Matthew Poole's Commentary
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.The war between the house of David and the house of Saul. Six sons born to David in Hebron, 2 Samuel 3:1-5. Abner, displeased with Ish-bosheth, 2 Samuel 3:6-11, revolteth to David, who requireth of him that he bring with him Michal, which he does, and communes with the elders of Israel; is feasted by David and dismissed, 2 Samuel 3:12-21. Joab returning from battle is displeased with the king, and treacherously murdereth Abner, 2 Samuel 3:22-27. David curseth Joab, 2 Samuel 3:28-30. Mourneth over Abner, 2 Samuel 3:31-39.
Long war; for five years longer; for it is probable that Ish-bosheth was made king presently upon Saul’s death, to give them countenance for their rebellion against David; and the other tribes did not submit to David before seven years were expired.
And unto David were sons born in Hebron: and his firstborn was Amnon, of Ahinoam the Jezreelitess;No text from Poole on this verse.
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;Chileab, called also Daniel, 1 Chronicles 3:1.
Geshur; a part of Syria, northward from the land of Israel, Deu 3:14 Joshua 12:5. See 2 Samuel 13:37 14:23 15:8. Her he married, as it may seem, in policy, that he might have a powerful friend and ally to assist him against Ish-bosheth’s party in the north, whilst himself opposed him in the southern parts. But he paid dear for making piety give place to policy herein, as the history of Absalom showeth. There were other Geshurites southward from Canaan, whom David invaded, 1 Samuel 27:8, and it is not impossible but they were a colony of those in the north.
And the fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith; and the fifth, Shephatiah the son of Abital;No text from Poole on this verse.
And the sixth, Ithream, by Eglah David's wife. These were born to David in Hebron.David’s wife: this is added, either because she was of obscure parentage, and was known by no other title but her relation to David; or to distinguish her from some other person of that name, who possibly might be of no good fame; or because this was his first and most proper wife, best known by her other name of Michal, who, though she had no child by David after she scoffed at him for dancing before the ark, 2 Samuel 6:23, yet might have one before that time. And she might be named the last of these here, because she was given away from David, and married to another man, when David took the other wives; and therefore though she had been first, yet now she was become the last of them. Or this title, being put in the last place, may belong to all the rest of the women above mentioned, by a figure called zeugma, to distinguish them from his concubines, 2 Samuel 5:13 1 Chronicles 3:9.
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.He used all his endeavours to support Saul’s house; which is mentioned, to show the reason of his deep resentment of the following aspersion. Or, he strengthened himself in the house of Saul, i.e. he so managed all affairs, as to get all the riches and power into his own hands; which made Ish-bosheth suspect that he aimed at the kingdom, and sought to marry the king’s concubine in order to it, as the manner was. See 2 Samuel 12:8 16:21 1 Kings 1:17.
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?Either, first, To satisfy thy own lust. Or rather, secondly, By that pretence to take away my crown first; for this was that which stirred up his jealousy and rage, and caused him to speak that to Abner which otherwise he neither would nor durst. But whether Abner were guilty or no, it is not evident from the following words; for if it were true, great men cannot endure to be told of their faults, though they be true and great.
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?A dog’s head, i.e. a vile and contemptible creature, as a dog was. See Deu 23:18 1 Samuel 24:14 2 Samuel 9:8 16:9 Job 30:1 Ecclesiastes 9:4. And a dog’s head is put for a dog by a synecdoche, usual both in the Hebrew and in other languages, as the head is oft put for the whole man in the Latin tongue. Which against Judah; so the particle lamed is well rendered, as el, which among the Hebrews is confessedly of the same nature and use, is used Ecclesiastes 9:14 Jeremiah 34:7 Ezekiel 13:9,20 Am 7:15.
Have not delivered thee into the hand of David, which I could oft and easily have done. That thou chargest me to-day with a fault concerning this woman; either, that thou accusest me falsely concerning this matter; or, that thou canst not wink at so small a fault (for so he esteemed it) as conversation with this woman, who, whatsoever she formerly was, is now so impotent and inconsiderable, that she can do thee no service, as I have done.
So do God to Abner, and more also, except, as the LORD hath sworn to David, even so I do to him;Whence it appears that this wicked wretch did all this while fight against his own knowledge and conscience, and against God himself.
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.No text from Poole on this verse.
And he could not answer Abner a word again, because he feared him.He could not answer Abner, because he durst not provoke Abner further, lest he should really execute what he supposed as yet he only threatened. Because he feared him, as having a greater interest in, and power with, both the army and the rest of the people, than himself had.
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.Messengers on his behalf; who in his name and stead might treat with David concerning his reconciliation with him. Thus God overrules the lusts and passions of wicked men, to accomplish his own wise and holy purposes. And who then dare contend with that God who makes even his enemies to do his work, and destroy themselves?
Whose is the land? to whom doth this whole land belong, but to thee? Is it not thine by Divine right? Saul’s son is but a usurper, thou only art the rightful owner.
Make thy league with me, that thou wilt pardon all past offences to me, and to all Israel, and thou wilt receive me into thy grace and favour.
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.I will make a league with thee, to wit, upon thy terms; which, all circumstances considered, seems to be lawful, to prevent the great effusion of Israelitish blood, which otherwise would certainly have been split. And although the principle of this action of Abner’s was base and wicked, yet the action itself was lawful and commendable, and no more than his duty to God and David obliged him to; and therefore David might well persuade and induce him to it.
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.Ish-bosheth’s consent was necessary, both to take her away from her present husband, and to persuade her to return to David. Hereby David opened to him also a door of hope for his reconciliation, lest being desperate he should hinder Abner in his present design.
My wife Michal; who, though she was taken from me by force, and constrained to marry another, 1 Samuel 25:44, yet is indeed my rightful wife. Her David demands, partly, for the affection he formerly had and still retained to her; partly, to deliver her from the sin and reproach of adultery with another man, who was not in truth and justice her husband, though he was so called and accounted; and partly, upon a politic consideration, that she might strengthen his right and title to the kingdom.
And Ishbosheth sent, and took her from her husband, even from Phaltiel the son of Laish.For, being forsaken by Abner, he durst not deny David, into whose power he saw he must unavoidedly come; and besides he supposed that she might be an effectual instrument to make his peace with David.
And her husband went with her along weeping behind her to Bahurim. Then said Abner unto him, Go, return. And he returned.Bahurim; a city of Benjamin, upon the borders of Judah. See 2 Samuel 19:16 1 Kings 2:8.
And Abner had communication with the elders of Israel, saying, Ye sought for David in times past to be king over you:Even in Saul’s time you highly honoured him, and prized his conduct, and wished that the power were in his hands; and great numbers of you went to him when he was in the hold, 1Ch 12. And after Saul’s death you would gladly have advanced him to the crown, if your respect to Saul’s family, together with my authority and influence, had not diverted you.
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.Now then do it; you shall have my free consent and utmost assistance in procuring it.
The Lord hath spoken of David; he wickedly pretends religion, when he intended nothing but the satisfaction of his own pride, and malice, and fury against Ish-bosheth. It is very probable God spake these words, but undoubtedly he spake the same sense by Samuel, though it be not expressed before.
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.In the ears of Benjamin; to these he particularly and applies himself. because they might be thought most kind to Saul his house, and most loth to let the kingdom go out of their own tribe; and therefore it was necessary that he should use all his art and power with them, to persuade them to a compliance with his design; and besides, they were a Valiant tribe, and bordering upon Judah, and situate between them and the other tribes; and therefore the winning of them would be of mighty concernment to bring in all the rest.
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.Which in those times was customary when persons entered into covenant. See Genesis 26:30 31:44,46.
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.All Israel, i.e. the elders and chieftains of all Israel, representing and ruling all the rest.
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.A troop of robbers, either Philistines, or Edomites, or some others, who taking advantage of the discord between the houses of Saul and David, made inroads into Judah, as they had occasion.
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.No text from Poole on this verse.
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?What hast thou done? thou hast committed a great oversight, to dismiss so dangerous and mischievous a person when he was in thy hands.
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.To search out thy counsels and secret designs, and to make use of them against thee.
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.He sent messengers after Abner, in the king’s name, and upon pretence of some further communication with him.
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.In the gate; in the entrance into the city before he came to the king; and in the place where conferences used to be.
Quietly; with appearance of great civility and kindness. Or, secretly, as having some matter of great importance to utter, which none but himself must hear.
Smote him there under the fifth rib; as he did Asahel, 2 Samuel 2:23.
For the blood of Asahel his brother; to revenge the death of Asahel; and withal (though that be not here mentioned) to secure his own standing, and rid his hands of so great and powerful a competitor. And thus was Joab’s design; but God had other designs in it, both to punish Abner’s manifest wickedness, and particularly his rebellion against David, and against God and his own conscience therein; and that David might not owe his kingdom to Abner, and to his revenge and treachery, but wholly to God’s wise and powerful providence.
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:David said publicly, before his courtiers and people; and seriously, as in God’s presence; I call the Lord to witness, that this was not done by my instigation or authority, or by any public counsel, but only by Joab’s malice; and therefore I trust that God will not punish me nor my kingdom, but Joab only.
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.Let it rest, i.e. this blood, the guilt and punishment of it.
And on all his father’s house. But children were not to suffer for their parent’s sin, Deu 24:16; and therefore either this was only a prediction; or, if it were an imprecation, David may seem to have transgressed his bounds, and mingled his passion with his zeal, that so he might express his utter detestation of this horrid murder, and how far he was from having any hand in it.
An issue was not only a troublesome and shameful disease, but also infectious, both to him that had it, and to all that touched him; so that whilst it was upon a man, he was cut off in a great part from converse either with God or men.
That leaneth on a staff, through craziness, or feebleness, or lameness, whereby he is rendered unfit for action and public service.
So Joab and Abishai his brother slew Abner, because he had slain their brother Asahel at Gibeon in the battle.Joab and Abishai; for though Joab only committed the murder, yet Abishai was guilty of it, because it was done with his consent, and counsel, and help, and approbation; for by these and such-like actions men are involved in the guilt of other men’s sins, at least in God’s judgment. Abner slew Asahel in the fury of battle, and for his own necessary defence; and therefore it was no justification of this unnecessary and treacherous murder in a time of peace.
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.David said to Joab; him he especially obliged to it; partly to bring him to repentance for his sin; partly to expose him to public shame, and to the contempt and hatred of all the people, with whom he had too great an interest, which hereby David designed to diminish.
Mourn before Abner, i.e. attending upon his corpse, and paying him that respect and honour which was due to his quality.
King David himself followed the bier; which was against the usage of kings, and might seem below David’s dignity; but it was now expedient, to vindicate himself from all suspicion and contrivance or concurrence in this action.
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.No text from Poole on this verse.
And the king lamented over Abner, and said, Died Abner as a fool dieth?i. e. As a wicked man; for such are oft called
fools in Scripture. Was he cut off by the hands of justice for his crimes? Nothing less; but by Joab’s malice and treachery. Or did he die by his own folly, because he had not wisdom or courage to defend himself? Ah, no. The words may be thus rendered: Shall or should Abner die like a fool, or a vile contemptible person? i.e. unregarded, unpitied, unrevenged; as fools or vile persons die, for whose death none are concerned. Or, How is Abner dead like a fool! pitying his mischance. It being honourable for a great man and a soldier to fight, if met with by an enemy, and not (having his arms at liberty) stand still like a fool to be killed, without making any resistance or defence; which, by this treachery of Joab, happened to be his case.
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.Thy hands were not bound, nor thy feet put into fetters; thou didst not tamely yield up thyself to Joab, as his prisoner, to be bound hand and foot, at his pleasure. Joab did not overcome thee generously and honourably in an equal combat, nor durst he attempt thee in that way, as a general or soldier of any worth would have done.
Before wicked men; or, before, i. e. in the presence or by the hands of froward, or perverse, or crooked men, by hypocrisy and perfidiousness, whereby the vilest coward may kill the most valiant person. Thus he reproached Joab to his very face, before all the people; which was a great evidence of his own innocency herein; because otherwise Joab, being so powerful, and proud, and petulant to his sovereign, would never have taken the shame and blame of it wholly to himself, as he did.
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.To eat meat; to refresh and cheer up his depressed spirits, as they used to do at funerals. See Jeremiah 16:5 Ezekiel 24:17.
Till the sun be down, i.e. till evening; for then fasting days ended of course.
And all the people took notice of it, and it pleased them: as whatsoever the king did pleased all the people.Took notice of it; observed what the king said and did. It pleased them; they were satisfied concerning David’s integrity, and the method he used here for his own just vindication.
Whatsoever the king did; either in this matter; or rather, in all things following this action. The meaning is, by his carriage herein he gained so great an interest in the hearts of his people, that they judged most favourably of, and put the best construction upon, all his words and actions; as, on the contrary, when people have a prejudice against or an ill will towards their prince, they are apt to judge most harshly of all his counsels and doings.
For all the people and all Israel understood that day that it was not of the king to slay Abner the son of Ner.Not done by his design or good will.
And the king said unto his servants, Know ye not that there is a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel?A great man, both for his illustrious quality, and for his high courage and wise conduct; and especially now for his great usefulness and serviceableness to me in giving me the entire and peaceable possession of all Israel. But still observe David’s prudence and piety, that he doth not commend him for his virtues and graces, as men of vendible consciences and tongues use to do upon funeral occasions; but only for the kind of worth which was really in him. Compare 2 Samuel 1:23.
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.Weak, or tender, in the infancy of my kingdom, not well rooted and settled in it. The metaphor is taken from a young and tender child or plant.
The sons of Zeruiah; Joab and Abishai, the sons of my sister Zeruiah.
To hard for me, i.e. two powerful. They have so great a command over all the soldiers, and so great favour with the people, that I cannot punish them without apparent hazard to my person and kingdom; especially now when all the tribes, except Judah, are yet in a state of opposition against me. But this, although it might give some colour to the delay of their punishment for a season, yet it may seem to have been one of David’s infirmities, that he did not do it within some reasonable time, both because this indulgence proceeded from a distrust of God’s power and faithfulness; as if God could not, or would not, make good his promise of the kingdom to him, without and against Joab and all his confederates; and because it was contrary to God’s law, which severely requires the punishment of wilful murderers, Genesis 9:6 Exodus 21:14 Numbers 35:21, which David had no power to dispense with. And David might and should have remembered how dear Saul paid for this very thing, that he dispensed with God’s command, and spared these whom God commanded him to slay, 1Sa 15. And it seems David’s conscience oft smote him for this; which made him watch for a fit opportunity to remove, and then punish him, and having neglected it till death, he declareth his sorrow for that neglect, by giving Solomon a charge to execute it after his death, 1 Kings 2:5,6,34.