Progress and Termination of the Civil War
2 Samuel 3:1-39
Now there was long war between the house of Saul and the house of David: but David waxed stronger and stronger…

What grief tales of distress are folded up in these brief words, "There was long war!" Probably it was only irregular war, without much bloodshed; the war of skirmish and surprise, not of pitched battles, or protracted sieges, or desperate assaults; but many a pillaged town, and many a homestead laid in ashes, and many a heart crushed to despair or maddened to fury, and many a deep and deadly curse, and many a fiendish vow of vengeance, would everywhere follow the track of war. And it was war of the most distressing and demoralising kind — not foreign but civil. Great national wars are usually attended by one counteracting benefit — they soften the keenness of private quarrels. But when parties in the same nation arc fighting with each other, as the tribes of Israel now were, private quarrels, instead of being healed, are only exasperated to greater bitterness.

1. Before the remarkable change of policy on the part of Abner that led to the termination of the war is recorded, a glimpse is given us of the domestic life of King David (2 Samuel 3:2-5); and whether it be by design or not, there immediately follows (vers. 6-11) a specimen and illustration of the kind of evils to which that mode of life was liable to give rise. Though polygamy was not allowed to David, it certainly was winked at; it was not imputed to him as guilt; it 'was not treated as an act of rebellion against God's law. But, on the other hand, this toleration of polygamy did not and could not prevent the evils to which, from its very nature, it gives rise. There could be no unity in David's family, none of that delightful feeling of oneness, which gives such a charm to the home. In his own breast, that sense of delicacy, that feeling of chastity, which has such a purifying influence in a family, could scarcely flourish. And further, as the absence of delicacy must have been characteristic of David, so was it also of his children; the unbridled passions of some of his sons gave rise to the most dismal tragedies; and left blots on their name that even time could never wash out.

2. It is immediately after this glimpse of David's domestic life that we come upon a sample of the kind of evils to which that mode of life commonly gives rise. Saul, too, had his harem; and it seems to have been a rule of succession in the East, that the harem went with the throne; hence to take possession of the one was regarded as setting up a claim to the other. When, therefore, Ishbosheth heard that Abner had taken one of his father's concubines he seems to have regarded that circumstance as a proof that Abner was setting up a claim to the kingdom for himself. Mistaking the semblance of power for the reality — forgetting that Ishbosheth had but the one, and Abner the other, Ishbosheth denounced the conduct of Abner with great bluntness and rudeness; and gave him such mortal offence that Abner abruptly and peremptorily assured him that he would not strike another blow in his service, but would at once go over to David. The loss of Abner was to Ishbosheth the loss of all. His cause had for some time been a losing one; it was now quite destroyed.

3. The next step in the narrative brings us to Abner's proposal to David, to make a league with him for the undisputed possession of the throne. As a preliminary to any further arrangements, David insisted, first of all, that his wife Michael, the daughter of Saul, should be restored to him. Some have pronounced this a harsh condition, especially considering that Michal was now living as the wife of another person, who appears to have been much attached to her, and most unwilling to surrender her. It is undoubted, however, that Michal was not the wife of Phaltiel, but the wife of David; Phaltiel must have known that she was another man's wife when he received her; and it is misplaced compassion to be sorry for a man when called to surrender what he never had a right to take. It may be asked, however, what could have been David's motive for demanding back Michal, when he had so many wives without her? It might be enough to say in reply that Michal was his wedded wife, and that it would have been disgraceful to David, when he could prevent it, to allow his wife to live in adultery with another. Of all David's wives, Michal, as the daughter of a king like Saul, was the first in worldly rank; David, therefore, wished to recover her; probably also, he thought, that by having her again for his wife there would be a bond of union between the two royal families of the kingdom that might draw the people together, and save the further shedding of blood. Another consideration appears also to have influenced him. In demanding back Michal he makes special mention of the dowry he had given for her — a hundred foreskins of the Philistines. In mentioning this he probably desired to revive among the people the remembrance of his ancient services and exploits against these inveterate enemies of his country and religion. His recent alliance with the Philistines had brought him into suspicion; he wished to remind his people, therefore, of his ancient bearing towards these enemies, and to encourage the expectation of similar deeds of successful warfare.

4. When the preliminaries between Abner and David were settled Abner appears to have exerted himself with real sincerity and zeal in behalf of David. Most probably he was not sorry for the occasion of his breach with Ishbosheth; David's was obviously the rising star; probably tie was watching an opportunity to transfer his allegiance from the one to the other. Abner now became as zealous for David as formerly he had been for Ishbosheth; and in holding communication with the elders of Israel and of Benjamin, and urging them very strongly to submit to David, he did him a service which no other living man could then have rendered. The tender heart of the shepherd king was doubtless inexpressibly grieved at the continuance of the war; he would have welcomed with unbounded delight any honourable arrangement that would have prevented further bloodshed; and when Abner was seen using his great influence with the leaders of the tribes in the cause of peace, he must have appeared to David like a very angel of God. When, therefore, at the most critical moment in these negotiations, the impetuous and vindictive Joab thrust his sword through Abner's heart — when, to the revolting ferocity of the deed itself, and its glaring outrage on the laws of hospitality, he added the crime of placing in jeopardy a most delicate national negotiation, and exasperating those whom it was most desired to conciliate, David's mortification must have been unbounded.

(W. G. Blaikie, M. A.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: 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.

WEB: Now there was long war between the house of Saul and the house of David: and David grew stronger and stronger, but the house of Saul grew weaker and weaker.

Perpetual War
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