Account of the children born to David in Hebron, 1-5. Abner being accused by Ish-bosheth of familiarities with Rizpah, Saul's concubine, he is enraged; offers his services to David; goes to Hebron, and makes a league with him, 6-22. Joab, through enmity to Abner, pretends to David that he came as a spy, and should not be permitted to return, 23-25. He follows Abner, and treacherously slays him, 26,27. David hearing of it is greatly incensed against Joab, and pronounces a curse upon him and upon his family, 28,29. He commands a general mourning for Abner, and himself follows the bier weeping, 30-32. David's lamentation over Abner, 33,34. The people solicit David to take meat; but he fasts the whole day, and complains to them of the insolence and intrigues of Joab and his brothers: the people are pleased with his conduct, 35-39.
Notes on Chapter 3
There was long war
Frequent battles and skirmishes took place between the followers of David and the followers of Ish-bosheth, after the two years mentioned above, to the end of the fifth year, in which Ish-bosheth was slain by Rechab and Baanah.
Abner made himself strong
This strengthening of himself, and going in to the late king's concubine, were most evident proofs that he wished to seize upon the government. See 1 Kings 2:21,22;; 12:8;; 16:21.
Am I a dog's head
Dost thou treat a man with indignity who has been the only prop of thy tottering kingdom, and the only person who could make head against the house of David?
Except, as the Lord hath sworn to David
And why did he not do this before, when he knew that God had given the kingdom to David? Was he not now, according to his own concession, fighting against God?
He could not answer Abner a word
Miserable is the lot of a king who is governed by the general of his army, who may strip him of his power and dignity whenever he pleases! Witness the fate of poor Charles I. of England and Louis XVI. of France. Military men, above all others, should never be intrusted with any civil power, and should be great only in the field.
Except thou first bring Michal
David had already six wives at Hebron; and none of them could have such pretensions to legitimacy as Michal, who had been taken away from him and married to Phaltiel. However distressing it was to take her from a husband who loved her most tenderly, (see 2 Samuel 3:16,) yet prudence and policy required that he should strengthen his own interest in the kingdom as much as possible; and that he should not leave a princess in the possession of a man who might, in her right, have made pretensions to the throne. Besides, she was his own lawful wife, and he had a right to demand her when he pleased.
Deliver me my wife
It is supposed that he meant to screen Abner; and to prevent that violence which he might have used in carrying off Michal.
Weeping behind her
If genuine affection did not still subsist between David and Michal, it was a pity to have taken her from Phaltiel, who had her to wife from the conjoint authority of her father and her king. Nevertheless David had a legal right to her, as she had never been divorced, for she was taken from him by the hand of violence.
The Lord hath spoken of David
Where is this spoken? Such a promise is not extant. Perhaps it means no more than, "Thus, it may be presumed, God hath determined."
He went in peace.
David dismissed him in good faith, having no sinister design in reference to him.
And smote him there
Joab feared that, after having rendered such essential services to David, Abner would be made captain of the host: he therefore determined to prevent it by murdering the man, under pretense of avenging the death of his brother Asahel.
The murder, however, was one of the most unprovoked and wicked: and such was the power and influence of this nefarious general, that the king dared not to bring him to justice for his crime. In the same way he murdered Amasa, a little time afterwards. See 2 Samuel 20:10. Joab was a cool-blooded, finished murderer. "Treason and murder ever keep together, like two yoke-devils."
Let it rest on the head
All these verbs may be rendered in the future tense: it will rest on the head of Joab,
the displeasure of God against this execrable man.
David said to Joab
He commanded him to take on him the part of a principal mourner.
The king lamented over Abner
This lamentation, though short, is very pathetic. It is a high strain of poetry; but the measure cannot be easily ascertained. Our own translation may be measured thus:-
Died Abner as a fool dieth? Thy hands were not bound, Nor thy feet put into fetters. As a man falleth before the wicked. So hast thou fallen!
Shall Abner die A death like to a villain's? Thy hands not bound, Nor were the fetters to thy feet applied. Like as one falls before the sons of guilt, So hast thou fallen!
He was not taken away by the hand of justice, nor in battle, nor by accident: he died the death of a culprit by falling into the hands of a villain.
This song was a heavy reproof to Joab; and must have galled him extremely, being sung by all the people.
The people took notice
They saw that the king's grief was sincere, and that he had no part nor device in the murder of Abner: see 2 Samuel 3:37.
I am this day weak
Had Abner lived, all the tribes of Israel would have been brought under my government.
Though anointed king
I have little else than the title: first, having only one tribe under my government; and secondly, the sons of Zeruiah, Joab and his brethren, having usurped all the power, and reduced me to the shadow of royalty.
The Lord shall reward the doer of evil
That is, Joab, whom he appears afraid to name.
WE talk much of ancient manners, their simplicity and ingenuousness; and say that the former days were better than these. But who says this who is a judge of the times? In those days of celebrated simplicity, many crimes as at present I grant: but what they wanted in number they made up in degree: deceit, cruelty, rapine, murder, and wrong of almost every kind, then flourished. We are refined in our vices; they were gross and barbarous in theirs: they had neither so many ways nor so many means of sinning; but the sum of their moral turpitude was greater than ours. We have a sort of decency and good breeding, which lay a certain restraint on our passions, they were boorish and beastly, and their bad passions were ever in full play. Civilization prevents barbarity and atrocity; mental cultivation induces decency of manners: those primitive times were generally without these. Who that knows them would wish such ages to return?