2 Samuel 2:5-32
And David sent messengers to the men of Jabeshgilead, and said to them, Blessed be you of the LORD…
1. The chief anxiety of David, alter being anointed king over the house of Judah, would naturally be how to secure the peaceful allegiance of the other tribes. Prompted by the desire to prevent civil war, and also by the amiable feelings of his own heart, he sent a kind and grateful message to the men of Jabesh-Gilead, complimenting them on the respect they had shown for the mutilated remains of Saul and his sons. Every action of David in reference to his great rival evinces the superiority of his spirit to that which has often prevailed in similar circumstances. Within the Scriptures themselves we have instances of the dishonour that was often put on the body of a conquered foe: the cases of Jehoram and Jezebel will readily occur to every one. The shocking fate of Hector's dead body, dragged thrice round the walls of Troy behind the chariot of Achilles, was regarded as only such a calamity as might be looked for amid the changing fortunes of war. Mark Anthony is said to have broken out into laughter at the sight of the hands and head of Cicero, which he had caused to be cut off. It is very true that David was not strong enough at this time to offer any such outrage to his opponents, even if he had been willing; it would have been alike impolitic and cruel; but it is unfair to allege, that motives of policy were the only consideration that influenced him. The spirit of kindly regard, both to the person and the family of his predecessor, evidently breathed out from David's inmost soul, and is not to be denied or disparaged because the course it prompted was likewise the course of sound policy. When we come to examine his proceeding in giving up seven of Soul's sons to the Gibeonites, we shall see that that act was not an exception to his ordinary spirit.
2. The message which David sent to the men of Jabesh-Gilead was not merely fitted to gratify them, but was calculated to give confidence to the old friends and supporters of the former king. It would have been natural enough for them to apprehend — considering the ordinary practice of conquerors and the ordinary fate of the conquered, that when David came to power he would adopt very rigid measures against the comrades of his persecutor. By the message which he sent to them across the country, and across the Jordan, he showed clearly that he was animated by quite an opposite spirit; that instead of trying to punish those who had served with Saul, he was rather disposed to show them favour. Divine grace, acting on his native character, made David thus kind and forgiving, and presented to the world the beautiful spectacle of an eminent religious profession in union with most honourable and magnanimous behaviour.
3. But the spirit in which David acted to the friends of Saul did not receive the fitting return. His peaceable purpose was defeated through Abner, captain of Soul's host, who set up Ishbosheth, one Of "Soul's sons, as king, in opposition to David. Ishbosheth himself was evidently a mere tool in Abner's hands; he was a man of no spirit or" activity; and in setting him up as a claimant for the kingdom, Abner most probably had an eye to his own interest. It is plain that he acted in this matter in the spirit of daring ungodliness; he knew that God had given the kingdom to David, for he afterwards taunted Ishbosheth with the fact (2 Samuel 3:9); and nothing but personal motives of irresistible strength could have induced him to act in direct opposition to God. Under Saul, he had been chief captain of the host; under David, he could not expect to hold so high a position; and if the secret motive that induced him to set up Ishbosheth were revealed, it would probably be this — that a better place might be provided for himself — that Abner might be the first subject in the realm. The world's annals, alas! contain but too many instances of such reckless selfishness; wars without number, with their untold masses of victims, have sprung from no higher motive than the ambition of some Diotrephes to have the pre-eminence. What need has every man to guard against this selfish and therefore murderous spirit, and to pray that the animating spring of his conduct may be that love — that Christian charity, which is the queen of all the graces, and the very bond of perfectness! The well-meant and earnest efforts of David to ward off strife were thus frustrated; it was now his bitter lot to see the kingdom torn by that most dreadful of all scourges — civil war. As regarded the immediate occasion of the war, he had a perfectly clear conscience — Abner alone was responsible; .but the war itself, to a feeling and patriotic heart like David's, must have occasioned inconceivable anguish. Did it ever occur to him that he was now brought, against his will, into the very position which he had professed to King Achish to be so eager to occupy? Did he ever think that in the providence of God, placed, as he now was, in an attitude of hostility to his own countrymen, he was undergoing chastisement for the words he had then so rashly uttered? From a proposal made by Abner, with a view to simplify the contest (2 Samuel 2:14), it would appear that that general's conscience was not quite at ease in regard to the dismal slaughter he was on the point of provoking. The proposal seems to have been, that a small and equal number of young men should be chosen on each side, and that the contest should be held as settled in favour of the army whose young men should be victorious. The practice was common enough in ancient times; Roman history furnishes some memorable instances of it — that of Romulus and Aruns, and that of the Horatii and Curiatii; the challenge of Goliath to the host of Israel was another instance of the same practice. The young men were accordingly chosen; but they rushed against each other with such terrible impetuosity, that each of them slew his opponent, and the contest remained undecided as before. There was now nothing for it but a general appeal to arms; and when the shock of battle came at Gibeon, the victory fell to David; Abner and his troops were signally defeated. At the conclusion of the battle, at the sight of the flying foe, David might have said (though the psalm was, probably, not written for this occasion) — "Now know I that the Lord saveth His anointed; He will hear him from His holy heaven, with the saving strength of His right hand. Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the name of the Lord our God. They are brought down and fallen, but we are risen and stand upright. Save, Lord: let the king hear us when we call (Psalm 20:6-9).
(W. G. Blaikie, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.