Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Now there was long war between the house of Saul and the house of David: but David waxed stronger and stronger, and the house of Saul waxed weaker and weaker.Ch. 2 Samuel 3:1-5. Progress of David’s cause. His family
2. And unto David, &c.] The list of David’s sons born in Hebron is given again in 1 Chronicles 3:1-3, apparently in an independent form, but with only one important variation. It appears to interrupt the course of the narrative here, but it is quite in accordance with the usual practice of O.T. historians to insert information about the family of a king at critical points in the history of his reign, and moreover it is in place here as a practical evidence of the strengthening of David’s house. Cp. 1 Samuel 14:49-51; 2 Samuel 5:13-16.
Amnon] Infamous for the sin which cost him his life, and indirectly proved the source of shame and calamity to his family and nation. See on ch. 13.
And unto David were sons born in Hebron: and his firstborn was Amnon, of Ahinoam the Jezreelitess;
And his second, Chileab, of Abigail the wife of Nabal the Carmelite; and the third, Absalom the son of Maacah the daughter of Talmai king of Geshur;3. Chileab] Called in Chron. Daniel, the meaning of which name, “God is my judge,” suggests that it may have been given him to commemorate God’s judgment upon Nabal (1 Samuel 25:39; cp. Genesis 30:6). Some suppose that he bore both names, but the Sept. reading here Daluiah (Δαλουΐα), and the identity of the last three letters of Chileab in the Hebrew with the first three of the following word, make it extremely probable that the text of Samuel is corrupt.
Absalom] Whose name, “Father of Peace,” was belied by his conduct, the gloomy history of which occupies chaps. 13–18 of this book.
Maacah the daughter of Talmai king of Geshur] This marriage with a foreign princess, which was contrary to the spirit of the law (Exodus 34:16; Deuteronomy 7:3; Joshua 23:12), and bore such bitter fruit, may have been prompted by political reasons, especially the desirability of securing an ally in the neighbourhood of Ish-bosheth’s capital. Talmai’s kingdom was a part of Aram or Syria (ch. 2 Samuel 15:8), adjoining the province of Argob in the north-east of Bashan (Deuteronomy 3:14): probably in the wild and rocky region now called El-Lejah. As Talmai was the name of one of the giant “sons of Anak” who were expelled from Hebron by Caleb (Joshua 15:14), and as Geshur was close to the kingdom of Og, who was of the remnant of the giants, it is tempting to conjecture that there may have been some connexion between the families, which would account for David’s marrying the daughter of the king of Geshur while resident at Hebron.
And the fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith; and the fifth, Shephatiah the son of Abital;4. Adonijah] Who made an ill return for his father’s indulgence (1 Kings 1:6) by setting up a rival claim to the throne in opposition to Solomon, in which he was supported by Joab and Abiathar (1 Kings 1:5 ff.). He was pardoned at the time, but shortly afterwards put to death for preferring a request which, viewed in the light of Oriental customs, was tantamount to repeated treason.
Thus three of the six sons born to David in Hebron attained an unenviable notoriety; the remaining three, who are not mentioned again in the history, are happy in their obscurity.
And the sixth, Ithream, by Eglah David's wife. These were born to David in Hebron.5. Eglah David’s wife] A Jewish tradition as old as the time of Jerome (Quaest. Hebr. in libros Regum) makes Eglah (= heifer, cp. Jdg 14:18) another name for Michal, who is supposed to be particularly distinguished both here and in 1 Chronicles 3:3 as David’s wife, because she was his first and best-loved. If so, her position last in the list may be accounted for because she was separated from David for a time, and only returned to him towards the close of his residence in Hebron (2 Samuel 3:13), so that Ithream was the youngest of his sons born there.
Polygamy was tolerated by the Mosaic legislation as an existing custom, but discouraged as contrary to the original institution and true ideal of marriage (Deuteronomy 21:15-17; Deuteronomy 17:17; Genesis 2:24, of which perhaps Genesis 31:50 is a corrupt reminiscence). David’s family history is a standing monument of the pernicious effects of this practice, which are perpetuated to this day in Oriental countries, where “contentions, envyings, jealousies and quarrels among the wives, as well as between the different sets of children” still prevail. See Van Lennep’s Bible Lands, II. p. 559.
And it came to pass, while there was war between the house of Saul and the house of David, that Abner made himself strong for the house of Saul.6–11. Quarrel between Abner and Ish-bosheth
6. made himself strong] Or, shewed himself strong. Ish-bosheth was evidently weak and incapable, a mere puppet in the hands of Abner, who had made himself the mainstay of Saul’s house, partly from his family connexion, partly with a view to secure the greatest amount of influence, possibly with the hope of eventually becoming king himself. At length foreseeing the impossibility of continuing a successful opposition to David’s growing power, he took the opportunity of a quarrel with Ish-bosheth to make such overtures to David as might secure him favourable terms and an influential position.
And Saul had a concubine, whose name was Rizpah, the daughter of Aiah: and Ishbosheth said to Abner, Wherefore hast thou gone in unto my father's concubine?7. Rizpah, the daughter of Aiah] The heroine of the tragic story related in ch. 2 Samuel 21:8-11.
and Ish-bosheth said] Ish-bosheth has fallen out of the Heb. text. The Sept. has Ish-bosheth the son of Saul; the Vulg. Ish-bosheth.
Wherefore, &c.] An Oriental monarch took possession of his predecessor’s harem. Cp. ch. 2 Samuel 12:8, 2 Samuel 16:21; 1 Kings 2:22. There is no further indication that Abner intended to dethrone Ish-bosheth, but the act was an invasion of royal rights, and consequently implicit treason.
Then was Abner very wroth for the words of Ishbosheth, and said, Am I a dog's head, which against Judah do shew kindness this day unto the house of Saul thy father, to his brethren, and to his friends, and have not delivered thee into the hand of David, that thou chargest me to day with a fault concerning this woman?8. Am I a dog’s head, &c.] Render, Am I a dog’s head belonging to Judah? This day do I shew kindness … and thou hast charged me! &c. i.e. Am I at once despicable and hostile to your interests? Nay, I am faithful to the house of Saul, otherwise I should long ago have made terms with David by surrendering you into his hands.
In the East in ancient times as at the present day, dogs, although used for guarding flocks and houses (Job 30:1; Isaiah 56:10), were chiefly seen prowling about towns in a half-wild condition, owning no master, living on offal and garbage. Cp. Psalm 59:14-15; 1 Kings 21:19; 1 Kings 21:23-24; 1 Kings 22:38. Hence the aversion with which they were regarded, and “dog” became (1), as here, a term of reproach and contempt; cp. 1 Samuel 17:43; 1 Samuel 24:14; 2 Samuel 9:8; 2 Samuel 16:9; 2 Kings 8:13 : (2) an expression for fierce and cruel men (Psalm 22:16): (3) a name for impure persons (Matthew 7:6; Php 3:2; Revelation 22:15). See Tristram’s Nat. Hist. of the Bible, p. 78.
So do God to Abner, and more also, except, as the LORD hath sworn to David, even so I do to him;9. So do God, &c.] An oath characteristic of the books of Samuel and Kings. See note on 1 Samuel 3:17.
as the Lord hath sworn to David] No express divine oath promising the kingdom to David is recorded: but Samuel’s solemn declaration to Saul (1 Samuel 15:28-29), and his choice and anointing of David by divine command (1 Samuel 16:1-12), were equivalent to it. It seems to have been generally known that David was designated by God to be Saul’s successor (1 Samuel 25:28-31; 2 Samuel 5:2). “Abner is self-convicted by these words. He knew that the Lord had sworn to give the throne to David, and yet he had resisted—consciously resisted—to the best of his power the fulfilment of that high decree. He now reaps his reward in this, that his return to what was really his duty, bears the aspect of treachery, meanness, and dishonour. It now devolved upon him to undo his own work, whereas at the first it was in his power to subside into graceful and honourable acquiescence in a decree which, although distasteful to him, he could not and ought not to resist. Had he done this, his acknowledged abilities might have secured for him no second place among the worthies of David, and his end might have been very different.” Kitto, Bible Illustr. p. 324.
To translate the kingdom from the house of Saul, and to set up the throne of David over Israel and over Judah, from Dan even to Beersheba.10. from Dan even to Beer-sheba] Over the whole land of Israel. See note on 1 Samuel 3:20.
And he could not answer Abner a word again, because he feared him.
And Abner sent messengers to David on his behalf, saying, Whose is the land? saying also, Make thy league with me, and, behold, my hand shall be with thee, to bring about all Israel unto thee.12–21. Abner’s negotiations with David
12. on his behalf] The Sept. rendering immediately is adopted by some commentators, but is unsupported by the use of the word elsewhere.
Whose is the land] The meaning may be either (a) “Is not the land thine by virtue of God’s promise?” or (b) “Is not the land in my power so that I can make whom I please king?” But the latter agrees best with the words which follow: “Make thy covenant with me,” and with Abner’s character and evident desire to lay stress on his own power, in order to secure favourable terms for himself. There is however some doubt about the text, which was corrupt in the copy from which the Sept. version was made, and possibly the words Whose is the land? saying also should be struck out. The Targum has a curious paraphrase, “I swear by Him Who made the earth.”
And he said, Well; I will make a league with thee: but one thing I require of thee, that is, Thou shalt not see my face, except thou first bring Michal Saul's daughter, when thou comest to see my face.13. except thou first bring] As the text stands it can only be rendered except on condition of thy bringing. But it looks like a combination of two readings, except thou bring (so the LXX.) and before thou bring (Vulg.).
David’s reasons for demanding the restoration of Michal were probably (a) genuine affection for the wife of his youth who had saved his life (1 Samuel 18:20; 1 Samuel 19:11 ff.); (b) a desire to efface the slight put upon him by the deprivation; (c) a wish to conciliate the good will of the northern tribes by an alliance with Saul’s family.
And David sent messengers to Ishbosheth Saul's son, saying, Deliver me my wife Michal, which I espoused to me for an hundred foreskins of the Philistines.14. David sent messengers to Ish-bosheth] The acceptance of the condition by Abner is implied, but the formal demand was made from Ish-bosheth, who was powerless to resist the will of his master. Thus the restoration of Michal took place openly as a public act of justice; it clearly exhibited the strength of David and the weakness of Ish-bosheth; it gave Abner opportunity to go to Hebron as Michal’s escort, and mature his plans for deposing Ish-bosheth.
which I espoused, &c.] Saul proposed the slaughter of an hundred Philistines as the price of Michal’s hand in lieu of dowry: David paid him double (1 Samuel 18:25; 1 Samuel 18:27).
And Ishbosheth sent, and took her from her husband, even from Phaltiel the son of Laish.15. Phaltiel] Called Phalti in 1 Samuel 25:44, where his marriage with Michal is recorded.
And her husband went with her along weeping behind her to Bahurim. Then said Abner unto him, Go, return. And he returned.16. Bahurim] A village mentioned again only in connexion with David’s flight from Jerusalem as the residence of Shimei (ch. 2 Samuel 16:5), and the place where Jonathan and Ahimaaz hid themselves (ch. 2 Samuel 17:18). It belonged to the tribe of Benjamin, and was on the road from Jerusalem over the Mount of Olives to the Jordan fords. A Jewish tradition in the Targum identifies it with Almon (Joshua 21:18), now Almît, about 4 miles N.E. of Jerusalem, and a mile beyond Anathoth (Anâta). According to this view, which is adopted by Lieut. Conder, it was not on the main road through Bethany, but on a road which leads across the saddle north of the principal summit of the Mount of Olives.
And Abner had communication with the elders of Israel, saying, Ye sought for David in times past to be king over you:17. And Abner had communication] Better, Now Abner had had communication, previously to the occurrence related in 2 Samuel 3:15-16. The journey of 2 Samuel 3:16 to escort Michal terminates in the visit to Hebron of 2 Samuel 3:20.
with the elders of Israel] The authorities of the northern tribes as distinct from Judah. The elders were consulted as the representatives of the people. Cp. 1 Samuel 8:4, where see note on their various functions.
Ye sought for David, &c.] It appears from this that there had been from the first even among the northern tribes a party favourable to David, whose opposition had only been overcome by Abner’s strong will and vigorous efforts. This agrees with what we should naturally expect from the account of his popularity during Saul’s reign (1 Samuel 18:5).
Now then do it: for the LORD hath spoken of David, saying, By the hand of my servant David I will save my people Israel out of the hand of the Philistines, and out of the hand of all their enemies.18. I will save my people] The commission which had been given to Saul (1 Samuel 9:16) was transferred to David. Again we have an intimation that prophetic utterances respecting David’s divine appointment to the throne were commonly known.
And Abner also spake in the ears of Benjamin: and Abner went also to speak in the ears of David in Hebron all that seemed good to Israel, and that seemed good to the whole house of Benjamin.19. And Abner also spake, &c.] And Abner also had spoken, &c. Beside the general communication with the elders of Israel a special and confidential negotiation had been entered into with the tribe of Benjamin, which was the most likely to offer opposition through fear of losing dignity and advantage by the transference of the royal house to the tribe of Judah.
all that seemed good to Israel] Their readiness to acknowledge David as king, as well as conditions and demands which they wished to make, for there was to be a “covenant” between him and the people (2 Samuel 3:21).
So Abner came to David to Hebron, and twenty men with him. And David made Abner and the men that were with him a feast.20. twenty men with him] They formed the official escort sent by Ish-bosheth to convey Michal back to David, but were in all probability privy to the secret purpose of Abner’s visit.
And Abner said unto David, I will arise and go, and will gather all Israel unto my lord the king, that they may make a league with thee, and that thou mayest reign over all that thine heart desireth. And David sent Abner away; and he went in peace.21. and will gather all Israel] A meeting of the national assembly or “congregation of Israel” was requisite to accept David as king. Cp. ch. 2 Samuel 5:1, and see note on 1 Samuel 10:17.
Abner] Observe the emphatic way in which Abner’s name is repeated in 2 Samuel 3:17-21, and not merely represented by pronouns. It concentrates attention on the personality of this man who treats as the agent for the transfer of a kingdom which his own energy has consolidated.
And, behold, the servants of David and Joab came from pursuing a troop, and brought in a great spoil with them: but Abner was not with David in Hebron; for he had sent him away, and he was gone in peace.22–27. Abner treacherously murdered by Joab
22. from pursuing a troop] Lit. from the troop, i.e. from the foray, or plundering expedition on which they had gone to procure supplies. In the absence of taxes and regular pay, it was the only means of supporting an army. Comp. David’s practice at Ziklag (1 Samuel 27:8 ff.).
When Joab and all the host that was with him were come, they told Joab, saying, Abner the son of Ner came to the king, and he hath sent him away, and he is gone in peace.23. When Joab, &c.] Probably Abner had intentionally chosen a time for his visit, when he knew that Joab was absent from Hebron.
Then Joab came to the king, and said, What hast thou done? behold, Abner came unto thee; why is it that thou hast sent him away, and he is quite gone?24. he is quite gone] The Sept. reads “and he is gone in peace? Dost thou not know the wickedness of Abner,” &c.
Thou knowest Abner the son of Ner, that he came to deceive thee, and to know thy going out and thy coming in, and to know all that thou doest.25. thy going out and thy coming in] All thy movements and undertakings. Cp. Deuteronomy 28:6; Psalm 121:8; Isaiah 37:28.
And when Joab was come out from David, he sent messengers after Abner, which brought him again from the well of Sirah: but David knew it not.26. he sent messengers after Abner] No doubt in David’s name, pretending to recall him for a further interview. A message from Joab would have excited Abner’s suspicion, while on David’s good faith he could place entire reliance.
the well of Sirah] Rather more than a mile out of Hebron on the old paved road to the north is a spring with a reservoir called Ain Sareh, which is in all probability “the well of Sirah.” This agrees sufficiently well with Josephus’ statement that it was twenty stadia or two miles and a half distant from Hebron.
And when Abner was returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside in the gate to speak with him quietly, and smote him there under the fifth rib, that he died, for the blood of Asahel his brother.27. in the gate] Lit. into the midst of the gate, the space between the inner and outer gateways. But the publicity of the city gate was unsuited to a private conference, and the Sept. offers a more probable reading, “took him apart by the side of the gate.”
under the fifth rib] In the belly. See note on 2 Samuel 2:23.
for the blood of Asahel his brother] Since Abner had slain Asahel in self-defence (ch. 2 Samuel 2:23), Joab’s act was not justifiable on the score of blood-revenge. This was merely a convenient pretext for getting rid of a dangerous rival. He foresaw that if he allowed Abner to have the credit of placing the crown of Israel on David’s head, he would lose his own position and influence. Failing in his endeavour to persuade David that Abner was playing him false, with characteristic unscrupulousness he planned this deliberate and treacherous murder, as on a later occasion he murdered his rival Amasa (ch. 2 Samuel 20:10).
And afterward when David heard it, he said, I and my kingdom are guiltless before the LORD for ever from the blood of Abner the son of Ner:28–30. The Curse of Blood-guiltiness
28. I and my kingdom are guiltless] With a strong asseveration David asserts his entire innocence of any complicity in this murder. Neither upon himself personally nor upon “his kingdom,” i.e. the royal house, his descendants and successors, could punishment for shedding this innocent blood justly fall. Cp. 1 Kings 2:31-33. For the doctrine of a divine judgment which was certain to fall upon the murderer and his posterity, “visiting the sins of the fathers upon the children,” see Genesis 4:11; Deuteronomy 21:6-9; Matthew 23:35. Compare the Greek belief in the avenging Furies who dogged the murderer’s steps.
Let it rest on the head of Joab, and on all his father's house; and let there not fail from the house of Joab one that hath an issue, or that is a leper, or that leaneth on a staff, or that falleth on the sword, or that lacketh bread.29. let it rest] Let it fall. The Heb. word is a forcible one, expressing the energy of David’s indignation. It is used in Jeremiah 23:19; Jeremiah 30:23, of the whirlwind of God’s wrath falling upon the head of the wicked.
one that hath an issue, or that is a leper] Pining away miserably with incurable diseases, which not only made life a burden, but rendered their victim ceremonially unclean, and excluded him from the congregation of the Lord (Leviticus 13:46).
that leaneth on a staff] A cripple, lame, or blind. The word translated staff means elsewhere distaff (Proverbs 31:19), and the phrase may also be rendered as it is in the Vulgate “distaff holder” (tenens fusum). This would signify ‘a weak, effeminate man, unfit for war,’ as “Hercules with the distaff” was the type of unmanly feebleness among the Greeks. But this explanation seems forced, and the E. V. is supported by the Sept. and Targum.
that falleth on the sword] Render, “by the sword.” The E. V. suggests the idea of suicide, but untimely death in battle or by the hand of an assassin is meant.
So Joab and Abishai his brother slew Abner, because he had slain their brother Asahel at Gibeon in the battle.30. slew … slain] Murdered Abner, because he had slain, &c. The words in the Heb. are different, and the first denotes the violent character of the act. The Sept. however gives another reading, “Now Joab and Abishai were lying in wait for Abner, because &c.”
And David said to Joab, and to all the people that were with him, Rend your clothes, and gird you with sackcloth, and mourn before Abner. And king David himself followed the bier.31–39. David’s lamentation for Abner
31. gird you with sackcloth] The practice of wearing garments of the coarse dark hair-cloth used for making sacks as a sign of mourning was very ancient (Genesis 37:34). In cases of extreme grief or humiliation they were worn next the skin, but ordinarily outside the usual tunic.
mourn before Abner] Preceding the bier in the funeral procession.
And they buried Abner in Hebron: and the king lifted up his voice, and wept at the grave of Abner; and all the people wept.
And the king lamented over Abner, and said, Died Abner as a fool dieth?33. lamented] See note on ch. 2 Samuel 1:17.
Died Abner as a fool dieth] Lit. As dies a fool should Abner die? Was this ignoble death, befitting a fool, to be the fate of so brave a warrior?
Thy hands were not bound, nor thy feet put into fetters: as a man falleth before wicked men, so fellest thou. And all the people wept again over him.34. Thy hands, &c.] Two explanations of these words seem possible; either (1) Thou hadst not committed any crime to deserve a malefactor’s punishment, but wast causelessly murdered by treacherous enemies: or (2) How was it that thou wast slain while thy hands were at liberty to defend thyself, thy feet free to escape by flight? It was because thou wast attacked unsuspectingly by treacherous enemies. In the first case “fool” in 2 Samuel 3:33 is equivalent to “miscreant.” It is a term which frequently in the O.T. implies moral worthlessness, wickedness. Cp. Psalm 14:1. The Targum here renders it “the wicked.” In the second case it means “an ignoble churl who cannot defend himself.”
And when all the people came to cause David to eat meat while it was yet day, David sware, saying, So do God to me, and more also, if I taste bread, or ought else, till the sun be down.35. to cause David to eat meat] Fasting was the usual accompaniment of mourning. To shew his grief and his respect for Abner David refused to eat until sunset, the regular time for terminating a fast. Cp. ch. 2 Samuel 1:12.
meat] Lit. bread. In Biblical English the word denotes food in general, and is never restricted to its modern meaning flesh.
And all the people took notice of it, and it pleased them: as whatsoever the king did pleased all the people.
For all the people and all Israel understood that day that it was not of the king to slay Abner the son of Ner.37. all the people and all Israel] Not only David’s own subjects in Judah, but the people of the northern kingdom, who must have been specially aggrieved by the murder of their hero, recognised the sincerity of David’s grief, and acquitted him of all complicity in the act. If, as seems probable (2 Samuel 3:26), Joab had abused the king’s authority in order to bring Abner back, it was doubly necessary for David emphatically to repudiate the act, lest he should have been thought to have had some part in instigating it.
And the king said unto his servants, Know ye not that there is a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel?38, 39. To his confidential servants David speaks his whole mind freely. He feels that some apology is needed for leaving the authors of this heinous crime unpunished. As an excuse for doing so he pleads his youth and weakness. Though he had been anointed king, his kingdom was as yet far from being securely established. He could not dispense with his warlike nephews’ help. He dared not order the execution of his best general. Probably the army would have interfered to prevent it. But he protests against their hardness and cruelty, and declares that Joab will not escape the divine judgment for his crime. “It was one of those moments in which a king, even with the best intentions, must feel to his own heavy cost the weakness of everything human and the limits of human supremacy.” Ewald, Hist of Israel, III. 117.
weak] The same epithet is applied to Solomon in 1 Chronicles 29:1, and to Rehoboam in 2 Chronicles 13:7 (E. V. tender).
And I am this day weak, though anointed king; and these men the sons of Zeruiah be too hard for me: the LORD shall reward the doer of evil according to his wickedness.