Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
And it came to pass after this, that David inquired of the LORD, saying, Shall I go up into any of the cities of Judah? And the LORD said unto him, Go up. And David said, Whither shall I go up? And he said, Unto Hebron.Ch. 2 Samuel 2:1-7. David anointed King over Judah at Hebron. His message to the Gileadites
1. after this] After the defeat of Israel and the death of Saul and Jonathan, David saw that the way was clear for the fulfilment of God’s promise that he should be king. Still he desired divine direction how to act in this crisis. He therefore “inquired of the Lord” by means of the Urim and Thummim through the High-priest Abiathar. See notes on 1 Samuel 10:22; 1 Samuel 23:6.
Unto Hebron] The central position of Hebron in the tribe of Judah, its mountainous and defensible situation, its importance as a priestly settlement and an ancient royal city, the patriarchal associations connected with it, combined to render it the most suitable capital for the new kingdom, while the North was held partly by the Philistines, partly by Saul’s adherents. In its neighbourhood moreover David had spent a considerable part of his fugitive life, and gained many supporters. See 1 Samuel 30:31, and note there.
So David went up thither, and his two wives also, Ahinoam the Jezreelitess, and Abigail Nabal's wife the Carmelite.2. Ahinoam—Abigail] Cp. 1 Samuel 25:42-43. The Jezreel to which Ahinoam belonged was a city in the mountains of Judah near Carmel and Juttah.
And his men that were with him did David bring up, every man with his household: and they dwelt in the cities of Hebron.3. in the cities of Hebron] The towns and villages of the district round Hebron.
And the men of Judah came, and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah. And they told David, saying, That the men of Jabeshgilead were they that buried Saul.4. the men of Judah came] An assembly of David’s own tribe was held in order to elect him king. No doubt he had previously secured the support of the elders. Cp. 1 Samuel 30:26.
they anointed David] David had already been anointed privately by Samuel to mark God’s choice of him as the future king, but it was natural that the ceremony should now be repeated publicly as the formal inauguration of his reign, and even a third time, when he was made king over all Israel (ch. 2 Samuel 5:3). Similarly Saul was first privately anointed (1 Samuel 10:1), and afterwards publicly installed in his office, and possibly anointed a second time (1 Samuel 11:14-15, note). On the significance of the rite of anointing see note on 1 Samuel 10:1.
And they told David] The connexion is obscure. We should expect a fresh verse and paragraph. Apparently either the announcement was intended to indicate the quarter in which opposition to his authority was most probable, or it was an answer to David’s inquiry whether the body of his predecessor had received fitting burial. In either case the embassy to the men of Jabesh was prompted by policy no less than by gratitude. If David could secure the support of the capital of Gilead (1 Samuel 11:1), he might reckon on speedily extending his power over the whole country. His conciliatory message is virtually an appeal to them to recognise him as Saul’s legitimate successor.
And David sent messengers unto the men of Jabeshgilead, and said unto them, Blessed be ye of the LORD, that ye have shewed this kindness unto your lord, even unto Saul, and have buried him.
And now the LORD shew kindness and truth unto you: and I also will requite you this kindness, because ye have done this thing.6. the Lord shew kindness and truth unto you] Kindness and truth, i.e. mercy and faithfulness, are attributes of God’s character often coupled together. See Exodus 34:6; Psalm 25:10; Psalm 40:11; Psalm 57:3; Psalm 86:15, &c.
I also will requite you this kindness] Render, I also will shew you this good, viz. the honourable embassy of thanks, and the friendly spirit which it attested.
Therefore now let your hands be strengthened, and be ye valiant: for your master Saul is dead, and also the house of Judah have anointed me king over them.7. be ye valiant] The following clause, which might be rendered “for though your master Saul is dead, yet the house of Judah, &c.,” makes it plain that David hoped the men of Jabesh would join him, and hold the land of Gilead against the Philistines until he could come to their aid. As however Gilead became the head-quarters of his rival Ish-bosheth, it does not appear that the embassy was successful.
But Abner the son of Ner, captain of Saul's host, took Ishbosheth the son of Saul, and brought him over to Mahanaim;8–11. Ish-bosheth set up by Abner as a rival to David
8. Abner] Both by his relationship of first cousin to Saul (1 Samuel 14:50, note), and by his office as commander of the army, Abner was marked out as the natural champion of Saul’s house.
took] Better, had taken. The historian goes back to relate events immediately succeeding the battle of Gilboa. Abner had escaped from the fatal field and carried Ish-bosheth with him across the Jordan, whither it would seem there was a general retreat, while the country west of the Jordan was abandoned to the Philistines (1 Samuel 31:7).
Ish-bosheth] Saul’s fourth son, not previously mentioned, was a mere tool in the hands of Abner. His original name, as given in the genealogies in 1 Chronicles 8:33; 1 Chronicles 9:39, was Esh-baal (= man of Baal), but this has been changed to Ish-bosheth (= man of shame), to avoid the scandal of pronouncing the name of the false god Baal. Compare the substitution of Mephibosheth for Meribbaal (2 Samuel 4:4; 1 Chronicles 8:34), and Jerubbesheth for Jerubbaal (2 Samuel 11:21; Jdg 8:35), and see Hosea 9:10; Jeremiah 11:13. There are indications that Esh-baal was the original reading here, and the change may have been made in books commonly read, while the original form was retained in the genealogy.
As regards the origin of the name, it is a question whether it was a relic of the old Baal worship, or whether baal (=lord) was at one time used as a title of Jehovah until discredited by idolatry (Hosea 2:16).
to Mahanaim] Mahanaim (= two hosts), “the spot consecrated by the presence of God in primeval times, where Jacob had divided his people into ‘two hosts,’ and had seen the ‘two hosts’ of the angelic vision” (Genesis 32:2; Genesis 32:10), was chosen by Abner as the capital of Ish-bosheth’s kingdom. Afterwards it became the retreat of David when he fled from Absalom (ch. 2 Samuel 17:24), and at that time was a fortified town with walls and gates (ch. 2 Samuel 18:24). It was situated on the frontier between Gad and Manasseh (Joshua 13:26; Joshua 13:30), but its exact position has not been identified with certainty. Canon Tristram places it at Mahneh, a few miles E. of Jabesh-Gilead (Land of Israel, p. 474).
And made him king over Gilead, and over the Ashurites, and over Jezreel, and over Ephraim, and over Benjamin, and over all Israel.9. Gilead] Here apparently, as in Joshua 22:9, Gilead includes the whole district occupied by the Israelites to the E. of the Jordan, and not merely the central portion of it, between the S. end of the Lake of Gennesaret and the N. end of the Dead Sea.
the Ashurites] Probably an alternative form or a corrupt reading for Asherites (Jdg 1:32), i.e. the tribe of Asher, named as the principal inhabitants of Western Palestine north of the plain of Esdraelon. The Targum gives “house of Asher.” The Vulgate and Syriac versions however read Geshurites. If this reading is adopted, by Geshurites must be understood the tribe which maintained itself among the Israelites in the district S. of Mount Hermon (Joshua 13:13), to be distinguished from the independent kingdom of Geshur in Syria (ch. 2 Samuel 3:3), and from the Geshurites on the borders of Philistia (1 Samuel 27:8).
Jezreel] The great plain of Esdraelon is thus named from its principal city. See note on 1 Samuel 29:1.
all Israel] Ish-bosheth’s dominions were gradually extended until they included all the country which afterwards formed the kingdom of Israel as distinguished from that of Judah.
Ishbosheth Saul's son was forty years old when he began to reign over Israel, and reigned two years. But the house of Judah followed David.10. forty years old] This statement is surprising, even if we reduce Ish-bosheth’s age at Saul’s death to 34½, by supposing that his accession is dated 5½ years after that event; and it is possible that the numeral has been corrupted in transcription. As it stands, it involves a double difficulty. (a) About 32 years is the most that can be assigned to Saul’s reign (see note on 1 Samuel 13:1, and Introd. to 1 Sam. p. 23, so that it represents his youngest son as born before his accession, which is improbable. (b) Ish-bosheth’s eldest brother Jonathan seems to have been about the same age as David, and therefore not much more than thirty at the time of his death.
two years] The duration of Ish-bosheth’s reign is probably reckoned from the time when Abner succeeded in establishing his authority over all Israel. Five years and a half were occupied with the reconquest of the land from the Philistines, and these two years synchronize with the last two of David’s reign at Hebron. No great interval seems to have elapsed between the deaths of Abner and Ish-bosheth, and David’s recognition as king of Israel.
And the time that David was king in Hebron over the house of Judah was seven years and six months.
And Abner the son of Ner, and the servants of Ishbosheth the son of Saul, went out from Mahanaim to Gibeon.12–17. War between Ish-bosheth and David. The Combat at Gibeon
12. went out] The technical expression for going to war. Cp. 1 Samuel 18:30. After establishing Ish-bosheth’s power over all Israel, Abner turned his arms against Judah, and marched with his army from Ish-bosheth’s capital, Mahanaim, to Gibeon, where David’s army under the command of Joab met him.
to Gibeon] The site of Gibeon (=belonging to, or built on, a hill) is fixed with certainty on a rounded hill five miles N.W. of Jerusalem, which still bears the name El-Jib. Gibeon was the largest of the four cities of the Hivites (Joshua 10:2), famous for the stratagem by which its inhabitants procured a treaty from Joshua (Joshua 9:3 ff.). It was in the territory of Benjamin (Joshua 18:25), and specially assigned to the priests (Joshua 21:17). Here Amasa met his death by the treacherous hand of Joab (2 Samuel 20:5-10). It gained its chief importance in the reigns of David and Solomon, as the great centre of worship at which the Tabernacle and the Altar of Burnt-offering were set up before the building of the Temple (2 Chronicles 1:3; 2 Chronicles 1:5), at which Solomon celebrated his accession with solemn sacrifices, and God appeared to him in vision (1 Kings 3:4-15).
And Joab the son of Zeruiah, and the servants of David, went out, and met together 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.13. Joab the son of Zeruiah] The eldest of David’s three nephews, the son of his sister Zeruiah (1 Chronicles 2:16). Next to the king himself he occupies the most conspicuous position in the history of David’s reign. Already he appears to have acted as commander-in-chief of the army, though his formal appointment to that post was the reward of his valour at the capture of Jebus (1 Chronicles 11:6; 2 Samuel 8:16). In this capacity he (a) conducted the war against the Syrians and Ammonites (2 Samuel 10:7); (b) completed the conquest of Edom (1 Kings 11:15-16); (c) defeated the Ammonites in a second war, and took their capital (2 Samuel 11:1; 2 Samuel 12:26).
With a too ready subservience he carried out David’s plan for getting rid of Uriah (2 Samuel 11:14 ff.), a service which increased his influence over David, by giving him the possession of his guilty secret. (See Blunt’s Undesigned Coincidences, Part II. ch. II.) We find Him scheming to secure the restoration of Absalom to David’s favour (2 Samuel 14), yet remaining loyal to David in Absalom’s rebellion (2 Samuel 18:2).
The vindictive unscrupulousness of his character is illustrated by his murder of Abner in revenge for the death of Asahel (2 Samuel 3:27); of Absalom, in spite of David’s express command (2 Samuel 18:14); of Amasa, who was appointed to supersede him (2 Samuel 20:10).
Too valuable to be dispensed with, too fierce to be controlled, he was a continual source of vexation to David (2 Samuel 3:39), who gave Solomon a dying charge not to leave his crimes unpunished (1 Kings 2:5-6). His complicity in Adonijah’s rebellion filled up the measure of his iniquity, and he met a traitor’s death in spite of his taking sanctuary at the altar in Gibeon (1 Kings 2:28-34).
by the pool of Gibeon] “A few rods from the village [of El-Jib], just below the top of the ridge towards the north, is a fine fountain of water. It is in a cave excavated in and under the high rock, so as to form a large subterranean reservoir. Not far below it, among the olive trees, are the remains of another open reservoir, perhaps 120 feet in length by 100 in breadth.” Robinson, Bibl. Res. I. 455. The “pool of Gibeon” may well be the waters of this fountain and reservoir. It is again referred to in Jeremiah 41:12 as “the great waters that are in Gibeon.”
they sat down] i.e. halted and encamped.
And Abner said to Joab, Let the young men now arise, and play before us. And Joab said, Let them arise.14. Let the young men now arise] “Young men” here means “servants” or “soldiers.” Cp. ch. 2 Samuel 4:12. Desirous to avoid the horrors of a civil war, which would weaken the whole nation in the face of its common enemy the Philistines, perhaps also prompted by friendly relations with Joab, Abner proposes to decide the day by a combat between two bodies of picked men. The combat of the Horatii and Curiatii, which decided the war between Alba and Rome, affords a parallel in classical story. Livy represents the Alban dictator, Mettius Fuffetius, as urging this plan of ending the war, lest both nations, weakened by the losses of a general battle, should fall into the hands of their common enemy the Etruscans. See Livy I. 23–25.
and play before us] The word “play” is used euphemistically in reference to fighting. There is no indication that a bloodless tournament was intended. Livy calls the combat above referred to “minime gratum spectaculum,” “an exhibition which was by no means an amusement.”
Then there arose and went over by number twelve of Benjamin, which pertained to Ishbosheth the son of Saul, and twelve of the servants of David.15. there arose and went over by number] A fixed number from either side met on neutral ground between the two armies.
of Benjamin] Saul’s own tribe provided the champions for his cause. Cp. 2 Samuel 2:25.
And they caught every one his fellow by the head, and thrust his sword in his fellow's side; so they fell down together: wherefore that place was called Helkathhazzurim, which is in Gibeon.16. And they caught, &c.] Self-defence was forgotten in the ferocity of the struggle, and all the combatants fell together by a mutual slaughter.
Helkath-hazzurim] This obscure name is variously explained as the field or plat, (a) of sharp edges, in allusion to the swords which proved so fatal; (b) of strong men, literally rocks, from the rock-like obstinacy with which they fought; so the Vulg. ager robustorum; (c) of plotters, the rendering of the LXX. (μερὶς τῶν ἐπιβούλων), which involves a slight change in the Hebrew word, implying that there was some foul play in the combat; (d) of sides, according to a conjectural emendation suggested in the Speaker’s Commentary, in allusion to the phrase “thrust his sword in his fellow’s side.” Either the first or second explanation is the most probable.
And there was a very sore battle that day; and Abner was beaten, and the men of Israel, before the servants of David.17. And there was a very sore battle that day] The combat of champions having proved indecisive, a severe general engagement took place, ending in the defeat of Abner’s forces.
And there were three sons of Zeruiah there, Joab, and Abishai, and Asahel: and Asahel was as light of foot as a wild roe.18–23. The Death of Asahel
18. three sons of Zeruiah] The standing designation of David’s nephews, to shew their relationship to him (1 Chronicles 2:16).
as a wild roe] The wild roe or gazelle, which still abounds in Palestine, is celebrated for its swiftness, grace, beauty, and gentleness. Cp. 1 Chronicles 12:8; Proverbs 6:5. See Tristram’s Nat. Hist. of the Bible, p. 127.
And Asahel pursued after Abner; and in going he turned not to the right hand nor to the left from following Abner.
Then Abner looked behind him, and said, Art thou Asahel? And he answered, I am.
And Abner said to him, Turn thee aside to thy right hand or to thy left, and lay thee hold on one of the young men, and take thee his armour. But Asahel would not turn aside from following of him.21. take thee his armour] Probably, as in Jdg 14:19, his spoil: i.e. if Asahel was desirous of spoil, he might find it elsewhere, instead of attacking a practised warrior at the risk of his life.
And Abner said again to Asahel, Turn thee aside from following me: wherefore should I smite thee to the ground? how then should I hold up my face to Joab thy brother?22. Turn thee aside] Asahel was probably a mere stripling, and no match for Abner, who, wishing to avoid a feud with Joab and an obstacle to making favourable terms with David on the fall of Saul’s house, again exhorted Asahel to abandon the pursuit.
hold up my face to Joab] Meet him with the steady gaze which is the index of a clear conscience, the opposite of the downcast look which betokens shame and guilt. Cp. Job 11:15.
Howbeit he refused to turn aside: wherefore Abner with the hinder end of the spear smote him under the fifth rib, that the spear came out behind him; and he fell down there, and died in the same place: and it came to pass, that as many as came to the place where Asahel fell down and died stood still.23. with the hinder end of the spear] Abner defended himself in this way with a view to disable rather than kill Asahel. But the butt-end of the spear, pointed or shod with iron to be stuck in the ground (1 Samuel 26:7; Hom. Il. X. 153), dealt a fatal blow.
under the fifth rib] The E. V. follows the Jewish commentators in thus rendering a word which occurs in three other passages of this book (2 Samuel 3:27, 2 Samuel 4:6, 2 Samuel 20:10) and nowhere else. In the belly is however the more probable meaning.
stood still] Riveted to the spot with awe and grief, mourning the untimely fate of the young hero. Cp. ch. 2 Samuel 20:12.
Joab also and Abishai pursued after Abner: and the sun went down when they were come to the hill of Ammah, that lieth before Giah by the way of the wilderness of Gibeon.24–32. The Pursuit. Asahel’s burial
24. Joab also, &c.] And Joab and Abishai continued the pursuit, in contrast to those who halted at the scene of Asahel’s death.
the hill of Ammah … Giah] Nothing is known of these places, but the minuteness of topographical detail is an indication that the history was written by one who was familiar with the circumstances.
the wilderness of Gibeon] The untilled tract of pasture-lands, lying east of the city.
And the children of Benjamin gathered themselves together after Abner, and became one troop, and stood on the top of an hill.25. the children of Benjamin] The men of Saul’s tribe shew themselves prepared to fight for his son’s cause to the last. Cp. 2 Samuel 2:15.
became one troop] The word means properly a knot or band. Abner chose a strong position in which to rally the remnant of his scattered forces into a solid phalanx.
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?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.
And Joab said, As God liveth, unless thou hadst spoken, surely then in the morning the people had gone up every one from following his brother.27. unless thou hadst spoken] Abner found fault with Joab for continuing the pursuit. Joab retorts that Abner himself was to blame for the commencement of the battle. Unless thou hadst spoken (2 Samuel 2:14), and challenged us to fight, the armies might have separated this morning without coming to blows. Joab believed that the civil war might have been avoided by timely negotiation. This explanation is the simplest, and fits the context best. Another way of taking it is, Unless thou hadst spoken, and asked for a cessation of hostilities, then to-morrow morning, but not before, the people, &c.; i.e. Joab boasts that his compliance with Abner’s request was no sign of weakness on his part, for he might have continued the pursuit until morning. But this meaning is less obvious, and less suitable as an answer to Abner.
So Joab blew a trumpet, and all the people stood still, and pursued after Israel no more, neither fought they any more.28. neither fought they any more] For the time being only. It was not the final end of the war, which lasted for a long time afterwards (ch. 2 Samuel 3:1).
And Abner and his men walked all that night through the plain, and passed over Jordan, and went through all Bithron, and they came to Mahanaim.29. walked all that night] Fearing a renewal of hostilities they made good their retreat at once.
through the plain] The Arâbâh, or “desert tract which extends along the valley of the Jordan from the Dead Sea to the Lake of Gennesareth, now called by the Arabs El-Ghor.” Stanley, Sinai and Pal. p. 487.
through all Bithron] Probably, as the name (derived from a root meaning to cut) implies, some ravine, or district intersected by ravines, between the Jordan and Mahanaim.
And Joab returned from following Abner: and when he had gathered all the people together, there lacked of David's servants nineteen men and Asahel.
But the servants of David had smitten of Benjamin, and of Abner's men, so that three hundred and threescore men died.
And they took up Asahel, and buried him in the sepulchre of his father, which was in Bethlehem. And Joab and his men went all night, and they came to Hebron at break of day.32. in the sepulchre of his father … in Beth-lehem] The only reference to Zeruiah’s husband, who appears from this notice to have been a Bethlehemite. Josephus calls him Suri (Σουρί).
went all night] Clearly the night after Asahel’s burial, not the night after the battle. The fighting was not over till after sunset (2 Samuel 2:24), and it would have been impossible to collect the army, make necessary arrangements, and march a distance of at least 26 miles from Gibeon to Hebron, burying Asahel on the way. Joab no doubt spent the night at Gibeon, marched to Bethlehem the next day, and after burying his brother, hastened on to report himself to David at Hebron.