April 5 Reading: II Samuel 1-4 Commentary
“Then the men of Judah came, and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah.” (II Sam. 2:4)
II Samuel 1 – David Hears About Saul
After David returned from his slaughter of the Amalekites (see I Sam. 30), he remained in Ziklag for two days. On the third day, an Amalekite came running to him from the field of battle where Saul had engaged the Philistines. It was at this battle that Saul and his three sons, including David’s close friend Jonathan, had died (I Sam. 31).
The Amalekite brought news of the battle that he hoped would make David happy. Saul and his sons were dead (v. 4). When David inquired as to how the Amalekite knew this, the Amalekite said that he personally had killed Saul. The reason was that Saul was already injured unto death and the Amalekite “was sure that he could not live after he had fallen” (v. 10).
Whether his account is true or not is unclear. It differs from the account of Saul’s death in I Sam. 31. So it’s possible the Amalekite’s story was a lie designed to garner favor with David.
Regardless, David seems to have believed it and he is not happy about it. He tore his clothes, as a sign of mourning and wept and fasted for Saul until evening (v. 12). Then, he responded to the Amalekite by saying, “How was it you were not afraid to put forth your hand to destroy the Lord’s anointed?” (v. 14). At that, David had him executed because “your own mouth has testified against you, saying, ‘I have killed the Lord’s anointed'” (v. 16).
David lamented over the death of Saul and Jonathan in song (vv. 17-27), saying three times, “How the mighty have fallen!” (v. 19, 25, 27). His words about Saul – he was “beloved and pleasant” in life (v. 22) – are ironic, given Saul’s hatred for and continued desire to kill David.
His deep love for Jonathan is seen in verses 25-26 where David says, “I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; you have been very pleasant to me; your love to me was wonderful, surpassing the love of women.”
II Samuel 2 – David Anointed in Judah
David proceeded with caution following the death of King Saul. We’ve seen each time he had an important decision to make, he consulted with the Lord first. It’s no different here as he asks God, “Shall I go up to any of the cities of Judah?” (v. 1). The Lord answered “Yes” and instructed him to go to Hebron. So David went there with his two wives and all the men who had been by his side during the time he evaded Saul (v. 2-3).
Once there, the men of Judah came and anointed him their king (v. 4). However, at this point, David was only king over the tribe of Judah. And he would remain king there for “seven years and six months” (v. 11).
The rest of Israel passed to another son of Saul, Ishbosheth. Abner, Saul’s military commander, took Ishbosheth and made him king over Israel (v. 8-10).
War Between Judah and Israel
Judah and Israel both had strong military commanders – Abner for Israel and Joab for Judah. Both knew a battle for the throne of Israel was coming between David and Ishbosheth. So these two leaders agreed to have a contest between the 12 best men on either side to determine which side would gain the throne. In theory, this would keep them from engaging in a full scale war and save many lives (vv. 12-14).
So the 24 men fought one another, two at a time, until all 24 of them had died (v. 16). So the battle was a draw. But for some reason, David’s forces claimed victory. Abner was forced to flee but was pursued by a man named Asahel, Joab’s brother (vv. 18-19).
Asahel was fleet of foot “as a wild gazelle” (v. 18), so Abner could not outrun him. But Abner was the more experienced warrior and pleaded with Asahel to “turn aside” from his pursuit or at the least take up armor for himself so their hand to hand combat would be fair (v. 21). It appears that Abner tried everything he could to avoid this confrontation with Asahel, knowing that the end result could be blood feud with Joab and further conflict with Judah and Israel.
Asahel knew that if he killed Abner, Ishbosheth’s power would be diminished and allow David to become king over all Israel. So he continued the pursuit until Abner had no choice. Abner “struck him in the stomach with the blunt end of the spear, so that the spear came out of his back; and he fell down there and died on the spot” (v. 23).
The Battle Called Off…For Now
After finding Asahel dead, Joab and his other brother Abishai continued the pursuit of Abner. Abner pleaded with them to pull back saying, “Shall the sword devour forever? Do you not know that it will be bitter in the latter end? How long will it be then until you tell the people to return from pursuing their brethren?” (v. 26). The day had seen enough people die. There was no need for further death that would only deepen the conflict between the two sides.
Upon hearing this, Joab agreed and called off his forces by blowing a trumpet (v. 28). In all, David had lost 19 men and Asahel. Abner had lost 360 men.
This was the end of the battle on that day. However, “there was a long war between the house of Saul and the house of David. But David grew stronger and stronger, and the house of Saul grew weaker and weaker” (II Sam. 3:1).
II Samuel 3 – Abner Defects to David
While David settled in Hebron and his family grew (vv. 2-5), Abner was “strengthening his hold on the house of Saul” (v. 6). We don’t know how he was doing this for sure. But Ishbosheth seemed to think it was by sleeping with his father Saul’s concubine (v. 7). To sleep with a member of the royal court would have been to make a claim for the throne.
Abner was indignant when accused of this act by Ishbosheth. He felt as though he had showed loyalty to the house of Saul. But no longer. Abner said, “May God do so to Abner, and more also, if I do not do for David as the Lord has sworn to him— to transfer the kingdom from the house of Saul, and set up the throne of David over Israel and over Judah, from Dan to Beersheba” (vv. 9-10). These words make it appear that even Abner knew that the Lord had anointed David as the next king.
Abner Appeals to David
Abner sent messengers to David and asked him to “Make your covenant with me, and indeed my hand shall be with you to bring all Israel to you” (v. 12). David agreed, but only if Abner brought David’s first wife Michal to him (v. 14). Saul had given Michal to another man named Paltiel, who is heartbroken that Michal was being taken from him now (vv. 15-16).
Abner spoke to the leaders in Benjamin and David himself in Hebron, describing his goal of uniting all Israel under one king. He told the elders of Israel, “In time past you were seeking for David to be king over you. Now then, do it! For the Lord has spoken of David, saying, ‘By the hand of My servant David, I will save My people Israel from the hand of the Philistines and the hand of all their enemies'” (vv. 17-18). All of this “seemed good to Israel and the whole house of Benjamin” (v. 19).
By all intensive purposes, it appeared that Abner’s intentions were straightforward and honorable. With his help the kingdom would be united under David. Abner vows to David, “I will arise and go, and gather all Israel to my lord the king, that they may make a covenant with you, and that you may reign over all that your heart desires.” (v. 21).
Joab Murders Abner
Joab and his men had been gone on a raid when David met with Abner. When he heard about Abner’s proposal, he’s upset with David. Joab thought Abner was trying to deceive David and that the only purpose of their meeting was gathering intelligence for a hostile army (vv. 23-25).
Without David’s knowledge, Joab sent word to Abner to return and speak with him privately. When they were together, “Joab took him aside in the gate to speak with him privately, and there stabbed him in the stomach” (v. 27). All this to avenge the death of Joab’s brother Asahel whom Abner had killed.
When David found out, he’s not pleased with Joab. He issues a statement and curse against Joab’s family saying, “My kingdom and I are guiltless before the Lord forever of the blood of Abner the son of Ner. Let it rest on the head of Joab and on all his father’s house; and let there never fail to be in the house of Joab one who has a discharge or is a leper, who leans on a staff or falls by the sword, or who lacks bread” (v 28-29).
David’s reaction to Abner’s death was not lost on the people. They saw David mourn another enemy (even though it did appear Abner was defecting to David’s side). But David’s respect and kind words for Abner (v. 34, 38) and weeping at his grave (32) had an impact, so that “all the people and all Israel understood that day that it had not been the king’s intent to kill Abner…” (v. 37).
II Samuel 4 – The Murder of Ishbosheth
When Ishbosheth heard Abner had been murdered, “he lost heart, and all Israel was troubled” (v. 1). Two captains in Ishbosheth’s military – Rechab and Baanah – decide to take advantage of the lack of leadership. The crept into Ishbosheth’s house in the middle of the day and murdered him while he was lying in bed (vv. 5-6). They beheaded Ishbosheth (v. 7), escaped with his head and fled to David with the good news of his enemy’s death.
When the two men arrive, the reception they get from David is not what they were expecting. They are proud of their actions (v. 8). But David sees it otherwise. His reaction is the same as when the Amalekite (II Sam. 1) brought news of Saul’s death at his hands:
“As the Lord lives, who has redeemed my life from all adversity, when someone told me, saying, ‘Look, Saul is dead,’ thinking to have brought good news, I arrested him and had him executed in Ziklag—the one who thought I would give him a reward for his news. How much more, when wicked men have killed a righteous person in his own house on his bed? Therefore, shall I not now require his blood at your hand and remove you from the earth?” (vv. 9-11).
So David had them executed. And he buried Ishbosheth’s head in the tomb of Abner in Hebron.
Questions to Consider:
Have you ever been around someone who refused to give up a position of authority even when they knew their time was up?
Have you ever found yourself fighting against God’s plan for your life? If so, how did you resolve that?
There should be no place in the believer’s heart to delight in the misfortunes of others.
When Saul died, David mourned for him. He told all Israel to weep for Saul, the man who had tried to kill him. That’s mind-blowing. You’d think he would be glad the tension was over. But don’t we have a tendency to do that – to rejoice in the misfortunes of those we are in conflict with? May it not be so.
What other points would you want to know about in our II Samuel 1-4 commentary? Email us here with questions or comments.