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.
Verse 1. - Unto Hebron. As soon as David had assuaged his grief, his thoughts would naturally turn towards his country. Fuller news would reach him every day respecting the movements of the Philistines, who, after so decisive a victory, would quickly overrun all the central districts of Palestine, where the battle had been fought. And very bitter must David's feelings have been. Had he continued in Israel, he and his six hundred men would now have hastened to the rescue, and all the braver warriors of the land would have gathered round them. As it was, he was too entangled with the Philistines, and too much distrusted by the northern tribes, to be of much use. Still, we learn from 1 Chronicles 12, that brave men did continually swell the number of his followers. Detachments of the tribes of Gad and Manasseh, instead of joining Saul at Gilboa, went to David as he withdrew to Ziklag. And while he remained there a considerable body of men from Benjamin and Judah came to him under the command of Amasa, David's nephew. So numerous were they as to alarm David, who went out to meet them, fearing lest they had come to betray him; and glad was he to hear their answer, "Thine are we, David, and on thy side, thou son of Jesse." Thus even as it was, his forces daily grew more numerous; for "from day today there came to David to help him, until it was a great host, like the host of God" (1 Chronicles 12:22). But there was no national acknowledgment. With his numbers thus continually increasing, David was encouraged to make some attempt for the deliverance of Israel; but his position was one of serious danger. Great was the risk, but he knew where to go for guidance, and determines, therefore, to put the matter into God's hand. He summons Abiathar with the ephod, and, in the presence of his captains, asks for permission to go up to some city of his own tribe. The answer is favourable, and Hebron is the city selected. It was a place of ancient sanctity, was well situated in the mountains of Judah for defence, and as the Philistines bad not yet invaded that region, but probably would soon try to ravage it, the people would be sure to welcome the presence of one who brought with him a powerful body of trained men.
So David went up thither, and his two wives also, Ahinoam the Jezreelitess, and Abigail Nabal's wife the Carmelite.
And his men that were with him did David bring up, every man with his household: and they dwelt in the cities of Hebron.
Verse 3. - They dwelt in the cities of Hebron. Not only had David wives, whom he took with him to Hebron, but many of his warriors were married, and thus they and their households formed a numerous body of people, for whom Hebron could scarcely find accommodation. Moreover they had flocks and herds captured from the Amalekites, for which they needed pasturage. And therefore David dispersed them in the towns and villages of which Hebron was the capital, posting them in such a manner as to render it easy for him to summon them together, while taking care that they did not injure his tribesmen, or dispossess them of their lauds. We may feel sure that he consulted the chief men of Hebron as to these arrangements, and obtained their approval.
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.
Verse 4. - They anointed David. Samuel's anointing (1 Samuel 16:13) had been private, and, if we may judge by the manner in which Eliab treated David (1 Samuel 17:28), even his own family had not attached much importance to it. It was nevertheless the indication of Jehovah's purpose, and now the anointing of David by the elders of Judah was the first step towards its accomplishment. And this was an independent act, though the knowledge of Samuel's anointing had prepared the way for it; and David thus acquired a legal right and authority by the nation's will, which Samuel could not have given him. So Saul's anointing by Samuel, and his election to be king at Gilgal, were independent acts; and while the former gave the king his sacredness, the latter conferred upon him jurisdiction and power. King over the house of Judah. How came the Philistines to allow this? When subsequently he was again anointed, and became King of all Israel, the Philistines gathered their hosts at once; not because he captured Jerusalem, which was then a mere hill fort belonging to the Jebusites, but evidently because they thought him dangerous. But why did they not crush him now? One reason, probably, was that Judaea was a difficult country for military operations. The tribe, too, had stood aloof from Saul, and its strength was unbroken. But the chief reason apparently was that David maintained friendly relations with Achish, and paid him tribute. This explains the curious fact that Ziklag continued to be the private property of the house of David (1 Samuel 27:6). The doings of a vassal of the King of Gath were regarded as of little importance. Had he not even marched with them to Aphek, as one of the servants of Achish? But when he endeavoured to restore the kingdom of Saul, they first made a hasty rush upon him, and, when repelled, they gathered their forces for as formidable an invasion as that which had ended in their victory at Gilboa.
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.
Verse 5. - David sent messengers unto the men of Jabesh-Gilead. This was David's first act as king, and it was worthy of him. Some suppose that when David was told of their deed, it was with a view of prejudicing him against them. But this is not credible. By this time all men knew how loyal and affectionate were David's feelings towards his former king; and moreover the men of Jabesh were bound to Saul by no ordinary ties of gratitude (1 Samuel 11.). Nor could David wish that Saul's remains, and those of Jonathan, should be subject to indignity. We may well feel sure that information respecting Saul was eagerly welcomed at Hebron, and the valiant men there would all rejoice at finding that the high spirit of the nation was not quenched. But in sending to thank them, in premising to requite them, and in bidding them persevere in similar conduct, David was acting as the head of the nation; and, to justify his action, he informs them that the men of Judah had made him their king.
And now the LORD shew kindness and truth unto you: and I also will requite you this kindness, because ye have done this thing.
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.
But Abner the son of Ner, captain of Saul's host, took Ishbosheth the son of Saul, and brought him over to Mahanaim;
Verse 8. - Abner. This hero had been present at the battle of Gilboa, and probably had rallied many of the defeated Israelites, and made as much resistance as was possible to the onward march of the Philistines. And as soon as he had effected his retreat into the region beyond the Jordan, his power would be supreme. There was no one there to oppose the commander-in-chief of what remained of Saul's army. Certainly all that remained of Saul's body guard of three thousand men would gather round Abner, and as the Philistines did not push their pursuit further than the Jordan, he was free to do as he chose. Nor would there be any opposition. Abner was bound to do his best for Saul's family, and the people would feel this, and approve of his conduct in standing up for the children of their king. Moreover, David by his conduct had made himself an object of suspicion to all the valiant men who had formed Saul's army, and these would be the more embittered against him by their defeat. Ishbosheth. This name signifies "man of shame," that is, "man of the shameful thing," the idol. Originally he was named Eshbaal (1 Chronicles 8:33; 1 Chronicles 9:39), that is "man of Baal," the word esh being merely a dialectic variation for ish, equivalent to "man." At this early date Baal was not the specific name of any idol, but simply meant "lord," "master," "husband." In the earlier books of the Bible we find the word used of many local deities, who were lords of this or that, but had nothing in common with the Phoenician Baal, whose worship Ahab attempted to introduce into Israel. From that time Baal became a term of reproach, and Bosheth, "the shame," was substituted for it in the old names of which it had formed part. Thus Gideon is still called Jerubbaal in 1 Samuel 12:11, but the title is transformed into Jerubbesheth, or more correctly, Jerubbosheth, "let the shame plead," in 2 Samuel 11:21. Originally, therefore, the name Ishbaal had no discreditable meaning, but signified, "man of the Lord," or, as Ewald supposes, "lordly man." It was not till long afterwards, when Israel had been horrified by Jezebel's doings, that Baal, except in the sense of "husband," became an ill-omened word. Jonathan, whose own name, "Jehovah's gift," in Greek Theodore, is proof sufficient that Saul's family were worshippers of the true God, called his son's name Meribbaal, "the Lord's strife" (1 Chronicles 8:34). In some strange way this was altered into Mephibosheth, that is, "from the face of the shameful thing" (ch. 2 Samuel 4:4. etc.). Possibly it is a corruption of Meribbosheth, but it is remarkable that a son of Saul by his concubine Rizpah also bore the name (2 Samuel 21:8). Among the ancestors of Saul, the simple name Baal, "Lord," occurs (1 Chronicles 8:30). Mahanaim. Abner chose this town because it was on the eastern side of the Jordan, and so beyond the range of the Philistines, who never seem to have crossed the river. It was situated on the borders of the tribe of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh, from both of which valiant warriors had joined David; but the people generally were not ill affected to the house of Saul. As having been assigned to the Levites (Joshua 21:38), it had a quasi-religious character, inherited from the vision of angels seen there by Jacob (Genesis 32:2). As a safe, out of the way place, David subsequently took refuge there (2 Samuel 17:24). (On its exact site, see Conder's 'Heth and Moab,' pp. 177-181.)
And made him king over Gilead, and over the Ashurites, and over Jezreel, and over Ephraim, and over Benjamin, and over all Israel.
Verse 9. - Make him king over. A different preposition is used with the first three names from that employed afterwards, as though Ishbosheth's reign over Gilead and Jezreel was a reality, but that he had only a shadowy claim to dominion over Ephraim, Benjamin, and all Israel. Gilead. As Mahanaim lay upon the borders of Gad and Manasseh, Abner would easily control these two tribes, and Reuben, which was never an active or enterprising tribe, would follow their lead. Of the Ashurites nothing is known, and the reading is uncertain, as the LXX. has "Thasir," and the Vulgate and Syriac "Geshur." The Chaldee paraphrase boldly gives "the house of Asher;" but this tribe lay close to Phoenicia, on the extreme northwest. There are two places called Geshur (see on 2 Samuel 3:3), but neither of them seems meant, and more probably it was some place the name of which was uncommon, and so was wrongly copied by scribes until the present confusion arose. Jezreel. The name of this place, as specially subject to Ishbosheth, is surprising; for the town, at this time of no importance, lay in the wide plain between the mountains of Gilboa and the little Hermon. But this district was the prize won by the Philistines, and was a region where their cavalry and chariots gave them a great advantage. For Ishbosheth to have had even a nominal dominion over Jezreel, he must either have become a tributary, or Abner must have maintained a not unsuccessful struggle there after the battle of Gilboa. The latter is the more probable. In safe possession of all the country east of the Jordan, Abner was not likely to consent to anything so humiliating as submission to the Philistines; while David's connection with Achish made it neither so galling to him nor so disadvantageous. As the Transjordanic tribes assembled at Hebron to make David king to the number of one hundred and twenty thousand men (1 Chronicles 12:37), Abner plainly had large resources at his command, and, though the people were not very earnest in the cause of Saul's house, yet they would probably assemble in considerable numbers after the battle of Gilboa, to prevent any irruption of the victors into their country. At their head Abner probably gained some advantages over the Philistines, and thus became powerful enough to proclaim Ishbosheth king, and as Ephraim and Benjamin acquiesced, he became nominally ruler over all Israel.
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.
Verses 10, 11. - Ishbosheth...two years ... David... seven years and six months. Where are we to place the five years and a half of difference? The usual assumption is that David was made King of Israel immediately upon Ishbosheth's murder; but this is wrong. We cannot believe that Abner would allow so long a period as five years to elapse before asserting the claims of Saul's family, especially as David was already made King of Judah at Hebron. Still, as the war with the Philistines was the first object of his care, and as some form of popular ratification was necessary, some months may have passed before Ishbosheth was publicly installed as king, though Abner must have acted in his name from the first. The main interval of five years before David's accession must have been after Ishbosheth's death. That murder, and still more so the murder of Abner, must have made David an object of great suspicion to all Israel. Shimei, when he called him "a bloody man" (2 Samuel 16:8), was but uttering a slander commonly current among the people. Gradually most of them would become convinced of his innocence; and all, as they contrasted the anarchy which prevailed in their country with the peace and security won by David for Judah, would regard his election as the best course under the circumstances. As the Philistines immediately resented their action, and endeavoured to crush the king before he could concentrate his power, it is probable that during these five years they had again obtained practical command of the more fertile districts of Palestine. Ishbosheth... was forty years old. In the previous narrative Jonathan always appears as the most important of Saul's sons, and naturally it is assumed that he was the firstborn; yet his child was but five years old at his father's death, while Ishbosheth, his uncle, a younger brother of Jonathan, is described as a man of forty. Some think that Ishbosheth was the eldest son, but in 1 Chronicles 8:33 he is placed last, and, though a weak man, was not so feeble as to have been set aside from the succession. But confessedly the chronology of Saul's reign is so full of difficulties, that it is impossible altogether to explain it (see note on 1 Samuel 13:1).
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.
Verse 12. - Abner... went out. This is a further proof of considerable success on Abner's side. Encouraged by the result of numerous skirmishes with the Philistines, and the gradual restoration of the king's authority in Ephraim and Benjamin, Abner determined to make the attempt to win back Judah also. There David had been content with protecting Judah, and establishing good order; and, following his constant custom, had taken no steps to obtain for himself the kingdom "over all Israel." The war was of Abner's choosing, and shows him to us in the character of an able but ambitious and restless man.
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.
Verse 13. - The pool of Gibson. As Gibeon, which lay about six miles northwest from Jerusalem, was twenty-six miles distant from Hebron, and about the same distance from Mahauaim, it is plain that David knew of Abner's march. Possibly he had been summoned to yield his kingdom up to Ishbosheth as the rightful lord, but, while taking no measures to extend his rule, he felt himself justified in defending his election to be king ever Judah. The pool of Gibeon is described by Robinson ('Researches,' 2:136) as "an open tank about a hundred and twenty feet in length and a hundred in breadth, surrounded by a grove of olive trees. Above it, excavated in the rock, is a subterranean reservoir, to receive the water from a copious spring, from which the overflow descends into the tank below." As neither party was willing to shed the first blood in a civil war, of which the Philistines would reap the benefit, they both halted in sight of one another on opposite sides of the hill, with the tank below them in the middle.
And Abner said to Joab, Let the young men now arise, and play before us. And Joab said, Let them arise.
Verse 14. - Let the young men now arise. "Now" is not an adverb of time, but is hortative, and therefore rightly translated in the Revised Version, "I pray thee." It is by no means certain that Abner meant that this single combat should decide the war; for similar preludes before a battle are not uncommon among the Arabians, and serve, as this did, to put an end to the mutual unwillingness to begin the onslaught. So, too, games often preceded outbreaks of Scandinavian blood feuds. And this was probably Abner's object. He was the assailant, but now found that his men shrank from mortal combat with their brethren. There is thus no comparison between this combat and that of the Curiatii and Horatii described in Livy, 1. 10:25. Let them play. The word is grim enough, though intended to gloss over the cruel reality. On each side twelve of the most skilful champions were to be selected, who were to fight in stern earnest with one another, while the rest gazed upon the fierce spectacle. The sight of the conflict would whet their appetite for blood, and their reluctance would give place to thirst for revenge. The request was too thoroughly in accordance with Joab's temper for him to refuse, and his immediate answer was, Let them arise.
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.
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.
Verse 16. - His sword in his fellow's side. The absence of the verb in the original sets powerfully before us the rapidity of the whole action. But what an action! Twenty-four experienced men each take the other by the head, and, without any attempt at self-defence, thrust their swords into their opponents' side, and leave their own sides exposed to a similar thrust. Were they, then, unskilful in the use of weapons? Impossible. Were they blinded by hatred of one another? But no rancour would make a man forget his skill in defence. Here there is no variety, no checkered fortune of the combatants, but all twenty-four do and suffer just the same; and it is remarkable that they had swords only, and no shields. With shields on their arms, they could not have seized one another by the hair. It seems certain, therefore, that this mutual butchery was the "play;" nor can we conceive of a more murderous and savage proceeding. Abner, at the head of his fierce Benjamites, thought, perhaps, that Joab had no men among his followers willing to throw life away in so senseless a manner. But Joab was as ready as Abner, and possibly some code of false honour, such as used to make men practise duelling, required the acceptance of the challenge. And so, with their appetite for blood whetted by the sight of twenty-four murders, they hastened to begin the fight. Helkath-hazzurim. Literally this means "the field of flints;" but as the flint is constantly used for any hard rock (Psalm 78:20), the Authorized Version has admitted into the margin a paraphrase taken from the Vulgate, which supposes that by flints are meant "strong men," and renders, "the field of strong men." So in Isaiah 26:4 "the flint," or rock, "of ages," is even translated "everlasting strength." Flints, however, were constantly used by the Israelites for knives whenever extreme sharpness was required. Thus for the circumcising of Israel, Jehovah commanded Joshua to prepare knives of flint (Joshua 5:2); and in course of time the sharp or whetted edge of a weapon was called its flint. Thus in Psalm 89:43 we read, "Thou hast turned back the flint of his sword." The name therefore probably means "the field of the sharp knives" (see margin of the Revised Version), and refers to the short swords with which they murdered one another.
And there was a very sore battle that day; and Abner was beaten, and the men of Israel, before the servants of David.
Verse 17. - A very sore battle. The purpose of Abner was thus gained. Excited by the spectacle of merciless slaughter, the armies manoeuvred no longer, but rushed fiercely to the attack, and fought with fury. But the mighty men of David were irresistible. Only nineteen of his warriors fell, while Abner lost three hundred and sixty, and was forced to flee.
And there were three sons of Zeruiah there, Joab, and Abishai, and Asahel: and Asahel was as light of foot as a wild roe.
And Asahel pursued after Abner; and in going he turned not to the right hand nor to the left from following Abner.
Verse 19. - Asahel pursued after Abner. This episode is fully narrated, both because of Asahel's rank as David's nephew, and also because of its tragical consequences to Abner himself. Asahel was a son of Zeruiah, David's sister, and, while his own brothers were of little use to him, his nephews, Joab, Abishai, and Asahel, were the mainstays of David's throne. As their father's name is never mentioned, but only the mother's, Zeruiah was probably a woman of great ability, and her sons inherited it from her. Possibly she had married beneath her station, or her husband had died early; but certainly her sons, thinking more of her than of their father, had soon thrown in their lot with David her brother (but see note on ver. 32). The youngest of the three, Asahel, was remarkable for his personal accomplishments, and especially for swiftness of foot, for which he was compared to the Zebi, the camp name of Jonathan (2 Samuel 1:19). It now caused his death. For conscious that Abner was the sole support of Ishbosheth's party, and indignant at his challenge to useless slaughter, he pursued after him, allowing nothing to divert him from his object, and hoping to end the war by slaying the veteran commander. But though he had the fleetness of an Achilles, he had not his robust strength, and Abner, knowing that the combat was unequal, remonstrated with him, and bade him turn aside, and be content with winning the spoils of some meaner warrior. It is evident from this that Abner saw in this defeat in a battle of his own choosing, the certainty of the near downfall of the house of Saul, and, as he would then be in Joab's power, he was unwilling to have a blood feud with a man of such determined character. "How," he asks, "should I hold up my face to Joab thy brother?" It would be his duty, as the avenger of blood, to slay me. Apparently, during this conference, he was standing with the butt end of his lance held towards Asahel, to ward off his blows, but, as the spearhead was turned the other way, Asahel forgot that even so it might be used for offence. For it was pointed, that it might be stuck in the ground at night (1 Samuel 26:7), and possibly shod with iron, though it is more likely that it was only hardened by being thrust into the fire. So when he saw that his words had no avail, and that Asahel was not on his guard, he suddenly struck him with it so violent a blow that it pierced his body right through, and Asahel fell down dead. It is probable, from the merciless force used, that there was a sudden outburst of anger on Abner's part.
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.
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?
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.
Verse 23. - The fifth rib. This rendering here and in other places arises from the derivation of the word from the numeral five, but this notion has long been abandoned, and the word is now known to be formed from a verb signifying "to be fat or stout." Really it means the abdomen, and is so translated in the LXX. and Vulgate, while the Syriac gives only the general sense, and renders "the breast." In the same place; Hebrew, under him; that is, immediately. So violent was the blow that Asahel dropped down dead without a struggle. So tragic was his fate, and so great the affection of David's men for the young warrior, that the pursuit ceased, and all, as they came up, remained standing by the side of the corpse.
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.
Verse 24. - Josh also and Abishai pursued after Abner; really, but Joab and Abishai pursued, and so the Revised Version. The sight of their slaughtered brother made them only the more determined in the pursuit, and doubtless, at their command, the soldiers would leave Asahel and follow their commanders. Of the "hill of Ammah" and Giah we know nothing; but it is evident that no halt was made until sunset.
And the children of Benjamin gathered themselves together after Abner, and became one troop, and stood on the top of an hill.
Verse 25. - The children of Benjamin... became one troop. Benjamin was probably the only tribe that entered keenly into Ishbosheth's cause; for the maintenance of the kingdom in the family of Saul meant the continuance of that favouritism which had enriched them at the expense of the community (1 Samuel 22:7). They were, too, a very warlike tribe, and Abner was one of themselves, and probably, therefore, the main body of his army, and certainly his most trustworthy men, were Benjamites. Profiting by the delay caused by the halting of David's soldiers round the body of the fallen Asahel, Abner had rallied his men, and posted them on the top of the hill, where they were prepared now to fight on more equal terms.
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?
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.
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.
Verse 27. - Unless thou hadst spoken, surely then in the morning the people had gone up; or as the Revised Version renders, had gone away, nor followed every man his brother. The Revised Version makes the sense more plain. Joab throws the whole blame, and rightly so, on Abner. David would under no circumstances have attacked Ishbosheth, and Joab with his men had marched to the tank of Gibeon simply to repel an invading force. When there, Joab, doubtless by David's orders, had remained strictly on the defensive, and so unwilling were both armies to fight, that Abner had to resort to a most cruel scene of butchery in order to inflame their passions and force them to begin a conflict of brother against brother. But for Abner's challenge, both armies would have separated as friends. And Joab still acts upon the same principle of forbearance, and gives the signal for stopping the pursuit. He was not a man of a tender heart, but he was wise and sensible, and fully aware that the slaughter of Abner and his men, even if he could have destroyed them all, would only have rankled in the minds of all Israel, and set them against David and his rule.
So Joab blew a trumpet, and all the people stood still, and pursued after Israel no more, neither fought they any more.
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.
Verse 29. - And Abner and his men walked all that night. At the end of the chapter we learn that Joab did the same. Each army had about twenty-six miles to march, and the night was less exhausting for a long walk than the day. As soon, then, as Abner saw Joab and his men occupied with the removal of Asahel's body, he withdrew from the hill of Ammah, and, passing through the Arabah, or plain of Jordan, crossed the river by the same ford which he had used when starting on his unfortunate errand, and so returned home. The phrase, all Bithron, shows that this was a district, but nothing more of it is known.
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.
Verses 30, 31. - Nineteen men... three hundred and three score men. Though David's "mighties," as they were called, excelled in the use of arms, yet the disparity of numbers is remarkable; for the Benjamites were also famous warriors. We can only account for it by the superiority of the tactics of Joab, who was a man of consummate military skill, and who knew both how to gain a victory and how to use the advantage which the pursuers have over the pursued to the full. If we sometimes wonder that David endured Joab so long, we ought to remember how much he owed to his nephew's genius, and that Joab was always faithful to himself.
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.
Verse 32. - The sepulchre of his father, which was in Bethlehem. The Name of Zeruiah's husband is never mentioned, but he was evidently of the same town as his wife, and at his death, when probably still young, he had received honourable sepulture. As Bethlehem is about eleven miles distant from Gideon, Joab probably marched thither straight from the battlefield, and spent the next day in paying the last tribute of respect to his brother, and in refreshing his men. At nightfall he resumed his march to Hebron, which was fifteen miles further to the south, and where he would arrive on the morning following that on which Abner reached Mahanaim.