Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary

2 Samuel 2:26

Then Abner called to Joab and said, "Shall the sword devour forever? Do you not know that it will be bitter in the end? How long will you refrain from telling the people to turn back from following their brothers?"
New American Standard Version

Bible Study Resources

Concordances:
Nave's Topical Bible - Abner;   David;   Israel;   Joab;   Truce;   War;  
Dictionaries:
American Tract Society Bible Dictionary - Gibeon;   Easton Bible Dictionary - Joab;   Holman Bible Dictionary - Samuel, Books of;   Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible - Abner;   Gibeon;   Joab;   Morrish Bible Dictionary - Asahel ;   The Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary - Joab;   People's Dictionary of the Bible - Asahel;  
Encyclopedias:
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia - War;   Kitto Biblical Cyclopedia - Abner;   The Jewish Encyclopedia - Ish-Bosheth;  

The Biblical Illustrator

2 Samuel 2:26

Knowest thou not that it will be bitterness in the latter end?

Bitterness

Abner was the cousin of King Saul, and commander-in-chief of his army. Even after the death of Saul, Abner's ability and skill enabled him to uphold the failing fortunes of the family. While David reigned in Hebron, a son of Saul was the head of ten revolting tribes beyond Jordan. Abner was an eloquent lecturer on prudence, when recklessness had wrought his own ruin. Like many old men who had been dissipated all their lives, when they can no longer be rakes and libertines, they gravely advise young men to be chaste and sober. It would be well if every headstrong Abner would ask himself, in season to repent and amend, “Knowest thou not it will be bitterness in the latter end?” There is a dreadful condition, in the future, towards which every guilty soul is surely and swiftly drifting--a state of bitterness. It may serve a good purpose to inquire, in what this bitterness consists?

I. One of the ingredients in the cup of bitterness which the wrong-doer will assuredly drink is the consciousness that it was his own doing. “Thou hast destroyed thyself!” will be the taunting cry of the demon. The easy, good-natured world has a nice way of smoothing over such things, and saying, “He is not very steady, poor fellow; but, then, he does not mean any harm.” And the same mistaken spirit of charity adds, “He is nobody's enemy but his own!” The Bible teaches a different lesson: “The enemy of God, by wicked works” (Colossians 1:21). Inwardly and outwardly, the impenitent sinner is hostile to God.

II. Another reason why bitterness must be the portion of the transgressor will be, that he risked so much and received so little. The cup of worldly pleasure had a very small flavour of sweetness in it, after all. The most seductive forms of sensual indulgence are always followed by bitterness. Let any one study that terrible picture, sketched from real life, “The Man about Town,” in “The Diary of a London Physician,” and as he turns with a shudder from the sight, he will discover a new meaning in the prophet's words, “It is an evil thing, and a bitter, that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God” (Jeremiah 2:19).

III. Another ingredient of bitterness to the lost will be the memory of evil-doings. Hell is a place where the condemned will be shut up with themselves. Moreover, there will be a development of character in its inmates--no longer kept under any degree of restraint, by better surroundings--which imagination cannot conceive of. It would be well for them to remember that the devil is daily administering anodynes to keep men stupefied and inactive. Among these narcotics, are--

1. The business and distractions of life.

2. Another anodyne which the devil offers to his unsuspecting victim is the cup of worldly pleasure. If one has swallowed an overdose of laudanum, he must be kept moving about briskly, or he will sink down into the sleep of death. So, too, with those stupefied by Satan's arts, we must give them no peace, until they are fully aroused to a sense of their danger. (J. A. Norton.)

A sweet beginning but a bitter end

These are the words of Abner, a near relation of king Saul, and a distinguished general of his armies. They are addressed to Joab, one of David's nephews and a commander of his army, a man valiant it is true but bounding with ambition and burning with vengeance. A course of wrong conduct ends in bitterness.

I. That sin does not answer in the long run. A course of sin may and often does answer for a certain time; it may yield profit and pleasure to its author for years.

1. Unrighteous avarice may answer for a certain time. The greedy and over-reaching man of the world may be wondrously successful. He may see his fortune rising higher and glittering brighter as the result of his unscrupulous and unremitting efforts. In all this he may for a time find great, pleasure. Success keeps his brain active and his blood warm.

2. Unbridled sensuality may answer for a certain time. A young man gives himself up to the gratification of his animal appetites and lusts. He finds an elysium in purely sensual indulgences.

3. Unscrupulous ambition may answer for a certain time. In all men there is more or less a love of power; in some it is a dominant passion. These men, working out their passion, struggle upward in the social realm; their course yields them pleasure.

4. Social impositions may answer for a certain time. There are men who have a passion for deceiving, they live for imposture, and by imposture. Now, whilst in all these courses of conduct there is a certain kind of pleasure, the pleasure only runs on to a certain period. From an inevitable law in the moral universe, the time comes when the sweet becomes bitter, when all the pleasure becomes poison than rankles in every vein of the soul. We infer--

II. That we do not finish with life as we go on. The brute perhaps finishes his life as he proceeds; his yesterdays affect him only materially. Not so with man. We have not done with any of the conscious periods through which we have passed, not even with the earliest. Our first actions will vibrate on the ear a thousand ages on; the first scenes will unfold themselves to the eve in ages far on in the future. Two laws render this certain:--

1. The law of moral causation. Our consciousness is ourselves; and this consciousness is the product of the past. It is to-day the cause of what it will be to-morrow.

2. The law of mental association. There is a faculty within us we call memory, and this memory gathers up the fragments of our past life so that nothing is lost. How often, by the principle of contrast, resemblance, and proximity, are the past actions of our lives called vividly up before us! Memory is the course of the wicked, the paradise of the innocent, and the common resort of all souls. We infer:--

III. That a sinner's moral sense is destined to a great revolution. What was sweet once, becomes hitter in the future. Physically, the man who at one time felt an article of food delicious which afterwards he found to be nauseous, has had, of course, his natural palate greatly altered. Just so in morals: when a man finds that the things which at one time gave him highest delight yield him intense pain, some great change must have taken place in his moral sensibility. Ah, it is so. The time hastens when he will see with different eyes, hear with different ears, feel with different nerves, taste with different palate. The silver which Judas clutches with delight, through a change in his moral sensibility, becomes so red-hot that he throws it away as unbearable. The fact is, that all the pleasures connected with sinful life are dependent upon a torpidity of conscience; let the conscience be aroused to a sense of its guilty condition, and these pleasures vanish, nay, turn into wormwood and gall. (Homilist.)

Keeping the end in view

Here we have an inquiry which ought to be put under all circumstances that are doubtful, and especially under all circumstances that are marked by selfishness or disregard of the interests of others. The question never is, what is the present feeling, but what will be the ultimate condition. There is night as well as morning, and the darkness must be considered as certainly as the light. What do things grow to? What is the latter end? If a man sow good seed he will reap good fruit. He who sows the wind will reap the whirlwind.

1. This question may be put to every man who is pursuing evil courses:--Say to the indolent, “Knowest thou not that it will be bitterness in the latter end?” say to the drunkard the same thing; say to the debauchee, whose whole thought is taken up with the satisfaction of his passions, the same thing; say also to the gambler, the adventurer, to the man who is boasting immediate success founded upon immoral courses, “Knowest thou not that it will be bitterness in the latter end?” Remind every one that there is a latter end; that there is a war in which there is no discharge; that there is an audit in which we must give up every account, every voucher, and undergo Divine judgment. The whole of our life should be conducted under the consciousness of its latter end.

3. This need not becloud our prospects, depress our spirits, or take the inspiration out of our action: a man may so contemplate his latter end as to know nothing of melancholy; he may rather see in it the beginning of the blessedness that is pure and immortal. We shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ. God will bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be bad. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Progressive character of sin

Sin is like the descent of a hill, where every step we take increases the difficulty of our return. Sin is like a river in its course; the longer it runs it wears a deeper channel, and the further from the fountain, it swells in volume and acquires a greater strength. Sin is like a tree in its progress: the longer it grows, it spreads its roots the wider, grows taller, grows thicker, till the sapling which once an infant's arm could bend, raises its head aloft, defiant of the storm. Sin in its habits becomes stronger every day--the heart grows harder; the conscience grows duller; the distance between God and the soul grows greater; and, like a rock hurled from the mountain top, the farther we descend, we go down and down and down, with greater and greater rapidity. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "2 Samuel 2:26". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/2-samuel-2.html. 1905-1909. New York.

John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible

Then Abner called to Joab,.... For having now a troop of men with him, he could stop with the greater safety; and being on an hill, and perhaps Joab on one opposite to him, could call to him, so as to be heard:

and said, shall the sword devour for ever? slay men, and devour their blood. See Jeremiah 46:10. That he was not thoughtful of, nor concerned about, when he set the young men to fighting before the battle, and called it play to wound and shed the blood of each other; but now the battle going against him, he complains of the devouring sword; and though it had been employed but a few hours, it seemed long to him, a sort of an eternity:

knowest thou not that it will be bitterness in the latter end? since it might issue in the death of himself, or of Joab, or of both, as it had in Asahel, or, however, in the death of a multitude of others; and which at last would cause bitter reflection in the prosecutors of the war:

how long shall it be then ere thou bid the people return from following their brethren? he pleads relation, that the men of Israel and the men of Judah were brethren; so they were by nation and religion, and therefore should not pursue one another to destruction; but who was the aggressor? It was Abner, that brought his forces against Judah; the men of David acted only on the defensive.

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The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
A printed copy of this work can be ordered from: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1 Iron Oaks Dr, Paris, AR, 72855
Bibliographical Information
Gill, John. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 2:26". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/2-samuel-2.html. 1999.

Geneva Study Bible

Then Abner called to Joab, and said, Shall the n sword devour for ever? knowest thou not that it will be bitterness in the latter end? how long shall it be then, ere thou bid the people return from following their brethren?

(n) Shall we not make an end of murdering?
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Beza, Theodore. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 2:26". "The 1599 Geneva Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/gsb/2-samuel-2.html. 1599-1645.

Wesley's Explanatory Notes

Then Abner called to Joab, and said, Shall the sword devour for ever? knowest thou not that it will be bitterness in the latter end? how long shall it be then, ere thou bid the people return from following their brethren?

Bitterness — It will produce dreadful effects.

Brethren — By nation and religion: whom therefore they should not pursue with so fierce a rage, as if they were pursuing the Philistines.

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These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
Bibliographical Information
Wesley, John. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 2:26". "John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/wen/2-samuel-2.html. 1765.

John Trapp Complete Commentary

2 Samuel 2:26 Then Abner called to Joab, and said, Shall the sword devour for ever? knowest thou not that it will be bitterness in the latter end? how long shall it be then, ere thou bid the people return from following their brethren?

Ver. 26. Shalt the sword devour for ever?] The Hebrews ascribe a mouth to the sword. The Greeks call it πολεμος, q.d., πολυαιμος, from the much blood spilt by it. The Latins call it Bellum a belluis, from beasts, whose manner it is to gore and tear one another. Oh, pray that God would command the sword into the scabbard, making it to "rest and be still," [Jeremiah 47:6] that he would "scatter those that delight in war." Pompey was famous for finishing a war quickly.

Knowest thou not that it will be bitterness in the latter end?] q.d., It is likely to be so, if my men, despairing not of victory only but of life, resolve to run any hazard, and to sell their lives as dear as they can, since they must needs part with them. It is no wisdom to fight with a desperate man. Ignaviam necessitas acuit: et saepe desperatio spei causa est. Victorem a victo superari saepe videmus. (a) Justin (b) telleth, that fifteen thousand Locrians did beat a hundred thousand Crotonians: Quia omissa spe victoriae in destinatam mortem conspirarunt, whilst they despaired of victory, and took care only how to die bravely. Take heed, therefore, saith this old soldier, lest ye have sour sauce at length to your deserts; as indeed all those are sure to have who feed on the murdering morsels of sin. Revenge is sweet; but the fruits thereof are sad, and all too late repented of. All wars are woeful; but especially those they call civil,

Nullos habitura triumphos.

Peccatoris cuiusque calix mellis, in faeces fellis desinet.

Return from following their brethren.] Is it so good butchering their poor brethren? We read in the Roman history of one brother unawares killing another in battle; and that when he came to strip him to take his spoils, seeing that it was his brother, he slew himself for sorrow.

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Bibliographical Information
Trapp, John. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 2:26". John Trapp Complete Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jtc/2-samuel-2.html. 1865-1868.

Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

It will be bitterness in the latter end; it will produce dreadful effects, and many bloody slaughters, if by a further prosecution thou makest them desperate; which is against all the rules of policy.

Their brethren, by nation and religion; whom therefore they should not pursue with so fierce a rage, as if they were pursuing the Philistines.

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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on 2 Samuel 2:26". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mpc/2-samuel-2.html. 1685.

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

26.Shall the sword devour for ever — Shall there be no cessation of the conflict already so disastrous to us all?

It will be bitterness in the latter end — Bitter because of the losses on either side, and still more bitter from the fact that it might have been avoided.

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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 2:26". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/2-samuel-2.html. 1874-1909.

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

2 Samuel 2:26. Bitterness in the latter end — It will produce dreadful effects. In civil wars, as Cicero speaks, (Familiar Epist., lib. 4.,) all things are miserable, and nothing more miserable than victory itself, which makes the conqueror do many things against his will, to satisfy those by whom he conquers. Joab seems to have been very sensible of this, from his withdrawing his forces so readily from the pursuit. From following their brethren — By nation and religion; descended from one common ancestor of Israel, and worshipping one and the same God. How forcible is this argument, even if applied to all men, and how ought it to induce all kings and princes to avoid all wars as much as possible, forasmuch as all mankind are brethren, and made of one blood.

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Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 2:26". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/2-samuel-2.html. 1857.

George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

Destruction. Septuagint, "till thou hast gained a complete victory?" Chaldean, "to separation?" Must we come to an eternal rupture? --- Despair? Hebrew, "that it will be bitterness in the end?" Abner insinuates that they had commenced in a sort of play, but the consequences had already proved too serious; and if Joab continued to pursue, his men would be rendered desperate. (Calmet) --- Despair makes people perform wonders, to revenge themselves. (Menochius)

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Haydock, George Leo. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 2:26". "George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hcc/2-samuel-2.html. 1859.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

(26) Abner called to Joab.—It may be that Abner was already considering the expediency of transferring his allegiance to the house of David, or, at least, had had enough experience of Ish-bosheth to see that it would be impossible to unite the tribes under his sway. At all events, his sense of the disastrous effects of civil war was doubtless quickened by his own defeat and present danger.

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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 2:26". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/2-samuel-2.html. 1905.

Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

Then Abner called to Joab, and said, Shall the sword devour for ever? knowest thou not that it will be bitterness in the latter end? how long shall it be then, ere thou bid the people return from following their brethren?
Shall
14; Acts 7:26
sword
11:25; Isaiah 1:20; Jeremiah 2:30; 12:12; 46:10,14; Hosea 11:6
it will be
16; Proverbs 17:14
how long
Job 18:2; 19:2; Psalms 4:2; Jeremiah 4:21
Reciprocal: Genesis 34:26 - edge;  Judges 9:38 - GeneralJudges 21:6 - repented them;  2 Samuel 18:7 - twenty thousand men;  2 Chronicles 11:4 - against;  Psalm 133:1 - how good;  Proverbs 20:18 - and;  Proverbs 25:8 - hastily;  Jeremiah 47:6 - how long;  Galatians 5:15 - General

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Torrey, R. A. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 2:26". "The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tsk/2-samuel-2.html.

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"Knowest thou not that it will be bitterness in the latter end?"2 Samuel 2:26.

Here we have an inquiry which ought to be put under all circumstances that are doubtful, and especially under all circumstances that are marked by selfishness or disregard of the interests of others. The question never Isaiah, what is the present feeling, but what will be the ultimate condition. There is night as well as morning, and the darkness must be considered as certainly as the light. What do things grow to? What is the latter end? "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." If a man sow good seed he will reap good fruit. He who sows the wind will reap the whirlwind. This question may be put to every man who is pursuing evil courses:—Say to the indolent, "Knowest thou not that it will be bitterness in the latter end?"—say to the drunkard the same thing; say to the debauchee, whose whole thought is taken up with the satisfaction of his passions, the same thing; say also to the gambler, the adventurer, to the man who is boasting immediate success founded upon immoral courses, "Knowest thou not that it will be bitterness in the latter end?" Remind every one that there is a latter end; that there is a war in which there is no discharge; that there is an audit in which we must give up every account, every voucher, and undergo divine judgment. The whole of our life should be conducted under the consciousness of its latter end. This need not becloud our prospects, depress our spirits, or take the inspiration out of our action: a man may so contemplate his latter end as to know nothing of melancholy; he may rather see in it the beginning of the blessedness that is pure and immortal. We shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ. God will bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be bad. Men should always ask themselves this question—"Is it right to obey man rather than God? "Obedience to God may mean present bitterness, present disappointment, and present humiliation, but yet there will be no bitterness in the latter end, only a sweetness as of honey, yea, as of the honeycomb. O that men were wise, that they might know these things, that they would consider their latter end

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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 2:26". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/2-samuel-2.html. 1885-95.