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

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.2:25-32 Abner appeals to Joab concerning the miserable consequences of a civil war. Those who make light of such unnatural contests, will find that they are bitterness to all concerned. How easy it is for men to use reason, when it makes for them, who would not use it, if it made against them! See how the issue of things alter men's minds! The same thing which looked pleasant in the morning, at night looked dismal. Those who are most forward to enter into contention, will repent before they have done with it, and had better leave it off before it be meddled with, as Solomon advises. This is true of every sin, oh that men would consider it in time, that it will be bitterness in the latter end! Asahel's funeral is here mentioned. Distinctions are made between the dust of some and that of others; but in the resurrection no difference will be made, but between the godly and ungodly, which will remain for ever.Ammah ... Giah - Local, and otherwise unknown names. 2Sa 2:19-32. Asahel Slain.

19-32. Asahel pursued after Abner—To gain the general's armor was deemed the grandest trophy. Asahel, ambitious of securing Abner's, had outstripped all other pursuers, and was fast gaining on the retreating commander. Abner, conscious of possessing more physical power, and unwilling that there should be "blood" between himself and Joab, Asahel's brother, twice urged him to desist. The impetuous young soldier being deaf to the generous remonstrance, the veteran raised the pointed butt of his lance, as the modern Arabs do when pursued, and, with a sudden back thrust, transfixed him on the spot, so that he fell, and lay weltering in his blood. But Joab and Abishai continued the pursuit by another route till sunset. On reaching a rising ground, and receiving a fresh reinforcement of some Benjamites, Abner rallied his scattered troops and earnestly appealed to Joab's better feelings to stop the further effusion of blood, which, if continued, would lead to more serious consequences—a destructive civil war. Joab, while upbraiding his opponent as the sole cause of the fray, felt the force of the appeal and led off his men; while Abner probably dreading a renewal of the attack when Joab should learn his brother's fate, and vow fierce revenge, endeavored, by a forced march, to cross the Jordan that night. On David's side the loss was only nineteen men, besides Asahel. But of Ish-bosheth's party there fell three hundred and sixty. This skirmish is exactly similar to the battles of the Homeric warriors, among whom, in the flight of one, the pursuit by another, and the dialogue held between them, there is vividly represented the style of ancient warfare.

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. 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.

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?

26. that it will be bitterness in the latter end] Either, that the final struggle of desperate men when driven to bay will be the fiercest; or, that any further prosecution of the contest will merely aggravate the bitterness of hostility between the tribes.Verse 26. - Knowest thou not that it will be bitterness in the latter end! The Vulgate renders this, "Art thou not aware that desperation is dangerous?" This is a very obvious truth, but probably Abner had in his mind something more statesmanlike. The struggle was for the empire over all Israel, and whoever won would be king over both sides. But every man slain meant a blood feud, which would continue even after the kingdom was united; and Abner probably felt that his own slaughter of Asahel that day would render his position in David's realm difficult and dangerous. Among the Arab tribes quarrels are very common, but bloodshed rare, because of the blood feud which follows. Moderation was thus necessary on both sides, while cruelty and the immoderate use of victory would sow the seeds of future trouble. Then Abner turned round, asked him whether he was Asahel, and said to him, "Turn to thy right hand or to thy left, and seize one of the young men and take his armour for thyself," i.e., slay one of the common soldiers, and take his accoutrements as booty, if thou art seeking for that kind of fame. But Asahel would not turn back from Abner. Then he repeated his command that he would depart, and added, "Why should I smite thee to the ground, and how could I then lift up my face to Joab thy brother?" from which we may see that Abner did not want to put the young hero to death, out of regard for Joab and their former friendship.
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