man of shame’. It is a play on his real name, Esh-baal (‘fire of Baal’)/Ish-baal (1 Chronicles 8:33; 1 Chronicles 9:39). With people who bore a name containing the name of Baal it was regularly later replaced by bosheth in order to bring out the shame of having such a name. (Compare Jerubbaal = Jerubesheth - Judges 9:1; 2 Samuel 11:21 and Meribaal = Mephibosheth - 2 Samuel 4:4; 2 Samuel 9:6; 1 Chronicles 9:40). Originally in fact ‘Baal’ had meant ‘Lord’ and had been intended to indicate YHWH (compare Hosea 3:16), but its later connections with idolatry had brought it into disrepute.

2 Samuel 2:9

And he made him king at Gilead, and at Ha’ashuri (or ‘the Ashurites’), and at Jezreel, and over Ephraim, and over Benjamin, and over all Israel.’

Abner made Ish-bosheth king at Gilead. Note the emphasis on the fact that it was what Abner did, not what Israel did. It is quite possible that there was a good deal of resistance in Israel which he had to quell, an that the position was obtained by force of arms.

The theoretical extent of Ish-bosheth’s kingdom is described here, but there is little doubt that it was to some extent wishful thinking, otherwise, if he really ruled over Ephraim and Benjamin and all Israel, why would he remain in Mahanaim? It is, of course possible that some arrangement was made with the Philistines with them allowing him some kind of control as a vassal king

The first three names are introduced with the same preposition (el), and the last three are introduced with a slightly different preposition (‘al). This may suggest that the first three are administrative areas or administrative towns while the last three are tribal descriptions. In that case we should probably seek the first three in Transjordan. Gilead is unquestionably in Transjordan and could refer to a town or to a large administrative area (the name is very flexible), Jezreel may indicate the town/valley of Jezreel in the north, but the name means ‘God sows’ and may have been given to a number of towns, including one east of Jordan. Consider how there was also a Jezreel in Judah. It is in fact unlikely that the Philistines would have allowed him control over the important valley of Jezreel through which the trade routes ran, except possibly in a perfunctory way. ‘Ashurim’ is mentioned elsewhere in Genesis 25:3 as the name of a son of Dedan. While there is probably no direct connection Ha’ashuri could well therefore here indicate a town (now unknown) situated in Transjordan and connected with Arabs sojourners, (or even one west of the Jordan). The lack of mention of a major well known city probably indicates that the Philistines had control over all such cities.

King over ‘Benjamin and Ephraim and all Israel’ probably reflects the number of Benjaminites and Ephraimites at his court, and may also indicate that in fact the tribes did acknowledge him as their king, without necessarily being under his direct rule due to the controlling Philistines. In the same way Saul had only loosely ruled some of the more distant tribes in his day, the main rule in those tribes being with the elders of the tribes. Where his authority was expressed was when he called up the tribal levies in accordance with the covenant.

2 Samuel 2:10

Ish-bosheth, Saul’s son, was forty years old when he began to reign over Israel, and he reigned two years. But the house of Judah followed David.

The details of Ish-bosheth’s reign are now given in terms of the kind of formula which will characterise future kings, presenting his age and the length of his reign. David himself will be introduced in this way later (see 2 Samuel 5:4). The age of forty may be an approximate round number indicating maturity. It occurs far too often for it always to be seen as numerically specific (in those days numbers were regularly used adjectivally. People were not on the whole numerate). The reign of two years contrasts with the seven years, six months of David. It would appear that it had taken five years to establish Ish-bosheth’s position. This was not surprising given the drubbing that they had had from the Philistines, the fact that all Israel were not yet necessarily convinced about a dynastic kingship, and the fact that the Transjordanian Israelites might well not have been too happy about a king situated on their own doorstep, especially one whom they saw as having failed. Abner may well have had to gradually ‘persuade’ them that it was in their own interests, and on top of that there may have been other ‘pretenders’ to the throne of Gilead.

It is emphasised that the house of Judah followed David. We have already noted how the writer regularly contrasts Ish-bosheth with David, and does so in a poor light. For example Ish-bosheth was not stated to have been ‘anointed’, he was not in any way seen as connected with Judah and therefore with the related prophecy of the coming Shiloh (Genesis 49:10), he was ruling outside the land of YHWH’s inheritance with only a perfunctory control over the tribes, and he only had a short reign, possibly indicating that many had resisted his right to be king.

2 Samuel 2:11

And the time that David was king in Hebron over the house of Judah was seven years and six months.’

Meanwhile David had been king in Hebron over the house of Judah for seven years and six months and no one doubted his right. He was truly anointed, he had continued, in Hebron, his previous rule over Ziklag in the land of YHWH’s inheritance, he was wanted by the elders of Judah and he was from the ‘royal’ house of Judah (Genesis 49:10). There is no doubt therefore who was superior in the writer’s eyes. And the writer knew why it was. It was because the Spirit of YHWH had fallen on him (1 Samuel 16:13). He was YHWH’s designated true king.


Verses 12-28

Abner And Israel Seek To Win The Whole Kingdom For Ish-bosheth And Are Soundly Defeated (2 Samuel 2:12-28).

Having finally established Ishbosheth as king over Israel Abner now turned his attention to bringing Judah back into the fold. In his view, as a Saulide and a Benjaminite, Ishbosheth was the rightful heir to the whole of the kingdom, i.e. to the throne of ‘all Israel’. Thus in his eyes David was a usurper, and especially so as he could still be looked on as a vassal of the Philistines.

It would appear that the Philistines took little notice of this situation. They were indeed no doubt delighted that what remained of Israel was divided up into two parts, and even moreso because one part was under one whom they saw as their own vassal king. They were probably quite satisfied in their own minds that David could look after things at his end, and such ‘border wars’ were after all happening all the time. Why then should they interfere? Especially as it simply meant that David and Israel were both weakening each other. (They would, of course, interfere later when David took over the whole kingdom and they felt that things were getting out of hand).

We might actually feel that Abner was very foolish in his decision. What real chance did a weakened Israel have against David’s superbly trained force? But we should remember that he did not see David and his men from our viewpoint. He saw him as a treacherous renegade, who had previously made him look small in the eyes of Saul (1 Samuel 26:13-16), and who had taken advantage of Israel’s defeat at the hands of the Philistines to persuade a desperate Judah to appoint him as king. Thus now that he had satisfactorily instated Ish-bosheth as king, which had probably taken quite a bit of persuasion, he felt that the next step must be to bring Judah into submission. He had not had the opportunity to realise that this time he would in fact be coming up against an efficient fighting machine which had proved itself time and again. As far as he was concerned David had always been a renegade ‘on the run’. Thus in his ignorance he was confident that a weakened Israel, even though still recovering from their heavy losses at the hands of the Philistines, (and we should remember that they had then lost almost the whole of their own standing army), should nevertheless easily be able to cope with a rebellious Judah under a renegade king.

Analysis.

a And Abner the son of Ner, and the servants of Ish-bosheth the son of Saul, went out from Mahanaim to Gibeon, and Joab the son of Zeruiah, and the servants of David, went out, and met them by the pool of Gibeon, and they sat down, the one on the one side of the pool, and the other on the other side of the pool (2 Samuel 2:12-13).

b And Abner said to Joab, “Let the young men, I pray you, arise and play before us.” And Joab said, “Let them arise” (2 Samuel 2:14).

c Then they arose and went over by number, twelve for Benjamin, and for Ish-bosheth the son of Saul, and twelve of the servants of David, and they caught every one his fellow by the head, and thrust his sword in his fellow’s side so that they fell down together, which was the reason why that place was called Helkath-hazzurim, which is in Gibeon (2 Samuel 2:15-16).

d And the battle was very hard that day, and Abner was beaten, and the men of Israel, before the servants of David (2 Samuel 2:17).

e And the three sons of Zeruiah were there, Joab, and Abishai, and Asahel, and Asahel was as light of foot as a wild roe (2 Samuel 2:18).

f And Asahel pursued after Abner, and in going he turned not to the right hand nor to the left from following Abner, and Abner looked behind him, and said, “Is it you, Asahel?” And he answered, “It is I” (2 Samuel 2:19-20).

g And Abner said to him, “Turn you aside to your right hand or to your left, and you lay hold on one of the young men, and take for yourself his armour” (2 Samuel 2:21 a).

h But Asahel would not turn aside from following him (2 Samuel 2:21 b).

g And Abner said again to Asahel, “You turn aside from following me, for why should I smite you to the ground? How then should I hold up my face to Joab your brother?” (2 Samuel 2:22).

f However that might be he refused to turn aside, which was why Abner, with the hinder end of the spear, smote him in the body, so that the spear came out behind him, and he fell down there, and died in the same place (2 Samuel 2:23 a)

e And it came about that as many as came to the place where Asahel fell down and died, stood still, but Joab and Abishai pursued after Abner, and the sun went down when they were come to the hill of Ammah, which lies before Giah by the way of the wilderness of Gibeon (2 Samuel 2:23-24).

d And the children of Benjamin gathered themselves together behind Abner, and became one band, and stood on the top of a hill

c And Abner called to Joab, and said, “Shall the sword devour for ever? Do you not know that it will be bitterness in the latter end? How long will it be then, before you bid the people return from following their brothers?” (2 Samuel 2:25-26).

b And Joab said, “As God lives, if you had not spoken, surely then in the morning the people had gone away, nor followed every one his brother” (2 Samuel 2:27).

a So Joab blew the trumpet, and all the people stood still, and no longer pursued after Israel, nor did they fight any more (2 Samuel 2:28).

Note that in ‘a’ Abner brings Israel’s forces to Gibeon with the purpose of invading Judah, and is met by the forces of David under his general Joab, while in the parallel Israel’s forces are on the run and it is Joab who is in control of affairs. In ‘b’ it is Abner’s words which commence hostilities, and in the parallel Joab points out that none of it would have started unless Abner had spoken as he did. In ‘c’ the sword devours men on both sides, and in the parallel Abner asks if the sword is to be allowed to devour for ever. In ‘d’ Abner and his men were beaten before David’s men, and in the parallel Abner and his men rally on top of a hill. In ‘e’ Joab, Abishai, and Asahel were going into battle, and in the parallel Asahel died, and Joab and Abishai were pursuing the enemy. In ‘f’ Asahel was not willing to turn aside from following Abner, and in the parallel he died because of his refusal to do so. In ‘g’ Abner pleads with him to turn aside from following him, and in the parallel he does the same. Centrally in ‘h’ Asahel persisted and would not turn aside with the result that he was going on to his death, a death that would have grave consequences, both for Abner (2 Samuel 3:30), and later for Joab (2 Samuel 3:39; 1 Kings 2:5-6).

2 Samuel 2:12

And Abner the son of Ner, and the servants of Ish-bosheth the son of Saul, went out from Mahanaim to Gibeon.’

Having established the kingship of Ish-bosheth in Mahanaim, Abner gathered Ish-bosheth’s warriors and advanced over the Jordan to Gibeon in Benjamin. Gibeon was in Benjaminite territory and Abner, a Benjaminite himself, no doubt hoped to gather further support there. His final purpose was to advance on Judah.

2 Samuel 2:13

And Joab the son of Zeruiah, and the servants of David, went out, and met them by the pool of Gibeon, and they sat down, the one on the one side of the pool, and the other on the other side of the pool.’

News of the Israelite movements had reached David through his spies, and he responded by sending out Joab, the son of Zeruiah (David’s sister) to Gibeon, along with his men, in order to prevent any attempted movement on Judah. Arriving there they encamped on the opposite side of a large reservoir to Abner and his men and waited to see what Abner would do. The next move would be up to him.

2 Samuel 2:14

And Abner said to Joab, “Let the young men, I pray you, arise and play before us.” And Joab said, “Let them arise.” ’

What Abner then did was basically a declaration of war. As had happened in the case of Goliath and Israel (1 Samuel 17) he called on Joab to send out warriors to meet his champions. The grim old warrior spoke jestingly of ‘play, but there was no real intention of ‘play’. It was to be a fight to the death. Whoever won would prove that YHWH was on their side.

2 Samuel 2:15

Then they arose and went over by number, twelve for Benjamin, and for Ish-bosheth the son of Saul, and twelve of the servants of David.’

Agreement was then reached that each side would submit twelve warriors, twelve for Benjamin and Ish-bosheth and twelve for Judah and David. Presumably victory would be seen as going to the one left standing at the end.

2 Samuel 2:16

And they caught every one his fellow by the head, and thrust his sword in his fellow’s side so that they fell down together, which was the reason why that place was called Helkath-hazzurim, which is in Gibeon.’

We know nothing about the practises which were followed in Israel with regard to such affairs, but the description suggests that certain accepted procedures were followed. Seemingly the aim was to seize the opponents head or beard, and then slay him with a sword. But the men were all so expert that each immediately slew his opponent, and all twenty four died simultaneously together. It was a grim business. Others see the description as simply signifying the ferocity of the battle as they struggled for the mastery. Either way the result was a draw. Neither side had gained the advantage. But the result was that war was now inevitable. By this action the battle had begun. Nothing could now prevent it from going forward. Blood had been shed.

The ferocity of the encounter, which must have shaken many on both sides, was such that from then on that place was named Helkath-hazzurim which meant “field of the sharp edges.” It would not be forgotten for a long time.

2 Samuel 2:17

‘And the battle was very hard that day, and Abner was beaten, and the men of Israel, before the servants of David.’

Battle then commenced and was hard fought all day, until at length the forces of Abner had to admit defeat before David’s warriors and fled the field.

2 Samuel 2:18

And the three sons of Zeruiah were there, Joab, and Abishai, and Asahel, and Asahel was as light of foot as a wild roe.’

The three sons of David’s sister were all participants in the battle, and one of them, Asahel the youngest, was fleet of foot. The result was that once the enemy had fled he determinedly set off after Abner with a view to catching up with him and killing him, and thus leaving the Israelite army leaderless and Ish-bosheth without his general. Ignoring Abner’s great reputation as a warrior as of no account he had the confidence of a young man that he would be able to slay him.

2 Samuel 2:19

And Asahel pursued after Abner, and in going he turned not to the right hand nor to the left from following Abner.’

Indeed he was so determined to kill Abner that he allowed nothing and no one to hinder him in his chase. In his confidence in his own abilities he refused to deviate from his chosen path. His whole thought was fixed on Abner.

2 Samuel 2:20

Then Abner looked behind him, and said, “Is it you, Asahel?” And he answered, “It is I.” ’

Checking behind him as he ran, Abner felt that he recognised in the dim light of the forest the warrior who was chasing him and slowly overtaking him, and so he called back, “Is it you, Asahel?” The reply immediately came to him out of the semi-darkness, ‘Yes, it’s me.’ (Wrong grammar perhaps, but what most would say).

2 Samuel 2:21 a

‘And Abner said to him, “Turn you aside to your right hand or to your left, and you lay hold on one of the young men, and take for yourself his armour.” But Asahel would not turn aside from following him.

Abner, who had no doubt in his mind about his ability to deal with the young man without any difficulty, regretted that he should be putting himself in such danger and pleaded with him to desist and find an easier target. He was loth to kill Joab’s brother and begged him rather to find honour by slaying someone more on his own level, and taking his armour.

2 Samuel 2:21 b

‘But Asahel would not turn aside from following him.’

Asahel would not, however, be put off his purpose. He wanted the glory of being the man who had slain Abner, and probably also genuinely recognised how important such a victory would be for his side.

2 Samuel 2:22

And Abner said again to Asahel, “You turn aside from following me, for why should I smite you to the ground? How then should I hold up my face to Joab your brother?” ’

Recognising that Asahel was getting even nearer, Abner again pleaded with him to change his mind and seek out someone else. He probably had a soft spot for Asahel, and stressed that he really did not want to kill Joab’s brother, for it would mean that he could never look Joab straight in the eye again.

2 Samuel 2:23 a

‘However that might be he refused to turn aside, which was why Abner, with the hinder end of the spear, smote him in the body, so that the spear came out behind him, and he fell down there, and died in the same place.’

But Asahel was not to be dissuaded, and steadily decreased the distance between himself and Abner in order to stab him in the back as he ran. However, as he approached the wily old warrior thrust accurately back with his spear and it went straight through him. The spear was probably pointed at both ends. And the result was that he died immediately, falling where he was.

2 Samuel 2:23 b

‘And it came about that as many as came to the place where Asahel fell down and died, stood still.’

The pursuing Davidides who came up to that spot during the chase stopped when they saw the body of Asahel in order to do him honour, before proceeding with the chase, for he was a man greatly admired. This appears to have been the custom with a fallen hero as we see from 2 Samuel 20:12. It must be assumed that certain rites were then observed.

2 Samuel 2:24

But Joab and Abishai pursued after Abner, and the sun went down when they were come to the hill of Ammah, which lies before Giah by the way of the wilderness of Gibeon.’

Meanwhile Joab and Abishai led their men on in the pursuit after Abner and Israel, and as the sun went down they came to the hill of Ammah (‘aqueduct’), which is before Giah (‘gusher’) on ‘the road of the wilderness of Gibeon’. None of the sites are identifiable.

2 Samuel 2:25

And the children of Benjamin gathered themselves together behind Abner, and became one band, and stood on the top of a hill.’

Recognising that the pursuit was continuing, and that their men were therefore being mowed down as they ran, Abner gathered the Benjaminites who were with him (or some who had come to joint them) and formed a single unit on the top of a hill. His aim may well have been to draw attention to them so that the remainder of his forces could escape, as well as to be able to speak to Joab.

2 Samuel 2:26

Then Abner called to Joab, and said, “Shall the sword devour for ever? Do you not know that it will be bitterness in the latter end? How long will it be then, before you bid the people return from following their brothers?”

Then Abner called to Joab and asked him whether he really wanted to go on slaughtering his brothers. ‘Shall the sword devour for ever’ is a reminder of what the sword had done in verse 16. And then he pointed out the intense bitterness that always results from civil war, especially when it is pursued aggressively, and asked how long it would be before Joab ceased the pursuit.

2 Samuel 2:27

And Joab said, “As God lives, if you had not spoken, surely then in the morning the people had gone away, nor followed every one his brother.” ’

In view of the fact that Abner had commenced the battle Joab thought that this was a bit of a cheek, and pointed out to him that if he had not originally called for the battle to start by arranging the competition between the two sets of twelve warriors (2 Samuel 2:14-15), then both sides would have gone away peacefully on the following morning with no one pursuing anyone else. The fault therefore lay totally at Abner’s door.

2 Samuel 2:28

So Joab blew the trumpet, and all the people stood still, and no longer pursued after Israel, nor did they fight any more.’

Joab, however, recognised the truth of what Abner had said. He knew that David would not be pleased if he antagonised the Israelites unnecessarily. So he blew the ram’s horn in order to indicate the cessation of the pursuit, and to call the men together ready for the return home. And being well-disciplined the men responded immediately. The pursuit was over and the killing stopped. The invasion of Judah had also been prevented.


Verses 16-18

Details Of David’s Administration As King And The Appointment Of His Son As Priests (2 Samuel 2:16-18).

Analysis.

a And Joab the son of Zeruiah was over the host

b And Jehoshaphat the son of Ahilud was recorder

c And Zadok the son of Ahitub, and Ahimelech the son of Abiathar, were priests

b And Seraiah was scribe.

a And Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was over the Cherethites and the Pelethites, and David’s sons were priests (or chief ministers).

Note that in ‘a’ Joab is over the host, and in the parallel Benaiah is over the king’s bodyguard. In ‘b’ Jehoshaphat is Recorder, and in the parallel Seraiah is the Scribe. Centrally in ‘c’ we have the names of the two High Priests. The description of David’s sons as priests (of a different kind) is then added at the end bringing out its emphasis. The parallel statements of the sons of the Aaronic house as priests with David’s sons as priests, arising in the second part of the chiasmus, follows a similar pattern found in earlier chiasmuses (see for example analysis of 1 Samuel 1:1-8).

2 Samuel 8:16-18

And Joab the son of Zeruiah was over the host, and Jehoshaphat the son of Ahilud was recorder, and Zadok the son of Ahitub, and Ahimelech the son of Abiathar, were priests, and Seraiah was scribe, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was over the Cherethites and the Pelethites, and David’s sons were priests (chief ministers).’

Both David’s greatness and his administrative flair is brought out in his appointees. He appointed Joab as general over his army, Jehoshaphat (otherwise unknown) as his recorder, historian and chancellor, Zadok and Abiathar’s son, Ahimelech, as his (High) Priests, Seraiah as his Scribe, and Benaiah as commander over his bodyguard. But above all he established his own sons as ‘priests’, in the last case with a view to them (hopefully) sharing with him in his kingly intercessory priesthood. In all his greatness he did not ignore the spiritual life of his sons.

The word for ‘priests’ used of David’s sons is the same as that used for Zadok and Abiathar’s son, Ahimelech (who both ministered as ‘Priest’ (High Priest), presumably one at the Tabernacle in Gibeon where the majority of the Tabernacle furniture was, and the other at the Tent in Jerusalem before the Ark) but the separation in mention indicates that the priesthood of David’s sons is to be seen as of a different type of priesthood. This was probably the priesthood of Jerusalem ‘after the order of Mechi-zedek’ uniting them with their father in spiritual concern for the realm as spiritual guardians. (We would expect some such thing from an optimistic and godly David who would have the highest expectations of his sons). 1 Chronicles calls them ‘the first at the side of the king’, and some would therefore translate as ‘close ministers’ (compare the king’s friend who is also called a ‘priest’ - 1 Kings 4:5). But this would tie in well with their being, at least theoretically, prayer-upholders.

Note on the details of the list of names of David’s servants.

“Joab the son of Zeruiah was over the host.” Joab was David’s nephew, being the eldest son of his sister Zeruiah. He had been David’s commander from the early days of his reign over Judah (2 Samuel 2:13-18; 2 Samuel 3:23), and had presumably been with David, along with his brothers Abishai and Asahel, in the wilderness days (see 1 Samuel 26:6). He and his two brothers were thus prominent and faithful in the service of David, but Joab and Abishai were seen by David as having somewhat of a ‘hard’ streak (2 Samuel 3:39), and Joab was never really forgiven for the slaying of Abner and Amasa, two rival generals (1 Kings 2:5-6). He did, however, seem to have David’s (and his own) concerns at heart as he demonstrated when he risked the king’s anger by arranging for the slaying of Absalom in the face of David’s objections, although he took the precaution of ensuring that it was execution by a number of people so that no one person could take the blame. He also tried to persuade him not to sin by ‘numbering’ Israel (2 Samuel 24:3). He was David’s faithful commander to the end, but chose the wrong son (the eldest) when it came to the succession (1 Kings 1:7), and on David’s advice (1 Kings 2:5-6) Solomon had him summarily executed (1 Kings 2:28-34). All that can be said in David’s favour with regard to this was that Joab no doubt angered him by seeking to make Adonijah king without David’s permission even while David was alive, not as an act of rebellion against David, but in order to prevent the selection of Solomon. Knowing what a hard man he was David no doubt foresaw that he would not be able to be trusted from then on in regard to Solomon. (So David could be hard too).

“Jehoshaphat the son of Ahilud was recorder.” We know nothing further of Jehoshaphat the recorder. As Recorder he would maintain the official records of David’s reign and may well have been responsible for the source lying behind chapters 9-24. His responsibilities would also probably include responsibility for keeping the king informed on important matters, advising him, and communicating the king's commands to others.

“Zadok the son of Ahitub, and Ahimelech the son of Abiathar, were priests.” The mention of Abiathar’s son, Ahimelech (named after his grandfather), makes clear that at this time Abiathar had for some reason dropped out from acting as High Priest for a time. This need not necessarily surprise us, for if he had contracted a skin disease, which was not uncommon in those days, he would have been excluded from such duties. Once the skin disease had cleared up he could then return to his previous post. It may well be that Ahimelech died while fairly young as he is not mentioned later apart from in 1 Chronicles 24:3; 1 Chronicles 24:6; 1 Chronicles 24:31. The necessity for having two High Priests would originally have arisen when Abiathar fled to David, and Saul wished to restore the Tabernacle ministry which had ceased when he slew the priests at Nob. He no doubt selected Zadok, who was descended from Eliezer, because he was from another branch of the Aaronic priesthood

“Seraiah was scribe.” That is, he was the secretary of state. In 2 Samuel 20:25 he is called Sheva. In 1 Kings 4:3 he is named Shisha, which in 1 Chronicles 8:16 becomes Shavshah. These are probably simply variants of his official name received on appointment. Ancient names were very flexible.

“Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was over the Cherethites and the Pelethites.” Benaiah was one of David’s mighty men and was over David’s bodyguard. He later under Solomon became commander of the Israelite army in Joab’s place. Some have seen the nouns cherethi and pelethi as signifying ‘executioners (from carath - to ‘cut down’) and couriers’ (from palath - in Arabic ‘escape, flee’). This would tie in with the fact that David regularly called on his young men to carry out executions, and they would certainly sometimes act as couriers in the same way as 19th century AD aide-de-camps. However, the Cherethites mentioned in 1 Samuel 30:14 were probably originally Cretans who had come over in the Philistine invasion (compare Ezekiel 25:16; Zephaniah 2:5), in which case we may see the Pelethi as ‘Philistines’ with the ‘s’ dropped out and with the word popularly fashioned so as to resonate with the Cherethi, who probably came over via Crete from the Aegean. They may well have come into David’s service at Ziklag, and even have converted to Yahwism. If this be the case both groups would presumably be mercenaries who served David personally, something which might be seen as confirmed by the fact that the same combination of the two helped to set Solomon on his throne (1 Kings 1:44) and were then not heard of again.

“David”s sons were priests (chief ministers).’ The word for ‘priests’ is the same one as that used for Zadok and Ahimelech. As suggested above this may indicate that they were seen as ‘priests after the order of Melchi-zedek’ (Psalms 110:4), possibly acting alongside David, and helping to fulfil his religious/political duties, especially when he was away. Certainly later Solomon reveals himself as a capable intercessor (1 Kings 8:54-55). Others see the word as here meaning something like ‘chief ministers’.

(End of note.)


Verses 29-32

The Aftermath of the Battle (2 Samuel 2:29-32).

When Saul and his companions had finished consulting with the medium of Endor ‘they arose and went away that night’ (1 Samuel 28:25), in contrast with David who was told by Achish to ‘start early in the morning, and depart as soon as you have light’ (1 Samuel 29:10. It appeared that there the writer was contrasting Saul’s journey into the darkness with David’s journey into the light. If that appears a little fanciful, consider the similar situation here. Abner and his men go ‘all that night’ and come to Mahanaim, (2 Samuel 2:29) while for Joab and his men, although they go all night, ‘the day broke on them at Hebron’ (2 Samuel 2:32 b). It would seem that we have the same indication, that the Saulides are going into the darkness, while David’ men are going into the light.

In between those statements we learn the outcome of the battle. David’s efficient and well-trained army lost only twenty men, while the lesser trained men of Israel lost ‘three hundred and three score men’. If this included the twelve slain in the opening contest the losses of David’s army were incredibly light, consisting only of seven men, and Asahel. It was a clear portent about the future.

Analysis.

a And Abner and his men went all that night through the Arabah, and they passed over the Jordan, and went through all Bithron, and came to Mahanaim (2 Samuel 2:29).

b And Joab returned from following Abner, and when he had gathered all the people together, there were missing of David’s servants nineteen men and Asahel (2 Samuel 2:30).

c But the servants of David had smitten of Benjamin, and of Abner’s men three hundred and threescore men who died (2 Samuel 2:31).

b And they took up Asahel, and buried him in the sepulchre of his father, which was in Beth-lehem (2 Samuel 2:32 a).

a And Joab and his men went all night, and the day broke on them at Hebron (2 Samuel 2:32 b).

Note that in ‘a’ Abner and his men went all night and came to Mahanaim, while in the parallel Joab and his men went all night and day broke on them in Hebron. In ‘b’ we are reminded of the death of Asahel, and in the parallel we are told of the burial of Asahel. Central in ‘c’ are the larger Israelite losses.

2 Samuel 2:29

And Abner and his men went all that night through the Arabah, and they passed over the Jordan, and went through all Bithron, and came to Mahanaim.’

Abner’s defeated army travelled all night to reach Mahanaim, entering the Jordan rift valley (the Arabah), passing over the Jordan (on the way out of the promised land), and going through ‘all Bithron’ (the word means ‘ravine’) in order to get there. What a vivid contrast it was to their previous journey the other way which they had taken days previously with such great hopes of success. Israel were getting used to being defeated.

2 Samuel 2:30

And Joab returned from following Abner, and when he had gathered all the people together, there were missing of David’s servants nineteen men and Asahel.’

In contrast Joab returned from the chase and on mustering the men discovered that only twenty men were missing, including Asahel. The mention of Asahel as a kind of addition stresses the greatness of the loss that they felt in his death. He had been a great warrior, and had been one of ‘the thirty’ (2 Samuel 23:24), who along with ‘the Three’ (2 Samuel 23:8-12) were the leading lights among David’s forces.

2 Samuel 2:31

But the servants of David had smitten of Benjamin, and of Abner’s men three hundred and threescore men who died.’

Meanwhile a count was made of those of Israel who had died, and they numbered ‘three hundred and threescore men’. This may have been calculated by Joab on the basis of the bodies discovered, or it may have been the result of the count when Abner arrived at Mahanaim. It may, however be that the number is deliberately adjectival indicating a large number which indicated the completeness of the victory, for it is a round number, and three is the number of completion, with its repetition emphasising the completeness. The emphasis is on the fact that their losses had amounted to hundreds, with many being slain on their headlong flight.

2 Samuel 2:32

‘And they took up Asahel, and buried him in the sepulchre of his father, which was in Beth-lehem. And Joab and his men went all night, and the day broke on them at Hebron.’

The assessments of the battle having been made they took up Asahel’s body and buried it in his father’s tomb in Bethlehem, the home of David’s family. Asahel’s mother was David’s elder sister. While some were engaged in this Joab led his men through the night and arrived at Hebron in time for the break of day. It was symbolic of the bright future that lay ahead for them.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 2:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/2-samuel-2.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, October 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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